Written by Aindrila Jana, a contributory writer
Key facts about the Red Sea
- It’s an inlet of the Indian Ocean and lies between Africa and Asia (the Arabian Peninsula)
- It’s one of the most saline (salty) bodies of water in the world.
- It is one of the world’s northernmost tropical seas
- It is one of the busiest waterways in the world
- The Red Sea borders many countries – the main ones are Egypt and Sudan on one side (the African side that is) and Saudi Arabia on the other
Where is the Red Sea?
The Red Sea is a narrow sea, or what’s actually an inland sea, that lies between Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It connects with the Indian Ocean on its southern end. At its extreme north is the Sinai Peninsula and the Suez Canal.
Why is it called the Red Sea?
There are a few theories of the origin of its name.
The most popular (and more accepted one) is that the name comes from the red-colored seasonal blooms known as Trichodesmium Erythraeum, which is a cyanobacterium – that appear in the waters of the Red Sea occasionally.
These are green when they bloom but turn pink or red as they start to die, which is where the name comes from.
History and Discovery of the Red Sea
The ancient Egyptians, it is popularly believed, conducted the earliest known expeditions through the Red Sea as far back as 2500 BC. One expedition took place around 2500 B.C.E. and another such expedition took place around 1500 B.C.E. Both involved long voyages down the Red Sea. Also, the Red Sea is said to have been used as a route to India somewhere around 1000 BCE.
Also, the biblical reference…
There is a reference to the Red Sea in the Biblical book of Exodus,
in which there is a story about the people of Isreal crossing a sea or a
body of water to escape from slavery in Egypt. In this story, the sea is said to have parted to make way for these people. However, while there is no real evidence of where this water really was, historians believe this was
not the Red Sea but a body of water called the Reed Sea which is
somewhere in that geography but it was not the Red Sea we know today
Fast forward to about 600 BCE, people from the Mediterranean named the Phoenicians, are said to have used the Red Sea while on a mission to explore Africa. Also, there is evidence of shallow canals being dug between the Nile and the Red Sea sometime around the 1st century CE.
Then there was Darius I of Persia, who in the 6th century B.C., sent missions to the Red Sea. These missions led to improved and extended navigation as they were able to locate many hazardous rocks and currents. A canal was built between the Nile and Suez, the northern end of the Red Sea.
Alexander the Great, in the late 4th century B.C., sent Greek naval expeditions down the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. The Greek navigators continued exploring and compiling data on the Red Sea.
Hippalus the Explorer
However, when talking about the “discovery” of the Red Sea, there is one name that largely seems to get the credit – that of a Greek sailor, navigator, and merchant named Hippalus who lived in the first century. It is said that he was the one who found the direct route from the Red Sea to India through the Indian Ocean.
Hippalus, many claim, was responsible for opening up the Red Sea for trade with Asia. But, here’s the interesting part – Hippalus is also credited with the discovery of the monsoon wind, which is why this wind is also called Hippalus!
But, this has been challenged..
According to a study undertaken by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in Goa Indians had knowledge of the monsoon winds much before Hippalus is said to have talked about it.
The study says that the Indians at the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation (and later) knew about the monsoons and were also trading in the Indian Ocean and the waters around it – hence they would have known about the Red Sea.
This study also suggests that archaeological findings from Harappa, Mohenjo-Daro show evidence of sea trade between the Mesopotamian and Indus Valley Civilisations, which points to the fact that the people of the Indus Valley Civilisation did explore and sail across the Arabian Sea.
Top 20 Fun Facts About the Red Sea In 2022
1. The average water temperature of the Red Sea is about 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius).
2. The Red Sea is a major hot spot for scuba diving and snorkeling. It has a rich variety of marine species in its underwater ecosystem and it is home to 1,207 species of fish, which includes 44 species of sharks as well. One will be surrounded by brightly colored angelfish, butterflyfish, and clownfish while diving.
3. The Red Sea is one of the saltiest seas in the world – it has 41 parts of salt per 1,000 parts of water. People can easily float on the Red Sea because of its high saline concentration. Its salinity ranges approximately between 36 and 38 percent.
4. New islands, named Sholan and Jadid, formed in the Red Sea recently in 2011 and 2013, respectively. Frequent volcanic eruptions along the Zubair Archipelago continue to change the landscape along the Red Sea.
5. The Red Sea, along with the White Sea, the Black Sea, and the Yellow Sea are the four seas named in English after common colours.
6. There are many islands in the Red Sea. The names of some of them are Brothers island, Rocky island, Tiran island, Giftun island, Zabargad island, Perim Island, Shedwan island, and Harnish island.
7. The average depth of the Red Sea is 1,640 feet (500 meters). Located north of the Straits of Tiran, the maximum depth of the Red Sea is 2,211 meters, deep enough to fit in Mount Yong Belar, a mountain located in Perak, Malaysia.
8. The coral reef ecosystem of the Red Sea stretches for about 1,240 miles along the coastline. These reefs are up to 7,000 years old. A large number of them are protected by the Egyptian government as parts of the Ras Mohammed National Park.
9. The Red Sea gives a glimpse of the sea’s past as one can spot remnants of shipwrecks. SS Thistlegorm, a British steamship that was sunk by German bombers during World War II, is the most famous among them. Down in the depths, you can also spot parts of tugboats, cargo ships, and tankers.
10. The name “Red Sea” is derived from the blooms called Trichodesmium Erythraeum which changes the colour of the water. Upon dying off, the colour changes from blue-green to reddish-brown.
11. The Red Sea shares its marine waters with some countries like Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Yemen, Eritrea, and Djibouti. These countries have about 150 million residents.
12. In Arabic, the Red Sea is called Al-Baḥr Al-Aḥmar.
13. The Suez Canal, a man-made waterway, connects the Mediterranean Sea to the Indian Ocean via the Red Sea, making it the shortest maritime route to Asia from Europe.
14. The Red Sea’s maximum width is about 190 miles (approximately 306 kilometers). It can go as deep as 9,974 feet (3,040 metres). In terms of surface area, it is about 174,000 square miles, which is 450,000 square km
15. The Red Sea region mostly has sunny days and experiences little rainfall. Its waters cross the Tropic of Cancer, making it the northernmost tropical sea in the world.
16. A number of volcanic islands have arisen from the center of the Red Sea. Most of them have remained dormant. However, in 2007, there was a sudden eruption when Jabal al-Tair island in the Bab el Mandeb strait erupted violently. In 2011 and 2013, two new islands were formed in the Zubair Archipelago, which is a small chain of islands owned by Yemen.
17. The northern part of the Red Sea is one of the most visited dive locations on Earth
18. Almost 20 percent of the fish species found in the Red Sea are unique and can actually not be found anywhere else in the world.
19. Sandstorms, heat waves, and highly unpredictable water currents make the navigation of the Red Sea a difficult body of water to cross. The abundance of coral reefs in the southern portions of the Red Sea restricts harbor facilities and blocks navigable water channels. The channel at the Bab el-Mandeb Strait is kept open to maritime traffic due to blasting and dredging done there.
20. Since World War II, the Red Sea has been a hot subject of scientific research. Most of the studies done here have been concerned with the sea’s geological structure, chemical, and biological properties, and oil explorations. Albatross’ (1948) and the ‘Glomar Challenger’ (1971) have been some of the prominent research cruises to set sail on the Red Sea for groundbreaking discoveries and further exploration.
Climate and Tidal Range in the Red Sea
The Red Sea experiences a northeasterly monsoon and a southwesterly monsoon. The Red Sea has a very high surface temperature and high salinity. Due to this, it is one of the hottest and saltiest seawater bodies in the world.
The average surface water temperature during the summer reaches about 26 °C in the north and 30 °C in the south. The Red Sea experiences extremely low rainfall, averaging 2.36 inches per year. The rain is mostly in the form of short spells of showers and is often associated with thunderstorms, sometimes even with dust storms.
Biodiversity in the Red Sea
Being a highly rich and diverse ecosystem, about more than 1000 species of fish, including 42 species of deepwater fish have been recorded in the Red Sea. Pelagic species of Red Sea fish, which include a few of the 44 species of sharks as well, visit the coastal reefs.
The Red Sea is also home to rare species, like solitary sailfish – this is one of the world’s fastest fish and can reach speeds of up to 68mph. It is one metre long! It looks like this:
The Egyptian government, in an effort to preserve this special biodiversity, set up the Ras Mohammed National Park in 1983. The Park has been successful in protecting the natural ecosystems, especially coral reefs, mangroves, and seagrasses.
The coral reefs of the Red Sea
The stunning and unique coral reefs of the Red Sea make up about 5% of the global reef cover – the sea is home to about 200 hard and soft corals. These reefs are one of the most diverse found in the world. In fact, the Red Sea’s coral reefs are being called “super reefs” as they seem to have a unique ability to fight rising temperatures and heat. This offers a lot of hope to marine biologists at a time when half the world’s coral reefs are said to have died, and almost 90% of existing coral reefs are predicted to die by the middle of the century.
Moreover, these reefs are sources of food and livelihood for the 28 million people living along the coastline. The value of the fisheries along this area, for instance, is about US $230 million per year. Add to that the annual revenues from tourism, which are estimated to be over US $12 billion.
Did you know these facts about the Red Sea?
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