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Mangroves Of Marsa Alam

Marsa Alam. Its Mangrove Forests

The grey mangrove Avicienna marina is the main mangrove species growing on the coast of the Red Sea. It has the tendency to ‘fringe’, encircle, tidal waterways. It grows on higher ground and in a wider range of environments than any other mangrove.

The Avicienna marina mangrove in the Marsa Alam area is approximately 3mtrs to 8 mtrs average in height. It has many respiratory roots that grow above the ground and appear around the trees in a characteristic fashion.

The leaves of the Avicienna marina are simple, oval and are light to dark green. They are covered by salt glands. It helps the plant to get rid of excess salt. They are on the menu of camels. Overgrazing by camels is a serious problem on the mangrove vegetation in some sites on the Red Sea coast of Egypt. The flowers of the Avicienna marina are small and yellowish. They have a distinctive flagrance that attracts insects, particularly bees. This has inspired a scientific project to experiment with the production of natural honey from mangrove.

The mangrove ecosystem is ‘multifunctional’. It serves as a coastal stabilizer and disperses wind energy, generated by storms. It facilitates as a ‘wall’ to prevent invasion of inland area by salt water. It produces nutrients and forest resources. The ecosystem is also a ‘sanctuary’ for fish, shrimp, crabs, etc. The mangrove forests, bordering on the Red Sea as an ecosystem, contain many species of terrestrial and aquatic plants. It also features a characteristic fauna.

The Red Sea coast runs along an important migration route for hundreds of thousands of waterbirds, seen migrating in flocks high up in the sky.

The majority of these birds pass through without stopping. However, many rest at Hamata, turning its mangroves in an important staging and wintering ground for a good number of migrant waterbirds.

At least 13 species of resident birds are asociated with the Hamata mangroves. We mention the Ardeola striata,the Egretta gularis, the Platalea leucordia and the Pandon haliaetus. Cormorants, herons, falcons, waders, gulls, terns, kingfishers and many migratory passerines are frequently seen at the Hamata mangroves.

Birds of Prey Marsa Alam

Egypt’s geographical location serves as a bridge between the continents of Europe, Asia and Africa. Therefore, it’s an important migration corridor, attracting  some 280 additional species of birds. Within the Egyptian borders, the Red Sea coast falls along an important migration route for hundreds of thousands of waterbirds, which are seen migrating in flocks offshore.

Although most of these birds pass through without stopping, many will rest in the intertidal zone along the coast.The shallow intertidal flats associate with the Hamata mangroves provide an important staging and wintering groud for good numbers of migrant waterbirds, including globally vulnerable species.

At least 13 species of resident birds are associated with this habitat in Egypt. Mangrove thickets provide breeding habitat for resident birds such as the Ardeola striata, the Egratta gularis, the Platelea leucorodia and the Pandion haliaetus.

Cormorants, herons, falcons, waders, gulls, terns, kingfishers and many migratory passerines are frequently seen at mangroves.  Many rest at Hamata, turning its mangroves in an important staging and wintering ground for a good number of migrant waterbirds.

Birds of Prey

The Gabal Elba National Park provides an ideal habitat for birds that are now pretty rare in other parts of Egypt. It’s situated at the extreme south eastern corner of Egypt. It comprises an unique landscape differing from the remainder of the country.

It provides a taste of subsaharan African birds including ostriches, Verreaux’s Eagles, pink-headed doves and rosypatched shrikes.

The Bearded Vulture

The bearded vulture has a feathered head, unlike its ‘pendant’ elsewhere in the world. It has been seen attacking large live animals which is very unusual.

Egyptian vulture

Peculiar of note this bird is sometimes also referred to as the ‘Pharaoh’s Chicken’. Carnivorous as they are, they feed on carrion, small animals, birds, reptiles and eggs. The Gabal Elba National Park is the bird’s last remaining ‘safe house’ within Egypt.

Black Eagle

The black eagle is huge and has a wing span of up to 2.2 metres. It preys on small mammals such as the hyrax as well as large rodents.  

Bonelli’s Eagle

The medium sized Bonelli’s Eagle hunts live prey only. On the menu are usually small mammals or birds. They are also extremely aggressive.

Wildlife in Marsa Alam Part II

Dorcas Gazelle

The dorcas gazelle is also known as the ariel gazelle. This species stands about 55–65 cm at the shoulder, with a head and body length of 90–110 cm’ It weighs approximately 15 to 20 kg.

The dorcas gazelle is similar in appearance to, yet smaller than, the closely related mountain gazelle. Dorcas gazelles have longer ears and more strongly curved horns, which bow outwards then turn inwards and forwards at the tips.

Currently, populations of dorcas gazelles are only found in the southern part of the eastern desert of Egypt.

Barbary Sheep

The sandy brown Barbary sheep has distinctive horns, slightly curving backwards. They are extremely agile when they are active and manage to jump up to 2 meters from standing position. The Barbary sheep does look like  a goat-antilope. She is extremely well adapted to the mountainous terrain she has turned into her habitat.

Aardwolf

The aardwolf looks similar to a small hyena. It has pointed ears and a bushy tail. On its carnivorous menu is carrion; it doesn’t prey on live animals. The aardwolf likes insects, especially termites. They also like maggots and grubs. Its presence in Egypt is restricted to the Gabal Elba National Park only.

Striped Polecat

The striped polecat, locally known as the ‘zoril’, is a member of the family of weasels and has a resemblance with the North-American ‘skunk’.

Within Egypt, the carnivore striped polecat can only be found in the Gabal Elba National Park. She is as ferocious as she is small. Rodents, bird and snakes fear her razor sharp teeth and won’t survive an attack.

Genet

The nocturnal genet, distantly related to cats, is very agile, Perfectly assimilated as it is, it boasts amazing climbing skills.

Egyptian Leopard

There have been sparse sightings of the Egyptian leopard,( nimr in Arabic ) in the Gabal Elba National Park. They are very wary and evasive nocturnal animals. If they have survived in Egypt, Gabal Elba is the most likely location to still find them. The Egyptian leopard likes mammals, birds and reptiles for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Wildlife in Marsa Alam Part I

Nubian Ibex

The Nubian ibex is a desert-dwelling goat, living in national parks in the Marsa Alam region of Egypt. They have a light tan color, with a white underbelly. The Nubian ibex has long thin horns. They like rough dry mountainous terrain and are herbivore, eating mainly grasses, and leaves. Their natural predators are leopards, eagles and bearded vultures and. The Nubian ibexes live in herds composed solely of males or females. Ibexes are diurnall, meaning they are active during the day and rest during the night.

Rock Hyrax

The hyrax, also called rock rabbit or dassie, is a small furry mammal. It looks like a robust, oversized guinea pig, or a rabbit with rounded ears and no tail. Hyraxes have stumpy toes with hooflike nails, four toes on each front foot and three on each back foot. The longer, clawlike nails on the inside toes of the back feet are used for grooming and scratching. The bottoms of the feet have a rubbery texture to assist in climbing steep rock surfaces and trees.

The rock hyrax have a distribution in Egypt. Its coat is yellowish or grayish-brown, and the dorsal spot is covered with black or yellow hair. Its head is more rounded than other types of hyraxes, and the nose is blunt.

They are very adaptable. They live at sea level and up to altitudes of over 14,000 feet and in habitats ranging from dry savanna to dense rainforest to cold Afro-alpine moorland.

Hyraxes are preyed upon by leopards, pythons, large birds, caracals, servals and civets. They protect themselves from smaller predators by biting, but escaping to hiding places among the rocks is their best defense.

African Wild Ass

The African wild ass or African wild donkey is a wild member of the horse family. This species is believed to be the ancestor of the domestic donkey.

The African wild ass is 2 metres long and 1.25 to 1.45 metres tall at the shoulders, with a tail of 30 to 50 centimetres long. It weighs between 230 and 275 kilograms.

The short, smooth coat of the African wild ass is a light grey to fawn colour, fading quickly to white on the undersides and legs.

African wild asses are well suited to life in a desert or semi-desert environment.  They have very loud voices, which can be heard for over 3 km. It helps them to keep in contact with other asses over the wide spaces of the desert.

The African wild ass is primarily active in the cooler hours between late afternoon and early morning, seeking shade and shelter amongst the rocky hills during the day. The African wild asses’ diet consists of grasses, bark and leaves.

Nature in Marsa Alam. Part II

Qul’an Magic Forest

Qul’an Mangrove Forest. It is part of the Wadi El Gamal preservation, a protected area that is very rich in biological diversity. Qul’an is part of what feels like an oasis, including desert and marine habitats, creating an ecological symbiosis.

The Qul’an mangrove forest protects the shore against coastal waves, preventing land erosion. The mangroves of Qul’an are salt tolerant plants that grow in abundance in here. The magical forest here also provides shelter and nursery and nesting grounds for coastal birds. Imagine the sound of rare birds near the shallow ‘lake’, resting and absorbing the comfort of afternoon sun rays.

Qul’an’s unquestionable landmark is its majestic odd-shaped mangrove tree, towering above the salty ‘lake’, as if to safeguard the ecological environment with the Red Sea in the background. The Qul’an mangrove forest is very photogenic and offers a wonderful panoramic view of the adjacent Red Sea.

Qul’an’s ‘lake’ is subject to tides since it has an narrow exit to the Red Sea. When the water has withdrawn during ebb, it exposes sandy beds with very tiny potholes through wich small crabs surface. If you’re lucky enough you may capture these remarkably fast creatures on camera.

The local Al Ababda tribe add to the bedouin flavor of Qul’an with their camp, lunch tent and shop. Here you can buy amazing handcraft or have ‘gabana’ coffee, freshly roasted in your presence in authentic ambiance.

Ras Hankorab/Sharm El Luli

The white sands and fifty shades of blue of the waters of Ras Hankorab. This pristine spot is locally known as Sharm El Luli. This is where you put on your mask and fins and just walk into the water right from the stonefree beach. The gradient at Sharm El Luli is so gentle that you can wade in effortlessly.

The coral formations at Sharm El Luli are truly fairytale stuff. The fishlife here is interesting with so many different species. The vibrant colors, shapes and sizes of dozens of different corals are just stunning. It is very encouraging Sharm El Luli hasn’t lost its charm. You just feel like drifting away and dream your own underwater dream. Again, the corals formations are just simply amazing.

Hamata Islands/Qul’an Archipelago

The four Hamata Islands, Shawarit, Siyal, Umm El Sheikh and Mahabis are off the remote southern Red Sea coast, some 150 kilometers south of Marsa Alam and close to Berenice. Here, a fifth and small island isolates from the Hamata mangrove shoreline at high tide. The islands in the so-called Qul’an Archipelago are encircled by breathtakingly beautiful coral formations, home to amazing sea life, including dugongs, dolphins, rays, clown fish and marine turtles. Their sandy beaches gave rise to the sobriquet  ‘Egyptian Maldives’.

The Qul’an Archipelago is part of the Wadi El Gamal National Park. The islands here have turned into a birdwatching sanctuary with large colonies of terns and gulls. Its inhabitants are the endangered sooty falcon, the bridled tern, the Caspian tern, the green-backed  and reef heron, the European Spoonbill, the ruddy turnstone, the Western reef egret, the white-eyed gull, the brown booby, the crab plover, the osprey and the Hemphric’s gull.



Nature in Marsa Alam Part I

Gabal Elba National Park           

Gabal Elba means Gabal mountain. It’s located in the disputed Hala’ib Trangle in the deep southeastern corner of the Marsa Alam directorate. The higher peaks in the area are Gabal Elba itself, Gabal Shellal, Gabal Shendodai and Gabal Shendib at a peak of almost 2,000 meters.

This mountain range has a relatively high percentage of ‘precipitation’. It’s a direct result from the close proximity of these mountains near the Red Sea, the slopes who are directed towards the sea and the general effects of altitude.

eThese ‘parameters’ create a phenomenal biotope. The geographical position of the Gabal Elba formation and the moisterous conditions have been instrumental in the presence of an extreme rich mountain habitat with an abundance of te wildest flora and fauna. What we have here is one of North Africa’s ecosystem hot spots.

In some respect Gabal Elba is an ornithological heaven, ‘housing’ some forty bird species feeding and breeding here. Some are indigenous to this mountain range only.

Gabal Elba supports a rich faunal diversity unparalleled in any other desert environment in Egypt. Forty species of birds, several of these are Afro-tropical,  are still found in the Gabal Elba area though they have disappeared from most of their former North Africa/Middle-eastern range. Twenty three species of mammals including the endangered sea cow Dugong dugon, thirty species of reptiles and only one amphibian species.

Wadi El Gemal

Wadi El Gemal is a protected area with a very rich biological diversity. Judging by archaeological findings, Romans lived here in spite of the very hard conditions of scarcity of rain in the valley. It has also been inhabited by Bedouins for thousands of years.

Wadi El Gemal is  located some 45 km south of Marsa Alam City. This protected area includes the Hamata islands and Wadi El Gemal islands. It comprises mangrove areas such as Qul’an and the almost 2,000 mtrs peak of Gabal Hamata mountain.

The advanced ecological environment of Wadi El Gemal is the third largest wadi in the Egyptian Eastern desert. Its watersheds include the northern flanks of the mountain Gabal Hamata and the southern flanks of Gabal Nugrus. Other wadi’s in the protected area are Abu Ghosoun, El Ringa and El Rada.

Wadi El Gemal’s summits are Hamata, Nugrus, Hafafit, Hamamid, Sartut and Sikeit. Its coastal landmarks encompasses the headlands of Ras Baghdadi, Ras Hankorab, Qul’an mangrove forest and Sharm El Luli.

As for wildlife, Wadi El Gemal include many rare species such as the Nubian Ibex, the Hyrax hedgehog, the Dorcas gazelle as well as wild donkeys and camels. The wadi is rich with minerals.

Not far from the main entrance of the national park, you can find the Fustat Ecolodge, built in 2005 to host visitors. There’s a cinema on the premises  where environmental tourism lovers can watch documentaries about the area and its wild life. The rangers of the ecolodge kindly provide more information about ecology, geology and history of the area. The park is open to the public daily from sunrise to sunset. A special permission is required from the rangers for an overnigh stay.

 Elba Natural Protected Area

The Elba Natural Protected area can be found in the southern eastern part of the eastern desert. The mountains of Elba mark the joint borders of Egypt and the Sudan on the Red Sea. Elba boosts mangrove woods and grass-covered coastal sand dunes.

The three main regions of Elba are El Abraq , El Da’ eeb and Elba Mountain. Elba’s characteristics are a mixture of valleys, plains, hills and mountains, creating a sheltered environment habitat  for wild animals, such as mountain goats, wild asses, Egyptian deer, wild cats, lints, hedgehogs, desert rats, wild rabbits, and varies subspecies of eagles, hawks, vultures, bustards and partridges.

Where To Go In Marsa Alam Part II

Shalateen. The Camel Market
Some 250 kilometers south of Marsa Alam we find the village of Shalateen. Shalateen is where Sudanes herders go with their camels to meet Egyptian traders. Cames are bought by traders for meat consumption and tourism trade.

The Shalateen camel market is open daily. It buzzes with activity on Thursdays and business is considerably slower on Fridays.


Shalateen has a fascinating sartorial decor, with Rashaida tribesmen wearing lavender ghalibiyas and their women clad in scarlet red dresses.

The Emerald Mines. Mons Smaragdus

The Marsa Alam area once was a thriving mining complex. In ancient history, green was associated with power and eternity. It gave rise to the popularity of emeralds with their distinctive green colour. So when emerald was discovered here the ancient Egyptians mined the area extensively

The ruins of these ancient mines can still be explored on foot. The Emerald Mines from Marsa Alam are an important archaeological site in Egypt and are located in the desert between Marsa Alam and the Nile Valley. In retrospect, they have been named the Cleopatra Mines or Mons Smaragdus, meaning Emerald Mountains. For the convenience of the tourists, guided tours are being organized by operators.

Hamata.  Small Is Beautiful

Opposite the legendary Fury Shoal and St John Reef systems in the Red Sea with its 35 dive sites, we find the small town of Hamata.

Hamata is best described as an unspoiled, uncrowded and unspoiled region, situated some 200km south of Marsa Alam. Together with its unexplored feel it is in fact the most southerly diving hub in Egypt’s Red Sea.

Hamata is also a big kitesurf hotspot in the nearby desert with the highest wind chance in Egypt. Up in the air kiters  are eye in eye with crystal clear waters and fascinating mangrove trees arrangements. Hamata is an absolute must for enthusiastic divers and kiters.

The Hamata region also encompasses the protected area of Wadi El Gemal,  boasting a rich biological diversity. The protected area includes the islands of Hamata and Wadi El Gemal, marine habitats, rich mangroves and the Gabal Hamata mountain, towering almost 2000 above sea level.

Where To Go In Marsa Alam Part 1

El Qusier. Ottoman Citadel

El Quseir is a small coastal town that has managed to maintain its specific characteristics of a fisherman’s village. It’s set directly on the attractive coastline of the Red Sea, between Safaga and Marsa Alam. El Quseir is a quiet resort with sandy beaches, clear waters and beautiful coral reefs, emerging as a first rate tourist destination.

The town’s narrow streets are lined with colourful bazaars which have a distinctive Bedouin accent. El Quseir is a popular destination for a half or full day excursion. Its main attraction is the impressive Ottoman Citadel. The castle was originally built in 1517 to protect what was Egypt’s most important port on the Red Sea at the time.

Below the castle lies the Sharia Al Gomhuriya, the spiritual town centre with a labyrinth of bazaars . Local vendors flirt with tourists to buy goods, such as alabaster statues, leather articles and papyrus. On Fridays, by tradition, Ababda bedouin and farmers come to town with their products, making for a colourful and fascinating trade.

Port Ghalib. The Wonderful Marina

Port Ghalib markets itself as ‘the new comfort zone’; and rightfully so. The place boasts hotels the size and grandeur of hotels, as well as splendid five-star resorts.

Port Ghalib’s showpiece is its immaculate upmarket Marina Residence. The Tower Village attracts luxury seekers, favourizing its architectural theme, inspired by the nearby Arabian desert.

Wadi Ghalib is in the close vicinity of Port Ghalib, built on the spiritual legacy of local history and culture. Port Ghalib serves as the departure point for many boats for daily snorkelling and diving trips and diving safaris. Port Ghalib is very easy accessible by nearby Marsa Alam International Airport.

Marsa Alam. Gateway To Diving

The port of Marsa Alam on the Red Sea is a healthy 700 kilometers away from Cairo and 300 kilometers  from Hurghada. It used to be a humble and small fisherman’s village. A spectacular transformation resulted in a famous sea side resort and a hotspot for diving and sea trips.

The most common activity in Marsa Alam is diving. This is because the Red Sea is in its finest coral shapes and coloured fish.  

Allegedly, the Dolphin House at Sha’ab Samadai is the most interesting diving spot in Marsa Alam with some of the oldest Red Sea coral formations. Another remarkable diving spot, but this one is exclusively for advanced divers, is the Elphinstone Reef, which is considered one of the best diving locations in the world to view sharks.

The most important product that can be bought from Marsa Alam is herbs. There are some types of herbs which are only cultivated in Marsa Alam and the area around it and you cannot find it anywhere else in Egypt. These herbs are beneficial for the health and help in curing many chorionic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Weather in Marsa Alam

Rain in Marsa Alam

There is very little cloud cover and overcast in Marsa Alam. It rarely rains in Marsa Alam.

There are also occasionally times when you can have some patchy cloud cover for a few days and in summer this can lead to an unwelcome increase in humidity. 

It usually only rains for one or two days a year and often only very light rain for a short duration.  Every few years heavier rainful, lasting an hour or more, can bring considerable disruption to coastal roads and transport but this is usually very temporary.  

Temperatures in Marsa Alam

In the summer, the temperatures reach high levels, but there’s a gentle tempering effect by the cooling sea breeze. From late autumn into early spring the temperatures feel perfect. During that time of the year the Red Sea is comfortably warm.

Climate in Marsa Alam

Marsa Alam is one of the warmest coastal resorts in Egypt. It’s located in the vicinity of the Tropic of Cancer. By late June, the sun is almost directly overhead. This is when the winds from the sea have a cooling effect though.

In winter the area enjoys much milder night time temperatures than many parts of Egypt which can become very cold at night.

Year round temperatures Marsa Alam/Climate Chart

Wind & Clouds in Marsa Alam

The area around Marsa Alam usually has a few days every month with relatively high wind speeds, at least of the type you might describe as a strong breeze.  These are common in winter, but not infrequent in summer either.    These winds can generate some dust but don’t worry; it’s very unusual to get the sort of sand storm that you might have seen in movies like Lawrence of Arabia.  Nevertheless the wind can make it dangerous to swim and hotels should then post red flags on their beaches.