For Saudi Arabia, the Red Sea has always been important - as the main port of entry for pilgrims to Makkah (Mecca), and as an important commercial route via Jiddah and Suez. And in recent years the sea has become even more important. Nearly three years ago a tanker loaded crude oil at Yanbu' for the first time (See Aramco World, November-December 1982). And just before that officials announced a joint Saudi Arab-Sudanese effort to extract gold, silver, copper and zinc from the mud on the Red Sea floor (See Aramco World, September-October 1982).
To many, however, the fame of the Red Sea derives from the incomparable beauty of its teeming and unique marine life - 20 percent of its species exist nowhere else - and the rich colors, shapes and textures of its coral reefs.
In recent years, the timeless beauty of the coral has itself attracted attention (See Aramco World, September-October 1980); because they are aware of how vulnerable the coral is, officials in the Red Sea countries have begun to take steps to protect and preserve both the coral and the rich species of marine life that make up this extraordinary ecosystem.
In a sense, this move was ahead of its time. Despite increased tanker traffic to and from the new oil port of Yanbu' and through the busy Suez Canal, the Red Sea is still a relatively remote area; indeed, some areas in the Red Sea are surprisingly untouched by progress.
Nevertheless, threats have increased slightly in the last few years. Industrialization, spreading outwards from the sprawling complex at Yanbu', can always pose a threat and so can tanker traffic, no matter how strict the precautions against pollution. Even the silent beauty of the reefs can pose a problem - by attracting so many divers that the quiet balance of light and sand is upset.
To see what was happening, therefore, Scott Moody, a young aficionado of both the Arabian Gulf and the Red Sea and an underwater photographer with three years' experience in Gulf waters, took a week last summer to explore the reefs off Yanbu' and see what the conditions are like. His report: "I'm very impressed."
"Conditions in the Red Sea," Moody went on, "are far better than in the Gulf." Moody's view, limited to between 20 and 30 miles of coastline near Yanbu', is not a totally valid survey, of course; there are thousands of miles of coral in the Red Sea. But it is a recent inspection by someone who has seen a lot of underwater life: Moody has been exploring the Gulf for six years. And what it suggests - and what these photographs show - is that the famed beauty of the corals is still relatively unspoiled.