A DIVING STUDY TOUR OF THE RED SEA




A group of 22 students and members of the Department of Maritime Civilizations led by Ehud Spanier and accompanied by Leo Gestetner, left Haifa in the small hours of the night for a diving study tour in the Red Sea. We visited the Underwater Observatory in Eilat and stopped at Mt. YoÕash, for the spectacular view of the coasts of Israel, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. At the National Mariculture Center we toured the fish and algae culturing facilities. In the late afternoon, we boarded the ships, Jadran and Suellyn and sailed towards Eilat's exit port. After a seemingly endless wait to check in at the border at Sharm El-Sheik, our exploration of the sea-life of the Sinai was finally begun. Due to the late hour, our first ÔdiveÕ became a night snorkel around the fringing reefs at "The Temple", directly off the coast of Sharm El-Sheik. This was followed by an early morning dive at the same spot, where, in contrast to the octopuses, banded coral shrimps and sleeping lionfish of the night, we saw groupers, goldfish anthias, emperor fish, damselfish, dominos, clown anemone fish, parrotfish, wrasses, puffers, King Solomon fish, unicornfish and spotted stingrays, as well as beautiful branching corals.

We then sailed to Fisherman's Bank, where we dove along a steep wall to a cave entrance and then to "The Garden". Here we encountered many different kinds of corals: branching, brain, mushroom, soft, as well as the now ubiquitous damselfish, dominos, wrasses, and goldfish anthias. We also encountered moray eels and pipefish. That night, we dove along the Ras Um-Sid wall, where lantern fish flashed at us from caves, scorpion and lionfish danced among the corals, lizard fish played in the sand and an amazing array of invertebrates (featherdusters - polychaete worms, brittlestars, sea urchins, sea bread, and shrimps) came out of their daytime hiding places.

The next day we visited "The Quay" at Ras Mohammed, an area known for its hot springs. The springs result in yellow-green algal mats on the water's surface and reduce visibility considerably. Here Ôcleaner stationsÕ were common, where other fishes, notably fusiliers and groupers, would come for a quick ÔvacuumingÕ of parasites by the cleaner wrasses. For our afternoon dive we visited "The Alternatives" in Sha'ab Mahmud, which is a reef wall that grades into sand flats. Here we saw all the common reef fishes, in addition to butterfly fish, Napoleon fish and emperor angelfish. Our night dive was also at the "The Alternatives", but along a different part of the reef. Ehud Spanier found a Spanish dancer (bright red nudibranch) and caught a female spiny lobster with eggs. Yossi Tur-Caspa caught two slipper lobsters and students from both boats received a brief lesson on these two species of lobster. All animals were, of course, then returned to their natural habitat. We also saw our first decorator hermit crab - a hermit crab that decorates its shell with anemones which then sting its potential predators.

The following morning we dove on the wreck of the Dunraven, a steam and sail powered vessel used to transport spices and timber, that sank in March, 1876. The wreck is upside down and provides an artificial reef for the typical reef fishes of the area, particularly the butterfly fish, puffers, groupers, triggerfish and fusiliers. A short distance from the wreck is a beautiful reef formation, full of lovely branching and soft corals. In the afternoon we dove at "The Small Passage" and observed numerous fan corals (gorgonians), growing perpendicular to the strong current. We saw a large moray eel hiding under a coral outcropping, but that did not compare to the beautiful sea turtle which appeared out of nowhere and allowed us to follow it for some time.

That evening a Shabbat celebration was held on both ships. Due to a combination of wine and song, there was no early morning dive the next day. We encountered our first difficult sea conditions trying to dive in the early afternoon in the Gulf of Suez, on the wreck of the Thistlegorm, an armed English freighter which was bombed by the Germans on October 6, 1941. The Thistlegorm was carrying four railroad cars and two large torpedoes on deck and automobiles, jeeps, and motorbikes below deck, all of which remain in place. We saw giant clams on the staircases; jacks swimming in the strong currents off the sides of the ship; a school of platax (batfish) off the rear deck near a railroad car; a camouflaged alligator fish on the deck; and large siphon sponges decorating the hull. On our early evening dive at the misnamed "Stingray Station", we were unable to locate even a single stingray. We did, however, see many fan and soft corals.

The following day we managed a morning dive at Ras Mohammed's "Shark Observatory" and "Jolanda Reef". Here we saw our first barracudas, the largest yet Napoleon fish (humphead wrasse), several trunk fish, sohal, snappers and several kinds of triggerfish. We also wandered among the many sunken toilets from the wreck of the Jolanda in 1981. We then sailed back to Sharm El-Sheik, where a problem in the engine of the Jadran was deemed irrepairable. The passengers had no choice but to remain an extra night in Sharm-El-Sheik and taxi their way back to Taba the following morning. Aboard the Suellyn, however, we continued to Eilat as planned. Several pods of dolphins entertained us as they played in our bow waves. The crew caught a tuna which was served fresh, but the seas had risen to approximately 2 m and most of the passengers were too seasick to enjoy it.

The next morning, in calm seas, we reached Eilat port, where we were reunited with the passengers of the Jadran. All agreed that the study tour was a great success, with much information exchanged in the fields of geology, marine biology and even local Bedouin culture.

The study tour was made possible by the generous contributions of Mr. Maurice Hatter and Mr. Jonathan Gestetner. Student participation was sponsored by the Graduate Studies Authority. The Faculty of Humanities provided transportation to and from Eilat.

Kari Lavalli

A dolphin of the species Stenella attenuata, riding the bow waves of the suellyn. (Photo: K. Lavalli)


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