Saudi Arabia Tour Guide: The Red Sea

Saudi Arabia Tour Guide: The Red Sea Last updated on Sunday 25th April 2010

To anyone standing on its shore and gazing out across its dazzling waters, the Red Sea may seem to be a misnomer. Anything less red cannot be imagined; its blueness is palpable, indisputable and infinite. Yet this is the name which seems to predominate over those it has borne in the past; the Sea of Hejaz, the Arabian Gulf, the Coral Sea or, less romantically, Tanker Alley.

Poets among us who extol the scarlet beauty of the setting sun as it dips below the watery horizon, will feel no further need to justify the aptness of its name, but scientists take more convincing. They will doubtless tell you of the red coral on the famous reef, or the planktonic algae, which leave a dull red tidal scum at the edge of the water. So -- is it to be coral, scum or sunsets? Take your pick.

Oil tankers, cargo vessels, passenger liners and fishing boats all ply their trade across the surface of this great waterway, but for many, the true fascination of the Red Sea is hidden just below its surface. Here lies the diver's paradise; one of the world's most impressive reefs, containing more than 200 species of multi-coloured coral.

For enthusiasts in Jeddah, dive shops abound. Equipment may be bought or hired, and most shops offer courses with qualified diving instructors. These courses range from elementary tuition for beginners to recreational dives for the more experienced. Several of Jeddah's large hotels offer weekend diving packages and some have their own private, man-made beaches with dive shops and easy access to the reef.

Snorkeling is a popular way to view the edge of the reef, especially for those with limited confidence in their swimming ability. However, most divers will tell you that there is nothing to beat the thrill of experiencing the depth of the reef and the teeming marine life to be found there. Sharks, manta rays, turtles and eels will take pieces of bread from your hand, and brilliantly coloured schools of fish teem all around, in bewildering variety. Such is the lure of the reef that many novice divers become totally 'hooked' and cannot imagine why they have never joined in the fun before.

The arts of boat-building and navigation have a proud, centuries-long tradition in the Red Sea region. Sadly, however, ancient boat-building skills are lapsing into obscurity, with the advent of outboard motors and fibreglass hulls. The beauty of the houri, the sambuk and the dhow, carved without the use of plans by the craftsman's unerring eye -- all are rapidly vanishing and may even now belong to the past.

Fishing, however, is an art that still preserves time-honoured methods, mostly due to the difficulties imposed by the dangers of the reef. The hook-and-line method of fishing has been in use for more than four thousand years and is still going strong. Conservation of certain species of fish and the dangers of over-fishing are both important issues for the Saudi Arabian government -- as a result, the total catch is respectable, though not excessive. The Kingdom's fishermen land a total of 8,000 metric tons of fish per annum, which, although eight times as much as the Sudan, is less than half Egypt's total catch.

In addition to its marine life, the water of the Red Sea is also a vital commodity. The city of Jeddah is totally dependent on it for household and industrial supplies, and enormous desalination plants are in operation. These supply drinking water, which has been purified to a high standard, as well as non-potable domestic water. Seawater is also used in large quantities by oil refineries and cement works situated along the coastline.

The danger of pollution is always present in the Red Sea, particularly from oil spillage, and a Royal Decree forbids the discharge of any pollutant substances, including oil, within 100 miles of the Saudi Arabian coastline.

For swimmers, divers, traders, industrialists, fishermen and tourists, the Red Sea has its own kind of perfection. And even the idle gazer, pondering the impenetrable blue/red anomaly, can be said to have been given something to think about.

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