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July 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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At What Cost For a Third Dive?

not so charming at Sharm El-Sheikh

from the July, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dear Undercurrent:

My wife and I have just returned from Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, after an absence of eight years. I first went to Sharm in 1984 and my wife in 1979. She was an original member of one of the first liveaboards in the area. We’ve seen a lot of changes in Sharm over the years but this time the changes were startling and shocking. I’m not talking just about on land. I’m referring to El-Sheikh, underwater.

No sooner than arrival at Ras Nasrani airport, you’re herded into a scrum at Immigration (with three other charter 747 planes arriving at the same time), and that pretty much continues until you return home. Sharm El Moya, Ras Mohammed, Ras Umm Sidd, Tiran Straits and, of course, S.S. Thistlegorm were packed with divers and boats. The practice of slipping the moorings and doing a drift dive (in non-drift conditions) was only for the convenience of boats and crews rather than for divers, making entry and pickups a dangerous affair. It really won’t be long before a diver is run over and their head ripped off - - if indeed it hasn’t happened already. Boats and skippers were far too relaxed about driving over divers underneath and on top of dive sites. Even the Egyptian Navy roared over Ras Umm Sidd Wall with no regard to divers underneath. The noise underwater of hordes of divers, their bells and horn signals and a dozen boats circling overhead was incredible. What the fish thought of it all, God knows! Certainly pelagic fish were rare when once normal.

But what was really worrying was the introduction of a third dive as standard practice on day boats. In the old days, you were offered two dives per day and occasionally a third dive. Multiple diving is not ideal for daily dive boats, especially if your first dive is at 100 feet. We were offered a second dive after only 45 minutes. Possible, yes, but is it wise for an unfit amateur? The boats and dive centers have turned themselves into cash tills, only interested, it seemed, in squeezing every last dollar out of the customer. Dive, pay and go! And do a course while you’re at it. Multitasking.

That we were limited to 45-minute dives with a three-gallon tank, returning with nearly a half tank each time, was rather annoying. Our dive guide would herd us round the dive site and make sure we surfaced together with the rest of the divers so boats could pick everyone up at the same time. The whole dive and the whole day became one long queue following the leader, however good or bad they are. Not a relaxed affair, and it’s the third dive mainly to blame. It means a rushed day onboard. People can’t relax even if they elect not to do a second dive. The boat moves, the crew works (rather than serve a decent lunch), the snorkelers can’t snorkel and sunbathing is a bumpy affair, with horns blasting and crews screaming and divemasters and instructors ordering.

But in the end, it’s the reefs themselves that suffer the most. The pressure on the Ras Mohammed and Sinai reefs nowadays is intense. The fact that all boats offer a third dive increases diving by 33 percent everyday - - for an extra fee of US$43 per diver. But is it worth it? Who wins? Certainly not the reefs and their inhabitants. Not the divers, as two decent dives per day comes to the same bottom time as three rushed dives. Safety of divers is decreased. The chances of boat accidents increase. Decompression problems also must have increased substantially. And boat skippers, what qualifications do they actually hold? Are they divers themselves? Do they know what divers actually need and what safety is required? Maybe they should be made more aware with proper training like divers themselves. Certainly all dive propeller boats should be made by law to have prop guards.

Everyone talks green, everyone advertises green, so give the reefs a chance and back off one dive per day. It will make diving in Sharm a whole lot better experience for everyone: for the fish, divers, snorkelers, sunbathers on the beach overlooking the circus of boats at sea, even the compressor boy filling the tanks and crews loading the extra tanks will all be much happier! And in the end, Sharm El-Sheikh might be again one day a more relaxed diving destination.

- - David Wright, Gloucestershire, England

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