Diving on the Volcano: El Bajón

El Bajón is an underwater mountain at the southern tip of El Hierro, the island that once was the end of the old world. Out of the deep blue, its steep rock faces rise from a hundred metres depth to a few metres below the ocean surface making the volcanic peak an thrilling dive spot.

El Bajón is an underwater mountain near the fishing village of La Restinga in El Hierro. The steep summits rise from a hundred metres depth almost to the ocean surface. The currents support an abundant marine life with large dusky groupers, barracuda, greater amberjacks, and sometimes whale sharks and manta rays.
El Bajón is an underwater mountain near the fishing village of La Restinga in El Hierro. The steep summits rise from a hundred metres depth almost to the ocean surface. The currents support an abundant marine life with large dusky groupers, barracuda, greater amberjacks, and sometimes whale sharks and manta rays.

La Restinga, Fishing and Diving Village

Starting point for the dive is the fishing village of La Restinga in the south of El Hierro. It’s a sleepy municipality of about six hundred people that is mainly visited by divers. La Resting has no hotels, only one grocery store, but several fish restaurants and bistros; one of them being the most southern bar of Europe. The village comes to life during the Fiesta del Virgen del Carmen, a week-long celebration of the village’s patron saint, culminating in the sailing out of the fishermen with the saint.

El Hierro is an UNESCO biosphere, and the coast near La Restinga is a marine reserve making marine fauna rich and diverse. Fishing is done the old-fashioned way with fishing line and hook, in case of tuna with a bamboo rod and bait.

One of the restaurant owners has his own fishing boat, so fresh fish for dinner is guaranteed. Side dish is papas arrugadas, potatoes with a salt crust. An island’s specialty is cheese served in honey from local apicultures. There’s also local wine coming from the northern flank of the mountain ridge, e.g. from La Frontera. El Hierro never had a phylloxera plant louse problem, thus the autochthonous grape vine varieties Vijariego Negro and Baboso Negro survived.

Hopeful aims to make El Hierro energetically self-sufficient using wind energy failed, unfortunately. Less than half of energy is currently supplied by wind generators.

La Restinga is a fishing village at the southern tip of El Hierro.
The sun rises over La Restinga, a fishing village at the southern tip of El Hierro.

El Bajón, a Volcanic Underwater Monument

The trip with the Zodiac inflatable boat from the harbour to El Bajón is short. The buoy at El Bajón indicates a significant current in the water. As we submerge, we can immediately see the famous peak. El Bajón means drop in Spanish, and the view over the underwater rock edge into the deep blue water is indeed impressive – the rock sharply rises from a hundred metres depth.

Only a million years old, El Hierro is a geologically young island (the earth is 4.5 billion years old), and the volcanic island’s formation is all but complete. The eastward drift of the African tectonic plate forms a hotspot on the Atlantic ocean floor. The mountainous landscape of the island continues underwater, the seabed around El Hierro is at three thousand metres depth.

A Year After the Volcano Eruption, Marine Life was More Vivid Than Before

In November 2011, the fishing village La Restinga had to be evacuated because of the eruption of an underwater volcano three kilometres south of the harbour. The volcano spew fontains and volcanic rocks surfaced, named Restingolitas. The volcanic cone grew and rose to 120 metres beneath the ocean surface. NASA satellite images recorded four months later showed the extent of the eruption. Günter, the owner of Fan Diving, described the months after the eruption: after the initial devastation, algae growth exploded and the whole food chain proliferated. After a year, marine life was more vivid than before.

Four months after the underwater volcanic eruption off El Hierro, discoloration of the water indicates volcanic material in this natural-color satellite image taken February 10, 2012. NASA Earth Observatory image used with permission.
Satellite image of the southern tip of El Hierro with the village La Restinga. Four months after the underwater volcanic eruption off El Hierro, discoloration of the water indicates volcanic material in this natural-color satellite image taken February 10, 2012 (NASA Earth Observatory image used with permission).

El Bajón has two summits with a volcanic crater in-between that gives a little shelter from the current. We observe large dusky groupers, barracuda, and greater amberjacks, among other fish. Sometimes even whale sharks and manta rays visit, but not today. As we come up, the ocean current is strong and the boat instantly drifts away after casting off the rope. We head back to La Restinga, deeply impressed by marine life and the dramatic volcanic underwater landscape.

El Bajón is an underwater mountain with two summits and a crater near the fishing village of La Restinga in El Hierro.
El Bajón is an underwater mountain with two summits and a crater near the fishing village of La Restinga in El Hierro.