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Scuba Diving in St Abbs, Scotland
Dive Site: Floatcarr Reef / Anemone Gully
Location: St. Abbs Head, Scotland
Description: Boat dive
Depth: 12 - 25 metres (40 - 82 feet)
Visibility: 10 metres (30 feet)
A deep cut gully of towering vertical rocks with hollows and cuts dropping from 12m to 25m. The gully is home to octopus, wolfish, squat lobsters and an anchor, if you know where to look. A superb dive site, one of the best on the SE coast of Scotland and rated by many divers including myself for its sheer amount of jam packed marine life.
When sun meets blue sky (hopefully), mirror calm water and clear visibility, the average visibility is around 10m. Large white seagulls squawk as they gain purchase on the sharp igneous rocks around, in search of a possible meal from the small number of fishing boats in the harbour. Here, the harbour and surrounds remains the same as it has been for many years, except for the new divers car park. Many divers visit the area to shore dive, but these days there are several more shuttle boats to accommodate the day tripping diver.
A good day at St. Abbs Head is when the sun is shining, the guillemots are diving, and the sea is a nice flat calm, where you can see the fins of divers some 10-15m below the waterline amongst the huge boulders fallen from the massively towering cliffs in times past. A bad day; these are rare and involve inshore easterlies. This coastline is subject to mist and it creates an interesting landscape of dark imposing cliffs swirling in a translucent whiteness as if maidens of the sea are calling to passing divers.
The normal start of the dive is at the Barnyard dive site, a hollowed out piece of rock that forms a small lagoon area of water, some 5 metres deep. All manner of birds chatter and cackle away, probably laughing at the divers below, or about to do something to the divers below. Needless to say it's best to kit up sharply and get out of the lagoon underwater into an easterly direction to 12m. Occasionally, you may get dropped a little further out to save a small swim. The starting result is the same; a deep cut gully or submarine ridge indicative of this area. The ridge itself is reasonably easy to find, and if you don't make the main one, there are plenty more finger ridges heading east, and a variation is to jump these. Be wary though, currents do travel here, and its best to keep tucked in, with head below the parapet.
The immediate awe-inspiring vista that opens up is one of sheer amount of static marine life. Every nook of every cranny of every ridge or boulder is draped in a condensed pattern of sponges and/or deadman's fingers. These continue along the ridges to around 21m. Looking more closely, these have formed rich colonies of smaller creatures, such as Tritonia nudibranchs, sagartia anemones and small barnacles. It is the favoured territory of wolf fish. It is good to see these dark blue over-sized blennies, with big chunky faces and partially toothed mouths. Many of the smaller hollows are home to the shy Galathea strigosa, a squat lobster that has distinctive deep and bright coloured blue & contrasting red lines across its carapace.
At certain times of the year octopus can be spotted, but these are hard to find although they are there, and we counted 6 in the gully alone. The gully rocks are covered both horizontally and vertically in deadman's fingers, with many fissures in which to explore where you can find the odd conger. It's not called Anemone Gully for nothing, and at around 21m the base of this and other nearby gullies contains conurbations of huge bolocera anemones. These are usually rich red or orange coloured, and a little deeper the arctic anemone can be found amongst the other denizens of this area, brittlestars. Arctic anemones are usually about 25cm diameter and have huge number of white tentacles fluffed out into the water column. The anemones contrast well with the coarse shell sand here, at around 25m the ridges start to taper out giving rise to rolling smoothed rocks completely covered in huge numbers and varieties of brittlestars.
In the main gully is a large old anchor and by this time it's a good turning point to jump north, out of the current ridge to the rolling fields of deadman's and the next ridge. Above are shoals of fish, as you make your way once more towards the towering cliffs. These imposing structures can be seen from underwater for two reasons: the shadows cast by them, and the guillemots which cut into the water. They flap wildly around you, look at you as if to say 'You're no fish!' and promptly go up! On what bare rocks there are, are favoured by anglerfish and flounder, and amongst the sponges many scorpionfish lay in wait. All of these masters of disguise await unsuspecting prey as they are very well camouflaged in the colours of the area, which usually involves pink, grey, black, red and so on.
As the profile is quite deep, about 60 minutes can just be squeezed and the 'back' wall of the mainland is covered at 9-12m in a variety of sponges, actinithoe anemones, juvenile red anemones and so forth. A small piece of kelp may not be kelp at all, but one of the numerous pipefish, which inhabit these waters. Sadly, its time to safety stop and exit.
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