Parco Marino Regionale

The Marine National Park was created in 1986, the first marine reserve ever established in Italy. Since Ustica lies at the center of an inward current surging through the Straits of Gibraltar directly from the Atlantic Ocean, its waters are always clean and free of pollution.

Underwater photographers flock to the park to film the stunning aquatic flora and fauna. A rare seaweed, Poseidonia oceanica, is called "the lungs of the sea" because it oxygenates the water. You may also see an array of magnificent red gorgonians, stunning black coral, plentiful turtles (now that they are protected), swordfish, lobster, and cernia (a kind of sea perch). Some divers claim to have had close encounters with grouper as big as a Fiat 500.

The park comprises three zones. A area extends along the western part of the isle from Cala Sidoti to Caletta and as far as 935m (3,068 ft.) offshore. Swimming is allowed here, but boats and fishing are prohibited. B area extends from Punta Cavazzi to Punta Omo Morto, taking in the entire southwest-to-northeast coastline, and extending out into the sea a distance of 3 nautical miles. Swimming is permitted here. Finally, C area is a partial reserve made up of the rest of the coast. Swimming is allowed here, as is fishing.

Exploring a Watery Wonderland -- J. Y. Cousteau claimed that the waters off the coast of Ustica were among the most beautiful he'd ever seen, ideal for diving and underwater photography -- and I agree. The best spot for diving is the Grotta del Gamberi, near Punta Gavazzi, at the southern tip of the island beyond Grotta del Tuono. Nearby is the famous Sub-Aqua Archaeological Trail; lying off the headland is Punta Gavazzi with its lighthouse. Many anchors and even Roman amphorae can still be seen in these waters.

The best dive spot on the north coast is Secca di Colombara, to the west of Grotta dell'Oro. Here you can see a vast array of gorgonians and Ustica's most beautiful sponges. Scoglio del Medico, or "doctor's rock," lies off the west coast of the island directly north of the bay called Baia Sidoti. This outcropping of basalt, riddled with grottoes and gorges, plunges to murky depths in the Atlantic, and offers a panoramic seascape unequaled anywhere else in Sicily.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.