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Scuba Diving in Safaga, the Red Sea
Dive Site: Panorama Reef
Description: Wall dive
Depth: Drops away to about 100 metres (300 feet)
Visibility: 25 metres (80 feet)
Panorama Reef is such a large reef that you can dive it in many ways. On one dive we covered nearly half the length of the reef, but on the other two we saw just a fraction of it. Each time we were dropped by zodiac before making our way back to the boat. The reef itself is a near vertical wall dive where there can sometimes be quite a current running. I found the west side to be prettier with a lot more soft coral present. However on both sides there were lots of different corals and fish species.
I saw a very big stonefish and I was surprised to see a lionfish on such a steep wall. There were quite a few blue spotted rays and giant morays - one free-swimming - plus all the usual reef fish. There was also an unfeasibly bright fluorescent-orange giant anemone with its resident clownfish. Other fish of note were needlefish and titan triggerfish and there were also a number of patches of eggs clumped together, although I don't know what they would have gone on to hatch into. On two of the dives we did here we could see a turtle from our boat that was at the surface. It was only on the third dive here that we actually saw it in the water with us, but it didn't stay for long before swimming away from the reef.
Panorama is one of the largest single reefs off Safaga and gets its name from the panoramic underwater views from its plateaus and vertical walls. A large, oblong reef, Panorama occasionally experiences strong currents, has deep drops offs and a fair chance of pelagics. More than one dive here is essential to make the most of what this site has to offer. Boats normally moor on the southern end where divers can make an "out and back" dive heading around to the northeast or northwest. To the south is a vertical wall with deep fissures in it which can be explored in the shallows, where antheas cloud the water at the end of a dive. As you head around from the south to the east side there is a sloping plateau between 20m and 30m, where large shoals of blue lunar fusiliers dart towards the reef. Tuna, trevellay and barracuda patrol the blue water and make sure you spend time looking into the blue for the occasional white-tip shark or even a grey reef shark.
Current, if present, will usually run from north to south and a good option is to use a zodiac or RIB (if your dive vessel has one) and drop as far to the north on either the west or preferably the east side. Gorgonian fans and soft corals are more common on the east side and you can head in a southerly direction with the reef on your right shoulder back to your boat, utilising any current. The northern end is usually dived in calmer conditions and again there is a plateau which slopes down to around 30m before dropping vertically to 84m and then away into the depths. The northern plateau probably offers a better chance of sharks or turtles and often a school of barracuda hang slightly off the northern tip of the plateau and over the vertical wall. Dropping off the north tip gives the opportunity to investigate the deeper wall and then drift or swim past the prolific purple soft coral. Heading with the reef to left shoulder will take you along a 20m - 25m deep plateau on the west side of the reef which has large acropora table corals on it and often giant morays and blue spotted rays are seen here. Slightly more sheltered from current expect quite a long swim if you intend to head from the north tip all the way back to your dive boat moored on to the south.
Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor