MARSA ABU DABBAB BAY
If you wish to swim or dive at Abu Dabbab contact email@example.com or contact Steven via WhatsApp on +20 1284332337
Abu Dabbab Bay has one of the best sandy beaches in the Marsa Alam region but is deservedly better known as being one of the few places in the world where you can sometimes dive and swim with the endangered dugong “sea cow.”
There are two semi-permanent residents who are known by the nicknames of Dennis and Dougal. Two of only seven currently known to exist along the entire Egyptian Red Sea Coast.
And as if that wasn’t enough the bay is also host to giant sea turtles for whom the shallow waters serve as an invaluable nesting site and the harmless guitar shark as well as having colourful reefs, a myriad of beautiful fish, a small shipwreck and a swim-through canyon with underwater caves.
You can just wade-in to the main bay and also explore the fringing reefs directly from the beach which makes it equally suitable to snorkelers and divers of all skill levels. The offshore reefs however are more suitable to divers and should only be visited with a professional guide.
Abu Dabbab is close to most of Marsa Alam’s hotels and located on a brach road off the main coastal road between the Sol Y Mar Abu Dabbab and Marsa Alam Hilton hotels, 34km north of the town of Marsa Alam and about 35km south of the airport and for those who like GPS coordinates you will find it at latitude 25’20’N and 34’45’ East.
You can usually find the entrance hidden behind a row of parked coaches and minibuses and behind it you will see the beach, often crowded with sun worshipers and snorkelers. But don’t let that put you off. It might not seem like the sort of wild place to find endangered exotic marine animals but fortunately and, despite the occasional crowds, it still is.
“Had a great half day there last year,” wrote Barry on Trip Advisor in February 2011. “Calm conditions, spent ages just floating above a turtle, and was so relaxed I almost fell asleep.”
In fact giant green sea turtles can be seen almost every day, as can the harmless guiltar sharks, although your chance of seeing Dennis or Dougal, the famous dugongs, vary from season to season (being slightly higher in the summer), and overall on any one day perhaps less than fifty-fifty. However many visitors have been lucky and some have even seen both dugongs on the same day !
The name “Abu Dabbab” can be translated as Father’s stepping stones. According to local mythology, many years ago when an earthquake struck it was because the gods were using the stones to cross the sea.
SNORKELLING EXCURSION TO MARSA MUBARAK REEF
( CLOSE TO ABU DABBAB )
I can highly recommend Steven’s daily snorkelling boat trips which operate from Port Ghalib on a daily basis to both Shony Bay reef and Marsa Mubarak reef where you have a very good chance to see turtles and one of the best chances anywhere in the world (though not guaranteed) to see a dugong.
The trip is available every day and it leaves Port Ghalib Marina around 8.00 am and returns about 3.00 pm. The cost is just 40 euros per person which includes your return transfer if you are staying in a hotel within 30 km of Port Ghalib, ( a small surcharge applies to tourists staying at more distant hotels – please ask) as well all your snorkelling equipment, soft drinks, plenty of bottled water and a freshly prepared lunch.
YOU CAN SEE ‘BATFISH LIKE PSYCHADELIC DINNER PLATES.’
This is how a travel correspondent for The Times described diving at Marsa Mubarak – “While I wasn’t lucky enough to meet the whale shark which dropped by last week, or even the dugong or sea cow spotted by one couple, the reefs were teeming with life. Large octopus, muscular moray eels, blue-spotted stingrays, batfish like psychedelic dinnerplates and scowling grouper fish the size of well bred rottweilers put in obliging appearances, along with several giant sea turtles. It was like diving in an expensively stocked private aquarium. I half expected a smiling waiter in a white suit to come finning through the sea grass to ask if the reef was meeting my expectations.’
( ‘Egypt’s very own Private Aquarium,’ The Times, 23 February 2008, Travel supplement, p. 16. )
For more information or to book an excursion to Marsa Mubarak please contact Steven by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or WhatsApp on +20 1284332337.
ABU DABBAB TAXI OFFER
Steven’s taxis offers a low one way taxi fare from just 22 euro (if your hotel is near the airport) for a private air conditioned licensed taxi saloon or 33 euro for a large airconditioned licensed minivan. For prices from more distant hotels email email@example.com.
Light meals and snacks are available at extra charge on the beach.
ABU DABBAB BEACH
As you enter via the south east corner of the beach you will need to pay a ten euro entrance fee which is levied in order to prevent too many tourists overcrowding the bay. This fee also allows you free use of the lounge chairs and beach umbrellas. You will find toilets available and the beach is kept very clean with a small bar where you can buy drinks and snacks.
Night owls might also be glad to know that on Thursday nights locals head to the beach bar at Abu Dabbab for a weekly party.
ABU DABBAB BAY AND REEFS
Abu Dabbab is a partially enclosed u-shaped bay with one of the best sandy beeches on its’ innermost western shoreline and one of the largest sandy bottom bays with sea grass in the region.
It is protected from the open sea on its’ northern and southern flanks by reefs which widen slightly near the Eastern mouth of the bay. The bay is therefore fairly sheltered and it’s depth descends slowly as you progress further towards the sea but typically averages 15 metres.
However East of the bay mouth and the fringing reefs there is a steep drop off descending to around 30 to 40 metres. Also you should note that due to the sandy bottom within the bay, visibility is not always good with typical visibility at between four to ten metres in average conditions.
To overcome this visibility problem divers or snorkelers can advance line abreast, three to four metres apart and when one spots anything point the others in their direction. However care should be taken that this is not done in such a way which will intimidate the turtles or the dugongs.
A few minutes by zodiac out to sea you can also find offshore reefs, where divers can explore a small shipwreck dating to 2004 when a liveaboard boat, Heaven One, sank in 15 metres of water, with its’ engines and many fitments still visible though heavily damaged by the fire and subsequent sinking.
And lying a similar short distance to the south, lies a spectacular swim through canyon system with occasional tunnel sections and an amazing coral garden although there are reports of strong currents here.
Futher out to sea, approximately 7km to the East of the bay, lies Elphinstone reef famed for both the variety of marine life and the frequent visits by oceanic whitetip sharks. For more about this reef read our Marsa Alam diving page.
ABU DABBAB’S DUGONGS
The most famous resident marine animals are the two dugongs but seeing either of them is usually a matter of chance. However if you are on a beach do keep an eye on the snorkelers as you can usually spot the excitement when a dugong is detected. However do not rush in so quickly that you and others will intimidate the animal which will force it to disappear quickly into the depths.
You will be surpised how quickly the dugong swims for although Egyptian dugongs can weigh up to 500kg and swim at an average speed of 10km/hour they are capable of bursts of speed of up to 20km/hour.
Dugongs are sometimes tolerant of the occasional swimmer at near distance but they don’t seem to enjoy crowds of overly curious onlookers. An Italian diver Roberto Sozzani describes how one Dugong at Abu Dabbab soon found all the attention too much.
“…..In order to avoid the wild crowd on the surface, the dugong dove and then emerged covering long diagonals, moving to deeper and deeper waters. But she was inevitably reached each time she surfaced while countless hands came forward trying to touch her. The result was that she left the bay after only a few minutes.”
( RobertoSozzani.it )
If however you do get a chance to see the dugong feeding on the grassy sea bed, the sight is amazing for as she grazes the animal expels a huge cloud of fine sand particles and every few minutes emerges to take a few breaths at the surface before returning.
For such a huge animal, with an enormous seal like body and paddle-like foreflippers, the dugong is surprisingly quiet and has no natural defence against predators except for its’ hug size. The Egyptians dugong can grow up to 2.5 or even 3 metres long and has a average lifespan of around thirty years.
The last scientific study of dugongs along Egypt’s Red Sea Coast was by Professor Dr Mahmoud Hanafy in 2001 to 2003, who identified between 12 and 17 individual dugongs each year. He noted that more were seen during the summer which was possibly due to a winter migration of some dugongs to warmer water.
Unfortunately this beautiful animal is classified as a “vulnerable to extinction” and it is has sadly earned a place on the World Conservation Union Red List of Threatened Species.
Its’ worldwide population is in decline. It has already disappeared altogether from the Maldive Islands, Mauritius and Taiwan and while there is still a significant population around the Autralian coastline, they exist in only very small numbers in the Red Sea.
The sea grass meadows, which they depend on, are highly sensitive to human interference especially to any fertilizer run off from coastal resorts and dredging – both of which can prevent light from reaching the sea grass and thereby limit its’ growth.
For more fascinating and quirky facts about the dugong please visit our dugong page.
Despite being classified as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’ (IUCN), you have a very good chance of being able to see the Hawksbill sea turtle as well as other sea turtle species while at Abu Dabbab. They seem fairly oblivious to the presence of divers or snorkelers.
“If you got too close with your camera, you simply received a gentle push from their flippers,” remarked one diver on divernet.com.
When you see sea turtles at Abu Dabbab you will often also spot an accompanying Remora fish feeding of the parasites on the turtle’s shell.
OTHER MARINE ANIMALS AND FISH
You will also quite often see titan triggerfish, brilliant green pufferfish, triangular trunkfish, trevallies, occasional giant barracuda and fast moving guitar rays as well as harmless guitar sharks.
Along the fringing reefs you might also sometimes spot sea scorpions and stone fishes as well as large stingrays and as you reach deeper waters expect any types of surprise. Even a giant whale shark was recently spotted.
CAUTION WHEN APPROACHING BY BOAT
The reefs to the south and east of this bay necessitate a cautious approach from the North staying well clear of the coastal reef. You are not allowed to enter the bay itself which is marked off by buoys. Please however don’t rely on any advice you read here – you should study the relevant charts.
ENVIRONMENTAL CODE FOR ABU DABBAB
- Please keep at least two metres distance from any turtle or dugong at all times and never touch them. This is also in compliance with Egyptian Law no 102 of 1983 which states that there must be no touching of these animals. You will see signs along the beach reminding you of this rule.
- Motorized boats are not allowed access inside the bay. Moorings were removed in 2007 to prevent overnight stays by safari boats and you will see a lign of buoys demarcating the “no boat” bay area from the open sea.
- Access from the shore is restricted in terms of numbers. Don’t worry about this as your guide or a ranger will notify you in case of any problem but under normal circumstances this is not an issue.
WIDER ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES
The number of hotel beds in the immediate vicinity continues to grow and there is concern as to how many tourists this small coastal strip can sustain in the longer term. There were also plans to create a marina with inland lagoons and if this ever goes ahead it could potentially pose a serious threat to the bay’s environment and vulnerable ecosystem.
Also a keen eye needs to be kept on any possible further developments of the newly opened tantalum mining operation some 20km inland from Abu Dabbab.
$250 million has been invested in what may become the world largest mine of the rare metal tantalum. Fortunately at the moment there are no plans to export the slag material from the immediate Abu Dabbab area and the company says that an environmental investigation concluded that its’ operations will have no adverse impact.