THE REEFS AND DIVE SITES
Diving around Sharm el Sheikh
The morphology of Sharm el Sheikh’s coastline is unique. Although some beaches can be found, the area mainly consists of sheer, flat-topped cliffs extending vertically out of the sea. Running parallel to these cliffs along their entire length is flat narrow stretch of reef, referred to as the reef table. The reef table extends downwards as a fully-fledged wall. This 65km stretch is considered to be one of the richest and most famous reefs in the world. For mile after mile, hard and soft coral species, reef and pelagic fish abound in a dazzling display.
Sha’ab Abu Nuhas
The reef of Abu Nuhas, meaning ‘Father of Copper’ in Arabic, was named by the local fisherman who used to find many copper parts in their nets: they belonged to the Carnatic and to other vessals wrecked in this area. The reef is situated in the middle of the Strait of Gubal directly north of Shadwan Island which is about 3 miles away. This is a fairly sensitive position with its proximity to the major shipping lanes of the Gulf of Suez. Numerous ships were wrecked on this half-submerged reef that previously had no lighthouse, four of which are still visible today and in good condition: they transformed the coral reef of Abu Nuhas into one of the most appreciated sites amongst scuba divers in the Red Sea. All wrecks lie on the northern side of the reef exposed to prevailing winds and waves, and extending from west to east. The oldest one is the wreck of theCarnatic that goes back to 1869, the youngest of the still visible wrecks is the Ghiannis D., shipwrecked in 1983. The remaining two wrecks are, respectively, the Kimon M. and the Marcus. The Olden, transporting lentils, sank in 1987 and has vanished, probably resting in deep waters still to be found. On the southern side of the reef, in front of a shallow lagoon that has no access, there is the only fixed mooring offering sufficient protection for boats. Further to the south, between Abu Nuhas and Shadwan, there are three small reefs called Yellowfish Reefs due to the presense of numerous yellow fish: butterflyfish, grunts and goatfish that come up from a sandy seabed at a depth of 15 meters. They can be an object of an alternative dive when weather conditions do not allow wreck diving. The wrecks should be explored when there is a calm sea and preferably by zodiac.
It is also now possible to make a day trip to Sha’ab Abu Nuhas. S paces on this very special trip are limited so early booking is highly recommended. For more information contact Dive Africa Sharm.
Strait of Gubal
The Strait of Gubal connects the Gulf of Suez and the Red Sea and is bordered to the west by the Egyptian coast and to the east by the Sinai peninsula. The Gulf of Suez is much shallower than the Gulf of Aqaba because of its different geological origin; its average depth is about 80 meters.
The canal through which ships pass into the Strait of Gubal – which is much wider than the Strait of Tiran – is flanked to the northeast by two outcrops called Beacon Rock and Shag Rock, both of which have beacons as well as the wrecks of theDunraven and the Kingston respectively. To the southwest the canal is delimited by the southern tip of the Shadwan Island, which also has a beacon, situated 15.2 miles from the one on Beacon Rock.
The southeastern section of the strait is characterized by the presence of two massive, half-outcropping coral formations (called sha’ab in Arabic) that create a coral reef inside which there are shallow lagoons with sand floors.
On a level with the western side of the Ras Mohammed peninsula is Sha’ab Mahmud, about 6 miles long and 2.7 miles wide, delimited to the north and south by two smaller sha’abs called Sha’ab Surur and Sha’ab el-Utat. Sha’ab Mahmud consists of a coral reef oriented in a northwest-southeast direction, cut through on its western side by two channels, Small Crack and Big Crack, and completely open on its southern side. This vast lagoon is navigable and is usually used by the boats going to the diving sites in the Gubal region because it is well sheltered from the waves.
The second large coral formation in the Strait of Gubal is Sha’ab Ali, situated north of Sha’ab Mahmud, extending for 8.3 miles in a northeast-southwest direction and separated from the Sinai coast by a canal with an average depth of 20-25 meters.
Sha’ab Ali is well-known for the famous wreck of the Thistlegorm on its eastern side.
It surrounds a lagoon 7-10 meters deep, the entrance of which, marked by a series of luminous buoys, lies on its northeastern side. Diving boats often spend the night in this lagoon so that scuba divers can be at the site of the shipwreck at dawn, thus avoiding the arrival of the many boats from Sharm and Hurghada later in the morning.
Strait of Tiran
The Strait of Tiran lies at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba and is delimited to the west by the coast of the Sinai and to the east by the Island of Tiran. In the middle of this canal are four coral reefs lying in a NE-SW direction that were named after the 19th-century English cartographers who drew the first nautical map of the region – Jackson Reef, Woodhouse Reef, Thomas Reef and Gordon Reef. These reefs divide the strait into two canals: to the east is the so-called Grafton Passage, which is used exclusively by ships going northwards, while to the west is the Enterprise Passage for ships heading south. East of the island of Tiran and the nearby island of Sanafir – both part of Saudi Arabia but granted to Egypt for military defence – the configuration of the canal floor makes navigation impossible.
On a level with the Strait of Tiran, the Gulf of Aqaba passes from an average width of 10-12 to 2.4 miles, while the floor ranges from a depth of 1,270 meters to only 71 meters in the Grafton Passage and 250 meters in the Enterprise Passage.
This particular configuration of the strait reduces deep water exchange between the Gulf of Aqaba and the rest of the Red Sea on the one hand, causing an increase of salinity and temperature, while on the other hand it gives rise to an increase in the speed of the tidal currents and the average height of the waves moved by the wind which, chanelled by the tall mountains of the Sinai and Saudi Arabia, is in turn subject to acceleration. The peculiar topographical arrangement of these reefs and the presence of prevailing winds coming from the north, which are stronger in the morning and calmer in the afternoon, means their western and northern sides (or “outside”) are much more exposed to the action of the waves than the eastern and southern ones, which are “inside” and sheltered.
The strong currents characterizing the Strait of Tiran transport great quantities of plankton and other nutrient material every day, thus supplying a great deal of food to the corals and hence to the reef fish, which in turn are eaten by the large pelagic predators such as barracuda, jackfish, tuna and above all sharks, which are always present in this zone. Consequently, scuba divers in the waters of Tiran are sure to see not only an infinite number of corals but also rich fauna, both reef and pelagic. However, they must always be careful of the wind, tides and currents here, which will condition the time, place and type of dive.
South of Sharm el Sheikh the coast is totally deserted, with no shelter, for more than a mile, up to the small bay named Marsa Ghozlani where the Ras Mohammed National Park begins.
This is followed by another bay, Marsa Bareika, which is larger and deeper. It penetrates the land for 2.8 miles, forming theRas Mohammed peninsula, which extends south-eastwards into the Red Sea for almost 5 miles and separates the Gulf of Aqaba from the Gulf of Suez.
The eastern coast of the Ras Mohammed peninsula is composed of a tall fossil coral reef that is interrupted for a few dozen meters by the only accessible beach in the area, Aqaba Beach, and ends at the Ras Mohammed headland – ‘Mohammed’s Cape’ in Arabic, because its profile is like the bearded one of the Prophet. The rocky spur is about 60 meters high; on top of it is the Shark Observatory balcony.
On the southern side of the peninsula there are three beaches -Shark Observatory Beach, Main Beach and Yolanda Beach – the sandy, shallow Hidden Bay, the mouth of which is almost completely blocked by a long coral reef that divides the peninsula of Ras Mohammed into two rocky land spits.
A shallow channel forms a small island called Mangrove Island on the western side with a small beacon. On the sides of the channel grow numerous mangroves (Avicennia marina), which represent an important ecosystem. Mangroves are special plants, quite rare in the Sinai, and thanks to their incredible root system they are able to filter nutrients from the seawater, expelling salt crystals through their leaves.
The western side of the peninsula is low and sandy, and its primary attraction is the only mooring, which is well sheltered, in the area on a level with the half-submerged remains of an old jetty known as The Quay. Because of its geographic position the Ras Mohammed peninsula is a privileged area distinguished for the strong, massive currents that transport large quantities of plankton and other food that give rise to an extraordinary growth of hard and soft corals and attract large schools of both reef and pelagic marine fauna. The classic diving sites begin at the northern and southern-most tip of Marsa Bareika, respectively known as Ras Ghozlani and Ras Za’atar, and continue along the eastern coast with Ras Burg, Jackfish Alley, Eel Garden and Shark Observatory (also known as Ras Mohammed Wall), and at the southern end of the peninsula with Anemone City, Shark Reef and Yolanda Reef.
Further reading – “Protection of the Marine Environment”
The generic name ‘Local Dives’ (due to their closeness to Sharm) covers all the shore diving sites north and south of Naama Bay between the Strait of Tiran and the town of Sharm el Sheikh.
Naama Bay, still a desert at the end of the eighties, is now a famous international tourist resort. This splendid bay was originally called Marsa el-Aat, situated at the outlet of Wadi el-Aat.
Naama Bay has one of the two jetties that diving boats usually embark from; the other one, Travco Marina, is situated to the southwest in the bay of Sharm el Sheikh, known locally as Sharm el-Maya, or the ‘bay of the harbour’ due to the large tourist port which is also present.
You reach the different local dive sites from Naama Bay following a boat ride that may take anywhere from 10 to 70 minutes. North of Naama Bay there are nine diving spots on a 7.5 mile stretch of coast. Ras Ghamila, the furthest away lies almost directly opposite Gordon Reef;Ras Nasrani is on a level to the international airport; the others, within a short distance of each other are Ras Bob, White Knight, Shark’s Bay, Far Garden, Fiddle Garden, Middle Garden and Near Garden (corresponding to the northerly tip of Naama Bay).
South of Naama Bay are a further nine diving sites: Sodfa, Tower, Pinky Wall, Amphoras, Turtle Bay, Paradise, Ras Umm Sid, Temple and Ras Katy.
Generally speaking, besides their vicinity to Naama Bay, these diving sites have other features in common due to their position, sheltered from waves and strong currents, and to the configuration of the fringing reef, which has found an ideal ecosystem for its growth along this stretch of the coast. Diving here can be enjoyed by divers at all levels and, in good conditions, you can observe many genera of mandrepores (hard corals), innumerable varieties of Alcyonarians (soft corals) and an almost complete range of fish life, from the small anthias to the large Napoleonfish (Cheilinus undulatus), multi-coloured butterflyfish and angelfish to parrotfish, triggerfish to surgeonfish.