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Fethiye’s coastal town and its environs in southwest Turkey have been home to numerous civilizations throughout history. This is an area of spectacular beauty, with its famous Oludeniz lagoon, wonderful sand beaches, steep rocky shoreline, and pine-clad mountains. Fethiye, a short distance from Dalaman Airport, is also attracting people who come to delight in its lesser-known underwater world.

Divers exploring the sapphire seas around Fethiye have recently been discovering many previously unknown underwater caves. Since the caves generally have quite large entrances and most are situated at depths of less than 30 meters, light filters inside are safe for all divers with a certificate. On day tours from Fethiye, it is possible to make two thirty-minute dives to visit these caves. Three of the most interesting are situated beyond Sahin Point to the east of Fethiye: the Afkule, Turkish Bath, and Mexican Hat caves.

The Turkish Bath Cave’s dome-like cave roof and architectural entrance inspired the name. A cleft in the roof admits light for part of the day, creating beautiful effects within the cave, whose entrance lies 10 meters.

Longer boat trips along this lovely coast enable divers to visit more remote caves, such as that in the bay of Asi west of Fethiye. This large cave lies on the bay’s southeast headland, and its wide entrance is at a depth of 12 meters. When we entered, it took some minutes for our eyes to become accustomed to the darkness. The first thing we saw were tiny red cardinal fish swimming near the roof of the cave. We turned on our torches and began to search around for other inhabitants.

Between the rocks were spiny scorpionfish, and peering from its lair was the head of a moray eel. In the base of the cracks in the cave’s sides were colonies of shrimps by the thousand, and on the cave walls were white tube worms.

Beyond was the second entrance to the cave, glowing with extraordinary beauty. The strong light illuminated the cave floor and ceiling within the entrance in myriad shades of blue. Sailing from Fethiye to Oludeniz lagoon, we stopped in the bay of Sariyar, where the rocky sea bed forms a labyrinth of tunnels, crevices, and passages of all shapes and sizes. Here live colonies of seahorses found nowhere else in the area, tuna fish and turtles. Balaban’s island is another fascinating spot for divers, with its sheer cliffs plunging deep into the sea. Here it is possible to explore the entire periphery in a single dive. At the southern end of the island, Mediterranean barracudas are almost always to be seen. The Gulf of Fethiye is full of surprises.

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In the bay of Turunc Pinari one late afternoon, we saw a school of sardines progressing in waltzing movements, and donning our masks and flippers; we set out to follow them. When one of us dived into the centre of the shoal, it divided into several parts, then immediately joined up together again.

This feat of choreography was an amazing sight! Watching the silverfish’ swirling motions, we were as captivated as if by a firework display. At that moment, two bonitos began to feast on the sardines at the outer edges of the shoal.

Later we were told that the sardines swim together to give the impression of one enormous fish, so scaring away predators. By dividing the shoal, we had enabled the bonitos to discern the individual sardines, and they had promptly come in for the attack. Musing over the endlessly fascinating wonders of nature, we made our way back to dry land.