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The Gibraltar Museum Underwater Research Unit (URU) carries out research on Gibraltar’s submerged natural and cultural heritage. It has been carrying out a systematic, detailed visual survey of the seabed around the Rock since September 2000 when volunteers from the Gibraltar Museum and the Joint Services Sub-Aqua Diving Club BS-AC 317S (JSSDC) commenced a survey of the caves to the north of the Ammunition Jetty on the east side of the Rock. Since then the URU has made an inventory of wrecks and other archaeological artefacts, as part of the database of heritage monuments, fortifications and buildings that the Gibraltar Museum is compiling.
The URU works closely with the Nautical Archaeology Society (NAS) to preserve our archaeological heritage in the marine environment, by acting as a focus for coastal and marine archaeology. Work on a World War II wreck of an armed trawler, known locally as the ‘Inner-and-Outer’, was recognised in 2003 with the first ‘Adopt-a-Wreck’ Award being bestowed on the URU. The Unit has two NAS instructors.
But the URU has also been working one area of Gibraltar’s underground world which is the most inaccessible, and that of course is the caves which are today located below sea level. Most caves form above sea level, and the reason for some caves being located below sea level now is that for the better part of the last 100,000 years the level of the sea was much lower – in fact it was up to 120 metres lower. This means that there is a real possibility that the caves which are now underwater were at one time being lived in by people. The URU has therefore started the long process of surveying and exploring these caves.
The first part of the study between 2000 and 2005 surveyed the ‘East Side Caves’ that are to the north of the Gorham’s Cave Complex. The caves are located progressively deeper the further north they are, until they are completely below sea level. Some of the ‘East Side Caves’ have been scoured by the frequent easterly storms, but others have some sediments remaining, and will be the subject of future research.
There are other caves located further from the present day shoreline, and some of these are found in an area of Europa Reef known locally as Vladi’s Reef. There are six main caves which were studied by the URU as part of the project GIBRAMAR (EFCHED) initiative with the University of York and the National Oceanography Centre.
There is still a lot of work to be done, with many caves still only having been located, and waiting their turn.
The URU is also very active in the field of marine biology especially working with the endangered Ribbed Mediterranean Limpet (Patella ferruginea). This limpet is found in Gibraltar where it enjoys a protected status, but it is recognised by the European Council Directive 92/43/EEC as being the most endangered endemic marine invertebrate of the Western Mediterranean coasts.
For further information please email: uru @gibmuseum.gi