Red Sea Fish Families Introduction

Red Sea Fish Families Introduction

Introduction... Part I..

The Red Sea, ‘Al Bahr Achmar’ as it is called in local lingo, is an aquatic corridor as part of the Arabian Sea, which in turn is a branch of the Indian Ocean. It runs between the Suez Canal in the north to the Gate of Lamantations or Gate of Tears  (Bab-el-Mandeb) in the south, before entering the Gulf of Aden.

The Red Sea slowly came to existence as an appendix, coinciding with the separation of the Arabian and African tectonic plates, starting about 40,000,000 years ago. By the way, this tectonic movement is still in continuation until today.  At its current rate, the Red Sea would be 2,500 km (1550 miles) wide in 100,000,000. It is therefore that geologists and scholars classify the Red Sea as ‘a developing ocean’. 

Due to its isolated position, it also developed a unique biological environment of flora and fauna. A significant percentage of its fishes, crustaceans and invertebrates is endemic, meaning they can only be found here in the Red Sea. 

To the north, the Sinai Peninsula separates the Gulf of Suez from the Gulf of Aqaba. The Red Sea stretches to a length of 200 km (1250 miles) and has a depth of approximately 1800 meters (1,1 mile). In the northern part of the long blue Red Sea ribbon, it spans out to a width of 350 km  (220 miles).

In the deeper south, however, the Red Sea dramatically narrows down to a mere 25 km (15 miles). Since the depth here is only around 100 meters ( 330 ft) very little water is being exchanged between the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

This natural phenomenon has created a fascinating scene from a maritime and biological point of view. The Red Sea has a higher temperature and salinity (42% as opposed to 38%) than the neighbouring Indian Ocean. It is as if Bab-el-Mandeb serves as an ecological barrier. As suggested before, it has created an exclusive underwater world with many species endemic to the Red Sea. For instance, studies learn that from the fourteen butterflyfish from the Chatodontidae family, 50% are endemic. 

Speaking of studies, the Red Sea has been subject to faunistic research from the 18th century. Household names are scientists, geographers or zoologists like Peter Forskall,  Friedrich Hemprich, Christian Ehrenberg and Carl Klunzinger who all have fish species named after them as acknowledgement and in homage.  

To be continued.