People have always been curious to discover the secrets concealed by the sea. We know that the ancient Greeks mastered the techniques diving for sponges and sea snails. But the seabed is still very much uncharted territory, and many people believe that the seas and the oceans conceal the greatest mysteries of the planet.
On the Adriatic, diving has a history as long as mankind’s dependence on the sea for its livelihood. We know, for example, that towards the end of the 19th century people from the island of Krapanj were using supple jackets when diving for sponges. However, it was two brothers from Slovenia named Ivan and Dušan Kuščer who popularised diving as a recreational pastime. They published photographs and writings documenting their underwater adventures in the 1930s, when they explored the northern Croatian coast using diving equipment they had made themselves.
Why is it that people are so fascinated by diving? And what’s all the fuss about the Adriatic Sea?
At first glance, the Adriatic may not look particularly colourful or rich in sea life compared with most tropical waters, for example. But as legions of diving enthusiasts will confirm, the waters of the Adriatic definitely have their own wonders and offer plenty to explore.
This is one of the cleanest seas in Europe with a combination of characteristics that make it a wonderful haven for divers. The Adriatic is shallow, warm and salty. The seabed is either rocky, pebbly or sandy, and the water is so transparent that in some places you can see for 60 metres. There are no strong tides to contend with. However, there are strong currents in places, mainly in channels where the water surges between islands, as well as on the fringes of the islands.
Thanks to the forces of nature and of history there is a great deal to be discovered under the calm blue surface of the Adriatic. It is rich in flora and fauna, some of which is unique to these waters. The seabed is made up of impressive underwater rock faces and reefs and is dotted with shipwrecks, archaeological finds and even the odd aeroplane which has found its way down there. And this fascinating world extends right along the length of the Croatian coast.
The northern part of the Adriatic is the most visited by divers thanks to its shallow waters and lush vegetation. The coastline around the Istrian peninsula is the last resting place of a number of ancient vessels. The central and southern parts of the Adriatic have deeper and more transparent waters and spectacular underwater escarpments. Some of the most attractive locations here are around the islands of Vis and Hvar, the Kornati archipelago and in the Dubrovnik area.
Apart from these locations, some of the most interesting – and dangerous – diving adventures are to be had in secret underwater caves. Among the most beautiful of these are: the Green Cave (Zelena špilja) on the island of Vis; the Blue Cave (Modra špilja) on the island of Biševo; the Bear Cave (Medvjeđa špilja) on Mali Lošinj, and Zaklopatica on the island of Korčula.
Apart from exercising caution when diving in caves or other potentially hazardous locations, divers should be aware that diving is not allowed at the following places: harbours and moorings, areas with heavy boat traffic, military zones, nature reserves, nature parks, the Brijuni and Krka National Parks and the islands of Palagruža and Jabuka.
Diving is allowed at the Kornati and Mljet National Parks with a special permit. And you need prior permission from the Ministry of Culture if you want to dive from the following locations:
The islands of Vis, Biševo, Svetac, Brusnik, Sušak, Lastovo and Palagruža. Around (within 300m of) the following shipwrecks: the Szent Istvan, the Corida-nus, the BarenGautsch, the S-57. The archaeological sites at Žirje and Cavtat
So long as you have the right permit, you can dive as an individual or as part of a group.
If you’d like to take part in an organised dive in Croatia, contact a registered diving instructor, school or association (see the list of diving centres at the end of this article). If you’re going out diving on your own, be sure to properly mark the spot where you dive with a surface marker buoy. Individual divers must get a permit, which costs 2400kn, from the local harbour master's office. Sports scuba divers must not dive to depths greater than 40m.
The Adriatic is not known for deadly sea creatures but there are certain species which can give you an unpleasant sting, so it is worth exercising caution. Do not try to feed or otherwise disturb sea creatures since otherwise docile characters may become aggressive if they perceive you as a threat. It goes without saying that each and every diver is responsible for protecting the fragile underwater environment. Your aim should be to leave no trace of your dive when you have finished.
Whether you’re interested in diving to shipwrecks, caves or underwater rock faces, Croatia is a great destination for diving. And thanks to modern diving equipment and techniques, children as young as 10 years old can dive quite safely, as can disabled divers. Just be sure before every dive to check the rules for safe diving in that location, to avoid putting your life – or anyone else’s – in danger. And of course, before you begin, you’ll have taken your certificate so you know exactly what you’re doing!
We wish you calm seas and a wealth of exciting dives!