Updated: Mar 1
The Red Sea Underwater Crown Jewel, Ras Mohamed
Ras Mohamed National Park, the cape that forms the southernmost tip of the Sinai Peninsula, has fascinated the world's diving community for decades. With dozens of world-class dive sites, dedicated aficionados return every year. Established in 1983 as the first National Park in Egypt, it became among the first sites in Egypt to be on the IUCN Green List, globally recognized for its effective management and fair governance in 2018.
Located only 12 km (7.5 mi) away from the international town of Sharm El-Sheikh, it occupies 850 km2 (328,2 sq mi) with over 340 km2 (131.3 sq mi) of sea which is a completely "no-take" area including the reef area.
Certainly, the coastal landscape is at its most dramatic at the peak of the high cliffs of Ras Mohamed National Park with bluffs formed from a solid block of fossilized corals with a slender land bridge between the block of ancient rock and the mainland. These bluffs divide the Red Sea like a great fist, with the Gulf of Suez at the west while the eastern shore leads to the Strait of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba.
Ras Mohamed National Park - CNES©
The park's position is advantageous in that the strong currents enrich its waters and in turn attract copious schools of pelagic and reef fish. The area is known for its extensive, and defined fringing reef platforms. Despite its attraction to tourists, only 12% of the park is accessible to visitors. Most of the of the terrestrial tourism, camping and some boat tours, are managed directly by the local Bedouin community through a successful concession arrangement for traditional rights-holders. Moreover, they exclusively manage tourism in all Bedouin cultural zones and protected areas.
The waters of Ras Mohamed National Park are home to more than 200 species of corals, of which 125 species are soft corals, around 1000 species of fish, 40 species of starfish, 25 species of sea urchins, over a 100 species of mollusk and 150 species of crustaceans. Coral reef integrity in Ras Mohamed National Park is demonstrated through an astounding average of over 80% living cover for key reef areas. Coral cover along the Gulf of Aqaba in general ranges from 11% to 63%, with the highest cover being within the protected area of Ras Mohamed National Park clearly highlighting the perseverance and success of conservation efforts over the past 35 years.
Diving in Ras Mohamed National Park:
The reef structure varies from the very shallow secluded Sha’ab El Talaba on the northern end of Marsa Bereika to the long and deep vertical walls where coral can be found at depths of up to +100 meters, such as at Shark Observatory, Shark and Jolanda/Yolanda Reefs.
Shark Observatory stretches from the foot of the observatory cliff in the north across the mouth of the shallow box-shaped inlet. In the past it was possible to see sharks here just by looking down from the cliff top, but with the advent of tourism and boat traffic, the sharks have mostly moved on.
Anemone City is one of the most beautiful sites in Ras Mohamed National Park. The reef is steeply sloping, cut by the deep bays and inlets. It has a number of plateaus on which densely grown pinnacles and coral heads stand and huge numbers of anemones with attendant anemone fish. This site also boasts some prolific fish life, particularly in the morning when the site is bustling with activity.
Shark Reef and Jolanda Reef
When divers think of Sinai, they think of Shark and Jolanda Reefs. Those two reefs are, in fact, the twin peaks of a single coral seamount rising just off the Ras Mohamed coast and are separated from the mainland by a shallow channel. Coral growth is excellent in the wall section and dense coral gardens in the shallow flat area. Shark Reef, the most eastern of the two, showcases an impressive reef wall along it's northeast and and eastern sides, giving way to a steep reef slope as the reef proceeds towards Jolanda. Conversely, what Jolanda reef is known for, is not the marine life itself, but rather the Jolanda Wreck. A wrecked freighter, the ship slipped into the deep in 1986 after a sever storm. Little of it's cargo remains incongruously strewn across the reef.
The Coral Reefs of Ras Mohamed National Park are recognized internationally among the world's best. This recognition can be primarily attributed to: the diversity of flora and fauna, clear warm water, their proximity to shorelines and their spectacular vertical profile. The reef appears as an explosion of color and life in stark contrast to the seemingly barren desert adjacent to it. But in reality, the desert is also rich in fauna, mainly nocturnal. These ecosystems are intrinsically linked and thus must be conserved as a single unit.
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