The coast of South West Cork is located at the South East side of Ireland. It consists of rather high cliffs and islands composed by Old Red Sandstone whose layers are mostly oriented vertically. The coast is exposed to of the Atlantic Ocean but the chaotic coastline makes it possible to find some protection from the oceanic waves.
Under sea level the sandstone forms reefs that are alternated by gullies running from the shore to deeper water. The bottom of the gullies and the places they end are covered by coarse gravel. As can be expected in these latitudes dense kelp forests dominate life close to the shore. At depth these algae are replaced by animal species.
Kelp (Laminaria digitata and Laminaria hyperborea) can be found till about 15 meters depth. At greater depth Dead mans fingers (Alcyonium digitatum) or Feathers stars (Anthedon bifida) are the dominant species on the reefs. The relative softness of the sandstone also facilitates the Yellow boring sponges (Cliona celata) to form bulky masses. Many species of anemones and sea stars can be found as well.
Wrasses like Ballan and Cuckoo wrasse and Goldsinnies a very common along the coast. As for bigger species Lesser spotted dogfish, Congers and Lings are to be encountered regularly. Rarer species found along the coast are John Dory. Sunfish may be met in late summer.
The coast well suited to watch mammals like seals, dolphins and whales. Common and grey seals (Phoca vitulina and Halichoerus grypus) live along the coasts. In the open ocean Common dolphins and harbour porpoises (Delphinus delphus and Phoceona phoceona) are resident all year round.
The most common whales to spot are Minke whales (Balaenoptera acutorostrata), Fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) and Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae). Minke whales may be seen from May through to December. Family groups of fin whales arrive in the early summer months and are resident through to January. Humpback whales may be seen during whale watching tours between August and January. Chance encounters may occur with killer whales (Orcas), bottlenose and Risso's Dolphins and long finned pilot whales at different times throughout the year.
Most diving sites are on the more exposed parts out of the bays. So take into account the oceanic waves, especially after a period of south western winds. Also avoid currents by checking the tides. Visibility can be excellent but is bound to decrease after stormy conditions.
The area is well known for its wrecks. Most famous wreck is that of the Kowloon Bridge, with its length of 300 meters it is the biggest wreck in Europe. Plans are made to salvage the wreck with its valuable iron ore cargo. A petition is running against the salvage. Mainly because of the environmental risks of this action, 20% of the fuel is still on board, but also because of the loss to both marine and diving communities .
Baltimore is nice fishing village to start from. It has two diving centers, Aquaventures and Baltimore Diving Centre. Also seal, dolhin and whale watching tours are offered. Baltimore can be reached by car, either your own or one rented on one of the Irish airfields. The village is quite popular, so bread and breakfast, hotels, restaurants and pubs will be available.