Diving Offshore and the Deep South
Diving has become a mainstream sport, and the Red Sea has changed form an isolated paradise for rugged explorers to a multimillion dollar tourism industry on a massive scale. But the reefs of the deep south still lie beyond the range of dive packages and those with the time (and the money) to dive these remote reefs can still see the Red Sea as Hans Hass or Jacques Cousteau first saw them.
For the purposes of this web site, the deep south is everything beyond El Quseir, the southernmost dive base in Egypt. Most of these sites need a well-equipped live-aboard to reach the dive sites.
The deep south extends down toward Sudan, where summer temperatures often top 50 degrees (122 F). Winter weather is balmy and even in January you're unlikely to need more than a light jacket or sweatshirt.
Surface weather conditions play a big part in dive planning. The seasonal wind changes in autumn bring rough seas and swells big enough to make even the largest live-aboard uncomfortable. Many operators consider these sites unadvisable from September or October onwards, so the idea season for diving here is high summer.
The diving here is worth any amount of weather-related discomfort. There are blankets of schooling reef fish pierced by flashing pelagic marauders and coral cliffs that drop out of sight in a riot of scintillating colors. There are also vast expanses of coastal reef virtually untouched by the tarnishing hand of mass tourism, and the serenity of blue skies and even bluer water as you motor across empty the empty expanse of the open Red Sea.
Some of the big names of Red Sea diving lie in these waters. There are the Brothers, isolated towers of pristine coral rising form abyssal depths and shrouded in schools of sharks, or Zabargad and Rocky Island, almost a holy grail of Egyptian offshore diving with their sheer walls and coral gardens. But there are hundreds of lesser-known reefs here that far surpass the best of the northern Red Sea, and they form part of the thrill of exploring the deep south's unknown reefs and seeing sights that few divers will ever see.
The deep south has always had a reputation for sharks, but big schools of snapper, surgeons, bizarre longnossed unicorns and a host of others are a feature on most reefs, and the schooling predators such as barracuda and trevally are so common here as to be quite unremarkable.
On the reef, the colorful profusion of lively reef fishes almost defies description. Giant grouper swim head to tail with huge Napoleon wrasse, blue triggerfish appear in their hundreds and angelfish of every conceivable type play tag with butterflyfish and damsels. Elegant lionfish, prehistoric scorionfish and eels as thick as telephone poles abound.
The Reefs of the deep south are brimming with vibrant coral growth, with a density and pristine quality unseen in the north. Waving fields of soft corals or huge, leafy masses of plate coral, Acropora tables big enough for a board meeting, giant bommies and delicate, lacy seafans or just a few of the delights of the deep south.
Water temperatures are high for most of the year, usually 27 degrees (81 F) or more in summer, and rarely falling as low as 21 or 22 degrees (70-72 F) in winter. Like all tropical seas, there is always the chance of plankton or algal blooms that bring sharply reduced visibility, but waters tend to stay clear for most of the year. Average visibility is in the 20m (65ft) range, though at a given site on a given day will often be much higher.
Currents and surface swells are often quite strong and, as mentioned above, can make certain sites inaccessible at certain times of the year. On the more exposed open sea reefs such as Rocky Island or The Brothers, it's not unusual to experience surge from surface swell as deep as 20m (65ft) or more. Some of these sites are challenging, but seldom beyond the range of a reasonable experienced open water diver.
With shore-based dive facilities coming to an end at El Quseir, the only practical means of access to most of these sites is long-range live-aboard boat. Several boats have operated out of Marsa Alam and the small ports around it for the last few summers, and more operators are basing themselves in the area each year. In addition, a number of boats visit these sites as part of extremely long-distance cruises from Hurghada or Sharm El Sheikh, either as part of all-Egyptian itineraries or as part of international dive tours that can range from Israel to Djibouti.
It would in theory be possible to dive many of the southern coastal sites from shore. In practical terms though, you would find it very difficult to manage on your own. The southern Red Sea is strategically sensitive, and you need a whole range of permissions and paperwork to dive there. There are, however, some shore-based safaris operating along the southern coast, with tent accommodation and shore diving on prime dive sites.
Dive Operators and Facilities
Boats operating on the deep south sites range in quality from extremely basic to palatially luxurious. The standard of service is obviously reflected in the price of the trip, and a week on the most luxurious of these boats will cost you more than a month of shore-based diving in the north.
Even the more basic boats have competent and knowledgeable crew and dive staff, and are generally well equipped and comfortable. The more expensive boats offer air-conditioned splendor and amenities from video movies to en suite showers, and boast the latest in compressors and fittings.
Local Dive Etiquette
Bear in mind, as you dive on these pristine sites, that this is what the northern Red Sea dive sites looked like twenty years ago, and that these beautiful reefs could end up in the same condition within ten years. Every diver is responsible for the well-being of the reef. Each misplaced finstroke or handhold is another nail in the coffin for this delicate ecosystem. Diving here is a privilege, so please take it seriously
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Last Updated: May 30th, 2011