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Divers feel like they are in an aquarium here

The stonefish rests on the slope at a depth of 28 meters, sluggish and unimpressed by the divers who hover like astronauts from above: only when a Swiss guy pulls his camera does it move: the lurking hunter, which thanks to its camouflage is more reminiscent of a lump of coral , rises briefly, but then turns sideways and turns its back on its visitors.

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Divers feel like they are in an aquarium here

The stonefish rests on the slope at a depth of 28 meters, sluggish and unimpressed by the divers who hover like astronauts from above: only when a Swiss guy pulls his camera does it move: the lurking hunter, which thanks to its camouflage is more reminiscent of a lump of coral , rises briefly, but then turns sideways and turns its back on its visitors. Sediment trickles to the ground.

Fish and other sea creatures don't seem to care much about the many divers who plop into the Red Sea every day with their clunky gear.

On the other hand, the people who dare to look under the water surface here in Egypt are all the more delighted. To this day, fantastic worlds open up there, quiet water forests full of colorful swarms that pull their choreographies through centuries-old corals. According to one photographer, diving here is like “swimming in an aquarium”.

The main entrance to this "aquarium" is in Sharm al-Sheikh, a tourist center on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula. The bathing resort was developed in the 1980s, while Israel was still occupied.

After the troop withdrawal, Egypt pushed ahead with the expansion of hotels, the online travel agency Expedia now has around 450 accommodations. Quite a few are located next to dive shops or have their own providers in the house. They offer packages for snorkelers, divers and those who want to become one.

The morning sun flashes white on the sea as dive guide Saif collects his guests at the hotel. "Many things remain invisible," sings pop star Amr Diab at full volume on the radio on the way to the pier. Under water - as in the dry nature on land - much remains invisible. But those who look patiently will be rewarded.

Dozens of submersibles are ready, they are called "Captain Morgan", "Blue Planet", "Hamburg" and "Nemo". This is where the marine reserve begins at the Ras Mohammed National Park, which the species and nature conservation organization IUCN describes as "Egypt's underwater paradise". It is one of the best protected in the world. The reef, a complex ecosystem for countless species, is the largest in Africa and stretches over 2000 kilometers from Egypt to Sudan to Eritrea.

And then finally: dive down. Let the first puffs from the compressed air bottle, all-round view down, sink. Salt water runs into the neoprene, warms up and envelops the body. The bulky gear that was awkwardly staggering to the edge of the boat transforms into a supple summer jacket, fins in powered socks. You glide away weightlessly.

Soon you have four, seven, then twelve meters of water above you and are amazed at what is going on here without the knowledge of many rural residents. Clown fish play hide and seek. Meter-long moray eels meander between rocks. A poodle-sized parrotfish casually strolls the bottom wearing its rainbow colors, later glides by a five-foot Napoleon wrasse, which the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has listed.

The stars down here, that much is clear, are the fish and turtles. Even dolphins, whale sharks and oceanic whitetip sharks hang around here on a good day.

But the spectacle is only complete in the backdrop of magnificent corals, which, according to Prof. Anders Meibom, are now unparalleled in the world. The researcher at the Transnational Red Sea Center even describes them as "a hope for humanity" because they are particularly resilient in times of climate change.

"The Caribbean is more or less extinct," Meibom says of the corals there. Things are also “very bad” around the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. The Coral Triangle around Indonesia and its neighbors is also "under tremendous pressure from pollution and sewage."

Warming oceans are accelerating bleaching and not stopping at Australia's famous Great Barrier Reef. "In the last 30 years we have lost half of the pre-industrial coral cover," says Meibom.

Corals are also under stress in the Gulf of Aqaba, a kind of side-bathtub of the Red Sea with Sharm al-Sheikh on the plug. But here they have special defenses against higher temperatures. The reason for this was probably the last ice age around 18,000 years ago, after which the corals slowly spread here. Because there were areas with higher temperatures on their way, the very heat-resistant specimens survived.

"That kind of resilience to warming doesn't exist anywhere else," explains Meibom, who was traveling with a team in the Gulf of Aqaba a few months ago.

The fascinating structures look like glowing bushes, flower meadows, broccoli fields, psychoactive sponges and petrified brains. In fact, corals are invertebrates most closely related to jellyfish and sea anemones, with their rounded bodies and rings of tentacles. Stock-forming hard corals grew well before modern human history. Some formed more than 50 million years ago.

It's hard to believe that you can view this ancient underwater growth simply by strolling down to the jetty in your swimming trunks. But that's how it is. In Sharm al-Sheikh and further north in Dahab and Nuwaiba, the snorkeling and diving experience can literally begin on foot from shore.

Even the sometimes deterring package tourism seems somehow cute next to this scenery. Seen from below from the water, the holidaymaker on the hotel reef also looks cute, with his blue swimming trunks hanging comfortably over his stomach and slowly kicking and chatting with his fellow swimmers.

Tourism has of course also left serious damage here. Along with oil and heavy metal pollution and coastal development, tourism is one of the top stressors on corals, says Jessica Bellworthy. She is a researcher at the Coral Biomineralization and Physiology Laboratory at Israel's Haifa University.

"Unless we can contain the localized damage to our coral reefs, and quickly, their outstanding heat resistance won't matter," says Bellworthy.

Awareness of this is growing, for example thanks to the “Green Fins” initiative launched by the UN Environment Program in 2004. Egypt joined in 2019 in an effort to strengthen sustainable diving in the country. The Egyptian Chamber of Diving and Water Sports (CDWS) is "pushing for an increase in sustainability measures" to protect the marine environment "in the coming years," says a spokeswoman.

However, a much bigger problem could be chemicals that are still getting into the Red Sea today. As recently as November, the BBC reported – at the same time as the ongoing world climate conference in Sharm al-Sheikh – about an oil terminal that has been pumping polluted water into an ocean spur for more than 20 years. In amounts that could fill 16 Olympic-size swimming pools every day.

This is how illegal quantities of iron, lead and manganese found their way into the clear sea. Plastic and other garbage also continue to pollute birds and fish.

With such gloomy images, one wishes all seaside resorts had remained as original as Nuwaiba further north with its thatched hut camps. Here you can feel the earthly pull of Sinai even more.

A place where warm desert air blows in the face of visitors. Where the pastel colors of the mountain range change from brown-grey to beige every few hours, depending on the position of the sun. In the evening the mountains look as if they were painted with soft focus on the hazy horizon.

On deck, boys grill chicken and kofta kebabs as recreational divers climb out of the water to change tanks. The crew whiles the drive to the next anchor point with a little nonsense, diving instructor Islam Magid also jokes under water. In an open spot between rocks, he pulls a flipper off his foot, holds it sideways like a guitar, and serenades, head bobbing. And now, Magid signals, please dance!

By the third dive at the latest, you are convinced that you have understood the everyday life and emotional world of the sea creatures. Aren't the yellow and black striped Red Sea bannerfish always in pairs because they have something important to talk about? Doesn't the parrotfish smile mainly because he wants to tell his buddies a good joke he just heard?

You want to stay down here, be a fish for a part of your life. Scurrying with dwarf bass and asking the lionfish what he's thinking about over there, a little to the side, his fin fans slowly swinging in the current.

Arrival: Sharm al-Sheikh is served by several German airports, some with a stopover.

Entry: A tourist visa valid for 30 days is available upon arrival for around 25 euros. The Federal Foreign Office offers further information on its website.

Overnight accommodation: The accommodation ranges from simple guesthouses (about 20 euros per night) to luxury hotels with full catering (about 420 euros per night).

Diving: Some of the best providers include Camel Dive Center and Pyramids Diving. The regular diving license (PADI Open Water) for depths of up to 18 meters costs a good 300 euros and can be achieved in three days. But there are also cheaper and shorter taster courses.

Travel time: Spring and autumn are best with temperatures around 25 degrees Celsius.

Information: Egyptian Tourism Authority:

An Austrian woman was attacked by a shark at the Egyptian seaside resort of Hurghada. However, this is a very unusual situation. "It's anything but normal for sharks to attack people," says marine biologist Fabian Ritter.

Source: WORLD

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