By Emperor's Regional Manager, Luke Atkinson
The phrase ‘world class’ gets overused, and it’s true I’ve seen people turn their noses up when I say the Red Sea can offer true ‘world class’ diving. I suppose it’s comforting to think that unless you make 2 or more flight connections and spend at least a full day travelling then yeah sure, you can have great diving, but not ‘world class’.
I’m lucky enough to be able to travel around all the Emperor Red Sea centres and meet divers in every location. What surprises me is that not everybody knows about what is for me (and many, many others) one of the greatest spectacles you can see under the water anywhere in the world, and it’s just a 5 hour flight from Europe.
Sharm El Sheikh offers great diving year round, but from mid-May-ish to mid-July-ish (hey – this is nature we’re talking about), the tip of the Sinai Peninsula where the 2 gulfs collide becomes the meeting place for huge schools of fish concentrated on one or two dive sites, and it is so good you run out of superlatives. The Egyptians have known about this for years, and fortunately made Ras Mohamed area a marine reserve in 1983. For more than 30 years, divers have been able to witness enormous schools of snapper, batfish, barracuda, tuna and unicornfish among others. True world class.
I hadn’t managed to dive Ras Mo during these summer months for 10 years, so I was buzzing to be able to get the chance last week. We had great conditions, and decided to run an Early Bird trip to beat the crowds, which was a great idea. When we arrived, there was only one other boat there and so for over half the dive we had Shark Reef completely to ourselves. With no current running and great visibility, we could spend as long as we wanted with the twinspot snapper (Lutjanus bohar) school as it dragged us off into the blue, back to the reef and out to the blue again and again. The shape of the school morphed continuously from a giant ball, to a towering column, breaking off into rivers of snappers that split round me and formed another giant mass close by. Always I was thinking to myself that there couldn’t be many more, but dark shapes in the distance proved me wrong as the school just grew and grew. I took a lot of pictures, but believe me there were plenty of times I just let the camera dangle and sat back, taking it all in wary that if my jaw dropped much more I would lose grip on my regulator! It was so good we made a second dive, this time I changed my lens to full fisheye to try and capture the whole ball at once. Again, we were relatively undisturbed as we managed to jump after most divers had left Shark and head for Yolanda. Our plan was to stay with the snapper for another blistering half hour and then seek out the other schools, my priority was batfish.
Unfortunately for us, the batfish were not so plentiful that day and so we didn’t really get the chance this time to see them en masse, but we had heard about a barracuda school just up the coast at Jackfish Alley, so we set off after them. Again, having a different schedule from most daily divers meant we jumped in with no other groups and after 20 minutes we found a school of around 60 pickhandle barracuda (Sphyraena jello) that were very happy to pose more photos and videos. Some nice soft corals on the outcrops of the reef provided more photo opportunities and that rounded off my best day of diving for years.
I stand by what I said in the first paragraph. The Red sea can offer world class diving, and it is offering right now. Sharm El Sheikh became a popular resort for divers with good reason, and if for some reason somebody has ever put you off going there they have done you a disservice! Book with Emperor Divers, and book soon, as this spectacle may only run for another few weeks (until next year!) although rest assured the reefs are beautiful at every other time. When you’re there, get to Ras Mo as often as you can and even if you hate mornings, do the early bird trip, you won’t regret it.