Wednesday, June 16

Red Sea Marine Life

There are over 1100 species of fish (whereof about 40 are endemic). There are more than 200 species of corals, species,125 of which are soft corals, 40 species of star fish, 25 species of sea urchins, more than a 100 species of mollusc and 150 species of crustaceans in the Red Sea.

An abundance of marine life inhabit colourful reefs and leave unforgettable memories with anyone who ever dips the face, wearing a mask.

The land masses around the Red Sea are also interesting in an echological way. The islands of Tiran and Sanafir is an important breeding area for a population of the threatened and endemic White-eyed Gull Larus leucophthalamus and sometimes you get to see the magestic Osprey Pandion haliaetus, also turtles come to the Red Sea islands to lay their eggs.

Endemic Species in the Red Sea.

There are several species of fish that you find nowhere else but the Red Sea. Here are some example.
There will be more pictures of endemic species added… We’re trying to track all the endemics down…

Masked Butterflyfish

One classic example of Red Sea Endemic fish: The masked butterflyfish. Often seen in pairs but also here and there in schools, like on Gota Abu Ramada East. Extremely photogenic and easily choreographed fish.

Picasso Triggerfish

Living up to its name, the Picasso triggerfish resembles a picture of the famous painter. Not easy to get to cooperate for photo shoots and quite often takes off in exactly the wrong moment.

Red Sea Flasher Wrasse

Like a display of fireworks. Red Sea Flasher Wrasse. Somewhat anonymous despite the colourfulness. Rather shy and hard to get out for o nice shot.

Red Sea Pipefish

Very pretty and tiny Red Sea Pipefish. This is a pregnant male. With the artificial light from the flash the true colours comes out but during a dive you’ll probably find it (if you can find it) dullish beige-brown.

Where you have a lot of those you’re likely to have stonefish and scorpionfish. The Red Sea Pipefish is their favourite prey.

Red Sea Anemone fish

Many people call them clownfish but that’s actually not correct. This is a Red Sea Anemonefish which belongs to the family Damselfish. There is an Anemonefish in Asia-Pacific called Clownfish but that’s a different specie.
And please stop calling it “Nemo”!

Springer’s Dottyback

This little fellow is quite hard to get a photo of as it’s very shy and very fast. However, Stig from Norway was even faster and managed to get this nice shot.

Spanish Triplefin

Despite the name this little guy is only to be found in the Red Sea. With a maximum size of 2.5cm it might prove tricky to find it even there…

Red Sea Top Shell

Maybe not the prettiest animal in the sea… Often overgrown with algae and a bit grey and dull but it is one of our own species, not to be found anywhere else in the world.

This might not be the most photographed animal in the sea and Sarah from England who took this photo also seemed a bit discombobulated when I asked her to take it.

Sharks in the Red Sea

When diving in the red sea there are a few sharks that you might encounter. There are of course more species of sharks present but these are the ones you are likely (or not unlikely) to meet. Don’t count on a shark encounter though. These animals are all on IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Whitetip reef shark
Triaenodon obesus

Average size about 140 cm to 160 cm, maximum total length probably about 210 cm.
Often found sleeping in caves during the day like on Shaab Kutzi in the Giftun Marine Park area.

Whale shark
Rhincodon typus

Maximum size about 1200 cm average size between 600 and 800 cm.
Summer time all over the Red Sea.

Zebra shark
Stegostoma fasciatum

Maximum size about 350 cm, average size between 250 and 300 cm.
All year around on sandy bottoms, shelves and plateaus, Ras Siyoul is one good example.
Note: Leopardshark Triakis semifasciata is a completely different species that lives around the west coast of north America…

Grey Reef Shark
Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos

a.k.a. Shortnose Blacktail Shark Carcharhinus wheeleri
Maximum size about 170 cm, average size between 130 and 150 cm.
Common. All year around especially on southern liveaboard dive sites like Brothers, Daedalus, Rocky Island, St’ Johns among others.
Note: black band on the tail fin.

Silvertip shark
Carcharhinus albimarginatus

Average size between 200 cm to 250 cm, maximum total length about 300 cm.
Rare. All year around especially on southern liveaboard dive sites like Brothers, Daedalus, Rocky Island, St’ Johns among others.
Note: silver lining on the tailfin no black band

Blacktip shark
Carcharhinus limbatus

Average size about 150 cm and 18 kg, maximum 255 cm.
Seen occasionally around Red Sea during summer.

Silky shark
Carcharhinus falciformis

Average size between 200 and 240 cm, maximum about 330 cm.
Summertime especially May-July on southern liveaboard dive sites like Brothers, Daedalus, Rocky Island, St’ Johns among others.
Note: nearly no marking on fin tips.

Oceanic whitetip shark
Carcharhinus longimanus

Maximum size possibly 390 cm, but most specimens are below 300 cm.
October-December especially on Elphinstone but all over southern liveaboard dive sites like Brothers and Daedalus.

Blacktip reef shark
Carcharhinus melanopterus

Average size about 160 cm, maximum less than 200 cm.

You don’t really see these guys that often in the Red Sea but they are here.

Thresher shark
Alopias vulpinus

Average size between 300 cm and 500 cm (up to 230 kg). Maximum total length about 610 cm and 450 kg.
Wintertime on southern liveaboard dive sites like Brothers and Daedalus.
Note: Yeah guess what…

Shortfin mako
Isurus oxyrinchus

Average size between 180 cm and 250 cm, maximum total length about 400 cm, reaching 570 kg.
Pelagic that can show up net to reef by chance. Don’t bet your head you’ll see one.
Note: spool-shaped body and small fins.

Scalloped hammerhead
Sphyrna lewini

Average size between 250 cm and 300 cm, maximum total length about 370 cm to 420 cm.
Classic schools of up to 40 individuals on Daedalus May-July, Summertime often seen on Brothers, Elphinstone, Rocky/Zabargad Islands and in St John’s area.
Note: huge dorsal fin located well in front of centre of the body and the large size of upper tail-lobe.

Great hammerhead
Sphyrna mokarran

Average size between 400 cm and 500 cm, total maximum size about 610 cm.
Southern liveaboard dive sites.
Note: even bigger dorsal fin located well in front of centre of the body and the large size of upper tail-lobe.

Tiger shark
Galeocerdo cuvier

Average size about 400 cm to 650 cm. Maximum total length probably 800 cm.
Summertime these guys seem to show up here and there. I’ve heard about sightings at the most surprising dive sites.
Note: big teeth…

Cool Special Features of the Red Sea


One of the earliest accounts of the mermaid legend was given in The Odyssey, the story of the hero Odysseus after the Trojan War:

“First you will come to the Sirens
who enchant all who come near them.
If any one unwarily draws in too close
and hears the singing of the Sirens,
his wife and children
will never welcome him home again”

But what inspired the mermaid legend was this animal, the dugong. Actually, in the Red Sea region, the dugong is still called Rousete el Bahr in Arabic which translates into: Bride of the Sea.

Despite that it lacks a trunk and lives in the marine environment, dugongs are distant relatives of the elephant. They are coastal marine mammals that rarely exceed 3m length and may weight up to 400 kg. Dugongs have flattened faces with bristles and fluked horizontal tales like a dolphin or whale.

The well known dugong Dennis in Marsa Abu Dabab has got some peace an quiet. HEPCA has stopped all diving from boats in the bay. Not to worry if you’re planning a liveaboard trip you can still stop in any of many other bays in the area and chances are you might bump in to a dugong there as well. Marsa Shouna and Marsa Mubarak to mention a few and even if there is no dugong at the moment you’re almost guaranteed to see a couple of huge green turtle. If it’s Dennis personally you’d like to meet it’s still allowed to go in from shore in Marsa Abu Dabab. his can be arranged by contacting the dive operator on the beach; Orca Dive Club.

Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are reptiles whose ancestors evolved on land and returned to the sea to live about 150 million years ago. Green turtles have an oval or heartshaped carapace, which is part of their skeleton. They are not able to retract back into their shell like some of their terrestrial cousins can. The green turtle can grow up to 1.3 meter in length and weigh 150 kilograms. The green turtle is considered endangered.

Because of their special blood chemistry, green turtles are able to store oxygen in their blood. This enables them to stay underwater for up to two hours when sleeping. However, when they are eating they will surface every ten to fifteen minutes. Juvenile green turtles have not yet developed this ability and have to sleep floating at the water’s surface. unlike the other sea turtles adult green turtles are believed to have a completely vegetarian diet consisting of different kind of algae and seagrasses.

There are seven species of sea turtles in the world, five of those have been reported in the Red Sea but only three species actually live here; Green Turtle, Hawksbill and Leatherback. The two first species breed and nest here while the latter is suspected to come in for food or just pass by during migration.

The nesting season for the Hawksbill Turtle starts in late May and reaches a peak in early June and mainly this goes on at the beaches of the northern islands like Shedwan, Big Giftun and Small Giftun. About 50 female turtles have been counted on 8 different beaches in the Hurghada area.

The Green Turtle nesting season is about one month later. No less than 14 beaches along the southern coast around Wadi Gamal area where almost 300 female Green Turtles have been seen nesting. On the offshore island of Zabargad sightings of more than 2.000 nests have been reported.

This may sound like a lot, but keep in mind that only a tiny fraction of all eggs laid and hatched result in a turtle reaching 25-30 years of age when they are old enough to reproduce. Also; the female turtle always, without exceptions, returns to lay her eggs at the same beach where she was hatched. Imagine how different the beaches looks now compared to 25-30 years ago… Because marine turtles are late matured highly migratory animals they are extremely sensitive to changes in environment and loss of their feeding ground and habitat.

Turtles sometimes travel up to 3000 km to reach their breeding site. Males and female turtles meet in the shallow waters surrounding the nesting beaches to mate. During the breeding season only the females will come up on land. On five or six different occasions approximately 100 round small eggs are deposited in the sand. Female turtles do not lay eggs every year, but only every three to five years.

Once a female is disturbed while laying eggs, she might never return. Loud noises and bright lights can frighten the females. Green turtles seem to have an attraction for particular nesting beaches and not just any beach will do. The beaches have to be high enough and the sand can’t be too compressed. Beach compacting by heavy 4WD driving, an increased number of people using the beach and attempts to stop erosion of beaches by beach armouring make it difficult for the females to create a nesting site.

After 8 – 12 weeks at night the hatchlings appear from the nest and will try to get into the water before predators or the heat of the sun kill them. Many falls prey for predators such as sea gulls and predatory fish. Bright lights around the nesting beaches can also be a problem for the young turtles because they may mistake street lights as their guide to find the ocean.

The surviving hatchlings then drift for an some time in the open ocean where they seek shelter in weed and debris until their shell reaches around 20-25 cm. Then stay settle in coastal waters where they live around reefs for 20-25 years, when they reach sexual maturity. It is thought that green turtles return to the beach where they hatched to mate, presumably using the earth’s magnetic field as a navigation tool.

Because of their special blood chemistry, green turtles are able to store oxygen in their blood. This enables them to stay underwater for up to two hours when sleeping. However, when they are eating they will surface every ten to fifteen minutes. Juvenile green turtles do not develop this ability and have to sleep floating at the water’s surface.

Unlike the other sea turtles adult green turtles are believed to have a completely vegetarian diet consisting of different kind of algae and sea grass.

Lets stop throwing plastic bags in the sea. Turtles think it’s jellyfish and suffocate. Lets leave some beaches untouched for them to lay their eggs on. It’s hard enough to be a sea turtle anyway…

Shovelnose Ray

The shovelnose ray is known by many names such as the long nosed shovelnose ray, the long-snouted ray, shovelnose shark, guitarfish, and fiddler ray. Whatever you want to call it this is a ray that has a body disc that is not all that much longer than it is wide. What makes this ray stand out is that it has a very long and pointed snout.

The shovelnose ray is not really conspicuous with the olive-brown colour, sometimes with darker blotches. It is not uncommon to see these rays with yellow or orange patches in front of the eyes. The rays generally reach a maximum length of 120 inches though they are just 13 centimetres at birth. The shovelnose ray gives birth to live young, usually to two pups at a time. The pups are born in more shallow water near the shore or reef and they will stay in the more shallow waters until they are mature. Most of the young will bury themselves under the sand to protect themselves from predators.

The shovelnose ray is generally found in inshore waters up to 60 meters in depth. They generally habitat in the sandy ocean bottoms and can also be found in sea grass beds and they generally like to live near coral reefs. The rays usually lay on or even partly buried in the sand when they are not looking for food, it is easy to miss them if you don’t see them on the move. Like other rays, the shovelnose rays are known to be quite shy. Some divers have had success in getting within a few feet of the species but if they move quickly the rays will be scared off.

The diet of the shovelnose ray is mostly crustaceans, though they are known to eat some small fish if the opportunity presents itself.

Corals in the Red Sea

The Red Sea is home to more than 200 known species of coral but normally when you think about corals in the Red Sea the picture of a big bright purple soft coral or a gorgonian surrounded by a cloud of anthias. However there are a lot of extraordinary hard coral growth that is worth a closer study. The coral gardens around reefs like Poseidon in Hurghada or Abu Galawa in Fury Shoal are spectacular and the caves and tunnel systems of Claudio or St. John’s caves take your breath away.

In the beginning of 1998 there was a huge attack by Crown of Thorn star fish that consumed almost all living coral tissue on some of the reefs in Hurghada area such as Um Gammar, Shaab Ruhr Um Gammar and Carless reef. It’s cool to dive those places now since I’ve dived here since 1999, and see the recovery of the reefs. It’s incredible to see a “new generation” of hard coral. Of course the soft coral is quick to recuperate but now there are a healthy re-growth also of hard coral.

If you have any further questions regarding the corals in the Red Sea the man to ask is Mr Mohammed Habib who holds a degree (like a black belt for academic people) in marine biology and serves as a consultant to several marine life conservation programs including Egypt’s Red Sea Marine Protectorate.

We will be updating this page with pictures as soon as they are available 🙂