Egypt’s Underwater Museum is divers’ haven
DAHAB - Egypt’s Underwater Museum was created a few years ago to reduce pressure on coral and marine life in the popular diving site in Dahab, a small tourist town north of Sharm el-Sheikh.
The site has developed into a major diving location and a magnet for international tourists.
“This is no coincidence,” said Abdel Rahman al-Mekkawi, an Egyptian diver who masterminded the project 15 years ago to divert divers’ attention to a new spot.
Mekkawi dived in Dahab’s popular Blue Hole site for almost three decades before he and other local divers decided to establish an underwater museum away from the site. They noticed that many marine species, such as the Napoleon wrasse, usually found near coral reefs were disappearing from the Blue Hole.
Turtles and other marine creatures for which the area is famous were also becoming rare, as coral was damaged after divers accidentally struck it with their flippers.
“So, our plan was to create an alternative diving site,” Mekkawi said. “The aim is to divert divers’ interest from the Blue Hole, where there is a concentration of coral and marine species, to another site that would be equally attractive.”
The project proved successful. Scores of divers and marine life lovers have visited the new site to view sunken statues on the seabed.
The team submerged seven pieces in the “Lighthouse,” another popular diving area. It took organisers almost seven years to install the artworks, which were made of environmentally friendly materials.
The sunken artworks include a statue of Horus, an ancient Egyptian deity linked with the sky, the sun, kingship, protection and healing, and the statue of Bes, an ancient Egyptian deity linked with the protection of children and women, especially during childbirth.
A gigantic elephant, weighing 700 kilograms, was placed next to a life-size statue honouring iconic Egyptian diver Ahmed Gabr, who holds the Guinness World Record for the deepest scuba dive. Gabr’s statue is made of 100 pieces of granite and has the face of Ptah, another ancient Egyptian god.
“The best thing about the museum is that each of the sunken artworks appeals to a specific category of divers,” said Amr Abu Griesha, an Egyptian diver who has developed a strong interest in diving near Dahab’s Underwater Museum.
The elephant statue has drawn Asian divers while the Egyptian deity statues are especially attractive to devotees of ancient Egyptian civilisation. Gabr’s statue is popular with professional and career divers who either know the iconic diver personally or have read about him.
Approximately 50,000 divers explore the Lighthouse site every year, attracted mainly by the museum, said Ahmed Ghalab, the head of the Environment Ministry’s Red Sea Section.
“The Underwater Museum in Dahab has saved marine life in the Blue Hole area. It reduced pressure on the marine wealth and has given corals a chance to regenerate and return to their former beauty,” Ghalab said.
The statues were designed to facilitate the creation of new coral reefs. Some have open-ended steel tubes where coral can regenerate and small marine creatures find shelter from predators.
Coral has started forming on the surface of the statues, giving them a natural aura and making them stand coherently with their beautiful and colourful surroundings, Ghalab said.
Nonetheless, the Underwater Museum is a “work in process.” Only seven statues are available at the site but Mekkawi and his colleagues are working on a major pyramid.
Mekkawi said the team is contacting international artists and sculptors to convince them to bring other works to the museum.
“This will increase the international appeal of the Underwater Museum. It will also contribute to attracting more tourists to the area,” he said.
The museum is solely funded by Mekkawi and his colleagues though it was highly commended by the Egyptian ministries of tourism, antiquities and environmental affairs.
Mekkawi said the museum should be adopted as a national project aimed at saving the country’s marine wealth and coral reefs.