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Red Ocean

Not many places in the world can capture your imagination in as many ways as the Red Sea. It derives its name from the explosive growth of a blue algae, Trichodesmium erythraeum, that notwithstanding its name, every so many years, dyes the normally blue-green water of the Red Sea an orange-red.

Surrounded by awe inspiring desert scenery home to some of humans' most ancient and remarkable civilisations, the Red Sea with its unique underwater treasures exists thanks to a geological miracle. Only 40 million years ago, the African and the Arabian continental plates began to break and move apart. This movement, which is still going on today at a rate of half an inch per year, created the Sirian-African Rift with its many unique and impressive geographical features, namely, the high mountains of Siria and Sinai, the depression of the Dead Sea and the Jordan Valley, the Sinai Peninsula with the relatively shallow (approx. 100m) Gulf of Suez along its west side, and the much deeper (approx. 2000m) Gulf of Aqaba along its east side, then to the south, the partly very deep (approx. 2500m) main body of the Red Sea down to its shallow and narrow exit to the Indian Ocean, at the Bab El Mandab (130m deep and 29km wide), and finally the inland Rift Valley leading southward to Tropical Africa.

Despite the harsh desert climate with its lack of water and with its strong winds, humans have joined many plants and animals in their effort to make a living along the shores of the Red Sea. Ever since Antiquity, local costal communities rely mainly on fishing, while Bedouins live from herding and from the management of the scarce water sources inland. Already in Pharaonic times, the Red Sea coast and even the island of Zabargad were well known for their copper or precious stone mines. Even the colourful reef fish must have impressed the Ancients already, as quite some of them can be easily recognized on the reliefs of ancient monuments, as for example on the walls of the Temple of Hatshepsut in Luxor. The Red Sea was also situated at the most important commercial cross-road between north and south, east and west, and ancient traders coming by sea from as far as India and China travelled through it on their way to the Nile, to Sinai, and to the Mediterranean. Romans, Christian Monks, Crusaders and Ottomans left their traces along its shores, and many muslim pilgrims have crossed it to get to Holy Mecca, and still do. From the 14th century onwards explorers and scientists have travelled and studied its shores and waters.

For the last three decades another type of traveller has, first slowly and lately very fast, discovered the coast of the Red Sea, the tourist. The countries around the Red Sea not only offer remarkable historical, cultural and naturalist interests, but also unique diving, optimal winds for windsurfers, and sandy beaches with palm trees under an ever blue sky for sun seekers. Especially the last ten years have seen a very rapid development of tourism infrastructure all along the coasts of Sinai and the Egyptian mainland, while Saudi Arabia is slowly opening to tourism and the Sudanese reefs are visited by a yearly increasing number of liveaboards. While the tourism industry has the obvious economic advantage of generating a considerable income for the countries involved, it also has the serious disadvantage of environmental deterioration through development that is non-environmentally sustainable, thus threatening exactly those resources that generate the income.

The road of environmental protection is long, winding and neverending, but especially Jordan and Egypt have been making serious efforts to preserve their natural resources and to remedy damages that have already been done in the past. In Egypt the creation of governmental institutions like EEAA (Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency) and of NGO like HEPCA (Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association) and the Red Sea Association for Diving & Watersports are important milestones in this process. Most of the Egyptian Red Sea coast and all of the off shore islands are now either a National Park, a Nature Reserve, or a Red Sea Protectorat with strict rules of environmental behaviour for visitors. We hope you adhere to them and help us to preserve this most amazing of all seas.