Wrecking aroundCYPRUSThe massive shipwreck Zenobia has been the jewel in the crown of Cyprus diving for many years, but now the country’s underwater fleet is expanding rapidly with a number of artificial reefs. Stuart Philpott headed to the Med for a whistlestop tourPhotographs by Stuart PhilpottDid you know?MS Zenobia was a Swedish built Challenger-class RO-RO ferry launched in 1979 that capsized and sank in the Mediterranean sea, close to Larnaca, Cyprus, in June 1980 on her maiden voyage. She lies at a max depth of 42m.“ " During service they were fitted with an Oerlikon 20mm cannon and an anti-aircraft missile launcher, but these were removed before sinking" ”For more than 40 years, the MS Zenobia has been Cyprus’ top wreck-diving attraction. Lying on its port side at a max depth of 42m, the massive 172 metre long by 28 metre beam, 10,000- ton RO-RO ferry offers a wealth of history and intrigue, plenty of interesting features at varying depths (including 108 fully loaded trucks) and some serious penetration. Ideal for recreational and tech divers alike, the wreck is so big and so diverse it’s possible to spend an entire week just exploring the Zen.

But recently, I heard rumblings that this popular Mediterranean island has been ramping up the diving stakes by sinking more new wrecks and even getting underwater sculptor Jason deCaires Taylor in on the action. With some help from Chris Papachristodoulou at the Cyprus Tourist Board (CTO), I made plans for a whirlwind week visiting all of the best sites.

My busy East-West schedule began at Paphos, followed by Ayia Napa, Limassol, Larnaca (multiple times) before finally ending up more than 600km, 16 dives, three mezzes and several bottles of retsina later back at Paphos where I started.

I flew into Paphos at 7.30pm, picked up a hire car and drove directly to Ayia Napa. Journey time by car is around two hours, and at least Cyprus drive on same side of the road as the UK, but in hindsight, Larnaca Airport would have probably been a better starting point as it’s more central for all the dive sites. I was booked into the Pavlo Napa Hotel, located just a few minutes’ walk from my first port of call - Ocean Lab Eco-Diving Centre.

Owner Vasilis Andreou qualified as a marine biologist at Plymouth University in 2012. He said about 60% of their work is with DSDs. For qualified divers, he runs special eco-diving trips where he talks about marine life, ecological aspects, environmental impact, etc. Vasilis paired me up with Andreas, who also worked for the Marine Police. Andreas was fully kitted out in black tech gear, including black-rimmed mirrored mask, which made my job as a photographer nice and easy – not! But trying to persuade a techie to use a clear silicon mask usually invokes a few four-letter expletives, so I just raised my eyebrows and got on with the job!
The Kyrenia looks fresh and cleanThe Liberty is festooned in marine growthHeading out on a dive" My visit coincided with live band day at the Tipsy Turtle bar next door. The place was packed full of well-oiled punters, including the local motorcycle club called the Primates! "Our first wreck dive, called the Kyrenia, was sunk as an artificial reef project in March 2015. The ex-Navy patrol boat lies upright at a maximum depth of 23m. Vasilis showed me a few pictures back at the dive shop, so we made plans to visit the bow and then work our way towards the stern. The visibility was so good I could see the whole wreck from the surface. There are several round gun mounts forward and aft. During service they were fitted with an Oerlikon 20mm cannon and an anti-aircraft missile launcher, but these were removed before sinking. I went through the bridge and then down into the engine compartment. The engine has been removed but there are still a number of valves and some pipework to explore. This was a nice easy dive and a great introduction to the CDCA’s (Cyprus Dive Centre Association) new wreck additions.

Our second dive at MUSAN (Museum of Underwater Sculpture Ayia Napa) was just a few minutes boat ride from the Kyrenia. Jason deCaires Taylor had been commissioned to create the sculptures back in 2021. Max depth is around 10m, which suits both snorkelling and diving. Andreas said a standard 45-minute dive consists of three tours of the exhibits. First at seafloor level, then mid-water and finally near the surface. Each level gives divers a different perspective. The overriding theme seems to be trees and video cameras. The figures with ‘bush’ heads had to be the most-controversial pieces.

The main idea is to create an artificial reef and attract marine life to an otherwise barren area, and while there was some talk that the installation hadn’t been placed in the best location, already receiving some storm damage, I could already see this working, with small shoals of juvenile fish congregating around the exhibits.

The ‘masks’ in the MUSANDid you know?There are three main types of wreck diving; non-penetration, limited penetration and full penetration.Sculpted ‘trees’ in the MUSANMy next stop was ten minutes down the road at Taba Dive Centre, owned by Steve Fox-Kirk. This had to be one of biggest dive centres I have ever seen. Steve said: “I used to regularly come on holiday to Cyprus and eat at the restaurant across the road from the then-vacant building.” He was considering opening up a dive centre so haggled with the owner and worked out a deal. Steve said that his bread and butter work came from PADI DSDs, with more than 2,500 completed this year alone.

Sister Cat and her boyfriend Jon also helped out at the busy centre. They both accompanied me on two boat dives, starting with the Liberty wreck sunk in 2009. The former Russian cargo ship sits upright at a maximum depth of 27m. I got some shots of Cat and Jon on the bow and inside the wheelhouse. I checked under the stern, but the prop had been removed, but I found a few lionfish and damselfish that called the wreck home.

Our second dive was on the Nemesis III, which lies about 100 metres away from the Liberty. Steve said that they normally combine the Liberty and the Nemesis on a single dive. The 25-metre-long fishing trawler was sunk in December 2013 and lies upright and intact at a max depth of 25m. This wreck has a number of different levels to explore. The bridge has been cleared apart from the steering column. We went through the lower corridors and came out next to a giant winch surrounded by squirrelfish and lionfish. The engine room with natural light streaming in from an open hatchway above made a particularly nice composition. Cat’s torch beam lit up several prawns scuttling over a set of the valves attached to the bulkhead.

Maggie May was being murdered at full volume when I turned up at Cyprus Diving Centre, owned by Daniel Kistler. My visit coincided with live band day at the Tipsy Turtle bar next door. The place was packed full of well-oiled punters, including the local motorcycle club called the Primates! After the Rod Stewart tribute finished his set, it was Lionel Richie’s turn up on stage. As Dancing on the Ceiling was in full swing, I hastily departed with Divemaster Matthias for the shore diving site at Decosta Bay, where I would hopefully see some real turtles. In his mid-40s, Matthias had a sudden reality check, quit his job as a solar panel installation engineer in Germany and moved to Cyprus with his family to follow his dream of becoming a diving instructor.

Green Bay is probably the most-popular spot for turtle sightings. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon, when most of the divers have gone home. The shore diving site is very shallow, so a good choice for diving or snorkelling. Another place the turtles frequent is Decosta Bay. But as we waded into the water, I saw a boat load of snorkellers arrive. Matthias said the turtles were being fed lettuce to entice them closer. When we reached the site, I could see three turtles on the surface swimming about eating the food. But this wasn’t their natural behaviour and swimming on the surface made them vulnerable to passing speedboats. Just before my visit, a turtle had been hit.

The last I heard it had been patched up and was fortunately recovering well. During my dive I saw another turtle missing a flipper, which may well have been another boat injury. In all, we saw five green turtles in 45 minutes. Size wise they were all around one metre long, so roughly ten years old. Cyprus Diving Centre’s resident marine biologist Chiara is currently studying the local turtle population. She regularly runs the PADI Mediterranean Sea Turtle Specialty and has identified at least 20 different individuals. Please note that feeding the turtles is strictly forbidden, and heavy fines are being handed out to boat owners caught in the act.

Our second shore dive called Caves was located in the Cape Greco National Park. Matthias showed me some of the scars on his legs where he had fallen over while clambering down the rocks to the entry point. He said that a stainless steel hand rail and steps had been installed this year to aid divers. Matthias told me a story about a local teenager who went freediving inside the cave during the early hours of the morning, got disorientated and tragically drowned. This certainly added an interesting dimension to the dive!

" When we reached the site, I could see three turtles on the surface swimming about"
Exploring the caves at Cape Greco National ParkTurtle in Green Bay
I followed Matthias around the site, which mainly consisted of a stark, rocky seascape and a few swimthroughs at a maximum depth of around 15m. I tried to get some pictures of the cave sweepers and a little black seahorse bobbing about on the seafloor. At the end of the dive we went into a cave and surfaced through a narrow hole in the roof, which was quite a novel exit. 

Matthias at Cape Greco National Park