1. Salema (Sarpa salpa)
Family: Sparidae Group Sea breams
Other names include: dreamfish, salema porgy, cow bream, goldline, salema porgy.
Sarpa salpa, is a species of sea bream. They can be easily recognised with their beautiful shine of gold strips, glimmering from the underwater light rays. You can find them all the way down at 70m but are more likely to come across them in shallower waters. Very common to the Mediterranean due to their love of rocky terrain and seagrass meadows. They can grow up to 45cm in total, with the female being the bigger of the sexes. They have specialised teeth to tear vegetation from the rocks, munching their way through the landscape! They travel as individuals as well as in schools. This fish has a secret and it stems from its ability to create a hallucinogenic experience when consumed. It is unclear whether the toxins are produced by the fish themselves or by marine algae in their diet.
2. Painted Comber (Serranus Scriba)
Family: Serraninae Group Serranids
Other names include: Perca marina Linnaeus
The painted comber is a species of marine ray-finned fish, a sea bass from the subfamily Serraninae. You can recognise them by the blue spot in the middle of the body. The head is marked with many narrow, wavy blue lines and red blotches. The fins on the back are pale yellow. Usually we will see them in measures of 25cm, the biggest one can grow up to 36cm. This fish occurs over rocky bottom and among beds of Posidonia at depths of 5 meters to 30 meters, which we are luckily enough to find around the Isola Bella. It is a synchronous hermaphrodite, i.e. each individual has both male and female gonads any may be capable of self- fertilisation.
3. Dusky Grouper (Epinephelus marginatus)
Family: Epinephelinae Group: Serranidae
Other names include: yellowbelly rock cod, yellowbelly grouper
The dusky grouper is a species of marine ray-finned fish. It’s a very large, oval bodied and large-headed fish with a wide mouth which has a protruding lower jaw. You can recognize the grouper by the dark reddish brown colour and yellowish/greenish countershading. The standard length is about 90cm. If approached slowly and still, it will probably look at you hovering with its fins moving up and down. They can be found in and around rocky reefs, in both shallow and deeper waters, and can therefore be admired by divers from all levels. The dusky grouper is a protogynous hermaphrodite, meaning that all fish begin life as females but as they grow larger and older they develop into males. Sadly, the catch of this fish declined by 88% between 1990-2001. That’s why Marine Protected Areas, fishing bans and other conservation actions are so important to protect the habitat.
4. Common Octopus (Octopus vulgaris )
Family: Octopud Group: Cephalopods
The common octopus is found in tropical and temperate seas around the world, including here, in the Mediterranean! They prefer to inhabit shallow, rocky, coastal waters, often going no deeper than 200m. Attached to its head are 8 tentacles which each have two rows of suckers that help them to catch their prey as well as drag them over rocky terrains. They feed on crustaceans, other molluscs, and fish, although they will eat almost anything that they can catch. They are able to change colour to match their surroundings, which help them to catch prey, as well as protect them from predators. This change in colour can also help us in deciphering its mood. Blue being for nervousness, pale (usually white) for when it is frightened and stressed, and red for when they are angry. Reproduction happens during the spring and summer, at which time a female will lay her eggs and stop eating to look after her offspring. They are an animal that is more active during the night, hiding away during the day so keep your eyes peeled along the rocky terrain as you may see a few hiding in their dens.
5. Mediterranean Moray (Muraea helena )
Other names include: Roman eel
The Mediterranean moray has an elongated, snake-like body and can reach a length of 1.5 meters! They have a long dorsal fin that extends from the head all the way down the entire length of their bodies, to the tail fin. You will find them peaking out of cracks in the rocky terrain throughout the Isola bella so keep your eyes peeled! Their unscaled, slimy skin is blue to brown in colour with specks of yellow creating a beautiful pattern. Like many forms of life underwater, during the day is spent hiding in cracks and holes in rocks, becoming more active at night when they hunt. Their diet consists of a variety of food which include fish, molluscs (octopuses, squid, cuttlefish), and crabs. You will often see them opening and closing their mouths constantly which can look quite sinister! However, this gaping is necessary in order to catch enough water to be able to breath.
7. Hermit Crab and the Sea anemone (Dardanus Calidus e Calliactis Parasitica )
Family: Paguroidea and
Other names include: Red hermit crab
Hermit crabs are a crustacean of the superfamily Paguroidea and have adapted to occupy empty mollusc shells to protect their fragile exoskeletons. In fact, you can find them in partnership with another being called Calliactis Parasitica, a species of sea anemone. Attached to the hermit crabs shell as they travel along the sea bed. They have what is called a symbiotic relationship, meaning both creatures benefit from living together. The sea anemone’s stinging tentacles deter predators, whilst the scraps of food thrown up by the hermit crab supplies a food source. The sea anemone can survive without the hermit crab, and the hermit crab can survive without the sea anemone, but they associate with each other for mutual benefits. This is known as mutualism. They are companions for life! The hermit crab will actually transfer the sea anemone onto their new shell when they become too big for their old one.
6. Flabellina (Flabellina affinis )
Family: Flabellinidae Group: Flabellina
Other names include: Purple flabellina
The Purple Flabellina is a sea slug, more specifically a nudibranch. They grow up to 5cm long and are found numerously in the Isola Bella. They feed on hydroid Eudendrium (colonial, with multiple polyps connected by tubelike hydrocauli), and wherever you find this in abundance, you will find flabellina in abundance. Interestingly, the best time that Flabellinas like to feed on hydroids, is when the hydroids themselves capture and eat their prey. This means the Flabellina gets energy from both the hydroid and the prey it is eating! Like all nudibranchs, they are noted for their beautiful colour and pattern which is a deep purple with white tips on the tentacles which float atop its body. They have a pair of rhinophores (a pair of long, rigid screw-like tentacles) on top of its head. These are sense organs that compensate for its weak eyes
8. Pink Flatworm Prostheceraeus roseus
Other names include: Planària rosa
Another famous small creature that roams the rocky terrain of the Isola Bella is the Pink Flatworm. It’s beauty is not only in how it looks but also in how it moves. The surface of its body moving in waves to glide along the terrain. They live usually on rocks, vertical walls, seaweeds, sponges, or sea squirts, and are normally found at depths between 5 and 50 meters. They can achieve a size of up to 3cm, some being as small as your small finger nail! They are oval in shape and very flat with a colouring of pink with fine white stripes. Eggs hatch into miniature adults! Due to the missing red colour tones underwater, they can appear to have a purple tone so bring a torch!
9. Saddled seabream (Oblada melanura )
Family: Sparidea Group: Perciformes
Other names: saddle bream, oblade
One of our favourite seabreams is the saddled seabream. It has a fuse-shaped blueish-silver body with a black spot near the tail and is really easy to identify because of the black spot. Commonly they are around 20 centimetres and during the season in Isola Bella you can see the families of these breams growing in quantity and size. The seabream spawns in the period April – June, so in the beginning of our season you can find a lot of small seabreams. Towards the end of our season, in October, they are significantly bigger in size. They feed themselves with the algae that can also be found around the Isola Bella. The Posidonia grass is their home and they are most seen around the shallow parts around the Isola Bella, near the surface. Also Discover Scuba Divers can admire them!
10. Mediterranean Damsel fish (Chromis Chromis )
Family: Pomacentridae Group: Actinopterygii
Other names: Mediterranean chromis
Chromis chromis, or the Mediterranean damsel fish, has an oval and laterally compressed body with a noticeably large eye. The Mediterranean variant of the damsel fish is brown with golden-brown spots. Commonly their size is around 13 centimetres. They love to be in bigger groups around rocks, rocky reefs and sea-grass meadows, of which we have a lot at the Isola Bella Marine Park in Taormina. We can see them in almost every dive site. The female damsel fish can lay up to 73.000 eggs and when the young fish come out, they have a brilliant iridescent blue colour. It’s really beautiful to see! During our summer, we can see the juvenile damsel fish appearing in small groups.
11. Largescaled Scorpionfish (Scorpaena scrofa)
Family: Scorpaendae Group: Scorpaeniformes
Other names: red scorpionfish, bigscale scorpionfish, rascasse
The scorpion fishes we see around the Isola Bella Marine Park are particularly small. An important aspect of this fish we have to know is that it has venomous spines to protect itself from any danger. The common size we see at Taormina is around 10 centimetres, the bigger ones up to 30 centimetres. They like rocky, sandy or muddy bottoms at depths of 20 meters or below. In our diving environment, we can also see the smaller ones shallower, even up to 1 meter below the surface, so they can be admired by everybody, even snorkelers. The scorpion fishes around here have different colours: red, brown with white spots or brown with dark-coloured blotches on its body. Inside big ‘swim throughs’ we can also find the smaller red scorpionfishes whose eyes are slightly bigger and light up with a white colour if we look at them with our torch.
12. Fan mussel (Pinna Nobilis)
Family: Pinndae Group: Pteriida
Other names: noble pen shell
The fan mussel is a large species of Mediterranean clam and can reach up to 120 centimetres. We can already see them from 2 meters under the surface and below. We can also find them amongst the Posidonia. An interesting fact is that the Pinna nobilis host a symbiotic shrimp which live inside its shell. When the shrimp sees a threat, it warns the fan mussel, perhaps by retracting its claws or even by pinching. The clam then closes shut. It has been demonstrated that the shrimp has a similar filter-feeding diet to its host and the relationship is likely mutualistic. The pen shell is relatively fragile to pollution and unfortunately these species are critically endangered. At the Isola Bella Marine Park, we see that the noble pen shells are in difficulty. In recent years, there was an outbreak in the Mediterranean Sea of a pathogen called Haplosporidium pinnae which is a serious threat to the survival of the species. This is for us divers another reason to inform all our customers about conversation of our marine underwater world and the way to take action.
13. Red starfish (Echinaster sepositus)
Family: Echinasteridae Group: Asteroidea
Other names: Mediterranean red sea star
The red starfish has five relatively slender arms around a small centre disc. The colour is bright orange-red and it can have a diameter up to 20 centimetres. You can usually find it in the shallow parts of the dive sites, including on rocky, sandy and muddy bottoms and sea grass meadows. In the Isola Bella Marine Park we can find red, orange and dark pink star fish, the pentagon starfish on greater depths and examples of the brittle-star during night dives. It’s amazing to realize that if we look at a starfish, we are looking at an ancient creature as the fossil record dates back all the way to 450 million years ago.
14. Peacock Worm (Sabella penicillus)
Family: Sabellidae Group: Polychaeta
If you wouldn’t know better, you’d think you’d be staring at an underwater flower attached to the wall. Instead, we are looking at a peacock worm! You only see the striped feathery tentacles of the worm coming out of the wall. The worm lives inside a smooth tube of fine mud or sand particles held together with mucus. The tube stands upright with the lower end attached to stones and the upper end protruding from the sea bed. The tentacles come out of the tube to feed by filtering out small food particles. Be careful to not come to close! It can feel disturbed and will draw its tentacles back into the tube. It is found in shallow waters at a lot of our dive sites and can grow 10-25 centimetres in length.
15. False Coral (Myriapora truncata)
Family: Myriaporidae Group: Bryozoans
Other names: false red coral
Myriapora truncate is a bryozoan of the Myriaporidae family, also called false coral due to its resemblance to the red coral. It is much more fragile though. The colony can grow up to 10cm wide, has dichotomous branches, short and stocky, porous, of an intense red-orange colour. Unlike true coral polyps, which are white, polypoids of this species have the same color as the branches. The reproduction takes place between February and March. The colonies of the false coral anchor themselves to rocky substrates, as we can also see in the shallow parts around the Isola Bella. We can find them just under the surface in shaded areas starting from 1-2 meters and also deeper. Be aware that also here, we are looking at an animal!