Gulf of Suez Reef Survey 1989

This is another catch-up post, written in July 2022, to describe the first post-worthy adventure in my life. In July and August 1989, a team of six SCUBA divers, based at Cambridge University, set out to investigate the effects of oil pollution on the coral reefs of the Gulf of Suez. The results were presented to an International Forum of Exploration and Production Oil Companies investigating safety and environmental issues within the industry, held in Cairo in December 1989.

The team consisted of Karen Wild, Rob Cooper, Adrian Surtees, Emmeline Rogers, Jon Cheal, and me. After nearly a year of fundraising and preparation, the team drove the expedition Land Rover “Perky” from the UK over the Alps to Venice, Italy from where they took a ferry to Alexandria in Northern Egypt. Twenty-six sites were examined in the Gulf of Suez, which runs from the southern entrance to the Suez Canal down to the Red Sea, on the western side of the Sinai Peninsula. The expedition report is attached (PDF and OCR), as is Karen’s Scientific Report (PDF and OCR).

Below are some of my favourite photos from the expedition followed by galleries of photos by categories. The photos were taken by all expedition members. This trip gave me my first taste of adventure which has continued ever since.

This picture best summarizes the trip. Adrian fills the tanks on a remote beach with oil activity in the distance.
The team with all of the equipment.
Back row: Adrian, Rob, Peter, Emme
Front Row: Karen, Jon
Adrian performed miracles to keep the Land Rover and compressor working the whole time in hot, dusty Sinai desert.
A typical sunset scene
It was fun exploring above the water as well as below.
Karen carried out field work as best as the conditions allowed.
Adrian digging through the tar to estimate the volume of oil spilled.
Rob looking cool as he drives Bertha across the Sinai desert.
In contrast to Rob, I did not look cool!
Though I thought I looked cool in this shot!
Emme and Jon enjoying some down time in the shade.
Karen and Adrian writing up results after a survey.
At times it got very hot. Emme made the most of Bertha’s shade in the late afternoon sun.
Jon was less bothered by the heat.
Rob performing a survey of the reef.
This was my favourite fish photo from the expedition. Lionfish barbs are very poisonous, so we were very careful. I find it ironic that I have since hunted these with Samuel in the Gulf of Mexico, where they are an aggressive invasive species with no natural predators.
As well as showing us exciting underwater life and horrific pollution, the expedition also exposed us to complicated socio-economic factors. The picture illustrates how a young girl had to walk miles, barefoot, just to gather water for her family. We visited with soldiers who had been conscripted into the Egyptian army to guard this area against Israel, continuing the centuries-old dispute over this land. All agree the pollution is terrible, with the impact on the beautiful reef overshadowed by effects on local fishing communities. Solutions are complicated as stopping all production means less income for a population that is already starving.

Galleries of Photos. Click on a photo to make it bigger.

A company generously transported equipment for us, which we collated at my parents’ house. Then we drove the Land Rover over the alps to Venice to take the ferry to Alexandria.

We had to spend a bit of time in Cairo, which allowed some tourist activities as well as getting accustomed to the culture.

The key enabler of the whole expedition was Bertha the Land Rover. Over many months and with much assistance from sponsors, Adrian had built this from scratch. It included an air compressor, powered by the Land Rover’s engine, and worked extremely well for the whole trip. We were also lent Bertha the Suburban by an in-country sponsor. Bertha constantly gave us problems, at times burning more oil than fuel, but Adrian kept her alive.

Even above the water, we were treated to tremendous views as we camped in the desert for six weeks.

However, evidence of previous oil spills was clear with deep tar on the beach.

We met a tremendous variety of people who were very friendly and generous. These photos show us in a variety of mental states, illustrating the challenges during extended field work.

We spent a lot of time underwater with much of it performing scientific surveys.

The underwater life was amazing. Photos don’t do it justice, and we were not skilled underwater photographers. Anyhow, this was our attempt.

All good things have to end, and this included driving back across Europe. We unfortunately had an accident, but it wasn’t too bad. Getting invited back to present the results to the oil companies was a privilege.

Published by Peter Ireland

I am originally from England, and my wife Janet is from Louisiana. When we started Geocaching in 2002, we needed a name, and the Cajunlimeys were created, and that is the name I use for my blog. Even though Janet has no Cajun blood, her cooking is excellent! “Limeys” comes from the nickname for English sailors, who ate limes to prevent scurvy. We live in Houston, Texas, with Bailey and Samuel. We love adventures and want to share the experiences with others. When planning trips, I have found other people’s sites very useful, so I want to give back and add a different perspective.

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