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Into the ForestThursday, September 30, 2021
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Some 45 years after I first visited the Red Sea, my love the region has never diminished.
Lawson Wood • Tough TG-5 • PT-058
That first frisson of excitement came at 20,000ft when we were starting to descend and flew over the mountains of upper Egypt and we could see the shores of the Red Sea beckoning and the amazing colours of the water. The route of the flight to Hurghada swung around over Marsa Alam which was the destination of our dive hosts, Emperor Divers and our embarkation port for all points south to the southern Egyptian Red Sea.
Lawson Wood • Tough TG-5
This was to be a total immersion underwater photography week with 16 guests and organised by Paul ‘Duxy’ Duxfield, a consummate photo guru and Adobe Light Room expert. I was there for my Red Sea environment expertise; underwater photographic instruction; photo critiques; insight on easy photoshop quick fixes and pass on as many hints and tips as possible to the future underwater photographers on board. The group for this week were of mixed abilities from the easy point and shoot compact camera beginners; micro 4/3rds mirrorless cameras and larger set-ups and everything else in between. There were various styles of Olympus cameras along with other brands waterproof housings, flashes and the many accessories needed to fit it all together. It was a good opportunity for people with different experience levels and equipment to compare.
Lawson Wood • OM-D- E-M5 • M.Zuiko Digital 12-50mm F3.5-6.3
We joined the live-aboard dive boat Emperor Superior at Port Ghalib, the home port of Emperor Divers in this section of the southern Red Sea in the early hours and soon arranged the diving equipment on the huge aft deck where all the on-board guests would kit up and get ready for entry into the water. Plenty of room for cameras with rinse tanks and fresh water showers; dry towels and personal dry boxes. 16 guests awaited and after a brief dive briefing, everyone was ready for a check-out dive, just to make sure that our buoyancy was correct and that all the cameras were waterproof and ready for a week’s intensive work.
The first dive was at Sha’ab Abu Dabab, a series of sheltered rocky reefs, perfect for an easy dive, easy photography and plenty of time to reacquaint ourselves with the underwater wonders of the Red Sea. Unlike many live-aboard dive trips available around the world, this week had an ‘open-deck’ policy where dive partners could explore the reefs without the support of dive guides who sometimes control our depth, direction and time in the water.
Sha’ab Abu Galawa Soraya further to the south and an overnight sail had us arriving for an early morning dive just as the sun was coming up. This reef had numerous swim-throughs, tons of anemones and clownfish and a huge variety of tropical fish of every colour imaginable. These types of isolated coral heads are perfect for leisurely exploration allowing photographers to concentrate on improving their skills.
Further to the south is the location of one of the natural wonders of the Red Sea. Sataya is a massive horseshoe shaped reef with a huge, shallow protected lagoon where a large group of Spinner Dolphins like to hang out, have fun, have babies and allow us ungainly land dwellers the opportunity to swim freely with their extended family. Spinner Dolphins (Stenella longirostris) as the name would suggest, love to leap out of the water and perform several breath-taking spins in the air before plunging back into the sea. Sadly, we did not witness this kind of behaviour, but we did have two long encounters with over 30 of the dolphins as they surrounded us and allowed for an amazing wildlife interaction.
One of the highlights of the southern reefs towards the Fury Shoals is a reef simply known as Claudia. This reef cluster is around a dozen plus coral heads in a tight cluster many of which are slightly overhung creating numerous small and safe caves and caverns, swim-throughs and with hundreds of roof-top fissures that lets light through in streams of light. The top canyon has a superb cluster of brilliant red anemones filled with clownfish and Threespot dascillus, but it is the dappled sunlight that streams through the corals that makes this site so special.
Elphinstone Reef is always at the top of many photographic lists in the southern Red Sea, sadly due to the fact that a number of dive sites were off-limits for various reasons, Elphinstone was very overcrowded. The eastern wall in the morning has superb gardens of brilliantly coloured soft corals, but the dozens of divers in the water at the same time made for very challenging photography, so instead of this being a wide-angle location, it was easier to concentrate on photographing fish and the other residents of this super-abundant reef. Very productive indeed!
Lawson Wood • OM-D- E-M5 • M.Zuiko Digital 60mm F2.8 Macro
Marsa Shona soon followed and the ‘open-deck’ policy allowed for multiple dives on a stunning shallow reef with nice overhangs filled with brilliant red squirrelfish, yellow damselfish and many different types of wrasse and parrotfish. This reef looks like it will be an absolutely superb night dive as brilliant cup-corals were evident very close to the surface. The rare Picasso trigger fish were actually common here.
Lawson Wood • Tough TG-5 • PT-058
Abu Galawa Kebir has a shipwreck on the western side from reef top to 28m and was chosen for a late afternoon dive and unrestricted night dive. There is a very interesting and large cavern just underneath the wreck’s bows and small cowries and clams are prominent. On the return to Port Ghalib we stopped once more for an evening dive at Sha’ab Abu Dahab. The small wreck here has a resident juvenile Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari), that appears quite sociable and happy to be photographed. The caverns formed around the perimeter of the coral reef are home to a huge array of animals not usually seen on the open reef scape.
All in all, a great trip. If you can make it, I thoroughly recommend this as the way to get the most from a trip to the Red Sea.
Author and Photographs: Lawson Wood
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