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Barracuda at Shark Reef, Red Sea dive site - courtesy of Carina Hall
Pelagics at Shark Reef, Red Sea dive site - courtesy of Chris Williams
Toilets at Shark Reef, Red Sea dive site - courtesy of Luke Cooper-Berry
Toilet at Shark Reef, Red Sea dive site - courtesy of Chris Williams

Scuba Diving in the Red Sea

Dive Site: Shark Reef / Jolanda, Ras Mohammed

Location: 27°43.150N; 34°15.590E

Description: Reef / drift / wreck

Depth: 36 metres (118 feet)

Visibility: 50 metres (165 feet)

Rating: ****

Two ergs rise up from a vertical wall with a drop off down to 300 metres. The dive begins at shark reef and continues with the current until reaching the cargo of the Jolanda, where the sea floor rises to about 15-25 metres and is strewn with toilets. There are lots of schools of fish and other sea life including stone fish and scorpion fish. Large pelagics may gather beyond the reef, so keep watching the open sea.

Reader Reviews:

This has to be my favourite dive from Sharm. Diving in July in a shorty, the amount of fish life is fantastic, large schools of bat fish, jacks, tuna and barracuda circling around at about 25m. Below that we saw several white tip reef sharks and turtles, also napoleon wrasse, triggers, grouper and morays etc - beautiful.

Jenny Pickles, BSAC Dive Leader

This one of the most famous of the northern Red Sea dive sites and as a result can be very busy. The best time to dive this site is at first light - somewhere around 6.30am. It is well worth the early start. The dive site is essentially a single pinnacle which rises almost vertically from around 800 metres (according to admiralty charts). At around the 26m metre mark it splits into two separate pinnacles - the one to the east is known as Shark Reef and the one to the west is known as Jolanda (named after the Cyprian freighter which hit the reef and deposited it's cargo on the west side of it in 1980). The currents here can be strong and the best dive plan is for either your dive boat or its tender to drop you to the northeast of Shark Reef and then for you to descend and drift in onto the east side of Shark Reef. The boat drop should normally take place further away from the reef and whilst viz should allow you to locate the reef wall and heads towards it underwater, it maybe advisable to take a compass reading and then drop below the surface to avoid the boat traffic.

The water here is truly deep and as you look down the vertical wall the water takes on an inky dark feel, even though viz is often in excess of 30m. An ideal start depth here would be the 30-40m mark, where if the current allows it is worth spending some time looking out into the blue. Whilst a little more rare these days it is still possible to see white-tip reef sharks and if you're lucky larger grey reef sharks identifiable by the thick black strip which runs all the way down the rear of their tail fins. I have seen a scalloped hammerhead here in the past. Also look out for barracuda, jacks and tuna. The reef itself on the eastern side of Shark Reef is fed by nutrients from the sometimes strong currents and as a result there are some beautiful gorgonian fan corals and black whip coral. The deeper part of the reef has a proliferation of soft coral from the 30m - 70m range. Soft coral requires much less light than hard coral and seems to thrive in this inky abyss. Once you have spent some time on the east side of Shark Reef, or if the current is running, then turn and with your right shoulder reef side head southwest around the reef. You will see the reef wall sloping up beneath you as you head towards the gap between Shark Reef and Jolanda and you drift over a rising plateau.

It is not the normal dive plan to go between to two reef pinnacles and the current generally takes you past the two pinnacles on the south side, however if current allows there are some beautiful hard coral formations between the two. I have often seen a single turtle at this point in the dive and as the plateau rises to around the 15m mark there is a single toilet which is a photo opportunity and constant source of amusement. It is worth noting that coral growth is less around this object and I would urge all divers to take care of the environment rather than gain a photographic trophy. As you come around to the west side of Jolanda Reef there are vast numbers of toilets and sinks which made up the majority of the cargo of the container ship Jolanda. In the early 1990's these containers were still intact, however last time I dived here in late 2002, just one or two sides of the containers were still standing. What are now left are piles of bathroom suite parts which will never complete their journey. A common misconception is that the cargo container wreckage is actually the wreck of the Jolanda - it is not. The wreck itself, having initially lodged precariously on the edge of the reef wall at around 25m, subsequently slipped over the edge, stern first, and down into the depths. The wreck itself now rests on a 40 metre wide ledge, where it crumpled after its stern impacted with the ledge - the bow at 140m and the stern at just over 200m. The final part of the dive can either be spent behind, the north side of Jolanda or over the cargo wreckage. Normal exiting procedure is to ascend to your safety stop depth and drift away to the west of Jolanda Reef. If the current is running perform your safety stops behind the reef where you will get protection from the current before drifting off for pick up, otherwise you may drift far away from the reefs. Take extra care when exiting as there can be a lot of overhead boat traffic.

Rik Vercoe, BSAC Advanced Instructor

It is possible to do three sites in one here. If the guide has a reasonably good group with no air guzzlers then you can jump at Anemone City which is teeming with anemones & clownfish. Then swim into the blue on a bearing to hit the corner of Shark Reef. Shark Reef is best dived around July and August after the spawning season where you will be confronted with a wall of fish, including jacks and barracuda. Always keep an eye in the blue for chicken fish (sharks) we never say the 'S' word when guiding in the Red Sea.

After Shark Reef you'll hit the saddle between Shark Reef & Jolanda and depending on the currents you can head around the back of Jolanda or around the front. Around the wreck site you may bump into huge Napoleon wrasse, blue spotted rays and I have even seen a feathertail ray here. There is a small swim through at the front of Jolanda which you can do whilst on your safety stop.

Always surface next to the reef due to the amount of boat traffic around. There's also a satellite reef off Jolanda however the visibility is poor (for the Red Sea) and can spoil what is a world class dive all year round.

Ian Higgins, Dive Guide / PADI Assistant Instructor

Dived here 4 times in June 2006, amazing dive as it changes every time. Saw the biggest wall of barracuda that you could ever imagine, got a small video clip of it on my camera then huge shoals of batfish and unicorn fish, finished off with a big Napoleon wrasse. A great dive.

Rosie Branch

I dived on Jolanda in June 1984 and it was probably one of the most fantastic dives I have had. At that time the ship itself was laying on its side with the tip of the bow above water and the stern at about 20m. The stern was "hanging" out over the edge of the reef, so it does not surprise me that she slipped off and into the depth below. The cargo holds were wide open and the cargo scattered on the bottom, including several containers and a car! I remember we examined the propeller and the ship's name was clearly visible on the stern "Jolanda - Cape Town".

Back in 1984, there was only one dive centre operating out of Sharm, which could only be reached by a grueling 7 hours bus ride through the desert. Two options for accommodation in Naama Bay, either rent a tent or sleep on the roof of the dive centre. Somewhere I have pictures taken from the boat at this site. No underwater pictures.....

Erik W

I also have dived the "Jolanda" many years ago. Slept on the deck of the Lady Jenny V after a long drive down from Eilat. Magnificent drop offs - those who saw the shark - some didn't! Plenty of porcelain (toilet bowls etc) littering the site. Met "George & Mildred" the two resident large Napoleon wrasse - fed them with boiled eggs.

Mel Patten, BSAC diver | 10/07/2009

Ras Muhammed is an exceptional dive. Probably the best dive site I have every been to.

Ian Barbara, BSAC Instructor | 01/10/2009

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