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RED SEA PDF Print E-mail

Fauna and Flora

The Red Sea is an enormous basin, 2350km (≈1400 miles) long by about 350km (≈220 Mer Rouge-satmiles) broad at its widest point, enclosed to the north by the Gulfs of Suez and Aqaba, and at its southernmost point the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, which is hundreds of metres deep. The sea is has a truly unique ecosystem, surrounded as it is, by red-hued bauxite mountains that some believe to be the origin of the name Mare Rostrum - the Red Sea. It was formed 25 million years ago by the separation of the African Continent from the Arabian Peninsula. It is distinguished by the volcanic activity in its shallows, its regular currents, the small tidal range, a salt content of 4.1% (the world's seas average 3.2%), and a water temperature that drops only slightly in its depths.
The Red Sea has been a commercial highway between the East and the West since classical antiquity. Boats departed loaded with copper, pottery, and cloths to return laden with silks, spices, wood, and even elephants. The cutting of the Suez Canal in 1869 boosted and encouraged a tradition of many centuries of sailing, interspersed with shipwrecks and piratry. Today the Sea is an essential destination for divers the world over.

Over 250 species of coral exist in the Red Sea, 8% of which are endemic. The organism is made up of "heads" of polyps.
Half animal and half vegetable, the corals have invaded the reefs like an army of builders. When a colony dies, another starts building on its calcareous skeleton... But this activity can be misleading as, depending on the species, it only grows at a rate of a few millimetres or centimetres per year - so it takes thousands of years for the coral to carpet the seafloor and model out the relief.

With 1248 species, of which 17% are endemic, the Red Sea is like a magnificent aquarium, and its reefs are a haven for many species of fish. Some use them to hide from predators, others lay their eggs there, and for most the reefs are their feeding grounds.


There is a seemingly infinite aquatic palette of shapes, colours, spots, and stripes. But great care must be taken - it is forbidden to touch these creatures, and some of them can be dangerous. So, keep your hands out of harm's way and concentrate on controlling your buoyancy instead!

Although they are rarely aggressive in the Red Sea, it must always be remembered that sharks are predators. Resist the temptation to provoke a reaction from reef and whitetip sharks, which are known for their curiosity and timidity, and the nurse sharks that skim the seafloor. The vast majority of sharks are found away from the reefs, like the curiously shaped hammerhead shark, or the leopard shark, with the same spots as his terrestrial counterpart, and less frequently you can encounter the oceanic whitetip shark (Longimanus) and the whale shark, the real colossi of the seas.


The wrecks provide the ideal environment for a whole range of different organisms: alcyonarians, fan corals, and stony corals can transform the rustiest of hulls into a wonderful garden that is home to shellfish, molluscs, parrotfish, and also morays, lionfish, and crocodilefish. But, the star of the wrecks is undoubtedly the grouper, the ever-present guardian of sunken ships.

To help you out a little, here is a list of the main inhabitants in the Red Sea.

Sea Anemone and clownfish

The two animals have a symbiotic relationship: protected from the anemone's stinging tentacles by a substance that they continuously secrete, the clownfish feed the anemones and they, in turn, defend them against attack from other fishes.


Fifteen centimetres long, it is distinguished by its orange marking (the female's eyes are rimmed with a distinct purple marking); it swims in shoals and lights up the reefs with its bright colours.

Titan Triggerfish
A large, brownish, lightly streaked fish with fins that are rimmed with black. During the reproductive season, between April and June, the triggerfish will attack divers that enter its territory by going for their flippers.

Silver with black stripes, this slender predator has sharp teeth that can inflict a dangerous bite. They swim in groups when young, and swim alone when older. Like magpies, they are attracted to shiny objects.

Pufferfish have large heads and round protruding eyes - the pufferfish is the ugly duckling of the seas. Bad swimmers, these mainly nocturnal bluffers defend themselves by inflating their bodies like balloons, which makes their quills bristle.

Blackspotted Sweetlips
You will see these Pacific fish in shoals and in shallow water. The distinctive black lines present at the beginning of their lives fade with time.


This large fish (they grow to 1m in length), recognizable by its protruding lower jaw that makes it look as though it's pulling a face, belongs to a large group of fish with many different species that vary in colour and size - there are red-spotted, blue-spotted, black, and lyretail groupers... They all have two things in common: they live in the reefs and, when possible, in the wrecks, and never stray far from their caves. All groupers are born female, but become male after several years.

Java Moray Eel
Moray eels can grow to lengths of 2 to 3m, and hide in the coralline crevices, but sometimes also swim in the open sea. Always give them a wide berth - their teeth are extraordinarily sharp and a bite will almost certainly be infective.

Napoleon Fish
Napoleonfish are as heavy - some reach 200kg! - as they are easy-going, and are easily identified by their strange frontal protuberances that resemble an imperial hat.

Unicorn Fish
This unicorn of the seas, which is armed with two scalpel-like spines on either side of its tail, is also extremely timid. At the slightest sign of alarm, it disappears completely within a few seconds.

The nudibranch resembles a brightly coloured slug.

Circular Batfish
A strange fish that is both round and flat. It grows and becomes more laterally compressed with age.

Blue-spotted Stingray

Covered in blue spots, it uses its fins like wide wings, and has a particularly venomous spine at the base of its tail. When it is not resting on the sandy bottom, it swims by literally gliding through the water.

Incredibly graceful with its fan-like fins that extend from its back, the lionfish knows how to keep its attackers - including divers - at a respectful distance. The spines in its dorsal fin are joined by a membrane and inject particularly painful venom.
This nocturnal fish sometimes swims on its back or remains stationary, in search of small fry, especially shellfish.

The fish gets its name from the scalpel-like defensive spines at the base of its tail. Vegetarian, it only uses the spines when it feels threatened.

This planktivor likes to swim in groups to show off its white elongated dorsal fin.

With its large box-like body, it's often confused with the pufferfish. Although it readily swims out in the open, it is a lone fish that hides at the slightest sign of alarm.

Its large flattened head, protruding eyes with fine eyelids and sandy colour make the crocodilefish into one of the masters of camouflage.

Emperor Angelfish

This fish often lives alone and feeds on algae and sponges. Its markings change with age.

Golden Butterflyfish
This fish likes to live in groups and pairs, and has a black eyespot that stands out on the flanks of its orange-mottled, yellow body - a very useful device for fooling a potential enemy.

This fish is very aptly named with its distinctive jaw, which forms a parrot-like beak. The fish uses it to scrape the coral and to break up its food. The fish's colour varies according to its sex - the male is more brightly coloured to attract females - and changes with age. At night, they cram themselves into crevices and secrete mucus that forms a sort of cocoon.

The other specialist in the art of camouflage - it alters its colour to match its surroundings enabling it to swim undetected. The dorsal fin is equipped with self-defensive spines that have venom glands at their bases; wounds can be excruciating.

Everyone recognizes the powerful silver body of the tunafish, with its crescent-shaped tail adorned with short decorative fins. They live in shoals, and are remarkably fast swimmers.

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