Al-Ahram Weekly Online   2 - 8 August 2012
Issue No. 1109
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

A visual feast

Mahmoud Bakr explores underwater marine life from the comfort of a dry boat

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Whether in the comfort of a dry boat or floating in a wet suit, there are lots of dazzling underwater treasures to feast your eyes on

It was nine o'clock in the morning when passengers took their seats for the much-anticipated adventure on the Semi-Submarine boat in Hurghada on the Red Sea. The boat, with seating for 77 passengers on deck, has 39 windows below the deck that allow passengers to enjoy the view from a vantage point that is 4.5m below the surface. During the journey, passengers remain on deck and only descend to the bottom to enjoy the view when the boat arrives at its destination.

Semi-Submarine is also equipped with standard security measures, including life vests and fire extinguishers.

Our tour guide Ahmed El-Beheiri began with a briefing on what to expect. The first stop, some 4km away, is Fanadir, a natural protectorate known for its exquisite multi-coloured corals located only 7m under the surface. This means that from the bottom of the boat, you are only 2.5m from the corals and enjoy the same view that others have to put on diving gear to appreciate. The area is full of coloured fish, including the famous Lion Fish.

Sea Scope Yellow Submarines, the company for which El-Beheiri works, operates six boats; two of them accommodate 77 people and the other four have room for 34 each. The boats are docked in the Marina Hilton Plaza in Hurghada. According to Essam Touson, the company's general manager, they began operating the first boat in Hurghada in 2004. Since then, they branched out into Sharm El-Sheikh, Dahab, and other areas.

Most of the customers book through tourist agencies, for about $45 per person, with a considerable discount for locals. Most foreign clients hail from Russia, UK, Poland, Germany, and Hungary. Before the25 January Revolution, Touson says, the company had some 1,200 clients per day but now the numbers are down to 400 or less. Company divers, he points out, make a cleaning dive every 20 days, to remove garbage and plastic bags from the path of the boat.

The scenery is not only confined to coral and fish. There are also caves, rock formations, and other visual intrigues along the way. Most tourists are interested in the coloured fish and attractive coral, but along the way they get acquainted with other interesting forms of marine life. According to Touson, there is a very delicate ecological balance in the corals of the Red Sea and thus the disappearance of one type of marine life can upset the whole environment.

For example, when the crown-of-thorns starfish began destroying the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, it was because the fish feeding on the starfish had disappeared. This is why scientists, and not only visitors, keep a close look on the reef.

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