|The beautful, highly-developed Maltese coastline|
|Can you spot the goby amid the diverse algal forest?|
|Calmella cavolini, a Mediterranean aeolid nudibranch|
Some of my favorite creatures were the octopods. Yes, that is the plural of octopus. The octopus is more common in the Mediterranean than any other sea I'd been in. I can guarantee you an octopus while snorkeling right off the tourist beach. In tiny holes, cracks, and crevices, they occur every hundred feet or so underwater, watching the world. I used to love to interact with them. They all had unique personalities! I usually carry a single wooden chopstick with me to move around algae without having to use my fingers. The first time I came across an octopus while snorkeling after a run, it reached out of its cave and wrapped its tentacles around my chopstick! Surprisingly strong, the octopus wrestled the chopstick from my hands and I had to fight to get it back! Curious whether or not this was a common behavior, I approached an octopus I saw on another day with my chopstick, only to have it flee from its cave squirting ink at me as it jettisoned away! Yet another octopus lazily aimed its siphon at my hand and tried to blow the chopstick away from its lair with the jets of water pulsed out of its mantle.
Of course in every place where people live near the sea, there are people that love the sea. Some of my time in Malta was spent volunteering with a non-profit shark conservation organization, SharkLab Malta, a subsidiary of a UK group. With them I helped to lead snorkeling tours and collect data about sharks at the local fish market (at 3 am, an early business worldwide). As a trained PADI Rescue Diver with lots of research diving experience, I also joined in on coastal dive surveys to, well, look for unrecorded species around the island. We would go wherever we figured we'd find unique habitats, taking a tiny boat and SCUBA gear to sand patches, dropoffs, Posidonia seagrass meadows, and submerged limestone caves. Among our many discoveries - which is what we call a trained mind attaching more importance to something than other observers - was the Bull Ray (Pteromyleus bovinus), swimming in 20 feet of water over a sandy bottom off a popular beach. Though a Mediterranean species, it wasn't known from Maltese waters. Malta is an isolated island, so finding species there known from elsewhere in the Mediterranean still means a lot; it means they had to get there somehow, at some point in their ancestral history.
I met many good people in Malta, made many good friends, had a lot of adventures, made a lot of memories. The dives I have done there were magnificent. If you want to see Mediterranean marine life, stop by Malta. It's a magical little country!