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World | Red Sea | Diving St John's:

St John's overview


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Scuba Diving at St John's, Marsa Alam, the southern Red Sea


Water temperature:

24°C (75°F) in January to 32°C (90°F) in August

Suit:

A 3mm wetsuit or even a shortie will be appropriate in the summer months but from November through to April a 5mm is necessary and you may even need a hood and gloves.

Visibility:

20 - 60 (65 - 200 feet) metres, 30 - 40 metres (100 - 130 feet) on average

Type of diving:

Coral pinnacles, lagoons, drop offs, fast drifts

Marine life:

Hammerhead sharks, silvertip sharks, white tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, bumphead parrotfish, turtles, spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins, surgeonfish, jacks, tuna, reef fish, colourful coral, sponges

When to go:

It is possible to dive at Marsa Alam throughout the year, but conditions are best during the summer months. There is a plankton bloom for a few weeks a year around April to May when visibility is reduced. Whale sharks visit the area during late spring and early summer.

How to get there:

Entry visas are required when visiting Egypt. These can be purchased at the airport itself at a cost of about $25 USD / 15 GBP. Flights are now available from Europe to the new airport in Marsa Alam.
From the UK - Excel Airways fly to Marsa Alam on Thursdays from Gatwick. The flight takes five hours.


Stormy seas at Marsa Alam - Courtesy of Carina Hall

The southern Red Sea is renowned for its incredible reefs that are home to both hard and soft corals in pristine condition and pelagics in great numbers. There are many species of shark, including hammerheads which can be found in schools. Other impressive marine encounters may be made with pods of dolphins, schools of bumphead parrotfish and the occasional turtle. The area is home to a selection of wrecks, but undoubtedly the reefs - and their associated life - are the thing that attracts divers. Perhaps the most famous of the dive sites in the region is Elphinstone Reef, a deep coral wall and drift dive that is best seen early in the morning to increase the chance of sighting the schools of hammerheads frequently found here by divers.

If you are hoping for encounters with hammerheads and seeing the bumphead parrotfish you will need to visit Marsa Alam in the summer months. Summer air temperatures reach up to 42°C in August and the coolest month of the year is January and night time temperatures drop suddenly in the winter months. By November, the sea can become rough and trips tend to be limited to the immense reef chain in front of Wadi Lami known as Fury Shoals, which are outstanding. They consist of an array of vast coral formations including habailis which are groups of young coral that are still growing, huge hard coral in massive formations as well as many types of branching corals, and not forgetting the plentiful colourful soft corals.

Marsa Alam is generally a windy place, which means waves can get quite large, occasionally preventing boats from accessing the more exposed dive sites. If you are on a liveaboard, remember to close your portholes properly at night otherwise you may be woken up in the small hours soaked by sea water! This has even led to boats sinking in the past. RIB journeys from Marsa Alam to the day sites take about 30 minutes on average. Elphinstone Reef is an hours RIB journey from Marsa Alam, which is about as far as it is possible to travel unless on board a liveaboard, which gives you access to some of the more remote dive sites.

Sunset at Marsa Alam - Courtesy of Carina Hall

Marsa Alam is only recently becoming a popular choice amongst divers, thanks to the opening of the new airport. As it is located 130 kilometres further south of Quseir and is a four-hour transfer from Hurghada, only the most hardened divers would endure the long coach journeys that were previously required to reach its reefs. A consequence of this is that the reefs are far more pristine than in the northern Red Sea and you other divers are few and far between unlike the dive sites of Sharm el Sheikh and Hurghada. What some might perceive as a drawback of the fact Marsa Alam is more remote is that there are not many resorts to choose from and you will have to go full board as eating out is not an option. However as with everywhere in the Red Sea, building work is on the increase and it can only be a matter of time before Marsa Alam becomes another Red Sea resort as popular as Sharm el Sheikh or Hurghada, which will be a tragedy both for the environmental and the ambience - so no McDonalds please. ever! Hopefully the protected mangroves around Hamata will remain that way and future developments will not be built on them.

There are only a handful of liveaboards that operate out of Marsa Alam at the moment that offer about four dives a day. Most are moored near a jetty at Hamata, a two hour journey from Marsa Alam and require a short zodiac journey to board them. Dive times from a liveaboard can be an hour plus, depending on air consumption and you will need to have an SMB with you. Other options are limited to staying in the resorts to do day diving, with zodiac trips to Elphinstone. Land accommodation is mainly hotel chains, although or a more traditional alternative, you could try staying at Wadi Lahami where shelter is in the form of tents!


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