Red Sea Blue

by Elizabeth Hutcheson - Date: 2007-03-30 - Word Count: 427 Share This!

Thousands of divers travel annually to explore the depths of the amazing underwater world of the Red Sea. How many of them, I wonder, spare a moment to question the paradox of this dazzling blue paradise described red?

Of course the name doesn't indicate a permanent red colour as the water is most definitely blue when viewed from afar, golden green around the reefs and transparent when scooped up into one's hand. But just why the Red Sea is so called is a complicated mystery and while several theories abound, none are conclusive.

The sea has been variously known throughout history as the 'Arabian Gulf' or the 'Erythraean Sea'. In fact ancient Egyptian mariners referred to this same body of water as the 'Great Green' or 'Green Sea'. Conversely the name 'Erythraean Sea' has also been applied to the waters around the Southern Arabian Peninsula, which we now know today as the Indian Ocean. The name 'Red Sea' even appears at one time to refer to the entire maritime area between Africa, Arabia and south Asia.

The most common accepted explanation for the current name is the frequent red tide of a plankton bloom caused by a type of algae called Trichodesmium Erythraeum. When these algae blooms die off the blue-green colour of the sea appears to change to that of reddish-brown.

Some say the name is taken from the sometimes peculiar red colouring on the waters caused by the light of the setting sun reflecting off the mountain ranges of the surrounding Sinai Peninsula. In Hebrew these mountains are in fact called the 'Rubi Mountains'.

Others maintain that the current name is a translation error made by early Bible scholars from the original Hebrew version of the Old Testament's book of Exodus, which describes the parting of the Red Sea and the subsequent escape from Egypt of thousands of Jewish slaves led by Moses. The main cause of the confusion appears to be that in the Hebrew text the reference to the body of water associated with the exodus is called 'yam suph'. Translated directly this means 'sea of reeds', leading some to believe that over time reed has simply been misspelled or shortened to red.

Regardless of the origins of its name, there's no doubting the fact that for centuries the Red Sea has been a scene of shipwreck and adventure for pilgrims, pirates, merchants and smugglers.

Today the adventure continues with numerous divers continually pushing the limits to uncover its magical attractions hidden just below the surface, no doubt much more concerned with this mystery than that of its name.

Photographs available.

Related Tags: israel, fish, egypt, sharm, dive, exodus, moses, jew, hurghada, sinai, red sea, arabian gulf

Elizabeth Hutcheson is a travel and fiction writer living in Dublin. Contact her at elizabethhutcheson[at]

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