Red Sea & Indian Ocean
THE NORTHERN RED SEA, EGYPT
Rich Reefs In The Land of the Pharoahs
Season: Year round diving
Visibility: 10-35 metres
Water Temperature: 20-31°C
Due to its proximity to Sham El Sheikh, the northern Red Sea is one of the most talked about dive destinations. The marine park of Ras Mohamed is home to Shark Reef where it is hard to miss the vertical wall and large schools of barracuda and snapper. With so much to look at you can soon end up quite deep if you are not careful! This reef is popular with batfish who always seems willing to pose for photographs. Of course, Shark Reef is so-called for a reason. Grey Reef Sharks are almost ever-present, often joined by Black-tip Reef Sharks. What makes this dive site intriguingly unpredictable is the possibility of a visit by Tiger Sharks, one of the largest and most fascinating sharks. So it is definitely worth keeping an eye out in the blue! Close to this spot if part of the wreck of the Yolanda, a freighter that carried, amongst other things, a large number of toilets that are now home to a variety of invertebrates who enjoy the shelter provided by these most out of place reminders of dry land. And yes, many divers like to take a ‘memory shot’ of their friends here!
One of the Red Sea’s most popular wrecks is the Dunraven. Which ran aground on the nearby reef at Sha’ab Mahmud. She was carrying a cargo of cotton which caught fire, creating an empty yet atmospheric and beautifully lit interior, suitable for beginner wreck divers venturing in to the interior of a wreck for the first time. Colin, the resident Napoleon wrasse may well pay you a visit on your way through. The dark interior of the wreck is popular with squirrelfish and groupers.
Carless Reef is one of the most famous coral reefs in the Hurghada area. Here two coral towers, each about 30 metres in diameter, appear just above the water. The shallow area between the towers is between 12-20 metres. The corals which bedeck the walls of the coral towers are extremely varied and here one will find many anthias, grunts and angelfish. A startling array of soft corals grow here, but beware of the fire coral which is abundant in the shallower layers. The biggest attraction of Carless Reef is the stunning number of enormous moray eels which live here. These splendid creatures appear to be quite menacing, but this is a result of their particular breathing method and not an aggressive posture. It is possible to watch free-swimming morays here and discover their amazing length!
The reef of Abu Nuhas is home to many famous dive sites and has created some especially interesting wrecks. This area is also known as ‘Ship’s Graveyard’ and not without due cause! The splendid Carnatic was a sail and engine steamer which was launched in 1862. She was on her way to Bombay and Calcutta via the Suez Canal in 1869 when, on reaching the northern Red Sea, she collided with the reef and sank, settling with her bow at 16 metres and her stern at 24 metres. Searching the forward holds one can still find many of the wine bottles that made up part of her cargo. Only 60 metres away lies the wreck of the Giannis D which foundered on the reef only two years later and remained grounded for six weeks before sinking with her deepest point at 28 metres. This wreck can be entered and explored quite easily. A large resident population of groupers can be found here, with an amazing array of larger fish constantly on the move around the area. Snappers, sharks and Spotted Eagle Rays are all common. She now makes a superb subject for underwater photography as light rays filter through the water and illuminate the cavities of the boat. In 1981 the Greek ship Chrisoula K collided with the reef with such force that the bow section of the boat completely shattered! She is also known as ‘Tile Wreck’ due to the load she was carrying; large piles of Italian tiles now scattered throughout the hold.
Between the reefs at Sha’ab Ali and the Sinai coastline is an area about 8 kilometres long, with a depth of 30 metres. Within this area now lies the wreck of the famous wreck of the Thistlegorm. Discovered by the late Jacques Cousteau in 1956, the impressive Thistlegorm went down in 1941 after an attack by German bombers. She carried four railway wagons on her main deck and a number of trucks, motorcycles, jeeps and tyres in her holds. There is so much to explore here that many divers take at least two or three dives to cover the completely explore the wreck. Some describe Thistlegorm as the answer to every wreck-divers wildest dreams! Once divers have ‘ticked-off’ the Thistlegorm, the hardened wreck diver might seek to dive on the Rosalie Moller. Sunk 2 days after the Thistlegorm this wreck is for experienced and advanced divers only as the shallowest part of the wreck sits in 26 meters of water. Visibility can be poor but highlights include the enormous swarm of glassy sweepers and the mostly intact superstructure.
In the Sharm-el-Sheikh area are a series of dive sites stretching towards the Straits of Tiran. Marked on the shore by a lighthouse, Um Sid is famous for its forest of huge gorgonians which form large and elegant ‘nets’ to catch plankton in the northern current which constantly flows here. Swimming within this ‘forest’ are spectacular schools of tiny, transparent glassfish along with rich populations of small groupers, gorgeous orange anthias and several species of angelfish.
North of Sharm El Sheikh in the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba are the Straits of Tiran. The reef system comprising Jackson Reef, Woodhouse Reef, Gordon Reef and Thomas Reef sits in the gap between Tiran Island and the mainland peninsula, causing thundering currents, which of course bring with them some fascinating marine life! In summer months, Tiger Sharks have been known to drift through to graze on whatever may take their fancy and both scalloped and great hammerheads have been known to visit these waters. Gordon Reef is home to numerous sea fans and some especially enormous gorgonians. Longnosed Hawkfish are a popular subject for photographers. The commercial freighter Lovilla ran aground and hit Gordon Reef in 1981. It can be seen for miles as it stands more than 10 metres above sea level. Its cargo of tar barrels still litter the edge of the reef plateau and has made an interesting home for many marine species. Anemones are numerous. Look out for their ever-present clown fish inhabitants. Thomas Reef is the smallest and most popular reef, it is so small that when currents allow, you can circumnavigate the whole reef. Famed for its vertical walls and coral overhangs as well as a deep canyon on the plateau at 25 meters, Thomas Reef is especially beautiful when the sun lights up the top section of the reef. At this time the reef is clothed in a kaleidoscope of colors and it is the best time to see some of the Red Sea’s finest soft and hard coral formations. Woodhouse Reef is the longest and narrowest of the four reefs and offers a great drift dive with shelter from the sometimes surging north side of the reef. Look out for the rare black whip coral and sleeping sharks on the sandy plateau. Jackson Reef boasts a world famous coral garden teaming with fish life and hundreds of species of corals. A rare red anemone at 28 metres is a photographers highlight, and is home to probably the most photographed clownfish in the Red Sea! During the summer months it is possible to dive the outside wall of Jackson Reef where you are very often lucky enough to catch shoals of Scalloped Hammerheads cruising the reef walls. This reef is also home to a shipwreck, The Lara, a Cypriot freighter which hit the reef in 1985, she now stands on the northern edge of the reef as a marker to warn other seafarers of how deceptive these reefs and deep water can be.
Gubal and Shedwan Islands lie in the Gubal Straits. Home of many impressive drop offs, caves, wonderful schools of thousands of glassfish, large schools of Yellow Goatfish and sweetlips, and sightings of turtles are not uncommon. Shag Rock is marked by a light beacon and the wreck of a small fishing boat. Its name comes from the numerous cormorants or shags which can still be seen sitting on top of parts of the reefs. This site offers easy diving where you will see schools of sweetlips and butterflyfish intertwining.