Continuing the search "on the rocks" from last month...
Another group of both culinary and camouflage importance are the spiny or thorny oysters (gaidhouropothara = donkey-hooves), used in antiquity as money due to their scarcity and the difficulty in seeing them or detaching them from the rocks. They are usually encrusted by a red, velvety, smooth sponge that gives their presence away. You may also very often find them as fossils in the Greek island mountains and they are well-known to archaeologists by their scientific name: Spondylus (=vertebra) gaederopus.
Often we see the white bottom half of the shell sticking out against the darker rock background; the other half, covered in spines, along with the animal, has probably been eaten by a sea predator or a sponge diver. Unfortunately, sponge diving crews do not have much awareness of or respect for marine ecology and often devastate rock surfaces, collecting anything that is edible.
Another favourite food is the sea-squirt (Greek: fouskes=bubbles). They really look like small protrusions of rock and are nearly impossible to see without guidance. When wrenched off and cut in half, you'll see that the insides are bright yellow and look like a tiny omelette. They are slightly bitter in taste, but are very much sought after by ouzo and souma lovers as a meze.
While on this hide-and-seek culinary route, we must also mention kalognomes or "Noah's Ark", another oyster-like shell that is also attached firmly to the rocks and is virtually impossible to spot unless you move really slowly! Its presence is given away only by the sudden closure of its valves (sides of shell).
Scorpion fish are also very hard to spot unless disturbed at close quarters. They will dart away to another site, immediately adapting their skin to the surrounding colours. A few seconds before this sudden change of position, they usually extend their dorsal fins in an attempt to warn you off. However, a gourmet-class kakavia (Greek for bouillabaisse) fish-soup is incomplete without at least a few scorpines.
For more information and short courses in snorkelling, diving and marine ecology, you can contact Peter Nicolaides of the Aegean Diving College. Call 093-2757123, 093-2289649, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or see www.aegeandiving.gr.