Black-coral-jewelry

Black-coral-jewelry

Ah – boyhood memories! From an early age I was a habitual bookworm, reading everything that was readable. Road signs, displayed adverts, street notices, newspapers, magazines, books and what have you, and I still am today, rarely bypassing anything readable without reading it.

-the-oceana-survey-results-world-record-depth-for-red-coral-established-by-malta

-the-oceana-survey-results-world-record-depth-for-red-coral-established-by-malta

With a childhood spent in England from the age of seven onwards, there were many late winter nights spent propped up in bed, a small reading lamp beside me, cascading rain splattering the window pane and the wind howling at the door – yet all so far away and isolated from me as I engrossed myself with The Coral Island, Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson and my all-time favourite, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, a book I have read a hundred times over and a film I have seen a hundred times over.

-the-protected-marine-zones-of-the-maltese-islands

-the-protected-marine-zones-of-the-maltese-islands

Late nights followed early mornings as I shook off sleepy eyes a few hours before school to continue my reading which I had reluctantly put down just a few meagre hours away, dreaming of marine adventures and billowing tropical seas.

cominos-blue-lagoon-the-beautiful-maltese-islands

cominos-blue-lagoon-the-beautiful-maltese-islands

Having been born on an island in the centre of the Mediterranean, the sea was always in my blood, my lifeline, as it is in all of us born here and my most dreaded times were spent living inland in England with many months passing before catching a glimpse of the sea and a whiff of its saltiness. As a substitute, living on the outskirts of Bedford, I often popped down to the city centre to see the flowing River Ouse and watching its ebb and fall as it trickled its way down to the sea even though a remote semblance of the brilliantly blue sea of my earlier childhood in Malta.

crystal-clear-blue-mediterranean-sea

crystal-clear-blue-mediterranean-sea

And where is all this leading to? Well, yes, we live and learn and I have just come across a recent news item that has left me spellbound and wondering and also put me on a road to discovery about something I had no concept of.

the-oceana-and-its-deep-sea-robot-at-work

the-oceana-and-its-deep-sea-robot-at-work

Malta has set a new depth record for the finding of precious red coral! This resulted after two separate expeditions carried out surveys of the deep sea surrounding the Maltese Islands in 2015 and this year – part of a LIFE BaĦAR for N2K project. Deep sea underwater robots equipped with a video camera were used to explore the depths and surprised watching scientists by revealing numerous colonies of precious red coral (Corallium rubrum) growing at depths of over one kilometre, that is 200 metres even deeper than the previous record which – surprise, surprise – was also held by Malta.

the-dreaded-moray-eel-one-of-the-hazards-with-sharp-biting-posionous-fangs

the-dreaded-moray-eel-one-of-the-hazards-with-sharp-biting-posionous-fangs

The scientific team operated from the NGO Oceana in conjunction with the University of Malta’s Biology Department and undertook the surveys with the University analysing all the collected data. The findings were presented during the 41st Congress of the International Commission for the Scientific Exploration of the Mediterranean (CIESM) held in Kiel, Germany on the 11th and 12th September last month.

a-red-and-black-coral-display

a-red-and-black-coral-display

The University’s Professor Patrick J. Schembri explained that red coral colonies are usually found at depths of between 300 and 1,000 metres and thus caused surprise at being found in depths exceeding one kilometre.

This record was a surprise to us all” said Professor Schembri, “but it goes to show just how little we know about the sea which surrounds our own islands.”

-the-beautiful-marine-wonders-of-malta-and-gozo

-the-beautiful-marine-wonders-of-malta-and-gozo

There were other surprises too. These included the discovery of a fossilised sponge reef at a depth of 300 metres, deep-water caves at 450 metres as well as a great number of sand and mud habitats inhabited by a number of marine communities including some very rare and threatened species.

red-coral-clusters-at-depths-of-more-than-one-kilometre

red-coral-clusters-at-depths-of-more-than-one-kilometre

Never one to let sleeping dogs lie, I had to investigate further. I knew that red and black coral existed around Mediterranean coastlines, particularly off Tunisia and also around Sardinia and Corsica. In fact during a holiday in Sardinia I had bought several red coral necklaces and pendants for my wife.

precious-black-coral

precious-black-coral

What I never knew or anticipated is that such corals existed at depths in Malta, and thankfully at depths because it would long ago have been pilfered by divers!

Another scientific paper published by Marine Biodiversity Records, co-authored by Maltese marine biologist Alan Deidun, revealed other details hitherto unknown to me.

red-coral-smuggled-from-tunisia

red-coral-smuggled-from-tunisia

On information compiled mostly from various writings and via interviews with Maltese fishermen and former directors of the Mediterranean Coral Fishing Company, established in 1984, shows how more than a ton of the red coral and over 250 kilograms of black coral were fished from Maltese coastal waters between 1984 and 1987.

-classic-red-coral-display

-classic-red-coral-display

Apparently, before a clampdown, there was also an active smuggling trade of red and black coral lifted from Tunisian waters making its way illicitly to Malta – but then that’s always been the characteristic of our small Mediterranean Islands whether it is coral, cigarettes, alcohol, drugs or whatever.

-one-of-the-marine-protected-zones

-one-of-the-marine-protected-zones

And with that I leave you to continue my dreams of young Jack Hawkins, Ben Gunn and Long John Silver and his parrot squawking “Pieces of Eight, Pieces of Eight” still living and active in my memories of my beloved Treasure Island – the stuff of my boyhood.

Today’s youngsters can keep their Pokemon and their iphones, apps and tablets. Who needs them when I have my library to immerse in?

ALBERT FENECH

the-blue-hole-in-gozo

the-blue-hole-in-gozo

About Albert Fenech

Born in 1946, Albert Fenech’s family took up UK residence in 1954 where he spent his boyhood and youth before temporarily returning to Malta between 1957 and 1959 and then coming back to Malta permanently in 1965. He spent eight years as a full-time journalist with “The Times of Malta” before taking up a career in HR Management but still retained his roots by actively pursuing freelance journalism and broadcasting for various media outlets covering social issues, current affairs, sports and travel.