©2020 by Molluscan Science Foundation

The wreck of the MV Turkia in the Gulf of Suez

In September 2014, we set off from Hurghada in Egypt to explore the southern half of the Gulf of Suez. Our aim was to use mixed gases to reach depths of 70 to 90 m, for the collecting of shell-grit. Another goal was to do the first collecting of shells ever made in and around the wreck of the MV Turkia, a 91 m long freighter that sank in the Gulf in 1941. This wreck has been re-discovered only recently and is not frequented by leisure divers as the MV Thistlegorm in the south of the Sinai Peninsula. It lies at 24 m and offers ideal conditions for divers, and for shells.

In terms of its malacofauna, the Gulf of Suez is a poorly investigated area and the two-week trip yielded numerous malacological surprises. On the way north, past the busy tourist-town of Hurghada, passing numerous oil-platforms, we reached an area where we found three small shipwrecks in shallow water. These had a rich fauna of cowries, especially the Red Sea Mauritia grayana and a large-shelled Lyncina, which was tentatively identified as leviathan titan. However, closer study of the shells reveals differences from populations found in the Indo-Pacific. The evaluation of this material is currently in progress.

The cowries found inside wrecks may show an aberrant color caused by rust incorporated in the outer nacre of the shells. Some of this "rusty color" indeed originates from iron oxide directly incorporated from the surroundings, but in other cases, the iron is taken in with the food and metabolized to a complex molecule which changes its color from red to greenish when exposed to ultraviolet light. The chemical processes that take place in this metabolic conversion are completely unknown. We hope that as our efforts continue, we will be able to address this phenomenon, as well as other factors that cause aberrations in Cypraeid shells.