The sea of the Cinque Terre is a very particular sea and coast. With the exception of two long sandy stretches near Monterosso and of other, mainly cobble or stone, beaches, the coast plunges steeply into the sea with almost vertical cliffs, which continue underwater. The Cinque Terre’s seabed is thus very deep and is one of the richest of the whole of Liguria in terms of wildlife. “Punta Mesco“ is the North-East limit of the Cinque Terre Marine Reserve and is surrounded by a deep seabed and by steep underwater rock sides, near which live pelagic species like the maigre and the dentex, as well as permanent species like the white bream, black umbra and grouper.
The rocky substrata also hosts colonies of multicoloured “Paramunicee” and, in the darkest caves, red coral. From Punta Mesco to Monterosso the seabed is not particularly deep. It is shallow to begin with, at the foot of Monterosso, spreading out as a long sandy stretch going out at sea offering the ideal substrata for the “Posedonia Oceanica” sea grass, a real ‘lung’ for the marine ecosystem, which is getting more and more scarce due to fishing by dragging nets along the seabed. Monterosso’s sea prairie is today included inside the Cinque Terre’s Marine Reserve and is thus protected. Having roots, stem and leaves, the posidonia seagrass is a superior plant, an important biologic indicator of polluting agents. Furthermore, it consolidates the substrata where it lives, making up actual praries, which help limit the damage made by rough sea and currents against the coast.
Towards Vernazza the coast gets higher, rocky with rocky seabed even near the shore. Near Vernazza, the rock faces plunge into the sea almost vertically up to a bathometry of 14 metres, while, passed the Punta San Pietro, next to the village of Corniglia, the seabed descends much more gradually. From here to Manarola, there is a wide sandy bay with a sea depth of 9 to 10 metres, facing the large beach of Corniglia, which up to a few years ago was one of the most beautiful of the whole coast, reaching a depth of 50 metres. The beach, which was born and nurtured by the waste from the railway tunnel, is today made up of a few large stones, due to the erosion by the sea. From Manarola to Riomaggiore the seabed gets deeper moving from 12 metres next to Manarola and getting to a depth of 20 – 22 metres at Punta Montenero, the cape which bounds the marine reserve on the south east.
In this stretch the underwater landscape is decidedly interesting boasting numerous areas of shallow water where there is a multicoloured substrata and various species of fish. For those who love snorkelling this area of the coast is particularly interesting because even at two to three metres underwater one can admire small but interesting species of fish. Among the rocks one can see many blennies, gobies, colourful rainbow wrasses, which swim around bushes of algae, large shoals of salpa and groupers near the surface of the water, a few small white breams and a few surmullets. Swimming next to the coast one can admire the wildlife of the undertow: sea snails, patella, muscles, algae, sea urchins, sea leeches inside the crevices, stinging sea anemones, crabs, and tiny prawns. Going deeper underwater the fish become larger and it’s not uncommon to spot striped breams, green or brown wrasses, shoals of saddled breams and even a few giltheads. Swimming away from shore once can meet splendid patches of posidonia seagrass divided by sand. Deep-sea divers can spot much larger fish near the Marine Reserve (we invite you to respect the rules and regulations as well as the boundaries of the reserve and to gather information from the maritime authorities with regards as to those activities which are and are not permitted.) In those areas where the rocks touch the sand there are sole fish, greater weever fish and stingrays. In the nooks of rocks one can find octopuses and the unsettling crabs and moray eels. At the end of summer and the beginning of autumn the blue fish is king: anchovies, sardines, sugherello fish, mackerel, and tuna.
One can also see dolphins that find the habitat of the Cinque Terre sea ideal at least up until late spring, before, that is, the great many number of boats roam the sea disturbing the underwater wildlife. One of the marine reserve’s objectives is also to reduce the traffic of small boats near the coast. Underwater photographers will also be delighted as there are many opportunities especially in the field of ‘macro photography’ because of the multicoloured quality of the substrata and wildlife. The nudibranchiates, the sea urchins, and the rainbow wrasses are the favourites. The sea of the Cinque Terre represents a resource to be salvaged from the biologic as well as the natural and tourist-ecologic point of view because it is the habitat of many important species. It can in fact be compared to the most beautiful Mediterranean Sea beds.
Its water is clean (although sometimes not too clear because of the vicinity of the Magra River) and its beautiful landscape is unique. A boat trip, a mini cruise represent the high point of a visit to the Cinque Terre and the only way to reach otherwise inaccessible bays, in close contact with a wildlife and vegetation which is almost uncontaminated.