Underwater life on the sandy bottom of the Red Sea
The Fury Shoals in the Red Sea, off the coast of Egypt
The weather had forced us to precipitately leave St. John’s Reef. One of the two propellers of our boat had broken and the captain was forced to move north, towards the harbor of Marsa Alam. Our diving guide proposed that we could make a few dives to the Fury Shoals, which are named for the violent storms that crash on them. The storm was still raging and the sea was rough. We had to stay close to the coast where there was shelter. All our diving would now be done on sandy bottoms in less than 30 feet of water.
Usually, we prefer to take scenic pictures with colorful corals in the foreground and the dark blue of deep water in the background. That time, however, we traded our wide angle lenses and domes for our macro lenses. We decided that from that point on, we would photograph fish.
Our first dive was to a reef that had been devastated by an old storm. The reefs were broken. Large tables of Acropora had broken off and were lying around on the sand: all the coral had died long ago. We were looking for nudibranchs or small fish in crevices. After 30 minutes, during which we say nothing worth photographing, we spotted a Steinitz goby at the entrance to its burrow. On its right, there was a small blind pistol spotted shrimp, Alpheus djeddensis, cleaning the endlessly drifting sand out its hole. We approached slowly to avoid frightening the goby. About 20 inches from the fish, we stopped kicking. We were at the edge of the goby’s security zone. If we continued to move, it would go back into its hole and we would have to wait for it to come out again.
After a few minutes of photographing the goby, we decided to continue exploring the sandbank. Usually, we avoid sandbanks, because there are few colors, and we are not interested in the way that light reflects off of the sand. But that day, something very special happened. We were stunned by all the life that teemed around us. It was like diving in an aquarium, and we were astonished by the number of species that we identified.
It is true that we had no choice in the matter, but once we started paying attention to all the creatures living in the sandbank, we discovered an entire universe that we had always neglected. We photographed a half-buried stingray and a tiny hermit crab. Suddenly, one of our dive computers beeped, telling us that our dive time was up (we only had 1 hour). It was incredible! 30 minutes had gone by, and we had never noticed the time passing.
When we got back on the boat, we spent some time talking about the dive. We were not bored for a moment, and we had a great time using our macro lenses. It was completely amazing, and we were thrilled. We decided to keep doing the same thing for the rest of the cruise. We would try to capture a few of the multitude of creatures that live in the sand. We were not disappointed with our choice, because we took many excellent photos during the rest of our trip.
The odd thing is that we always have sandbanks available during our dives, but we often overlook them in order to focus on scenic pictures of drop-offs or wrecks.
As always, we looked in our neighbor’s garden for things that we had in our own. >