The Cavalry of Dahab / by Tom Burd

With 14 dives under my belt in the past 5 days, I’m taking a short break at the surface to share a few photos and stories with you, live from Dahab. On the South-East coast of the Sinai Peninsula, this relaxed bedouin town has developed a dive industry over the past few decades, whilst managing to maintain a traditional atmosphere. To those looking for a chilled diving holiday, this is certainly the place for you.

The first few dives were literally just outside of the dive centre: Poseidon Divers, run by British ex-pat Jonpaul and his awesome team. Jonpaul himself is an underwater photographer, which was my main reason for choosing to dive here, as he understands the need of small dive groups and puts emphasis on diving slowly. In my opinion a single dive like this is equivalent to 2 or 3 rushed dives with other companies, especially for photographers who are wanting to try out different techniques or use new equipment. I can definitely recommend them.

I was casually told that at the dive sites of Mashraba and Bannerfish Bay, we might get the chance to see seahorses! Having briefly glimpsed one over 5 years ago, this was an extremely exciting prospect, so we set off on the hunt. The bay outside the centre just happens to be the perfect habitat for these enigmatic creatures, being primarily covered in sand and seagrass. 

After 15 minutes of slowly scouring the grass for any sign of those elongated snouts, spiny backs and curly tails, I surprised even myself by stumbling across a truly beautiful specimen! Around 15 cm tall and deep purple, with speckles of colour along the spines, it was obvious this incredible little animal was studying me curiously. As I watched him closely, his delicateness was astounding and I also noticed that he was heavily pregnant. Yes, I did mean to say “he”! Surprisingly, female seahorses deposit the fertilised eggs into a special abdominal pouch on the male, who then takes care of them until birth! The pouch is vascularised, providing nourishment and oxygen to the young in a safe environment. It’s not often in nature you see the guys doing all the hard work! Most seahorses mate for life though, which is probably why the males put in a bit more effort.. Check out this video to see tiny seahorse larvae being born!

Over the course of the next few days we saw no fewer than 9 seahorses including white, black and green individuals (Hippocampus jayakarai and Hippocampus suezensis), thanks to the keen eye and patience of my guide Hamada! They are particularly tricky to photograph, tending to shy away and turn their back to the camera.

For anyone who might want to, try to think about a few things: 

1. Keep in mind that you are a very large and powerful object, trying to get up close with a very delicate creature! 

2. Establish your buoyancy and have a plan before approaching. 

3. Don’t use excessive flash, which could potentially harm their eyes and reduce their fitness. (Whether flash actually harms animals is a much debated topic, as nobody really knows, but I tend to be cautious anyway. We are visitors in their environment after all, and our photographs certainly aren’t worth risking any harm to them). Try to shoot in shallow water using natural light if possible, if not then set your flash to very low power and take only a few shots. Also remember that you are not the only diver out there, at a busy location the seahorse could get a good few visitors every day, so limit your interaction with it to a sensible length of time (this goes for all marine life in my opinion!).

With over 400 species worldwide, it is very easy to fall under the charm of their grace and charisma. Unfortunately however, seahorse populations are in serious decline worldwide, due to habitat destruction and a growing annual harvest. Over 20 million are taken from the seas globally each year, primarily for the Asian medicine markets but also for the aquarium trade. Please never purchase seahorses in any shape or form, just enjoy their beauty through these photos, or get out searching for them yourselves! 

Stay tuned for more Dahab adventures soon…


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