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Beneath a turquoise sea Kemer’s underwater caves
2003 / September

Forty kilometres south of Antalya is the small seaside town of Kemer, facing the blue expanse of the Mediterranean and with its back to the soaring pine-clad Bey Mountains. Kemer was a tiny village when it was discovered by local holidaymakers in the 1970s, and became one of Turkey's most popular resorts in the 1980s, growing from village into town. Many things changed, but not its clear sea. The inhabitants of the underwater world beneath that turquoise sea went on with their lives, unaware of the changes taking place on the surface. Jackfish continue to dive into shoals of sand smelts to snap them up, and skates to hide in the sand waiting for their unsuspecting prey to come within reach. Moray eels watch out for their favourite damsel fish, and loggerhead turtles swim by intent on their own affairs. Kemer's numerous underwater caves are particularly fascinating habitats for marine life. They are located between the Kalin and Kiris headlands and at Uc Adalar (the Three Islands). Sculpted by the sea over long centuries, these fascinating caves are irresistible to divers.

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Beneath a turquoise sea Kemer’s underwater caves
2003 / September

Dozens of different creatures that need little or no light live in these underwater caves. At the cave entrances and in rock crevices white, brown or phosphorescent yellow tube anemones feed on plankton carried towards them by currents. Jackfish live on red sponge in dark cavities, cracks and caves, making use of camouflage as protection from their enemies. Bryozoa, also known as sea mats, live on plankton and other microorganisms. Another creature which lives on cave walls in semidarkness is the yellow encrusting anemone Parazoanthus axinellae, which forms colonies on sponges of the species Axinella, which is also yellow in colour. Seeing these marine creatures, many of which are only to be found in caves, is one of the greatest attractions for divers. Yet cave diving is also the most dangerous.

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Beneath a turquoise sea Kemer’s underwater caves
2003 / September
Experience and knowledge of other types of diving is not sufficient for cave diving, which requires special training and equipment. The most important item is a guide rope. In the case of caves with narrow entrances, divers run the risk of clouding the water with silt raised by the movement of their flippers when swimming close to the cave floor. With the loss of visibility they can suddenly disappear from sight and lose their way. For this reason it is vitally important that a guide rope is tied at the mouth of the cave to enable them to find their way back to the entrance. To minimise the risk of becoming caught up in the rope, a reel must be used to wind the rope in as they follow it back. Another essential piece of equipment is underwater torches. Divers should always carry at least two of these, so that if the batteries of one fail they have a spare ready. This is a vital precaution against the risk of panicking in the darkness and being unable to find the cave entrance.
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Beneath a turquoise sea Kemer’s underwater caves
2003 / September
Helmets are another essential accessory, providing protection from injury by stalactites or stalagmites. Moreover, torches attached to these helmets give divers more freedom of movement. Having said all this, however, the caves at Kemer are not deep enough to present any serious danger, since sufficient light penetrates to make the entrance visible from even the deepest parts. Underwater caves are of geological, biological, ecological and historical interest, so divers should be extremely careful not to cause any damage. The cave walls are generally covered with algi, sponge and coral, and a single careless blow from a flipper is sufficient to harm the marine ecology. Seals use underwater caves as breeding places, particularly those whose roofs rise above the surface of the sea, creating an air pocket inside the cave.
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Beneath a turquoise sea Kemer’s underwater caves
2003 / September

There is a cave of this type at Uc Adalar where Mediterranean seals are known to breed every year. The mother bears her young in the cave, and when the young seals are sufficiently grown the family begin to emerge to hunt food. During the breeding season divers are prohibited from entering this cave, and it is to be hoped that all the underwater caves used by the seals in the Mediterranean be placed under similar protection, to save this endangered species from extinction.

* Levent Konuk is a photographer and freelance writer

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