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Diving Sites - Marsa Alam

This small, isolated reef lies in the open sea, almost halfway to Saudi Arabia. Less than 800m (0.5 miles) across, it is marked by a lighthouse which forms the only break on the horizon for many miles in any direction. The reef has steep drops on the east, north and south sides, all offering good diving. The southern side offers excellent shelter form the prevailing north winds, and is the preferred mooring point for visiting boats. The profile of the reef on the three best sides is very sheer, running form the surface to depths of 70m (230ft) or more.

On the west side, there is a drop-off with an ‘anemone city’, where you will find astonishing concentrations of beautiful anemones and a section of massive blue coral growth.

To the north, the open water currents bring the best selection of pelagic fish with frequent sightings of the awesome manta rays especially in march to April. Moving down the east coast, another impressive drop-off runs toward the southeast tip of the reef, where there have been repeated sightings of thresher sharks. This is a rare opportunity to see these amazing predators up close. They are easily recognized by their elongated tails, with which they are said to ‘thresh’ schools of smaller fish, stunning them before eating them. The reef is richly developed throughout, with good coral growth from the surface to the depths. Hard and soft coral species are both well represented. Fish life is as dense as you would expect on an isolated reef pinnacle, with the usual reef species complemented by large concentrations of schooling species, such as snapper, long nose unicorn fish and a variety of surgeonfish.  

ELEPHANTINE REEF This long, finger-like reef runs from north to south in the open Red Sea. Steep walls drop to the depths on the reef’s east and west sides, reaching 70m (230ft) or more, while the north and south ends of the reef are marked by submerged plateau. The northern plateau is very shallow, offering some superb snorkeling possibilities. The southern plateau is much deeper, with a drop-off at 30m (100ft) leading down to the depths. A large underwater arch can be found here, between 50 and 70m (164-230ft). This lies beyond the range of most sports divers, but has a fascinating story attached to it. Legend has it that the sarcophagus of an unknown pharaoh lies beneath the arch, and you can, in fact, see the outlines of a suspiciously rectangular, coral encrusted mass in the depths at around 60m (197ft).

Coral coverage is dense and magnificent, with a full range of hard and soft corals on all sides. The east side in particular has some beautiful soft coral growth. A massive number of reef species lends still more color to the already dazzling walls, with a ready supply of big solitary and schooling pelagic to observe. One great hammerhead seems to be a permanent resident along with a very curious oceanic white tip, a close encounter with this fish will leave you buzzing for days. This is an endlessly fascinating site, worth diving any number of times, both by snorkellers and by the more advanced diver.

SATAYA / DOLPHIN REEF

This horseshoe-shaped reef lies in open water to the northeast of Ras Banas. The eastern side of the reef has a steeply sloping wall profile, giving way to a sandy slope scattered with coral heads and pinnacles toward the reef’s southeast corner. The lower reaches of the reef are rather poorly covered, with the best coral growth occurring in the top 10m (33ft). The southern pinnacles are especially rich, with a wide variety of coral types throughout. The varied hard coral composition of the heads and pinnacles acts as a base for some extremely nice soft coral growth, particularly dendronephthia. Fish life here is excellent.

Schooling fish of all types are seen in large numbers, while reef-dwellers, such as angelfish and butterflies, provide flashes of color. Cuttlefish and shrimps put in an appearance for the invertebrates, and blue spotted and black spotted stingrays are common. Sharks of several types can also frequently be spotted here, and there are regular reports of dolphins along the reef or inside the lagoon as they return here to sleep every night. The good shelter provided by the reef makes this an excellent stop for live-aboard.

 

SHAAB SHARM

This large, kidney-shaped reef, said to be the top of a volcanic pinnacle, features a steep sloping wall on its east and south sides, with a considerable varied profile, especially on the southeastern and southern stretches. The crescent of reef around the reef’s southern tip offers the best diving, with rich coral growth from the surface shallows down, and the most int4eresting profile and layout in the area. There are numerous undercut sections and reef shelves harboring dense soft coral growth and a good range of hard corals. There are also some good black coral bushes on the wall’s deeper sections. Fish life is excellent, with a vast array of huge grouper, schooling barracuda, massive congregations of snapper and unicorns and some  

very large giant, yellow margin and yellow mouth morays. Currents here can be forceful, and less experienced divers should pay close attention to conditions.  

 

DIVING the BROTHERS The Brothers, or El Akhawein, are two small islands in the middle (width-ways) of the Red Sea. Big Brother and Little Brother are a 10 minute boat ride apart. The larger Brother is home to a lighthouse manned by the military. Often surrounded by wild currents, the scenery makes for some wonderful dives. Add to this the high likelihood of seeing sharks, and you're guaranteed fantastic experiences. We prefer the Little Brother for sheer decorativeness, but it's a narrow decision. The Brothers are steep-sided cones.  

They were probably formed by volcanic action caused by the spreading of the Red Sea rift. The Egyptian authorities have acted to protect the Brothers: the islands are periodically closed to divers, and even when open a $5 (US) fee per diver per day is charged (the money going towards protecting the marine environment). At the moment diving is allowed so go whilst you've got the opportunity. A superb place to see sharks ,especially on little Brother, often spotted here are white tips, grey reefs, hammerheads, silkys, threshers and another very ( sometimes too )curious oceanic white tip! There's also a possibility of seeing the rare sunfish (mola mola).
When to Go? you need good weather to dive the Brothers. It's an exposed spot with no shelter for boats to moor up in. Anchoring is forbidden so mooring is at permanently fixed buoys. In very bad weather these may be swept away. The winds are often weakest during full moon, and if you can stand the heat, the months of June, July and August are the calmest. Sharks increase in number from May.ST JOHNS REEF / DEEP SOUTHJust ten miles from the Sudanese border, the massive reef system of St Johns was our next destination. St Johns spans 13 miles across and 8 miles in length, and due to its remoteness it's one of the last Red Sea wildernesses. The reefs rise up from an enormous undersea plateau. Some are tiny and have yet to reach right up to the surface. Known as Habilis, these virgin reefs offer virtually no protection to dive boats, but they make breathtaking dives. We dived on one simply known as Four Meter reef. We could just see it below the surface and it looked like we could have swam right round it in five minutes, but once under the surface we found it grew much wider. Its walls plunged away sharply on all sides and as we descended into the inky blue water, we were mobbed by one of the biggest shoals of fish I've ever encountered. A mixture of fusiliers, surgeon and unicorn fish, they danced all around us in mesmerizing fashion and when they dispersed, behind them were three or four white tip sharks.  
Sharks are commonly encountered at St Johns. Hammerheads, threshers and even oceanic white tips are sometimes seen, whilst greys and white tips are regularly sighted. We were just happy to see the white tips, since the warmer-than-normal water kept most of the sharks in deeper water. During the rest of the dive we cruised round the undersea island, past millions of orange anthias, yellow and black banner fish, groupers and regal angelfish, and through bushes of black coral and beautiful purple and orange soft corals. At Sha'ab Martin, named after the Ghazala Voyager skipper Martin De Banks (one of the last European skippers operating in the Red Sea) we were on the hunt for more sharks, but the only ones a couple of our group encountered were in 60 plus meters! I wasn't too concerned as I found myself swimming through huge shoal of fusiliers, banner fish, butterfly fish and snappers, past another forest of black coral and some stunning sea fans.

 
We also came across a turtle that was gorging itself on coral like there was no tomorrow, and watched Napoleon wrasse cruise round the reef top, with a backdrop of hundreds of smaller tropical fish and brilliantly colored coral groupers. Many of St Johns sites have yet to be given proper names and are relatively unknown, but there are a few exceptions. Sha'ab Mharus is a fairly large reef, with sheer walls adorned with beautiful sea whips and soft corals, and riddled with caves. Sha'ab Farag, a large circular reef, is also very scenic with a huge overhang which dominates a plateau on its south end, while along its east wall a couple of caves are joined together by a short tunnel and make entertaining exploration. Close by there is a huge field of anemones and resident clown fish. Fish life at St Johns is refreshing; we saw plenty of large shoals, with Napoleons and jacks on just about every dive. On a couple of reefs bump head parrotfish, a species normally found further south in Sudan can even be encountered.  

 
 

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