The extraordinary depths of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast
The Red Sea has historically attracted divers from across the world. The narrow strip extending from the Gulf of Aden and bordering nine countries possesses a truly unique natural environment; an entirely different world below water that is home to countless marine species. As a professional diver and marine photographer who has explored numerous subaquatic realms around the world, there is something profoundly mesmerizing about diving in the Red Sea.
Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, particularly the areas that surround our sites across The Red Sea Project and AMAALA, are still mostly undiscovered. Because these sites have been completely off-limits until now, they have not been impacted by mass tourism. As a result, marine biodiversity and offshore reefs have been able to thrive unlike anywhere else. My first diving experience brought me to these shores for a photography project back in 2003. I was astounded by the flourishing ecosystem and incredible coral structures that lay beneath the surface of these majestic waters; a truly unseen marvel. This statement holds true even after 25 years of traversing high seas across the UAE, Seychelles and Fiji, to name a few.
Throughout my diving career, I have never witnessed aquatic creatures in such close proximity as in the Red Sea. While they are usually hesitant to interact and often swim away upon close contact, the sheer volume in the Red Sea means I have to constantly reposition myself to enable me to get the wider shots when trying to capture the abundance of marine life. In fact, I was able to dive with over 300 fish at the same time; something every diver dreams of but very few can experience. This behaviour is exciting by means of what it represents: a definitive sign of thriving coral reefs - among the healthiest and rarest in the world.
Another phenomenal attribute of Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast is its remarkably crystal-clear waters – free from pollution or any external stressors to its untouched corals. The intact habitats in varying temperatures ensure the resiliency of the corals. Diverse populations of marine species – in large volumes and varieties – are consequently drawn to the colourful coral sites with their bright and welcoming shades of pink, orange, blue, green and more.
Such reefs are unprecedented in nature and are over 1,000 years old, making them one of the oldest in existence. I first read about these pristine conditions in books decades ago, but quickly saw climate-induced conditions exacerbate stressors such as coral bleaching. Today, we have discovered these vibrant deep-sea environments in the Red Sea. The historic significance of this part of the Red Sea was also demonstrated in a recent first of its kind excavation in Saudi Arabia of a shipwreck dating back to 1725 to 1750.
It is no surprise then, that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is cementing its position on the global map as one of the top diving destinations. With the opening of The Red Sea Project and AMAALA, we hope to invite first-time and master divers alike to enjoy year-round diving adventures. Our diving experiences will include four dedicated centres with expert instructors that cater to all skills and abilities. As a leading regenerative tourism development, we will have measures in place to carefully manage over-tourism, with visitor numbers capped to ensure that these extraordinary marine environments remain protected at all costs and their habitats are conserved to the highest standard of sustainability.
* The writer is Director of Marine Life Assets & Operations at The Red Sea Development Company