Beneath The Volcano
The Dark Side of The Volcano
Explore the Underwater Caverns
The island of Ustica is the emerged part of a vast volcanic apparatus that develops in submarine environment up to a depth of over 2000 meters in the bottom of the southern Tyrrhenian.
The emerged part of the volcano in various eras has been invaded by the sea for variation of the level of the latter or for movements of the earth. Witnesses of these variations are the marine terraces that in some way concern the formation of some marine caves and in particular the calcareous concretions that are found in them.
Are you ready to enter into the The Dark Side of The Volcano?! Let’s start!
We’re straight: in Ustica you need to be a Cavern Diver to access into any underwater cavity. It’s not us stating it (although we fully agree), it’s a Regulation (art.7) of the Marine Protect Area of Ustica Island. Any other organisation omitting to tell you – or even worse not respecting this rule - besides not being professional, is equal to no respect for you, your safety and your dive experience. And your money.
We have specialized cavern dive guides who can lead you safely to discover this amazing environment. If you’re not a Cavern Diver yet, you can sign up for a basic PADI Cavern Diver course within your dive package. If you’re a beginner (but at least an advanced diver with good performance in buoyancy) , this is a right step to take. If you’re already an expert of caverns but never had the chance to obtain a certification, this is a good chance to put yourself in order!
Classified by their characteristics, downsides and level of penetration/depth, here are the underwater caves of Ustica Island (if you’re familiar with types of beer, the titles will give you a better idea!).
Pale Ale Caves
Within 10 metres deep and with wide entrances, these two caves welcome divers with ease.
Grotta dei Cocci (Cave of Pottery) The entrance to the cave opens about 7 m deep in the waters overlooking the Punta Erbe Bianche, in correspondence with a small, innominate cavity used as a shelter for animals.
Its main chamber has a sandy bottom and along its edges there are as aligned several black cylinder anemones. In front of it a smaller ravine contains a pile of laminated shards, belonging to amphorae and various pottery of the late Roman age.
Grotta Sommersa della Pastizza (Underwater Pastizza Cave) Situated on the eastern side of the Grotta della Pastizza, which is an aerial cave and a common dive site. It has an entrance at almost 12 meters deep and stretches for less than fifty meters and about fifteen meters wide.
These caverns are identified as of a medium level of difficulty, as they are a bit deeper and you need to keep monitoring your no-decompression limit and air consumption, as well as performing excellent buoyancy in order to avoid any damage to environment or any trouble to dive buddies.
Grotta Della Falconiera is a cavern opening in the vertical wall of the same-named point with an entrance between 26 and 16 metres. The cavity develops in a straight tunnel about 28 m long whose bottom, at first sandy and slightly uphill, ends in a raised rock chamber with predominantly vertical development, up to a small lateral tunnel and in impassable cracks. Here there is a large swarm of shrimps from the characteristic long jagged rostrum (Plesionika narval) while the walls and the vault are dominated by white and yellowish sponges.
Grotta Delle Naìadi (or lately entitled Grotta dell’Accademia) is part of the Grotta della Pastizza complex and opens on its left side. The cave has a sub-aerial and underwater development with quite irregular course conditioned by the deposit of the rocks. It is accessed through a narrow fissure in the rock. Immediately inside opens the first room that also has a huge airspace, so at this point the cave is still not submerged, and through a narrow triangular section you can get to the second entrance and eventually return to the open sea.
Tunnel Del Medico and the Cunicoli The Scoglio del Medico is a blackish lava cluster 100 m long and 20-30 m wide, oriented in direction NE - SW about 600 m from the north west coast of the island. The northern side of the rock has a rather regular slope, while the stretch of seabed adjacent to the south side is quite irregular and characterized by large blocks and erosion surfaces, below which develops a large cavity. This is the Tunnel Del Medico, so called – instead of cavern - by the presence of two opposite entrances. It’s about 50 meters long and 30 meters wide, at an average depth of 20 m. Its bottom is composed of sand and collapse blocks. The West entrance is a wide opening located between large blocks, 16 meters deep, while the East entrance is narrower but easily accessible, at a depth of about 13 m. The walls of the tunnel are regularly sloping towards the outside. From the biological point of view the cave is particularly rich and hosts typical biocenosis of the semi-dark environment. Impressive is the biological cover of the vault and the fallen blocks.
The Cunicoli are a maze of underwater passages through the rocky blocks. As for their sizes they shall not be regarded as proper caves or caverns, but they require the same standards and criteria of cave diving, in terms of safety and performance. Only an expert dive guide can lead through these passages considering depth, dive time and length of the whole itinerary.
Grotta dei Gamberi 2 (Shrimps’ Cave 2). Unfortunately its name suggests a position subordinate to the most famous Cave of Shrimps, but it’s not secondary in terms of beauty. Despite it is classified as a medium-difficulty cavern, actually its sandy bottom of finer composition can be an additional stress factor. Perfect buoyancy and strict buddy system are crucial, but rewarded by an enchanting scenario. The entrance of the cavern is a large horizontal crack but not so tall. The wide chamber, which has its walls strongly sloping to the edges, proceeds uphill to 16 mt towards an adjoining room where hundreds of shrimps take shelter.
Grotta Zu’ Cristofaru . An unknown cave of which there is no official information, as well as being nameless (We named it according to its location). Its small entrance gives no idea of being a cave, at about 14 metres of depth, but then enlarges into a wide corridor, with smooth walls and a sandy bottom. In contrast to other caves, it develops in a bottleneck and degrades downward, ending on a straight wall. A good rotation ability saves you from a dusty cloud that fills the cavity, but there is no other way than going back towards the light of the entrance.
As training programs define them, these are properly named as Caves. While in caverns the divers keep the entrance clearly in sight at all times - which means they can get out of the cavern zone in a “straight line”- , Cave Diving is a form of penetration diving, meaning that in an emergency a diver cannot swim vertically to the surface due to the cave's ceilings, and so must swim the entire way back out. If you add depth to this, it is inferred that specific training and dedicated equipment, as well as particular procedures are needed.
Grotta delle Stalattiti (Cave of Dripstones) Despite its accessible entrance 1.5 metres large at only 13 metres deep, it is definetly classified as Cave Diving: once inside a wide room invites you to follow a tunnel on the left which then turns on the right, losing any reference or contact with the light coming from the entrance. It is true that it conducts you into a room with an air bubble, large 10x10 metres and with a roof at about 2-3 metres overhead – but without a line it can be difficult to find the way out, especially if you were not careful to avoid sandy dust left by your fins, as it’s of very fine composition. Another factor to take into account is that once emerged to admire the inner room, you’ll need to dive again and be sure you equalise properly to go back on the way out. The main attraction of this cave is a huge stalagmite, nicknamed “the palm tree”, as great as it is, but the roof carpeted with stalactites and walls by variously coloured concretions give to this cave altogether an enchanting environment.
Grotta delle Cipree (Cave of Cowries). This cave presents similar downsides as the previous: a curved tunnel makes you lose sight of the entrance and the considerable difference in depth between the entrance and the end of the cave which is the point of return may cause trouble to equalisation. Once these factors are taken into account, you can enjoy the wonders of this attractive cave. Its entrance is about 5-6 metres large at 18 metres of depth, located in Scoglitti area. It starts with a wide room that heads to the right and for 90 metres develops gently uphill orthogonally to the coast towards a semi-submerged gully. Proceeding for less than 10 metres you reach another big chamber about 20 metres large where from the roof you can admire the roots of the trees penetrated from the ground above and small stalactites. It ends into a dark coloured beach covered by cuttlefish bones, murex shells and cowries, from which the name derives.
Grotta dei Gamberi (Shrimps’ Cave). The name of the cave was suggested by the presence of myriads of shrimps, the Plesionika narval. The elliptical mouth of its entry at 40 meters of depth, leads into a vast environment with a jagged perimeter, about fifty meters large and twenty metres long, from which departs on the right an appendix and forks at the end of it where through gaps between landslides you can leave the environment (at about 26 metres).
Grotta dei Cirri (Picarels’ Cave).The cave opens to the depth of 48 meters near Punta Spalmatore. The name was given for the presence of large banks of picarels (Centracanthus cirrus). A large entrance brings into a wide room which develops for about 50 metres long and large. Then a narrow chimney at 20 metres from the bottom of the cave brings towards another entrance of the cave at a lower depth. The bottom slightly sloping is sandy and rich in large specimens of Pinna nobilis and numerous spirographs.
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