The Dive Sites of the Red Sea by Guy Buckles, New Holland (Publishers) Ltd, tel. 0171 258 1293. Softback £15.99
A new book on the dive sites of the Red Sea looks beyond the northern zone to which most guides confine themselves
The Red Sea is more than 1000 miles long and encompasses far more than the shores of Israel, Jordan, the Sinai and the northern part of Egypt. It is therefore a pity that so many books that profess to be guides to diving in the Red Sea manage to avoid covering the major part of it.
Here is a refreshing change.
Guy Buckles impressed Nick Hanna, series consultant for the New Holland series of diver's guides, with his efforts in producing The Dive Sites of Indonesia. So much so that, although I understand he had little prior knowledge of the area, Nick commissioned him to do the same thing for The Dive Sites of the Red Sea.
As a former Red Sea dive guide, I would have thought the whole project quite daunting. I believe it took Guy about a year to do the research. I don't know if he visited and assessed every site mentioned in person, but the result is quite convincing.
The book follows the proven formula developed for New Holland by Nick Hanna. The main body of the volume is taken up with dive sites listed in an orderly geographical manner. Starting with Israel and Jordan, it covers a small part of Saudi Arabia before going into detail about Egypt - which is broken into sections on north Sinai, south Sinai, Sharm El Sheikh to Hurghada, southern Egypt, and then the off-shore reefs and the deep south of Rocky Island and Zabargad.
Then come the Sudan and Eritrea. Sadly, the increasingly important and interesting coastal area of the Yemen seems to have been overlooked.
As with the other New Holland guidebooks, the sites are catalogued by name and rated with a system of stars (one to five) for both scuba and snorkelling potential. The usual series of symbols indicates whether the site can be dived from the shore or needs a boat, whether it is usually visited by liveaboards, whether it is suitable for scuba or snorkelling only, and whether it is suitable for all levels of diver.
Information is clearly and concisely laid out to indicate location, type of access, average depth, maximum depth (somewhat difficult with some of the Sudanese wall dives!) and the average visibility. Then there is a general description of what a diver might expect to encounter both above and below the water.
Chapters on general topics include an introduction to the area, travelling to and from it, and diving and snorkelling in the Red Sea. Each geographical section is prefaced with details of the people and their culture, climate, marine life, local conditions, access, operators, facilities, local etiquette and customs.
Then there are major features on what to pack, Egypt's conservation groups, the wrecks of Gubal, Cousteau's Conshelf 1 Experiment (the remains of which can still be seen at Sha'ab Rumi), and animals that might hurt you.
I applaud Guy Buckles' efforts. This is one of the most sensible and comprehensive guide-books to an area which is well served by volume if not in comprehensiveness. Naturally the author has concentrated on places that are popular now rather than those that might be popular in future, but it is good to know that there is still a lot of Red Sea in reserve.
If I have a quarrel, it is with the star-rating system. As I pointed out when I reviewed the first tranche of volumes in this expanding series, I believe some of the authors are less discerning than others and award the top rating of five stars too readily.
I can appreciate the problems of quantifying the quality of dive sites. Having obviously been thrilled by a great dive at Safaga, Mr Buckles awards it full marks. What then can he do later when confronted with the problem of awarding stars to a site like Dahrat Abid in the Suarkin islands off southern Sudan, but put it in the same top category, even though it probably rates 50 stars by comparison?
Similarly, he gives five stars to a dive on the wreck of the ss Dunraven, a (literally) well-trodden dive site, and goes on to give the same to the ss Umbria outside Port Sudan, said by Hans Hass to be the best diver's shipwreck in the world!
Some contemporary myths are also perpetuated. For example, the wreck of the so-called Sarah H on Shag Rock is actually the wreck of the ss Kingston, which went down in the 19th Century. An Israeli dive-boat skipper named it after his wife as a joke at the expense of Shlomo Cohen, when he was writing his own Red Sea guide. Regurgitating misinformation is the risk you run if you use a previous guide as a reference.
All that said, the popular Egyptian sites are well-covered.
The photography by Alex Misiewicz is up to the same high standard as the rest of the series and the maps indicating the relative positions of the dive sites are graphic, clear and simple.
Scotland is in good company now that it has been included in the Pisces Diving and Snorkelling Guides series, which includes exotic destinations such as Fiji, Guam, Yap and Truk Lagoon.
These small, concise books are advertised as guides to the world's best dive sites, and concentrate on the most popular and well-known locations. Only 30 are described in this book, although the Sound of Mull on Scotland's west coast has that many excellent sites on its own.
Scotland is not exactly your exotic destination, but what it lacks in warm water and sunshine it more than makes up for in fantastic scenery and extremely varied and exciting diving.
Author Lawson Wood makes that point well. He must have had a difficult job deciding which sites to leave out, because he has been diving and taking pictures in Scottish waters for many years, and his knowledge and experience certainly shows.
Each site has details of depth, visibility, required skill level, currents, bottom terrain, marine life usually encountered and whether the site is diveable by shore or boat, and is accompanied by an excellent underwater image.
For all the information provided, however, I feel it would have helped readers had there been a map showing other great sites, as there was in the Pisces guide to Bonaire.
But included are Weasel Loch on the east coast; the wreck of the Hispania in the Sound of Mull; St Kilda's Sgarbstac in the Outer Hebrides, Brei Ness in the Shetlands and the Brumer wreck up at Scapa Flow.
Not surprisingly Scapa Flow is well-covered, though I am surprised at the attention given to the wreck of the Royal Oak, considering that it is officially a war grave and off-limits to divers. Why tease the reader?
As with many guides a wealth of useful information is supplied in the appendix, including dive centres and services, but unfortunately this is not always accurate, and often incomplete. For example, the Skye Diving Centre at Harlosh, which offers only air as a service, gets a mention, yet the island's Hebridean Diving Services near Dunvegan, which has offered a full range of services since 1986, is omitted.
Large dive centres such as Splash Sports in Glasgow, and popular charter boats such as the Porpoise near Oban are also sadly missing. Better research is needed.
This guide makes a nice overview of diving in Scotland and is good value for money at 7.99, but if you are considering doing a lot of diving in Scotland you will need to buy additional guides offering a more extensive range of dive sites.
Diving and Snorkelling Guide to Scotland by Lawson Wood, Pisces Books. Softback £7.99
The massive Indo-Pacific region is served by many comprehensive fish guides, but until now finding one that covers the less-familiar creatures of the reef has been difficult. Coral Reef Animals of the Indo-Pacific is a brilliant book. It took years to produce, but was well worth the wait.
The Indian and Pacific Oceans, from Hawaii down to South Africa, is a huge area to cover, but the richest on Earth for marine life. During their research the authors identified almost 600 species of nudibranch in a single bay in Papua New Guinea!
It would be impractical to include that many nudibranchs in one guide, but many of the more common species are covered, along with a host of other fascinating creatures: corals, sponges, crabs, anenomes, starfish and sea squirts.
The book is professionally put together. The authors have published numerous scientific articles and several field guides in the past, and their experience shows. A wealth of information accompanies some stunning photographs, with no fewer than 36 of the world's best photographers contributing more than 1000 images.
These are so pin-sharp and colourful that I enjoyed simply flicking through and admiring them, but this is more than a collection of pretty pictures.
Besides the clear and concise description of each species, the book contains fascinating information on natural history, where to find it on the reef and its associations with other creatures. I found particularly useful the details on diversity (where else in the world a particular species can be found) and also where to find further information on a subject. No wonder this book took so long to complete.
Whether you are a marine biology student or simply a photographer like myself, this book will prove an invaluable tool in identifying some of the world's most fascinating creatures.
Coral Reef Animals of the Indo-Pacific by Terrence M Gosliner, David W Behrens and Gary C Williams, Sea Challengers.
Sharks as troublemakersInternational Diving Locations by Jack Jackson, UGA Media, The Netherlands, fax. 31 30 6953531.
If the title International Diving Locations gives the impression that this CD-Rom is designed to help you assess destinations, think again. Those listed are too often dismissed in a few uninspiring sentences that provide little or no helpful diving information.
What facts there are need watching. Can there really be 350 islands off central America called the Exumas? And is Sri Lanka so small that you can nip round the other side to get out of the wind?
This CD-Rom is mistitled. It is a vehicle for Jack Jackson's coral-reef photographs, combined with Norman Temple's video clips, which appear in miniature in mid-screen and as such add little of value.
Apart from these tiny movies, the whole endeavour might just as well have been presented in traditional book format.
Jackson has included several essays on marine subjects, and these contain some worrying mistakes. In the first sentence of the essay on corals, the author fails to spell correctly the scientific name of the phylum to which they belong.
The errors multiply. For example, Jackson claims that there are 250 species of shark; in fact there are more like 400.
A pictured whitetip is identified as a tawny shark and a grey reef shark as a silvertip. One shark is even described as "a very large soft coral"!
What I find most disturbing, however, is the underlying suggestion that Jackson's shots of sharks are inevitably obtained at considerable risk to himself.
Read the entry on silvertips and he claims: "I have only met... males of this species, but they all gave me trouble."
I dived with him when he took these shots of a silvertip, and rarely have I come across a better-behaved creature. Its etiquette was exquisite. It was also a female - as his own photographs show!
Jackson's "they're deadly but I can handle them" approach is a less-than-helpful contribution to the current campaign to protect sharks. The question is: will it help to sell CD-Roms?
YOU ARE yearning to get out to a coral reef, but can't afford the time or money to hop on a plane. So how about getting in front of your PC and going on a virtual dive?
Worlds of the Reef is an interactive multimedia programme on CD-Rom, designed to take you diving without going anywhere near water. Using the mouse on your PC, you have a series of exotic dives to choose from, and on each one you are accompanied by a friendly dive guide to give you a running commentary on what you see.
As you go along, you can amuse yourself by taking snapshots to put in a photo album, by making notes in an on-screen notebook, or by filling in a fish identification chart. If something catches your eye, you can zoom in for a close-up and your jovial guide will tell you all about it.
Topside attractions include a marine research centre, a mini-museum and field centre, packed full of information about the reefs. If that doesn't grab you, how about a spot of pre-dive training?
Most of the program is made up of still shots, but you get the odd treat in the form of an isolated moving image when you stumble across a shark, say, or a moray eel.
Worlds of the Reef has been created with images and video from the Coral Cay Conservation programme in Belize, backed up by footage from the BBC Natural History Unit. It is introduced by conservationist David Bellamy.
The underwater shots are less than vibrant, and the process of moving on screen from one stage of a dive to the next is a little slow.
However, the program provides an entertaining way to learn about the world's reefs, and if you are keen to support the cause of the International Year of the Reef by increasing your awareness of what's at stake, this could be just the thing.
Worlds of the Reef, Ransom Publishing, tel. 01491 613711.
Appeared in DIVER - May 1997