Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ras Mohamed National Park, Nabq and Diving!

Yeah, my job is pretty awesome.

So like I said last time, I'm currently helping out on a Tropical Marine Ecology field course to the Red Sea with the University of Glasgow and so far it's been pretty stunning! The first week was spent largely getting everyone used to snorkeling around the local shallow reefs and learning how to conduct various underwater surveys (transects and point counts and the like) and being shown the different environments that are typical of tropical systems. To really show them what the coral reefs of the Red Sea can be like, we took a trip down to the Ras Mohamed national park at the southern tip of the Sinai peninsula for a couple of days, sleeping in a Bedouin camp and seeing what the place had to offer.

As always, please click on the images to see them full size (and nicer looking!).

Our camp for a couple of days at Ras Mohamed

We're definitely in Egypt.

It turns out it was quite a lot! The waters where we were staying dropped to over 800m within a short distance of the shore, so we were treated to some stunning drop-offs as the reefs disappeared off into the depths, as well as an abundance of fish and coral life. The photo opportunities were stunning and the water was clear enough to make it almost easy to take some really nice shots.

Looking over a shallow reef flat in Ras Mohamed.

Fire corals and amazing underwater visibility in Ras Mohamed.

One of our students snorkeling across the reef

The park was jammed full of fish and corals and the water clarity made photography almost simple!

After two amazing snorkels in the blue, we got to do a (freezing cold) night dive to see the nighttime behaviours of the reef inhabitants which was also awesome! Although it was far too dark for photography, the reef was alive with invertebrates (urchins, brittle stars, basket stars, shrimp and small lobsters) and nocturnal fishes which was really cool to see. Compared to the dominance of the fishes which you see through the day the change was remarkable and was probably one of the highlights of the trip (also I really like inverts!).

A raspberry coral in a seagrass bed.

Upside-down jellyfish!

The following day we heading back north again to the province of Nabq to visit a seagrass bed and a small mangrove to discuss their importance as coastal habitats and nursery areas. Just like when I did the course waaaaay back in the day in Tobago, the mangrove was full of upside-down jellyfish (that's actually their name, they weren't just normal jellyfish gone the wrong way up!) which I think are particularly cool beasties. Essentially, the name comes from their behaviour - they carry photosynthesising bacteria underneath their bell, which they use to create energy from the sunlight by turning themselves upside down and settling on the seabed in shallow waters. If the conditions deteriorate, they can just pick up and find somewhere else. They do still have stinging cells in their tentacles though which made the walk around the mangrove a bit prickly!

White mangrove trees. They have aerial roots which extend out of the (typically anoxic) mud and into the air and which they use to respire.
And after all that we got a day off on Tuesday before the student project work starts, which for most of us meant a day out on a dive boat to dive at a local shallow reef at Gab el-Bint which was ace. I'll just let you enjoy the photographs:

Anthias swimming around a gorgonian (sea fan) 

Anthias in the water column above the reefs

Anthias at warp one.

A coral hind (grouper) above the reef.

Anthias around a pitch-black crinoid (feather star).
Oddly, halfway through the dive we came across what appeared to be a small shrub with fish in it!* 
My dive buddy swimming behind a gorgonian (sea fan) 

Trumpetfish shoaling together at the end of the dive.

* It's really a dark green hydroid, but it really, really looked like a small tree.

Today we started work on the student's projects which they need to run for the next three days and then report back which means another busy few days for all of us, but should be good fun. My group are looking at aggression in anemonefish so it's an excuse to hang out on the reefs and take more photos for me!

Christmas tree worms on a coral.

A teeny tiny lionfish swimming over the reef.
Finally, it's worth mentioning (although it's pretty obvious) that the Canon G12 is working pretty well! The Canon housing isn't brilliant for very close-up shots because the front of the housing blocks half the light from the flash, but if you're willing to work around this it's excellent for shooting subjects >30cm away and framing them against a background. Alternatively you can just turn the flash off and use ambient light instead. As with all photography, getting good shots is all about knowing the limits of yourself and your kit and if you're willing to work within them it's pretty easy to get some great images, especially when your setting is the Red Sea!