A KHAWAGA'S TALE: Scuba diving in Sharm El-Sheikh

Peter A. Carrigan
6 Min Read

Sharm El-Sheikh scuba divers have been adding to the coral reef’s unique experience by exposing their buttocks to passengers on glass bottom boats.

Peering into the reef looking for exotic sea creatures, passengers are seeing more barnacles and sea cucumbers than they bargained for.

Such sparring is the scuba industry s way of protesting the growing presence of glass bottom boats that ply the waters above the house reefs known as Near, Fiddle and Far Garden.

A cold war is raging in Sharm El-Sheikh between the scuba industry and glass bottom boats.

Both economic entities are fighting over the same patch of coral. While the divers feel it is their turf, the glass bottom boat operators look on the reef as public property.

One may argue that the glass bottom boat is the most environmental approach to marine tourism. There is little or no chance of a “punter interfering with the corals, fish or molluscs.

On the other hand, even a scuba diver’s fin can easily upset the sea bed or sever a piece of coral. Divers are trusted that they will only observe and not touch, tamper or take any part of the reef home with them.

Before heading back to England for Christmas last week, I dipped into Sharm for a little diving. It is always great to get in the water, wash off Cairo’s pollution and shut out her noise.

The sun sprayed the top deck of the Camel Dive boat. I hadn’t been there for a couple of years but found they still serve a tasty lunch, which may have been my last if it wasn’t for my alert French dive instructor, William Haudrechy Gilles.

At the end of the afternoon dive, low on air and a little bloated from the aubergine, pasta and scrumptious mashed potatoes, I stopped at five meters for three minutes per safety briefing. My bouncy became positive and I began to float to the surface, unaware of any imminent danger.

William pulled me back down via my vest and pointed towards the surface where I was headed. The shadowy shape of a boat’s bottom cruised above, its propellers churning the water, her passengers peering down.

It wasn’t a very close call, but if William wasn’t as aware, the boat a little closer or I had gone back for dessert, I may have splattered on the bottom of that glass boat like a grasshopper on a windshield.

The scuba tourists are encouraged to give the glass bottom boats the international sign of extreme dislike. Known to Americans as flipping the bird, it is the raised forefinger that best conveys a strong message of disgust. It is all a bit of fun, except that the number of coral tourists above and below the water is setting up an accident if something is not done.

Divers say that boat captains have a lack of training and show little regard for the pedestrians of the sea. Boat captains would like divers to better mark their location, possibly using a system of buoys.

The diving industry does appreciate that the more people who experience coral reefs, the greater the public’s awareness for the marine environment and better are the chances for the long term survival of the ecosystem.

Jet skis and private boats are banned in Sharm. This ban does not include speed boats though, which tow inflatable rubber tubes on which tourists ride in a kind of aqua-rodeo. Another potential hazard for scuba divers.

One of the most famous scuba accidents is the story of Kirsty MacColl, who was run over and killed by a speed boat in Mexico when surfacing from a dive with her sons in 2000.

Set up in 1986, Camel Dive is Sharm’s oldest diving brand. It employs at least 15 nationalities and has a killer roof bar. The courtyard is the original camel station, where Bedouin camel drivers would stop for water and rest, like a medieval caravansary from the golden age of Islam.

Camel Dive takes around 3,500 tourists diving every year and many of these get to dive some of the world’s top ranked sites, such as Shark Reef, and to see the scattered toilets on Yolanda Reef.

Which reminds me of ye ol’ English proverb: “You shouldn’t use your bed as your toilet.

Relevant here because it is the quality of the marine environment which has put Sharm on the map, and it would be a crying shame if shambolic operators wiped it off that same map.

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