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Marine Life

The beautiful Bay of Malia is an attractive snorkelling and diving area with clear and warm subtropical waters. The reason for this clarity is the relatively low degree of phytoplankton, the first link in the seafood chain. Despite this however, there are sufficient nutrients available to sustain a good level of marine life. Less exposed than other parts of the Cretan coast, the Bay of Malia has a rich diversity of marine creatures that are attracted by the rocky shores and islets on one hand and the sandy sea bottom on the other, which make it a rich biotope.

There are algae that are non-vascular aquatic plants, tunicates that are organisms which grow attached to rocks and worms.

Cnidarians are flower-like in appearance with tentacles to trap food and stinging cells. To this group belong the anemones that are seen in sandy areas as well as in rocky habitats and the relatively rare corals, with their hard skeletons into which the polyps can usually retract if they are disturbed. Sponges are sessile animals often mistaken for plants, with the most common and largest species being the black sponge: normally attached to rocks it can be up to 120cm in diameter, providing a comfortable resting place for the black-green groupers. Mollusks, except for octopus and sea slugs, have chalky shells and no obvious body segments. The bivalves are mollusks that have a laterally compressed body enclosed in a shell of 2 valves, like the fan mussel and the thorny oyster.

Common octopuses are intelligent animals that are harmless – to divers – and can be found on most dives, even though they hide in rock crevices and among stones. They may be common but are not as abundant as they are heavily fished to supply demand. Their tentacles bear two rows of suckers and they are usually brown-green coloured. At night they roam over the rocks in search of prey, instantly changing colour and texture to match their surroundings. Around May and June the females build nests in a hole in the rocks to lay their eggs. Mothers are best left undisturbed. Cuttlefish and squid are cephalopods with cylindrically shaped bodies; they have lateral fins and an internal shell or cuttlebone, with the mouth being surrounded by tentacles. Most squid are pelagic and do not come so close to shore as cuttlefish.

Crustaceans have a hard, horny outer shell with jointed legs and obvious eyes, often on stalks. Crabs are walking ten-footers and usually strongly built with a heavy outer skeleton. Their first pair of walking legs usually has powerful claws. Crabs have the most efficient walk of all bottom-walking crustaceans and are easy to recognize by their sideways gait. Lobsters, also walking ten-footers, live on the shore or on the seabed. They’re fairly common but difficult to find, as they are in great demand as a delicacy. Prawns and shrimps belong to a suborder, being ten-footers that swim.

The echinoderms are sea animals with a body based on a symmetrical pattern of 5 and have a brightly coloured skin that is often rough to the touch. Such are brittle star, sand dollars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, and starfish, with the most common of the starfish being the bright orange one.

The pollution free waters of the Bay of Malia provide a perfect habitat for sea urchins. During summer season they are often reduced substantially, as they are a much-desired delicacy: the female’s bright orange coloured eggs are used for the sea urchin roe. They appear to be sedentary, but they can move quite quickly on short spines that are attached under their body. Tendrils that end with tiny suckers cover their body in between the spines and enable them to attach to the rocks. Though not poisonous, the fragile spines can penetrate the skin easily, usually breaking off beneath the skin’s surface. Antiseptic treatment is necessary after the spines are removed, as the puncture wounds may become infected.

Endemic fish can be seen all year round in the coastal waters of the Bay of Malia. They come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and are numerous: blennies, the cardinal fish (one of the most common residents), damsel fish, groupers, garfish, lizard fish, the parrot fish and the picarel. The latter can be seen in large shoals in rocky areas.

Sea bream is common and wanted very much for the grill. Ray fish are normally found on sandy sea bottoms in areas close to the shore. The red mullet, also a favourite at taverns with its sweet, white flesh has some very distinctive features: 2 long sensory barbells on its lower jaw that it uses to furrow in sandy bottoms, in search for food.

The pretty rainbow wrasse is distinguished by a blue spot on the bottom edge of its gill and a yellow streak running from the snout to the tail. Common and a master in disguise is the scorpion fish, with its ability to change colour rapidly. Careful here, as it has poisonous dorsal fins, the venom of which causes immense pain. Also the moray eel needs to be treated with some respect. Although not poisonous, the Murena Helena, the most common one around, is black-green in colour with mottled yellow markings and should not be provoked. Usually all you can see of it during the day are 2 distinctive tubular nostrils as they peer from their lair, waiting for unsuspecting passing prey.

Pelagic fish are very rarely seen this close to the shoreline. Depending on the time of year and the availability of food, some migratory fish like barracuda, sharks and triggerfish may visit the area from time to time. More likely to be spotted is the tuna fish, but even this one is rare so close to the shore; they reside only in open waters.

Mammals like dolphins and seals are even rarer to sight under water. Sometimes Loggerhead turtles, the caretta-caretta, can be seen from day trip boats that are travelling to islands like Santorini.