Treasure under the water

Çanakkale is a town whose story continues under the water. A busy international shipping lane on the surface, the Dardanelles in its depths harbors a silent testimony to nature and history.

We turn our attention this time to the mysterious world of Gallipoli and the Dardanelles, whose depths harbor not only history but an intriguing ecosystem. Worthy of continuous research for its historical texture, battles and legends, this major strait which joins the Black Sea and the Aegean manages to surprise us on every dive. Besides being a busy international shipping lane with the attendant dangers, the Dardanelles are also extremely generous with new discoveries in the flora and fauna on their bottom. A number of species Indo-Pacific or Atlantic in origin have managed to adapt to this region, the populations of most of them having already reached large proportions. The area from Kum Burnu to the Çardak Lighthouse also harbors many a sunken ship in silent testimony to the past.

The strait is1.2 kilometers wide at narrowest point between Kilitbahir and Çanakkale. The powerful currents in the narrows do not allow sediment to accumulate, causing the waterway to become more deeply incised. The strait is 102 meters deep north of Nara Burnu where the Dumlupınar submarine rests, and 109 meters deep between Çanakkale and Kilitbahir. 

Like the Istanbul Bosphorus, the Dardanelles are known to be one of the oldest river valleys below the surface of the sea. There is an approximately 20 cm difference in sea level between the northern mouth of the strait and its mouth at the Aegean.

As in the Bosphorus, the Dardanelles too has both a surface current and an undercurrent in the opposite direction. The waterway flows through Istanbul and into the Sea of Marmara with a salinity of approximately 16-17 mg/L coming from the Black Sea. The amount of water flowing varies depending on the southwest (lodos) and northeast (poyraz) winds, on flooding caused by melting snows in spring, and on the lower rate of evaporation in the Black Sea compared with the Aegean and the Mediterranean. The surface waters cross the Sea of Marmara to reach the Dardanelles in the form of a surface current approximately 25-30 meters deep. At the lower depths are the saltier waters of the Aegean. With a salinity   of 39 mg/L, the waters of the Aegean cross the Marmara at 0.5 meters per second, forming the undercurrent of the strait.

The strait’s surface and underwater currents are rich in oxygen and the organic materials they carry. The concentration of nutriments ensures a continuous increase in the population of marine life and the diversity of species in the region. Despite a decline in fish species, a significant growth is observed in anemone, mussels, sea snails, prawns and sea cucumbers. The diversity of species in the coastal habitat offers underwater photographers plenty of opportunities for both macro and wide angle shots.

The surface current of 1.5 m/sec at 30 meters depth gives way to an undercurrent of 0.5 m/sec. When you begin descending even lower, the effect of sunlight is diminished and you drift down into the utter darkness of the depths. This journey into the unknown brings with it an incredible excitement and happiness. After thirty-five meters the marine environment takes on a different character as the cold water layer offers clear visibility despite the darkness.

When we reach bottom, we have a limited time in which to complete our work of identifying and photographing. Then it’s a matter of finding some of the species that thrive in the strait’s chill waters.  Species of soft coral from the order of Pennatulacea, Crinoids and Tunicates are just some of the species we hope to encounter at this depth. In the background is the loud hum of traffic moving through the strait. As a subject constantly worth examining and observing because of its ecosystem, the Dardanelles requires a certain level of diving expertise and an experienced team and proper equipment. The slightest deviation or false move can entail grave risks.

The Dardanelles harbor in their depths a number of sunken ships as a reminder of the great naval battle fought here in World War I. The story of the Triumph, a ship that sank here in nine minutes in 1915, is told as follows in the memoirs of Ferit Esat Pasha, Commander of the Northern Group: “My Artillery Commander  Hasan Rıza Bey reported that a battleship called the Triumph was listing somewhere between Arıburnu and Kabatepe. I ran to look through the field glasses and saw that its masts were leaning at an angle of  30 degrees. Some of the crew were jumping overboard as torpedoes and rescue boats and ships approached from the side. At the same time, whatever cargo and battle ships were in the vicinity were heading rapidly for the open sea and steaming with all due speed towards the island of İmroz. Meanwhile the Triumph, listing rapidly, toppled over into the water, eventually capsizing. Its masts that had previously pointed to the skies were pointing now to the bottom of the sea. The waters churned around it, making it impossible for the boats to approach...  At one point nothing was visible but a red surface like the back of a tortoise. The nose of the tortoise was pointed at the bottom of the sea and a pair of propellers popped up at its rear. Within less than ten minutes it somersaulted like a dolphin and disappeared from view, leaving the sea seething with foam. Only half the battleship’s crew could be saved.”  The Triumph had a crew of seven hundred...