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  Nr. 41 - September 2001
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Sea Hide-and-Seek

by Peter Nicolaides, September 2001
Part I: Sand

It is really simple to go on a sea exploration trip: you need to put on a mask, snorkel and fins and visit a quiet bay anywhere around the island.

A sandy sea bottom may at first look quite empty - devoid of marine life to the untrained eye. But if you move very slowly, you will be able to spot a great number of animals that play hide-and-seek on and under the sand: flatfish will only show their cartoon character-like beady eyes protruding from the sand. Flatfish and most sand-dwelling animals are masters of camouflage. They escape their predators’ attention by perfectly matching their appearance to their environment: the natural patterns (coarse sand, pebbles, blotchy parts) are mimicked with uncanny success.

If you spot one, swim down as silently as possible and start scratching the seabed a couple of feet away from it. Invariably the flatfish will approach you in the hope that your sand digging may produce a small juicy worm for it to eat. Red mullet will also dash to investigate for the same reasons.

Flatfish are very difficult to see at first, but with a bit of practice they are great fun to watch. They can move their eyeballs independently to scout around for possible food sources or to avoid an enemy or focus both eyes onto one target (stereoscopic vision) then glide swiftly over the bottom and take their food. The same habitat is used by skates and rays (salachia). When disturbed, they will lift off the sandy sea bottom and start making their way, very elegantly, into the limits of your visibility.

Then you might see some holes on the bottom. They are the ends of the tubes through which a lot of clams breathe and filter water for the tiny particles it contains (plankton). Further down along your route, you may spot what looks like a delicate flower planted in the sand. Your shadow or water movement created by your fins will cause these animals to retreat abruptly into their tubes burrowed in the sand. Some are ‘anthozoans’ (from the Greek anthos = flower, zoon = animal), others are tube-worms. Both also “fish” for plankton (from the Greek planomai = to wander) with their delicate flower-like tufts.

Of course, it is rather easy to spot scores of rather comical little hermit crabs that hurriedly scuttle across the sand in search of morsels of food. You might also spot volcano-shaped little hills of sand with a hole in the middle: somewhere down there, in the centre, live species of cockles (Greek = ahivadha - a tasty dish offered by Papadakis in Naoussa) and, according to recent archeological findings, the staple diet of the ancient Greeks of Paros and Antiparos.

As these cockles were (and are) found in abundance, they were offered to the Gods rather than lamb or sheep sacrificed elsewhere in Greece. So, the Horn of Amaltheia oozed seafood that was harvested in the shallow sandy stretches of the Paros-Antiparos-Despotiko channels.

More stories about animals playing hide and seek in the sand are told both by Octopus Sea Trips and Aegean Diving College.

For further info contact 093-2757123, 093-2289649 or www.aegeandiving.gr.
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