The surface of our world is about 71% water. This includes the five oceans: the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian, Arctic, and Antarctic Oceans. But it also includes approximately 50 seas, as well. What’s the difference between an ocean and a sea? Oceans cover a huge expanse, while seas are close to land and sometimes partially enclosed by land. Maybe you’ve heard of the “7 Seas.” The exact seas included in this list have changed over time, but in ancient times one of them was always the Red Sea. Where is the Red Sea, and why has it been so important in human history? Get ready to venture into an exploration of the magnificient Red Sea!
- The Red Sea is the result of the continuing separation of Africa from Arabia. This separation will one day create an ocean.
- It is a geographically strategic waterway that provides the main sea trading route between Europe and Asia.
- From time to time, it turns red because of algae blooms and bacteria.
- It is warm, extremely salty, and quite shallow in many places. It is also an ideal environment for corals and other marine life.
- Desalinization, petroleum exploitation, and overfishing are some of the challenges to the ecosystem of the sea caused by economic development.
- Tourism is a popular industry, especially for diving and underwater photography.
The Location and Geology of the Red Sea
The Red Sea is located between Africa and the Arabian Peninsula. Geologists say it is a result of continental drift that began splitting Africa from Arabia. This process started about 55 million years ago in the Eocene epoch. It is part of the Great Rift Valley. This valley runs all the way down the eastern side of Africa to Mozambique in the south. If this process continues millions of years into the future, a long strip of East Africa will become an island. Additionally, the Red Sea will grow into an ocean.
Today, though, it is a narrow sea, about 221 miles across at its widest point and 1,400 miles long. A good deal of it (40%) is surprisingly shallow: less than 330 feet deep. At its deepest point, it goes all the way down to 9,970 feet. It connects in the south to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. In the north, the Suez Canal in Egypt links it to the Mediterranean. It acts as a vital trade route between Europe and Asia that takes half as long as going around Africa.
In Roman times, it was the main route used for trade between Rome, China, and India. Its strategic location makes the Red Sea a vital waterway. In addition to trade, it is used for travel, economic development, and military activities. The Red Sea is bordered by the modern countries of Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen.
Did Moses and the Israelites Cross the Red Sea?
According to the Jewish and Christian scriptures, the Israelites were in slavery in Egypt for hundreds of years. Their God struck Egypt with a series of destructive plagues. This was an attempt to force the Pharaoh to release the people. These followers of Moses, numbering in the hundreds of thousands, wished to leave. However, t Pharaoh changed his mind. He sent his army in pursuit of them, trapping them at the shore of the Red Sea. God miraculously parted the sea so the Israelites could pass through with a wall of water on each side. When the Egyptians tried to pursue them, the water crashed down, and they drowned. This story is found in the book of Exodus, chapter 14.
Jewish and Christian scholars generally believe the Gulf of Suez is the likely setting in this story. This part of the Red Sea ranges from about 12-20 miles across and is on average 131 feet deep. It is certainly possible that there were sandbars and shallower areas thousands of years ago. This would have made such a crossing easier. If such an event happened, the sheer timing would have been miraculous.
Why Is It Called the Red Sea?
The Red Sea is one of four seas in the world that in English are named after colors. The others are the White Sea, the Black Sea, and the Yellow Sea. The actual color of the waters of the Red Sea is usually a stunning shade of blue green. However, sometimes it turns such a vibrant shade of reddish-brown that it can be seen from outer space. Scientists think this may be caused by an algae bloom or bacteria of a species called Trichodesmium erythraeum. It turns the sea a reddish-colored when it dies off.
What Lives in the Red Sea?
The average temperature of the waters of the Red Sea is about 71°F. It is considered the northernmost tropical sea in the world. It is also about 10 times saltier than ocean seawater. This, along with its temperature and shallowness, makes it an ideal environment for corals. There are over 250 species of coral there, growing in reefs that are 5,000-7,000 years old! The Red Sea also has over 1,200 tropical fish species, including about 120 species not found anywhere else on Earth, and 44 species of shark. This makes it extremely popular with divers and underwater photographers.
Economic Development of the Red Sea
Geologists think there are huge undiscovered oil and natural gas reserves under the Red Sea. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have already discovered oil fields in their economic zones, and there are oil seeps along the coasts of Eritrea and Yemen that might be explored and exploited in the future. While this could be a game-changing economic boon to the poor countries at the southern end of the Red Sea, spills could also damage the delicate wildlife in the area.
Saudi Arabia also operates 18 desalinization plants along the Red Sea to provide for its freshwater needs as a desert country. The problem with these plants is that they release briny water and treatment chemicals back into the water that kill corals and cause fish diseases. The Red Sea fishing industry is an important food source for coastal communities, but catches have been in decline since 1993.
Red Sea Tourism
The Red Sea has a lot of popular diving sites, especially off the coast of Egypt. An area along the Gulf of Aqaba running from Taba, Egypt through Eliat, Israel to Aqaba in Jordan is known as the Red Sea Riviera for its beauty and excellent amenities for visitors. Some hindrances to tourism are political instability, occasional terrorist attacks, piracy, and shark attacks. Near some of the popular swimming and diving areas, the underwater topography of the Red Sea drops off steeply not far from shore. This brings deep-water sharks into more frequent contact with swimmers. Overfishing makes sharks range more widely in a search for food, and some tour boat operators chum the water to attract sharks for photos, bringing them closer to land.
A Global Treasure
There’s no doubt that the Red Sea is a global treasure. Its strategic location saves a huge amount of time and money for international trade, and its natural ecosystem is unique in all the world and needs to be preserved. Hopefully, the regional states, with international support, will find ways to develop the resources of this region sustainably so that it continues to amaze us with its wonders.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Alexandra Lande/Shutterstock.com
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