Diving enthusiasts can now descend into the crystal waters of the Red Sea to flit about as Egypt’s first underwater military museum opened this week.
“The new diving sites will embrace 15 old army machines in certain locations … it took seven years of careful planning to prepare these sites,” Egypt’s Minister of Environment Yasmine Fouad said at an inauguration ceremony late on Thursday.
For a starter, two armoured vehicles were sunk to serve as havens for reef-building corals off the coast of Hurghada, a world-renowned diving attraction, thus creating new diving sites and diverting people from some over-crowded ones.
“This contributes to relieving pressure on the current diving sites and preserving the natural treasures of the region,” Fouad said, adding the artificial wreck would help create an environment for the growth of corals and marine organisms.
According to the underwater military museum’s builders, the chosen vehicles were left unused for decades, and all parts that might be harmful have been removed before being put into the waters to foster corals.
The underwater military museum is the result of cooperation between the Egyptian Armed Forces, the Ministry of Environment, the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, and the Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA).
Red Sea corals adapted to high-temperature tolerance thousands of years ago. A number of studies have shown that they are the last coral reefs affected by climate changes around the world, according to the minister.
She added that a clear plan was drawn up to preserve the Red Sea corals from all forms of pollution and improper practices.
“The implementation of the project came after years of marine scientific studies … one of the main goals of establishing the underwater museum is preserving the natural coral reefs in the Red Sea,” Mahmoud Hanafi, professor of marine sciences and environmental advisor to the Red Sea Governorate, told Xinhua.
Local tourist workers say underwater military museum to boost tourism
Mohammed Abdallah, a diving guide with a local marine tourism agency, flashed a happy smile while watching the military vehicles sinking into the deep waters of the Red Sea.
“This is a new source of income for us … more divers will love to try the new experience of diving around this new underwater military museum,” Abdallah told Xinhua.
In addition to the financial gains, he said, the new underwater military museum is important to keep the diving business in Hurghada ongoing.
“We will organize less diving activities in older sites, which will help preserve natural coral reefs … the new alternative sites will be a great experience for divers,” Abdallah said.
Tourism is one of the pillar industries of Egypt, accounting for around 12% of the gross domestic product.
Official data shows the tourist number in Egypt dropped from over 13 million in 2019 to around 3.7 million in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It gradually recovered to about 8 million in 2021 and further rebounded throughout 2022 to a nearing pre-pandemic level.