>Besides the clear water and terrific reefs, what stuck in our memory most from the previous trip to the desert sea were two outrageous wrasse species we failed to find. The first is a multicolored brute of a fish trailing a spiked tail of eminent distinction, befittingly known as a broomtail, and the other the brilliantly colored Red Sea flasher wrasse with its oversized fins designed for seduction.
>The origin of the Red Sea's endemics was somewhat different, Bogorodsky and Randall explain. It began 40 million years ago when the Arabian Peninsula split away from Africa, creating a rift that formed the sea's basin and fractured East Africa. Water from the north initially filled the sea. Much later, the northern region uplifted, cutting off the flow as the southern section subsided, allowing the waters from the Indian Ocean along with its marine life to enter through a narrow strait. During subsequent ice ages, the shallow waterway closed for extended periods, providing time for the isolated fauna to diverge from their Indian Ocean ancestors.
>We slip into the water a hundred yards out from where the shallow reef shelf ends, and a wall begins plunging 50 feet to a gently sloping seafloor that disappears into infinity. Instinctively sensing not to hurry, we slowly descend, enthralled by the reef, the water and the fact we're here. By the time I make my way to the wall an hour later, I've already photographed seven endemic species, including a powder-blue soapfish with yellow eye patches and a boldly patterned Red Sea anthias, and I couldn't be happier — or so I thought.
>Heading for my safety stop I catch sight of a male broomtail barreling down the wall in my direction. I can't believe my luck. I'm after him in a blink, but he's fast. I'm fading and close to giving up when the wrasse breaks into a glide and coasts through a cleaning station with his outrageous tail spread for grooming. I glance down at my camera's display screen. As I squint at the image, the adage "It's better to be lucky than good" comes to mind.
>The week only gets better, except we haven't been able to find the endemic Red Sea flasher. It's not for lack of trying; we've been looking for them every morning in thick
>It's our fifth morning on the water, and we're starting to become anxious until Anna finds three young male flashers exhibiting vestiges of the splendor displayed by the larger territorial males we're hunting. Encouraged, we run a zigzagging search pattern along the slope. A flash of color off in the distance draws my attention. I'm off, with my eyes glued to the spot. There it is in all its glory: one of the fanciest fish in the sea courting his herd of females — providing more icing on an already sweet week of diving in the Red Sea.
>1. Bogorodsky SV, Randall JE. Endemic fishes of the Red Sea. In: Rasul N, Stewart I, eds. Oceanographic and Biological Aspects of the Red Sea. Springer: Cham, Switzerland; 2019: 239–65.
>© Alert Diver — Q2 2020