In this post I am going to talk about the largest marine park that has the Egyptian Red Sea, the reefs of St. Johns. This park consists of about 31 reefs spread over an extensive area south of Marsa Alam, very close to the border with “Elba National Park”, which is already the Sudanese administration. We are therefore talking about the deep South of Egypt, a relatively undiscovered area with extraordinary reefs.
The liveaboard that travels this zone, (that usually is combined with “Ephistone Reef” or “Fury Shoal”), usually from Port of Port Ghalib. Before it started from Marsa Alam or even from Hamata further south, but they are places with nothing more than a small jetty. Port Ghalib (which is owned by a rich Kuwaiti owner of the Marsa Alam airport) has become the place of reference in the area, with a great marina, with hotels, restaurants, bars and where there is no lack of fuel (curiously scarce in Egypt). That is, every diver who embarks or disembarks in the area has to pay 25€.
The nearest airport to Port Ghalib is Marsa Alam, but with bad connections from countries as Spain. Unless you fly to Marsa Alam from U.K., it is usual to arrive in Hurghada and go down by road for about four hours to Port Ghalib. The road is currently well paved and with two lanes in each direction well separated, it is also a journey almost completely straight, perfect for a little head until you reach the boat taking into account that usually arrive at Hurghada well into the night.
The temperature of the water in this area of the Red Sea ranges from the pleasant 24º of January to the 32º to which it can arrive in August. The visibility is usually excellent, between 20 and 40 meters or even up to 60 meters. Except this is a few weeks between April and May when there is a large presence of plankton, a time when it is common to see whale sharks in the area. Also at the beginning of summer it is possible to see it.
In St. Johns you can dive all year long, being the months of summer the most favorable. Between November and April the water temperature drops somewhat and apart from a constant wind there are usually currents, in some cases quite strong in some areas. The type of diving that we will find are basically the pinnacles of coral, lagoons and “drop off”. In general except for some areas (we will see the most important ones later), the dives are not deep, quite the contrary, so it is a good area for divers of all levels, although as I said earlier, ojito to the currents the winter months.
As for the marine life that awaits us down there, in addition to the usual reef life, St. Johns stands out for the variety of sharks we can see, from schools of hammers to “silver tips” through gray sharks and tips white reef You can also see many dolphins, as well as turtles, huge Napoleons, humpback parrotfish and tuna among other species.
The reefs are in general in very good condition, because being an area much less dived than the North route, it is still possible to see impressive stretches of coral in perfect condition, as well as many areas of “habailis”, which are formations of Young coral in growth. Here we can also see huge marine sponges and a good variety of Gorgonians, some really spectacular size (only grow between 1 and 1.5 cts per year so there are many more than centenarians).
These are some of the best and most famous dive sites in the area, they are not all far from it, this is a summary for you to get an idea of the type of diving and life that you can find in this marine park. I do not put in any special order.
MAIN DIVE SITES
dive site: Drop Kibeer Type of dive: Reef Maximum depth: 30 meters. Visibility: 30 meters
Gota Kibeer translated directly from Arabic, means “big piece”, so you can get an idea that it is not a small reef, it is a large, almost triangular reef. Given its dimensions, several dives can be made at different points depending on the current, which is usually from North to South. The North end has two plateaus at 15 and 35 meters. respectively, where sharks are usually observed white and gray.
To the South of the reef it is good to dive looking at the “blue” because pelagic and Rayas Agila tend to pass among other pleasant surprises. The first 15 meters of reef are not as spectacular in soft coral as some of the other “dive sites” of St. Johns as Habili Jaffar or Gota Shiwayya), however we can see large gorgonians at about – 30 mts. and a lot of red coral. The reef has in its southeastern part some large projections and deep cracks that penetrate the reef. The swell in and out of these cracks can be strong so it is inadvisable to enter. There are several large groups of anemones grouped near these openings in about – 8 to – 10 meters that delight the “fotosub”.
Dive site: Drop Shiwayya
Ttype of dive: Reef
Maximum depth: 30 meters.
Visibility: 30 meters
Gota Shiwayya, translated from Arabic, it means “small piece” and like many of the reefs that make up St. Johns Park, it is a small circular reef. The walls are completely covered with soft corals. Here we can see beautiful pink and red whip corals stretching towards the blue. The upper 20 meters of this reef are full of small marine life of all descriptions, passing also and “Trevallie” tuna always ready to bite. At about – 20 mts. or – 30 mts. We can see big gorgonians. It is in a Drop where riflemen and Napoleon fish are usually seen.
The current normally goes from North to South, so it is ideal to jump on the north end of the reef and then spend up to an hour diving with current in favor to be picked up in the extreme south. Back to the surface finishing the dive in the first meters there are small fissures in the reef that are worth exploring while taking advantage of the safety stop.
Dive site: Habili Jaffar Type of dive: Reef Maximum depth: 30 meters. Visibility: 30 meters
Habili Jaffar (in Arabian reef that never comes to the surface) is a small reef with an oval shape with its top 3 or 4 meters above the surface. This is a good place to see large pelagics, such as barracuda schools, “jacks” and “trevallie” tend to be on the north side, where the current can be strong (sweeping from north to south). Gray-tipped sharks are usually present in the stream.
The first 15 meters above this reef are literally covered with soft pink and purple coral as well as two hard coral formations that harbor a lot of life. The lionfish and the grouper are the Kings of this area of the reef. We will see a large ledge (some guides call it a cave) at – 20 mts. where there are often several lionfish and pairs of masked butterflyfish. Several large napoleons have made their home here so to meet them during the dive is very possible.
Dive site: Habili St John’s Wood Type of dive: diving in the “blue” to see hammerhead shark
Maximum depth: 40 meters. Visibility: 30 meters
Typical immersion in the early morning in the “blue” far from the reef down to the – 40 meters to try to see the schools of hammers that usually pass through this area. As is common in this type of dives, if you manage to cross with the school of colorful hammers, if you do not see a single shark it is a dull dive where there are.
Dive site: Habili Washour Type of dive: Drop off Maximum depth: 35 meters. Visibility: 30 meters
Another immersion “early” to see sharks in the blue. The ideal is to do it about 5.30 in the morning and with a little luck we will see gray reef sharks, white tips and with even more luck hammers. Back to the reef, the wall has enough life and in the upper part (at about 6 and 8 meters) you can usually see parrot humpbacks.
Dive site: Little Reef Type of dive: Drop off Maximum depth: 40 meters. Visibility: 30 meters
Like the other two mentioned above, it is a typical first-day dive to see sharks in the blue and then approach the reef and enjoy the wall full of life. This wall also has a nice cave with plenty of life and frequent see sharks white tips. There coral whip growing.
Dive site: St John’s Cave Type of dive: Reef with tunnels and caves Maximum depth 25 meters. Visibility: 20 mts.
This beautiful “L” shaped reef is made up of a main reef and other smaller reefs around. Within the main body of the reef there are a series of fissures and tunnels, many of which do not give direct access to the surface, although there is always a small opening above which the light can penetrate. The boats are usually positioned in the southern part of the reef with a depth of between 20 and 25 meters to a flat semi-sandy bottom where there are usually napoleons. There are two openings in the reef leading to the tunnel system. The truly fun of this dive is “lost” among the galleries and nooks that abound. There is very little depth and excellent visibility. The tunnel system is a wonder because it is full of coral. This is undoubtedly one of the most fun and relaxing dives in the area.
Dive site: St John’s Wood Type of installation: Reef Maximum depth: 26 meters Visibility: 30 meters
Similar to the previous one, this “forest” of coral formed by numerous “Habilis” (reefs that do not reach the surface) looks like a landscape of wood, hence its name. The coral here is a good combination of hard and soft and they are in good condition, there are also fire corals and sea fans. With a bit of luck you can see white tip sharks that usually rest on the sand in the area. Podremoes see Napoleon fish, riflemen and humpback parrotfish among other species.
Dive site: Sha’ab Dangerous Type of dive: Reef with tunnels and caves Maximum depth 25 meters
Visibility: 20 meters
Dangerous Reef is one of the most beautiful in St. Johns. It has a diamond shape. The southern end of the reef where the diving boats usually tie up, where we will find a wall of hard coral that descends about 22 m until we reach the sandy bottom. Here it is common to see large monorails and Napoleon fish.
The southernmost part of the reef, about 8 m deep, resembles the previous dives, with several cracks in the reef that allow the diver to enter a small cave (rather a tunnel) with a sandy bottom where there are several groupers who live here. Whether we go east or west from these entrances we will arrive at beautiful coral gardens, where large stony corals cascade down the reef. In this area the fauna abounds, highlighting the lionfish, the black spotted butterfly and several types of groupers. This reef offers enough shelter for the night and is perfect for the nocturnal ones where almost certainly we will see the “Spanish dancers” of great size.
Dive site: Elphinstone Reef Type of dive: Reef Maximum depth: 40 meters. Visibility: 20-30 meters
Although Elphistone is not properly located within the St. Johns Marine Park but about 8 miles from Marsa Alam, it is usually included when the St. Johns route is made and is also one of the best diving spots in the entire Sea. Egyptian red Elphistone is a reef approximately 180 long by 22 wide that from practically the surface goes down with a shape similar to a long rectangle and is lost in the blue, reaching more than 40 meters deep (in fact more than 55 where there is a beautiful arch). Here between 40 and 42 meters deep, it seems like part of the reef and makes a beautiful arch where in the early hours of the morning it is possible to see hammers.
This reef has it all, you can see “big bug” like hammers, “longimanus”, gray reef sharks, shark fox, “silkies” and luckily tiger shark or whale shark. To this we can add dolphins, turtles and a great variety of small fauna. Its walls are full of soft and hard coral (especially soft), large sponges and gorgonians. What else can you ask for a true immersion? The current usually goes from South to North and in some cases it can be quite strong, you have to be careful that it does not expel you from the reef to the “blue” because it will cost you enough to return. The dives in the early morning are best done by heading east and in the afternoon towards the west, so we take full advantage of the position of the sun and therefore the light on the reef.
The South Plateau is a good place to look for “silkie” sharks, white tip sharks and reef grays. To the “longimanus” it is not necessary to look for it, it looks for you, because knowing its dominion is a very curious animal that is usually close enough to the diver, better not to carry much metallic reflex!