Sunday, May 16

Southern Red Sea Dive Sites

Here are some of the maps and briefings that will be published in the third aziab guidebook that is on the way. This will cover 130 dive sites in the “Deep South”.
Two other aziab guidebooks are already published. One book covers 40 dive sites in El Gouna area and one covers 40 dive sites in the Hurghada area.

The Brother Islands

El Akhawein is the Arabic name for these two islands which means just the same “The two Brothers”. This is one of the classic dive sites that everybody is talking about. In the middle of the ocean, from great depth two tiny islands emerges, encircled by a reef so pristine it takes your breath away. As this would not be enough the chances of shark encounter top the list and you can dive two of the absolute best wrecks in the Red Sea.

Little Brother

Conditions can be fierce here. Anyone who’s got a little brother knows what they are like and this one is no exception. Wicked currents, strong wind and waves that easily drag you on top of the reef if you don’t know what you’re doing are a few things that dictate the dive plan. It is essential to make a good current check in order to know where to start the dive. Find the split point and hang there for a while, look at all the sharks and then follow the wall with the current.

One good spot for shark encounters is the north plateau. Though, it’s not so much a plateau as a bump in the wall pointing north. Here you often find thresher sharks (left) circling the bump together with grey reef sharks that come in to take advantage of the cleaning-station. They can often be seen in an almost vertical position with jaws wide open and cleaning wrasses whisking about, brushing up teeth and gills.

A few fin kicks south-west from this cleaning station you find shelter from the current in a narrow canyon. Here you’ve got front-row seats to another merry-go-round of grey reef sharks.

October to January is season for oceanic white tipped sharks whereas May, June and July is the time to look for silky sharks, both often seen circling boats just under the surface and to a depth no greater than 8 to 10m.

For the first dive of the day it’s best to take the east side because of the sunlight. You spend the time you want at the cleaning station and then you follow the northern wall to the east. All along you find the reef profile going in and out, giving you shelter from the current. As you approach the east end the wall gives way for a slant stretching south. In this area huge gorgonians cover the wall at 20m and deeper. Here is another place where you often see grey reef shark but mainly in the afternoon and if the current is strong enough.

Second dive of the day is likely to be at the south side. Here the reef is rapidly slopes deep and soon out of reach for recreational diving but the area above the “bottleneck” at 40m is beautiful and most of the time the current weakens somewhat in this area though it sometimes can be ripping here as well. The main wall is covered with soft corals and makes a perfect back drop for photographs. Large napoleon wrasses linger majestically along the wall and thresher sharks often patrol at around 40m. At the west corner where the current is likely to pick up grey reef sharks circle in the blue. For people who are tiered of bumping around in a zodiac a dive from the boat, along the plateau to the gorgonian forest on the east corner, starting at around 20m is an excellent choice. Here also the grey reef sharks sightings are common and it’s easy to swim back to the boat again.

Further down south-west you may meet hammerheads patrolling the wall or a group of dog-toothed tunas chasing schools of sardines. When rolling in from the Zodiac, do not make the mistake thinking that the plateau is stretching out as an extension in the same direction as the top of the reef. Then you will end up on the south-west side. The plateau is heading straight north from the top end of the reef (see birds view diagram). With a strong current this dive can be finished in 10 minutes so use the reef profile to slow down the speed if this is the case. There are a few “bays” and sticking-out overhangs along the wall that suits perfectly for this.

For third dive of the day an alternative is to jump from the boat and explore the deeper part of the south end as you on the previous dives probably have been reaching a shallower depth at this point. There is not as much of a plateau here as a slight interruption in the steeply sloping reef. As you descend you start heading towards the east corner where you will find a few ridges from the depth of 20m slanting down towards deep water. In this area a virtual forest of gorgonians sway in the water movement and grey reef sharks often circle just outside. Threshers also hang around in this vicinity and in the winter time you can spot the distinctive silhouette of the oceanic white tipped shark above you. When it’s time to turn around, you go progressively shallower with the reef on your right shoulder. On your way back you’re likely to meet a huge napoleon wrasse that normally hangs around the south end. If you’ve got NDL time and air left head out to the west corner and check for more grey reef sharks and spend your safety stop under your SMB next to the reef.

Normally it’s a good idea getting back to a shallow depth after a visit to either of the two plateaus right away. For nitrogen level related reasons as well as air consumption. Make sure you spend your safety stop- and surface under an SMB and try to stay out of the area with the most mooring ropes. There it’s difficult for the Zodiac to pick you up, especially in rough conditions. Another reason to stay out of there is that Zodiac drivers don’t always pay attention to bubbles and if the wind change or one boat is leaving there is mayhem of propellers right above you.

Marsa Shouna

Just south of Marsa Ghaleb there is a bay called Marsa Shouna, not completely unlike Marsa Abu Dabab. We have the reefs to the north and to the south and a flat sandy bottom with sea grass in the middle. Big green turtles feed in the sea grass and dugongs have been seen in the bay but as they are not as used to divers as in Marsa Abu Dabab they tend to be shyer here. For divers with macro lens on the camera ghost pipefish,

The reef north of the bay is an excellent dive and can be dived either as a part of the dive over the sea grass or as a separate dive. This site is also often used for night dives from liveaboard. Around the east corner you often meet a big schools of batfish. Bring a camera, this is one of few places to see schooling bannerfish. On your way back keep an eye out to the blue. You often see reef-squid in the shallows. In the sea grass you are likely to encounter huge green turtles and feather tailed rays and if you’ve got a flair for detecting well camouflaged marine life you might get the opportunity to impress your buddy by pointing out a ghost pipefish. During night dives you’re likely to encounter peppered moray eels hunting in the sea grass.

The reef south of the bay is primarily dived during “aziab” which means opposite in Arabic or in this case; that the wind comes from the south. However the cleaver dive guide takes the Zodiac over the bay to this side if it’s a busy day, hence many boats and divers. The dive is beautiful and interesting, especially if you combine the reef with a tour over the sea grass. You go to the south east corner and roll in from the Zodiac and you will descend along a slanting coral garden with patches of sand pitched down from the top of the reef to a depth of around 30m. Right on the corner, at 18m there is a small hollow pinnacle filled with glassfish. Lionfish and jacks are chasing around, trying to snap one or two out for lunch while the red mouth grouper convincingly protects them. Unicornfish in huge numbers sweep across the wall like an avalanche and big silver sweetlips criss-cross between the bommies on the top of the reef.

a.k.a. Shabruhr Abu Hambra

Elphinstone was put on the map by Cousteau who in his book “The Silent World” descried several dives around the reef and published colourful photographs. That book made a huge impression on me and made me tell my mother, at the age of five: “When I grow up, I’ll be a diver in the Red Sea”.

The origin of the name Elphinstone has been debated for ever. Some say it comes from Lord Elphinstone who allegedly moored up her on his way through the Red Sea.

The reef has become famous for the good chances to encounter one of the oceans really big predators; the Oceanic Whitetip shark.

Most of the year with year, but especially October through December this magnificent sharks curiously approach divers to the point you wonder who is watching who. Sometimes up to six or even more circle around the boats just under the surface (left) over the south plateau, inviting for one of the more exciting safety stop imaginable.

The reef is an about 425 meters long reef on a north-west – south-east axis. In each end an 80m long, slender plateau reaches out into the blue. Each one has got its own significant main characteristic feature.

The north plateau has a crack across the very tip creating a separate pinnacle in the extension of the plateau as the “dot over an i”.

The south plateau has an arch-like tunnel running through the base where according to the legend a Pharaoh is buried in a sarcophagus. How this legend started off is not hard to grasp when visiting the tunnel. In its middle a perfectly shaped block in the right size resemble a coffin or sarcophagus.

A current check is vital for the planning of this dive. Sometimes the current sweeps across the plateau taking any unprepared diver with it to the open sea. Accidents do happen here so make sure you are well organized. You want to know in which general direction the current is moving to know if to go from north to south or the other way around and you need to know where you have the split point in order to plan where to roll in from the zodiac. Do not trust what you see going on around you. Other groups from other boats may go from the north because “They’ve always do it like that” or “The current always comes from the north”. Make your own current check and make your own decision.

The east and the west walls are equally good so the sun angle is the main consideration. Generally it can be said that after a visit to the end of either plateau it’s worth getting to a shallow depth as soon as possible. For or nitrogen reasons as well as air consumption. Plus the fact that here you have a fairly good chance to meet an oceanic whitetip shark Charcharhinus Longimanus (left) especially late October till the end of the year.

Make sure you spend your safety stop close to the reef and surface under an SMB. Zodiac drivers are picking up divers all along the reef and they don’t always pay attention to bubbles.

Dahra Wadi Gamal

This is long reef stretching in a north south direction accentuated by a sand hill on top of the south end. A feature like that is called “dahra” in Arabic hence the name Dahra Wadi Gamal.

The Day Dive:
This is an obvious drift dive. Drop up north on the east side and find yourself over a sandy bottom with the main reef to your right and to your left a vast coral garden that’s sloping from 12m out to the drop of at 20m. Head out and explore the coral garden. Big hard coral formations with sand patches make the first 20 minutes of the dive especially enjoyable. When you reach the end of the coral garden keep an eye out to the east. There you’ll find a solitary coral block at 25m where trevallies and groupers hunt in clouds of silverside and glass fish. Then head back west to the main reef wall and, put the reef on your right shoulder. It’s not a sheer wall but rather a slope with coral boulders cascading down towards the sandy bottom. When the wall makes a sudden turn to the right a plateau stretches in direction south. Here a group of pinnacles slender create an intriguing landscape. Continue along the bottom within visual distance from the reef and move up on the wall only for your safety stop.

The Night Dive:
As a night dive it’s perfect to jump from the boat, explore the outcrops of coral and. to the west, the wreck of the liveaboard SHEREEN that sank here in November 2005.

Then head back via the shallow wall. Take it easy and move slowly, the macro life is what you’re looking for here; dancing shrimps, Spanish dancer, crabs in coral, hermit crabs and anemone carriers (right).

Fury Shoal

Fury Shoal is a classic area for the experienced Red Sea diver. Here you can dive on outstanding coral gardens, find your way through a maze of shallow lagoons and visit some very photogenic wrecks at Abu Galawa. Many stories of dolphin encounters comes from Sataya Reef a.k.a. Dolphin Reef and you might find a new favourite dive site while swimming through the tunnels at Claudio. Sheer walls, plateaus and mind boggling swim throughs makes this area a first-class alternative if the weather does not allow you to go to St. John’s. There are so many dive sites in this area that are absolute world class that it would take up the entire page just for them so here are some teasers.

Abu Galawa Kebir

Abu Galawa is Arabic for “father of pools/lagoons” and most reefs in the area have indeed lagoons or shallow pools chiselled out in the top.

On the west side of the western pinnacle there is a wreck after a Chinese tug boat. Her name was Tien Hsing and today she rests with her stern on flat sandy sea bed on 17m while the bow is almost breaking the surface.

She was built in Shanghai in China by Ta Chung Hua in 1935 and was on route from Suez to Massawa when she hit the reef Abu Galawa Kebir and sank on 26th October 1943.

After half a centaury beneath the waves the wreck is covered in coral growth and offers exquisite photo opportunities. She is easy to penetrate down to the marine head at the bottom level of the engine room (left).

At this dive site the boats normally moor up between the main reef and two large ergs that are situated just to the south. The normal dive here would start with a tour to the wreck and then head up north along the sloping west wall where big brain corals cascade down from the top of the reef and meets the seabed at around 17-19m. There is one ravine-shaped entry point to the series of lagoons about 50m from the corner. Take your time in here, it’s only around 10m deep and you exit through a narrow tunnel on the south side, right in front of the boat. The hard here corals are in absolute mint condition and provide a extraordinary safety stop.


Type: Tugboat
Built: 1935
Sunk: October 26th 1943
300 ton (estimated) – 35m
Depth: 17-1m
east – west axis

Sataya South East Corner

At the very south-east end of this large reef system a very versatile dive site is situated. Rolling in from the zodiac you will find yourself on a vertical wall. Swimming with the reef on your right shoulder the wall transforms into a spectacular sloping coral garden cascading into the void. After a few minutes you turn right where this coral garden gives way to a plateau with flat sandy bottom scattered with small pinnacles and coral blocks. Drifting this dive site is like travelling through a complete guide to the different types of Red Sea reefs.

You drop from the Zodiac where there is a little bend in the reef. Stay on about 20-22m when you come around the corner so you don’t miss the coral garden. Cruise up to 15-17m and stay on this depth till you come out over the open sandy area where you keep an eye out for big rays resting on the seabed. Following the sand patch you will end up on 10-12m in visual range from the main. Here it’s probably time to think about the safety stop.

a.k.a. Abu el Kizan

About 55 miles straight out from Marsa Alam on the way to Saudi Arabia Daedalus Reef emerges from the abyss, shaped like an egg on a north-west, south-east axis, 450 meters across. With vertical, almost inverted walls covered with soft coral and gorgonians, this reef has rightly earned a reputation to be one of the best dive spots in the world. From May through July you have good chances to encounter scalloped hammer head sharks and during the winter, October to January, oceanic white tipped sharks are often seen on shallow depths.

The lighthouse on Daedalus was built 1861 by the British. Its staff of four gets relieved every 45th day when the supply boat comes to stock up food, water and fuel. Visiting the lighthouse is free of charge and the view is nice from the top and you can buy a souvenir T-shirt to prove you’ve been there. The latest addition is the new jetty that was built 1992. This construction together with the old jetty offers superb photo angles from below during low tide. However, most people do not come to Daedalus to admire the view from the lighthouse, buy a T-shirt or play creative with the camera under the jetty. Most people come here to experience an encounter with one of the most mystical Red Sea inhabitants: The Scalloped Hammer Head Shark, Sphyrna Lewini that congregate here in vast numbers. Normally it’s female getting together, as they do.

Normally the dive boats seek shelter at the south side of the reef next to the landing stage. The natural choice is of course to drift the morning dive on the east side and the afternoon dive on the west side due to sunlight. However the current, that from time can be wicked, dictates the dive plan. Sometimes you have the current running in different directions on different depths and going up and down next to the wall so keep an eye on the anthias, in which direction they’re swimming and how hard they work.

For the morning dive you’re likely to roll in from the Zodiac just west of the north end, current depending of course. This is where you’d probably find the split point on a day with average conditions. You shouldn’t wing it though, make a current check before and make your decision according to what you then observe. As soon as you enter the water you should keep an eye out into the blue. This is where you most of the time see the hammer heads. Sometimes a pair of them sometimes up to 40 individuals.

Swim with the reef on your right hand side some distance from the wall but be careful not to swim too far out and lose visual contact. There are a few ridges and cut-outs in the reef similar to if some one used a shovel in the steep wall. Here you can find shelter from the current if needed. As you continue along the wall down the east side you will pass two wide canyons. In the first canyon a breathtaking mountain coral cascades from 5 to 25m like a waterfall creating a gorgeous back drop for photographs. Pay attention to what’s going on out in the blue water, sometimes hammer heads are passing by.

Further south along the reef almost straight north of the lighthouse the wall gives way to a narrow plateau at 25m that stretches more or less half way around the east and south side of the reef. Coral ridges extend from the main reef towards the drop off where you find several cleaning stations. Here you sometimes see thresher sharks leisurely swim back and forth along the drop and coming in for a brush-up.

As a mid day dive you can go where ever the current allows you as the sunlight reaches most of the reef. One alternative is to jump from the boat next to the pier and explore the south plateau. Coral ridges follow the deeper part of the sandy slope towards the drop-off. Next to the main reef big coral blocks host cleaning stations where often moray eels and giant barracudas get their gills and teeth freshened up. From this point you decide the direction of the rest of the dive depending on the current. Either way you are quite likely to encounter thresher shark circling around the plateau.

For the afternoon dive the west side presents a vertical wall running on a north-south axis momentarily interrupted at 30-35m by a hump rather than a shelf or plateau. Absolutely covered with soft corals and gorgonians it’s a perfect back drop for any photographer with a fairly well developed sense of picture-composition. There is a tongue sticking out about half way between the north and the south end and here an anemone-city clings on to the wall from 5m all the way down to about to 30m. If there is no- or a weak current, one option is to start your dive at this point rather than at the north end. If you do so, it is worth to descend slowly rather than plunge directly down to 40m, to fully enjoy the carpet of swaying anemones and hundreds of anemonefish.

All along the wall there are coral formations sticking out and small caves and overhangs. Towards the end of the dive, at the south end you will find yet another dazzling mountain coral tumbling down from the top of the reef and a few fin kicks further the wall meets the south plateau at a depth of 30m. Here a school of giant barracuda swim around large coral blocks covered with soft coral. The plateau slopes gently towards the south and if you venture all the way south to where it again drops off you will be on 40–45m surrounded by coral ridges pointing in the direction back to the main reef. Next to the reef there is a big square steel box.

St. John’s Reefs

This area is almost as far south you can dive in Egypt. Next stop is Sudan. St. John’s has a vast variation of dives, like sheer walls around the habilis, spectacular deep plateaus, labyrinths of pinnacles, complex cave systems and tunnels in addition to the reefs emerging from a flat sandy seabed and. You are likely to encounter sharks, turtles and huge napoleon wrasses as well as the regular Red Sea splendour. This reef is also famous for groups of sharks hunting together with pods of dolphins in vast schools of sardines during the winter season, December-February.

Habili Gaffar

This small round reef is named after Gaffar, the captain on M/Y Rosetta. It’s got a ridge shaped plateau sloping from 15-35m in both the north and the south tip. Drift dive is to be expected and a current check is critical for a satisfactory dive plan. It’s a small reef and you might find it better to make one lap, stopping for a while in both split points rather than four laps, repetitively with and against the current. It’s also in the split points you’re most likely to see the grey reef sharks, white tipped reef sharks and hammerhead sharks. The reef itself is breathtakingly beautiful with gorgonians and soft coral, shrouded by anthias, damsels and pullers. Out in the blue big schools of snappers are hanging around, and squadrons of barracudas pace up and down the wall in search of pray.

All in all there are around 130 dive sites in the Deep South Red Sea and they will all be published soon in the next aziab guide book.

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