The UAE waters host over 1/3 of the world’s 80 species of whales and dolphins, among 700 fish species and four species of turtles, so there’s certainly plenty to see. However, diving in the UAE is a rather hit and miss experience. I’ve dived with a couple of companies here and the experiences have been… varied.
Al Boom, Atlantis, Dubai
If you like sitting underwater in the shadow of the iconic Atlantis hotel, amidst clouds of sand and very little else, then dive here. I did my PADI Open Water here, most of which involved sitting in a chlorinated cold pool in the dark all day. My skin suffered something akin to PTSD following this experience.
The Dive Centre, Dubai Marina
The phrase “all the gear and no idea” comes to mind when a thirty minute boat ride preceded two 40 minute hunts under water for the shipwreck this outfit offers daily tours to. We didn’t find it, or anything else. Ten minutes with a snorkel under the sea at Barasti would have thrown up more wildlife, and an overall better experience.
NOMAD Diving, Mussandam
A very different experience as this company offer unguided tours, so you want to feel comfortable diving before you attempt something like this. Luckily I buddied with a couple of other divers who had done the site a few times. The dive team also serve a delicious pasta lunch and snacks throughout the day, and they also have cheap and cheerful accommodation for anyone looking to make a weekend of it. The only “hassle” is the need for NOMAD to sort you out with a visa, as they are technically based in the patch of Oman between RAK and Fujairah, although being reasonable to them, it’s a pretty straightforward process. Dive sites included Octopus Rock and Lima Rock.
Al Boom, Al Aqah, Fujairah
By far the best and most consistent experiences to date. The crew know what they are doing and depending on the advice of the coast guard dive locations will include Sharm Rock, Martini Rock, and Dibba Rock. Water is provided but take snacks for between dives.
For me I don’t yet own lots of diving equipment, so renting is key. Most places will be able to rent you pretty much anything you need or want to dive with. My personal diving set up is pretty basic but I absolutely adore, and wouldn’t want to dive without, my Suunto D4i Novo dive computer and my Aqua Lung white goggles.
So that’s a quick summary of a few of the UAE diving options, now to the more important question of what are you most likely to see under the sea here in the UAE? Based on my experience alone, and in no particular order, here is a list of things I’ve seen most often.
The Banner Fish, also known as the poor man’s Moorish Idol
The big-faced Trigger Fish – my favourite fish of the region
The oft photographed and mascot of Scuba Diving centres the world over, the Moorish Idol
The almost unreal Powder Blue Surgeon Fish
The always lurking somewhere, Trumpet Fish
Eels – why are they seemingly always so angry?! (and delicious).
The beautiful, but poisonous, Lion Fish
The non-curly tailed seahorse, the Pipefish
The curious Yellow Goatfish – I once found this little guy nibbling my flipper
The beautiful Arabian Angel Fish
The rather square Arabian Box Fish
The striking Arabian Butterfly Fish
The fat-lipped grouper
The look but don’t touch Puffer Fish
The Blue Lined Snapper posing for the camera
The unpopular, with good reason, Jellyfish
The no i in team Silversides
A school of these I do not want to meet – The Barracuda
The easily missed Flatfish
The beautiful big-headed wrasse – another favourite of mine!
The cheeky Clown Fish
The rather odd looking Cuttle Fish
All kinds of fat, thin, small, tall Starfish
And last but not least… Sea Turtles! An extraordinary experience I can’t wait to repeat!
Did I miss any obvious ones out? Let me know!
And lastly, if you want a different look at our underwater wildlife, then take a look at these beautiful illustrations of the fish of the United Arab Emirates. This beautiful images are 1960s and 1970s postage stamps from Ajman, Umm Al Quwain, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras Al Khaimh and Fujairah. Now, I’m no stamp collector, but I would love a frame with all…. or some, OK all of these.