Wadi El Gemal National Park is one of the national parks in Egypt. It is 7,450 square kilometres (2,880 sq mi) in size, including 4,770 square kilometres (1,840 sq mi) of land and 2,100 square kilometres (810 sq mi) of marine space. Approximately 17% of the marine life is native to the Red Sea. The coastal area features coral reefs with 450 species of coral and over 1200 species of fish. It also includes five islands, including Wadi El Gemal Island. These islands are a breeding ground for 13 bird species, and local sea grasses are essential food sources for the endangered dugong and green turtle.
The coast of Wadi el Gemal is partially rocky, with broad spots covered by mangroves, particularly widespread in the South of Egypt, where there is the largest mangrove forest in the entire Red Sea. The inland area is home to many animals, including the Dorcas gazelle and the Nubian Ibex. Various sandy beaches are also suitable for snorkelling and scuba diving along the shores of Wadi El Gemal Park.
The Park is the site of prehistoric rock art and Ptolemaic and Roman ruins, and the mountain Mons Smaragdus is the site of small mining communities dating back to ancient Egypt. Wadi El Gemal is an IUCN Category II park established in 2003.
Location of Wadi el Gemal National Park
Wadi el Gemal National Park is located in the southeastern part of Egypt along the coastline of the Red Sea. The total Park covers an area of 2,880 square miles (7,450 sq km), creating one of Egypt’s largest wadis. Ras Muhammad National Park is a neighbouring park that protects another region of the Red Sea Reef.
The area of Wadi el Gemal, whose name means « Valley of camels », was declared a National Park in 2003 to preserve an extraordinary terrestrial and marine ecosystem, which is incredibly rich from a landscape, botanical, and wildlife viewpoint. In addition, it includes numerous archaeological sites of great importance. Among these mountains, the famous emerald mines of the Pharaohs are hidden: the oldest in the world and the only ones known before the New World was discovered. The Park of Wadi Gemal, still relatively unknown and rarely visited, is home to an essential community of Ababda Beduins, who are trying to preserve their ancient traditions. Inside the Park, we find a variety of sites of great tourist interest, sandy beaches, and shorelines fringed by coral reefs among the most beautiful and unspoiled in Egypt.
The Park of Wadi el Gemal is the only one in Egypt besides Ras Mohamed, including a terrestrial area extending over a surface of 4770 sq Km. And a marine area that develops over another 2000 Sq Km, extending over 120 Km of shoreline, often bordered by vast mangrove areas.
Ecosystems and Biodiversity
The coastal plain coincides with the access to the sea of Wadi el Gemal: stony and rocky in its most Western part. It becomes sandy as it approaches the coastline, with long beaches suitable for bathing. On numerous spots on the coast, areas rich in mangroves (plants whose scientific name is Avicennia marina) have grown; they make up a unique ecosystem of the Red Sea. The peculiarity of the mangroves is that they filter seawater and then expel the salt through their leaves. Mangroves are also vital as refuge areas for many species of juvenile fish and numerous species of birds, as well as providing mechanical stabilization of the soil, thus protecting the coast from marine erosion. Their roots are home to many invertebrates, mainly a multitude of crustaceans, including « fiddler crabs » (genus Uca). Their distinctive trait is an extraordinary development of one of their claws; they dig their burrows in the sand, where they find refuge at the slightest sign of da ger. The areas where mangrove growth is the greatest are the Island of Wadi el Gemal, located in front of the wadi, and more to the South of Egypt, in the area of Ras Qulan – Hamata, where the most extensive forest of mangroves of the entire Egyptian Red Sea is found.
However, mangroves are not the only plants that grow in the coastal area. In different spots, one can observe numerous shrubs that, with their roots, form small coast dunes, such as Limonium axillare and Zyghophyllun album, large tamarisks (Tamarix nilotica), and close to the access to the sea of Wadi el Gemal, also marsh cane, and date palms, Phoenix dactylifera.
The coasts of the Park of Wadi el Gemal are flanked in many spots by breath-taking beaches of wonderful sand that gently sink in the blue waters of the sea. One of the most popular beaches, both for its beauty and ease of access, is the one of the Bay of Hankorab, located less than twenty kilometres south of the central hotels in the area. A lovely coral reef marks off the Northern side of the beach, allowing people to snorkel or dive (this site is especially suitable for beginners since it is protected from waves and currents). The coral reef is rich in madrepores, among which many reef fish hover around, such as the red Anthias, butterfly, Parrotfish, and Damselfish. The beach is equipped with beach umbrellas, toilets, and a small café: a pleasant walk allows one to reach the nearby lighthouse of Ras Hankorab. More to the South, at Abu Ghosun and Qulan, there are two more fabulous beaches, less frequented than the previous one. In Qulan, one of the most beautiful lagoons of the Red Sea is famous for its turquoise-blue waters, while one can admire extensive mangroves. A small restaurant, a café, and a centre for selling local handicrafts managed by Beduins are another attraction of this beautiful site. Finally, for athletes and kitesurf enthusiasts, the long beach of the Kite Village is a centre primarily dedicated to those who practice this sport. Even more to the South, the big and lovely beach of Wadi Lahami is home to a vast forest of mangroves and is equipped with a small eco-lodge and a dive centre.
The Dive Sites
Within the Park’s territory, there are around thirty exciting dive sites suitable for divers of any level. Most can only be reached by boat, but some can also be contacted from the beach, such as Hankorab and Abu Ghosun. Among the most notable areas that can be reached by boat are the ones around the Island of Wadi el Gemal and the Island of Siyul, also called the « Island of the birds », since it has been colonized by eight species of birds that nest here. Here divers can admire colossal table corals, teeming with marine life. More to the South, the famous reef of Sataya, nicknamed « Dolphins House », where in the middle of a large lagoon protected by waves and currents lives a colony of spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris), which can be easily seen while snorkelling. When diving to this last site, divers can admire the wreck of the Hamada, a cargo that sunk here in 1993.