Deep South Red Sea Diving
Zabargad is the largest of Egypt's 4 Southern Red Sea marine parks and lies just 5 km northwest of Rocky Island in the deep south, 70 km off the Egyptian mainland. The island has exquisite turquoise bays, sandy beaches and a 235m high hill at its centre. Zabargad means topaz in Egyptian, and you can still find evidence of an island community that mined the semi-precious stones here.
Red Sea diving is at its best on Zabargad Island's south east coast in the sheltered Turtle Bay. Here you'll find a wall to 15m then a coral reef slope down to 30m or so and then a drop off into the blue. The reef slope is a maze of coral patches and dome turrets, forming refuges to reef fish such as pufferfish and sweetlips, and invertebrates such as cuttlefish and octopus. The floor is home to bluespotted stingrays, scorpionfish and crocodilefish, and of course turtles are found here too. Green and hawksbill turtles hatch on the beach here in the month of August.
It's best to dive along the reef wall here as the coral growth is dense and there are many caverns and gullies to explore. There are also a couple of passageways that lead directly into the inner lagoon behind the reef wall.
Outside of the sheltered bays, Zabargad has steep walls that offer some great Red Sea drift diving. The usual Southern Red Sea sharks can be sighted here, such as oceanic whitetips and grey reef. It's also a good place for manta encounters, where these rays come into the reef to attend cleaning stations dotted along the ledges at 15-30m.
On the northeast coast of Zabargad lies the Khanka Wreck, a 70m long USSR transport/surveillance ship that sank upright in 24m of water in the 1970s. The bow has impact damage and lies on its port side but the rest of the wreck is in good condition. The main superstructure lies just 10m below the water's surface. Although there is little coral growth here yet, there are several interesting sections of the ship to explore on a dive, such as the holds, bridge and engine room, which are filled with glassfish and are easy to explore from the 2 large openings to be found in the bow and stern.
Large winches and heavy chains are in evidence towards the bow. You can access the engine room through the hatches in midships. The bridge is found down a narrow stairwell where you can still find the helm, chart room and control panels. The main mast is intact and is a great place for a safety stop since it rises to just 2m below the surface.
Down the west coast of the island, lies the remains of the Neptuna. This was a German Red Sea diving safari boat that sank here in 1981. It has now broken apart but much of what remains is visible on the sea floor. The area is fairly shallow with coral bommies rising from 15m. Sometimes night dives are taken here.
Zabargad Island Reef Basics: Labyrinthine corals and wrecks
Depth: 5 - 30m
Visibility: 10 - 35m
Currents: Gentle but can be strong in exposed places
Surface conditions: Calm but can be choppy
Water temperature: 23 - 30°C
Experience level: Beginner - intermediate
Number of dive sites: 3
Diving season: All year round
Distance: 200 km southeast of Marsa Alam (13 hrs)
Access: Red sea liveaboards
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• Southern Red Sea - Egypt
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