Accidental Reefs

Some artificial reefs are not planned. These reefs are born from objects that don’t belong in the ocean at all. Planes that crash or ships that sink sometimes become reefs by default.

There’s a place in the Red Sea called Sha’ab Abu Nuhas. It is a triangular-shaped coral reef off the coast of Egypt. Navigating this reef by ship can be quite dangerous, and for this reason, this place is also known as a ship graveyard.


Red Sea

The wreck of the Giannis D lies on its side, now encrusted with corals and algae.

You’ll find four large shipwrecks on the north side of this reef. These ships all struck the reef and met the same fate. They sank and slid down a steep slope and became partially buried in sand. The Giannis D was such a ship. It was a large, Greek transport ship hauling timber from Croatia to Yemen. It met its end in 1983 by accidentally running full speed into Sha’ab Abu Nuhas. The crew abandoned the sinking ship, which floated there for about six weeks. Then a storm broke the ship’s back and sent its pieces to the bottom. 

A lot has changed in the almost 40 years since the Giannis D went down. To dive there now, you’d see the bones of a ship covered in coral formations. The corals attract hawksbill turtles, which like to snack on corals. A visit to the engine room might reveal a school of glassfish. Eels and Napoleon fish drift by in the passageways. From the outside, dolphins patrol the wreck. Maybe the Giannis D doesn’t belong there, but it doesn’t matter. The sea has claimed it for its own.

Creating a Home

You’ll find the S.S. Thistlegorm at the bottom of the Red Sea as well. It was a cargo ship for the British merchant navy. It was sunk by German forces during World War II, near Ras Mohammed, off the coast of Egypt.

At the time, the ship was filled with supplies for soldiers and weapons of warbombs, anti‑tank mines, rifles. It also carried trucks, armored cars, more than 100 motorbikes, and two steam locomotives. All of which still lie at the bottom of the sea.

A scuba diver looks at part of the S.S. Thistlegorm.

A Future Hope?

How strange these items look now, encrusted with corals. The wreck is alive with fish: tuna, barracuda, batfish, moray eels, lionfish, scorpionfish, and turtles. This ship has become their home.

Nothing can replace a natural coral reef in the ocean. Yet, artificial reefs can make up for some of the loss of natural reefs. Over time, marine communities can thrive in these unusual environments.

A hawksbill turtle feeds on red soft corals attached to the wreck of the Giannis D.

This artificial reef is full of life.