The land mass of the Lizard peninsula is the most southerly point of the United Kingdom. Its position reaching out into the English Channel has been a major navigational way point as well as a hazard since the earliest days of sail. The granite cliffs, sheltered bays and offshore reefs boast some of the best diving that this area has to offer. One of the most popular of these areas is the infamous Manacles reef which lies on the north eastern side of the peninsula at the edge of Falmouth Bay. This reef comprises a series of granite peaks and ledges rising sharply from depths of 60-70m to break the surface or lurk just 2m or 3m below the water.
This reef area rates as the most spectacular in Falmouth
Lands End - The Cornish coast is extremely rugged with high granite cliffs tumbling into the sea. This topography continues in many areas underwater which creates spectacular plunging reefs with multitudes of gullies and swim throughs to be explored. Nikon F90X, 28-200mm zoom, Elitechrome EBX, f8 @ 1/60th.
Ballan wrasse - Ballan wrasse are the groupers or coral trouts of temperate reefs. They are very territorial and inquisitive and will make repeated approaches to you if you are patient and stay in one spot for a while. They seem to particularly like games of hide and seek within the kelp which can be a challenging place to remain even in a light surge. Nikon F90X, Subal housing, 18-35mm zoom, Elitechrome EBX, f5.6 @ 1/30th, Isotecnic 33TTL and YS30.
Bay, but must only be dived when the conditions are right. Vicious tides of up to 5 knots are experienced here, and the current continues to run sometimes even during "slack" periods on a spring tide, and sadly there have been several diving tragedies in the area. The best diving is found on the outer reefs of the Manacles where the rocks are most exposed to the tide and the density of marine life is often quite staggering. Much of the reef system does not reach the surface, so it is important to go with a boatman who knows the area and tides and can identify the sites. The whole area offers potentially excellent diving and it is well worth trying more than one of the reefs as they all have a different feel and topography.
Perhaps the most spectacular site is Raglans Reef, which is the most seaward of the reefs and looks very impressive on the echo sounder rising sheer from a depth of 50-60m to within 3-4m of the surface. The reef can only be located with a combination of land marks and transits or a GPS fix and an echo sounder. You should plan your dive for slack water and preferably on a neap tide for a long dive. Arriving on location before the tide is slack will enable you to spot the surface disturbance caused by the tidal waters being thrown towards the surface by the obstruction of the reef. This will give a clue to the location of the reef top and you may begin you sweep with the echo sounder upstream of the disturbance. When you are waiting for the tide to stop running there will often be a 'false slack' period when the current appears to stop only to restart again with a final surge 10 or 15 minutes later. It is possible to dive at this moment when there is a neap tide, but on a spring it is best to wait for full slack water. If you are an experienced diver then it is possible to start or finish your dive when the tide is running, as the reef will offer shelter on one side. However, your boat man must be experienced and be alert to the possibility of divers being
Gulley with sponges - There are ledges and gullies to be explored throughout the depth range. Each provides an avenue of different sessile life, one might be full of anemones and the next full of sponges and dead men's fingers as in this case. The bright granite sand which collects in the bottom of these reflects both the natural light and your flash to help fill shadows. Nikon F90X, Subal housing, 16mm fish eye, Elitechrome EBX, f5.6 @ 1/30th, YS120 and YS30.
Cuttle fish - Cuttle fish are most common in the mid summer months and you will find them up amongst the kelp canopy or on sandy patches on the reef slope. They have remarkable camouflage skills and can be difficult to spot initially but make willing photographic subjects once found. Nikon F801, Subal housing, 60mm macro, Fuji Velvia, f11 @ 1/60th, YS120 and YS30.
carried away by the tide particularly at the end of a dive. Always carry a surface marker sausage or flag so that your boat can spot you easily on the surface. The other cautionary note for this area is its popularity especially on holiday week ends when there will be a large number of diving boats operating in the area. So be aware of other boat traffic especially when surfacing at the end of a dive away from the reef.
To be certain of locating the reef when you leave the surface it is best for the boat to anchor to the reef top or to deploy a marker buoy on a grapnel or shot weight. If you miss the narrow reef top then you run the risk of not finding the reef at all or hitting it at a depth far greater than planned. The top 5-8m has a heavy growth of kelp with widely spaced stypes which provides shelter for many marine organisms. This area is best left for exploration until the end of your dive when you are decompressing or making a safety stop. Just below the kelp line around 8m the rocks are covered with hydroids, masses of brittle stars, endless arrays of jewel anemones and soft corals. The best route to follow is to start on the north east side of the pinnacle where you will find a series of vertical rock faces which are carpeted with sea fans and plumose anemones in a variety of colours. Follow these to your target depth and then begin to swim around the
Rhyzostoma jelly fish - The spring plankton bloom attracts swarms of jelly fish, the largest being the Rhyzostoma. This year (2002) they were particularly prolific and literally dozens would pass by every few minutes during a dive. Plenty of bracketing will ensure that you do not over expose the reflective white body of these animals. Nikon F90X, Subal housing, 18-35mm zoom, Elitechrome EBX, f5.6 @ 1/30th, Isotecnic 33TTL and YS30.
pinnacle either west or east dependant on which way any current may be flowing. On the reef edge watch out for shoals of bass which like to congregate in eddies created by the current striking the rock faces and feed off the disturbed plankton. As you make your way around towards the south face gradually decreasing your depth you will find that the shear rock faces change to a series of large ledges and boulders with small sandy patches collected in the hollows. Stop and inspect these as you will often find angler fish, topknot flat fish or dog fish and tope resting here. The decreasing depth will also reveal more reef fish activity with ballan wrasse, goldsinney wrasse and the very bold and inquisitive cuckoo wrasse approaching you to
Lomanotus nudibranch - We have a great variety of colourful nudibranchs in our waters, which are certainly the equal of their tropical cousins, but they tend to be quite small in size. The exception to this is the splendid Lomanotus which may be 4-5cm in length and is found in this iridescent yellow colour or a shade of red or pink. Nikon F90X, 105mm macro, Fuji Velvia, f16 @ 1/125th, Inon Quad flash.
investigate. In the spring there will be clouds of juvenile fish shoaling just below the kelp line often being herded and hunted by marauding groups of pollack some of which reach an impressive size and are very bold.
This is an excellent site for photography, not least due to the range of subjects, but also because of the depth ranges available in one dive - go deep first, then decompress in the shallows looking for macro subjects. The charted position of Raglans Reef is 50.02.63N, 05.02.45W. Slack water is generally found one hour before low water and one hour after high water at Falmouth.
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