Around the world, diving is a Dhs11 billion industry, and one that the Emirates seem more and more keen to get a slice of. Despite its rich pearl-diving heritage, sandy coast and open seas, Dubai isn’t a natural choice for divers. Instead many find themselves heading for the likes of Fujairah and the Omani enclave of Dibba to explore the abundance of marine life swirling around rocky outposts and islands. But despite the incredible footage you may have seen of cage diving with great whites off Mexico’s Guadalupe Island or hammerheads in the Galapagos, scuba diving isn’t always an adrenaline sport. Many divers will tell you that gently swimming around, breathing rhythmically and eyeballing grumpy-looking moray eels is the ultimate way to unwind and de-stress after a frenetic week in the office. So, fancy tootling along the seabed alongside a green turtle? We reveal where and how to do just that in the UAE.
Where to learn
In order to explore the seas fully, you’ll need to get certified. Here are just a few places to do a course in Dubai
Al Boom Diving
This established diving company offers a full range of PADI-regulated courses, from junior sessions to rescue and master diver. Most people will begin with a standard Open Water diver certification, which, when successfully completed, allows you to dive as deep as 18 metres. Anyone over the age of ten can take the course, and those under 15 get a junior certification, which has a few more restrictions to keep them safe. Pool practical sessions, theory and the first two open water dives are completed at the company’s Atlantis The Palm centre, while the third and fourth (to complete the course) take place at Le Meridien Al Aqah Beach Resort in Fujairah.
Open water diver course Dhs2,350. Atlantis The Palm, Palm Jumeirah, www.alboomdiving.com (04 342 2993).
Based in both Dubai and Fujairah (at the Miramar Resort & Spa Al Aqah) this diving company has been in business since 2002 and offers full PADI-certified courses, with teaching conducted in a maximum class size of six. As well as classroom lessons, there’s also the option to do your theory through an eLearning (online) course before taking part in your practical open water dives.
eLearning open water course from Dhs1,900, regular open water course Dhs2,500. Riva Beach Club, Shoreline Apartments, Palm Jumeirah, www.diversdownuae.com (04 422 8346).
Head to Dibba to learn with the friendly, professional instructors at this small diving company. One of the best things about learning in this part of the east coast is that you’ll get to do your first practical dives in some of the clearest and most interesting waters in the region. Since lessons are typically taught in small groups, you’ll get some great one-to-one instruction. As it’s a two-hour drive from Dubai and a small border cross, you’ll be pleased to note that Nomad also offers guest house accommodation – it’s no-frills, but clean, and extremely welcome after a busy day in the sea.
eLearning open water course from Dhs1,500 (accommodation additional Dhs400), private open water course Dhs2,500. Dibba, www.discovernomad.com (+968 2683 6069).
Where to explore
Al Boom Diving reveals the country’s top diving spots off the coast of Fujairah
This is an amazing shallow site covered with soft and hard corals with plenty of passages between the rocky outcrops to explore, sloping down to around 15 metres. The swim-through is in shallow water with a few entry and exit points. The largest entrance is around two metres wide and the swim-through is close to ten metres long. Expect a large variety of fish and lots of them, along with turtles, rays, morays, and more.
An artificial reef covered in a variety of soft and hard corals, this site was created by purposely sinking a boat to make a home for a plethora of marine life. She lies at around 32 metres and is probably one of Fujairah’s most favoured deep sites. On a day with good visibility, this site can really be enjoyed by photographers. See some of the honeycomb morays that call this wreck home, along with plenty of boxfish, fusiliers, barracuda, filefish, travelli, lionfish and many more.
This spot gets its name from the shape of the rocky pinnacles that are up to 22 metres below the surface, which resemble a drinks glass on its side. The pinnacles are coloured with a variety of corals and you can expect to see cuttlefish, nudibranchs, fusiliers, triggerfish, lionfish, scorpionfish, pufferfish, snappers, broomtail wrasse, morays, turtles and rays. Beware of the usual suspects on the east coast, such as lionfish, urchins, scorpionfish and occasionally jellyfish. If you’re lucky, you might see a whale shark close to the surface or a zebra shark on the sandy bottom.
Also known as Three Rocks Pinnacles or Three Sisters, water conditions are normally very calm, and that, combined with it being shallow, makes it ideal for all levels of diver and even snorkellers, as well as for night dives. The rocks are covered in soft corals and anemones (with clownfish) and provide a home for an abundance of marine life. Divers can expect five to 20 metres visibility and to see turtles, filefish, boxfish, morays, pufferfish, barracuda, shrimps, yellow snappers, cuttlefish, pipefish and many more. Stingrays can also be spotted on the sandy outskirts of the dive site, and if you’re lucky, you may get to see blacktip reef sharks or whale sharks. Watch out for urchins, lionfish, stonefish and scorpionfish.
Named after the cartoon character, Snoopy Island is a fantastic, easily accessible site that’s good for all levels of diver, especially beginners or divers who haven’t dived in a while, since they can refresh their skills in the shallow waters here. This is also a favourite for snorkellers and for night dives, since you’ll see a lot of critter activity. Keep an eye out for turtles as well as anemones with clownfish, and hard and soft corals, which provide a home for an abundance of marine life.
Are you a diver or looking to become one? Join this global community, which raises awareness and holds events in more than 180 countries, all designed to protect the underwater world. The two major issues that form the core of the organisation’s objectives are sharks in peril and marine debris (or rubbish in the sea). Regular clean-ups are organised by smaller factions of the community in locations around the world, while campaigners lobby governments in countries around the world to change rules regarding sharks and fishing.
The Pearl of Dubai
The world’s largest underwater theme park is being planned for installation off the coast of Dubai. Located in shallow water near The World Islands, the concept won’t feature slides and lazy rivers, but rather structures resembling The Lost City of Atlantis, designed to attract marine life and provide a sustainable underwater tourism site for snorkellers and scuba divers. Set across five acres, the look of the project has been inspired by films such as Pirates of the Caribbean and Avatar, according to developer Reef Worlds, a Los Angeles-based underwater tourism design company. No date has yet been given for the park’s completion.