Diving in United Arab Emirates, in the land of black gold, Gulf of Arabia
Who did not hear about UAE and its capital " Abu Dhabi », With its incredible infrastructures, its Formula 1 Grand Prix or even Dubai and its luxury hotels or its shopping centers with aquarium and its indoor ski slope. This Middle Eastern country borders Saudi Arabia to the west and Oman to the east. It is bordered by the Arabian-Persian Gulf and by the Gulf of Oman, which is part of the Indian Ocean. This state is made up of 80% desert and 20% mountains.
When is it diving in this country that ranks in the top 10 of world oil producers.
Based in Abu Dhabi for several years, I was able to discover and explore the seabed of a country that has remained discreet about its underwater riches.
You will understand that this article can not describe and list all the species that I have met in addition to 9 years of diving in the United Arab Emirates. It is only intended to share with you some of my observations and discoveries in these tropical waters.
As I mentioned, the UAE has the distinction of being surrounded by two seas: the Gulf of Arabia and the Gulf of Oman. The Gulf of Arabia is a semi-enclosed sea with the Strait of Hormuz as its only opening. It is a unique sea due to its characteristics. Indeed, it has a higher degree of salinity than most other seas and oceans. Its temperature can drop to around 17 ° C in winter and reach over 34 ° C in summer. Despite these difficult conditions, various corals, sponges and other algae have found their place in this sea which at first glance hostile. All these creatures will amaze you with their colors, their shape and their diversity. The seabed is mostly composed of sand but on both sides reefs, faults and small caves are also present. Among these sandbanks, at depths ranging from 2 to 7 meters, large fields of algae provide a food area for a good number of fish and other mammals.
The dugong :
Little known to the general public, the UAE has the second largest population of dugongs in the world. These shy animals can meet around the capital Abu Dhabi but especially further west in a marine sanctuary called Marawah and around the island of Bu Tinah. They often move in groups that may have several dozen individuals. It is easier to find them by very calm sea because they are very good freedivers and very good swimmers. They are very timid and sink under the surface of the water at the slightest sound.
Marine turtles :
These animals also benefit from these stretches of seaweed among which they find an easy food. You can observe all year round green turtles and hawksbill turtles. The latter remain near the coast and it is not uncommon to cross them on the surface or even diving.
The Dolphins :
In the waters of the gulf, you will also quite easily see the common dolphin usually spending a few minutes in the waves of your boat. The Humpback Dolphin is more timid and will only approach a certain distance from your boat before sliding to the bottom to reappear where you won't see it. These two species of dolphins can be observed all year round.
The mangrove :
Abu Dhabi has many mangrove areas. They are nurseries for many fish and birds. Red carp, grouper, emperor or even sea bream are just some of the fish species that know how to take advantage of these protected areas to grow and then reach the open sea when they reach adult size.
Marine bird species include flamingos, blue egrets, bitterns and many other species of plovers. The Osprey or eagle fisherman is often perched on the various posts that mark the channels. He waits patiently for a garfish or other fish to stay on the surface long enough to dive on it and make it a feast of the day.
The waters of the gulf are very loaded with particles and micro algae which make the latter often greenish. Despite everything, life is very present. A wide variety of hard corals grow very well, on any medium such as a wreck, a dike or just a rock. "Madrepore" corals, corals in the shape of a ball or a brain, are very numerous. They have very varied designs and colors that can range from brown to fluorescent green. The sectional coral of the genus turbinaria, is quite common. It is not uncommon to see beautiful specimens over two feet in diameter. This coral is, like many other corals, very fragile and is unfortunately often destroyed by boat anchors.
Corals of the style Acropora », Branch coral or deer's horn, are sometimes visible over large areas. Again, when you move above or between these magnificent structures, the rule is not to touch them for fear of breaking a branch. Do not hesitate to stop for a few moments on one of them to observe the different shrimps, crabs and juvenile fish which find in these branches a very effective refuge.
The sponge family is present in the waters of the Gulf despite high salinity and consequent variations in temperature. Their diversity and color will surprise you. The gray sponge (Dysidea sp.) quite common shoot in the form of a tubular ball of gray or violet color. Its generally reasonable size can go up to the size of a melon. Other species grow crawling and can cover whole rocks and other unnatural objects. These are bright red or yellow will bring color to wide angle shots.
During your dives, if you move near sandbanks, you will probably find the big carpet anemones (Stichodactyla haddoni). These anemones of circular forms have very short tentacles. They can reach 40 to 50 cm in diameters. Their tentacle bed serves as a refuge for a very colorful shrimp species, the peacock-tailed shrimp (Periclimens brevicarpalis). If you don't see her walking through the heart of the anemone, remember the location and come back a few weeks later: a couple will probably take up residence there during this time.
Another anemone present in the waters of Abu Dhabi is called the bubble anemone (Entacmaea quadricolor). This, unlike the carpet anemone, has long tentacles with a small bole at their end. The only clownfish in the Gulf of Arabia (Amphiprion clarkii) often shelters in the latter. In places, I observed small colonies of anemones spread over a few tens of meters. It is always a pleasure to contemplate for a few moments the clown fish go out and enter the tentacles that dance with the current. They are in fact immune to the venom that the anemone secretes and therefore find in the anemone, a refuge where no one can enter.
The sea stars :
During my multiple dives, I was able to find two kinds of starfish. One bicolor, dark blue and light brown has a standard shape with 6 arm 6 8 cm long. It is found on open rocks. The second (Astrerina burtoni) is, on the other hand, more discreet. She goes out at night and hides under small rock. It is hexagonal in shape with small arms and is light gray in color.
The shells :
Seashells of various shapes and sizes are also common in Abu Dhabi waters. Moreover, the waters of the Gulf have been renowned for their abundance of pearl oysters in the past. Fishing and the sale of pearls were the main economic activity and this allowed the population to live from the sale of pearls. In places and on large expanses of sand, it is not uncommon to come across packs of pearl oysters. The mastery of oyster culture in Pacific waters lowered market prices and saw the end of pearl oyster fishing in Abu Dhabi waters in the 1940s.
In faults or in small cavities, different bi- valves of orange or red color, filter the water all day long. Their lips with very colorful patterns and random drawings move at the rhythm of the current like sails. If you look in more detail in the crevices, you will also see a shell covered with seaweed that moves gently. Do not be fooled, it's actually saron shrimp, (Saron marmoratus), which, to its camouflage, often goes unnoticed by a good number of divers. Similarly, the red shrimp caves (Cinetorhynchus hendersoni) knows how to be even more discreet, not coming out completely until night falls. Just as unsuspected, In the most unsuspected faults, the red porcelain crab (Neopetrlisthes sp.), haunts the smallest faults in the thickness of a piece of 1 Euros. He filters the water with his antennae dedicated to this task, to collect the plankton, his favorite food.
Under the sand, many small shells wait for the night to go out in search of food. The dollar of sands, (Clypeaster subdepressus), easily follows the track. Indeed, it is just below the surface of the sand leaving behind a trail like a blister. If you are lucky, you will find the famous Venus Comb, (Murex pecten) often inhabited by a Bernard the Hermit.
The fish :
Diving on these large expanses of sand may seem boring, but by scrutinizing them, we discover that this environment is home to many creatures. During my numerous dives on the outskirts of the capital, I have come across many unsuspected creatures. For example, well hidden under the sand, the flathead crocodile fish, (Platycephalidae sp.), can reach more than 40 cm long.
More difficult to observe, the uranoscope (Uranoscope sp.) is waiting for his prey, buried under the sand and revealing only his eyes. Multiple species of burrowing goby can be observed for several minutes. To name but a few, Luther's goby (Cryptocentrus lutheri), the butterfly goby (Amblygobius albimaculatus) or the six-point goby (Valenciennea sexguttata) are among the most beautiful and easiest to find. These fish are always with their best companion, the pistole shrimp, (Alpheus bellulus). The complicity that exists between these two species is very interesting to contemplate a few minutes.
For avid macro photography divers, the underwater life of the Gulf waters also possess a wide variety of sea slugs. Flabellina is common especially on wrecks and other artificial structures. Their robes covered with long fingers undulate according to the current. Hypselodoris infucata very colorful knows how to be discreet and difficult to see. Very common, the Chromodoris annulata moves very slowly and is often motionless on a wall sheltered from light.
Recently, and with the help of my friend, sea slug specialist, Stewart CLARKE, I observed a kind of slug of the genus costasiella. The latter measuring no more than 1 cm, is always found on the same species of seaweed.
Sea snakes :
Swimming on the surface for breathing or swimming between two waters, the Arabian Gulf sea snake (Hydrophis lamemoides) is very common. It meets all year round. He is not very shy but still do not try to catch him because he has a very powerful venom. Its teeth are located at the back of its mouth, and can therefore only bite fine parts of the body. It is often possible to observe it foraging for its favorite food: gobies. Indeed, the snake swims while sniffing the ground and does not hesitate to enter the goby holes in the sand. It happened to me to surprise a snake with its body half entered in a burrow.
The rays :
Winter is the best season to observe stingrays, which are said to come to breed in the shallow waters around Abu Dhabi. The most commonly encountered species of rays are four in number.
First, the butterfly ray (Gymnura poecilura) is probably the most common. Buried or just put on the sand, it will be approached without much problem if you take it from afar.
Its unusual shape, wider than it is long, seems to give it large wings that it will undulate while swimming.
Larger and in rhomboid form, the leopard ray (Himantura uarnak) is easily recognizable with its spotted black dress. Posed on the sand like her cousin butterfly, she will surely surprise you during her flight, when she waved her long tail like a whip that splits the water.
Similarly, the Eagle Ray (Aetobatus narinari) is also quite common in Gulf waters. She is a great swimmer who is always as majestic to contemplate when swimming between two waters without effort and often in small groups.
Finally, the Great Cow-calf (Pastinachus sephen) occurs in all kinds of biotopes; sands, reef and algae field. It can grow tall and look clumsy, but do not be fooled by it. If she is disturbed, she will disappear very quickly leaving only a cloud of sand behind her.
Apart from these 4 rays fairly common in the waters around Abu Dhabi, you may have the chance to cross also the torpedo ray (Torpedo sinuspersici), the Duck Skate (Pteromylaeus bovinus) and the Jenkin's whipstitch line (Jenkin's whipray).
Also in the shallow waters, at the beginning of sandy bottoms and large expanses of seaweed, the guitar line (Rhinobatos granulatus) is often in a walk. Try to approach it gently to one side and it may leave you to watch it for a moment. Very fast, she can distance you quickly while continuing her way. In addition, it is possible to see the mouth-to-bow guitar line (Rhina ancylostoma). Being able to reach more than 2 meters, this line is all the time moving and rests only very rarely. It is therefore difficult to observe it at length and its encounters are often very short.
The Sharks :
Many sharks are also present in the Gulf Sea and are observable in the first 10 meters. The black tip shark (Cacharhinus melanopterus), the leopard shark (Stegostoma fasciatum) or the gray shark (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) are among the most common.
On the other hand, if you look well below large rocks or in small crevices, you will surely find a very discreet and completely harmless shark: the bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium arabicum). This little brown shark with a length of 60 70 cm sits most of the time, well hidden under the corals. With a similar appearance to the nurse shark, it feeds exclusively on crabs and other small crustaceans and shells.
Like all tropical seas, it is possible to see the largest fish in the world. In fact, the Gulf of Arabia is home to a large population of whale sharks (Rhinocon typus). This is why it is not uncommon to cross their path during your boat trips. Every year, the newspapers even report that some are even seen in the marinas of Abu Dhabi and Dubai swimming quietly along the quays!
The fish :
Many species of fish present in the Gulf, are identical to the Indian Ocean. Nevertheless, they are less important because some species do not support the very high salinity in the Gulf.
Nevertheless, you will be surprised at the amount of fish you will encounter during your dives. In particular, the Malabar grouper (Epinephelus malabaricus) and the yellowtail grouper (Cephalopholis hemistiktos) adapts to all biotopes in the area.
Without quoting them all, several kinds of cardinal fish (Apogon), hide in the faults or even in branches of madreporic corals. Around the corals, fish with large point lips (Plectorhinchus gaterinus) or brown (Plectorhinchus schotal) swim in groups gently, without excitement.
Very common, blue angel fish with yellow bar (Pomacanthus maculosus) is found in all types of backgrounds. Juveniles of a metallic blue color with white lines, are very active and do not stop swimming around their rock which shelters them against the predators. Damselfly fish are also commonly encountered during dives. The maid of Arabia (Pomacentrus arabicus) and the reticulated lady (Pomacentrus trichourus) are very curious and very much like to observe the intruders who come to the edge of their territory.
In the family of butterfly fish, the butterflyfish (Chaetodon nigropunctatus) is the most common Gulf water. Solitary or living in a small group, this very active little fish likes branched corals in which it can hide easily. This behavior is acquired during his youth because in the juvenile state, the latter remains hidden in these corals.
It is also possible to meet the Arabian butterfly fish (Chaetodon melapterus). Very easily identifiable thanks to its yellow / orange color, it brings like a burst of fire among the rocks and other corals. He is still in a couple and swims quickly in zigzag in search of his food.
The Blue Tailed Chest (Ostracion cyanurus) meets from time to time and knows how to sneak quickly under the rocks despite his clumsy swimming, to come out via another issue. On the sand bottoms, the point chest fish (Arothron stellatus), seems to him sleeping at the bottom. But do not be fooled because if you approach him too close, he will flee slowly but surely.
As you can see, the waters of the Gulf are full of beauties of the fauna and flora to discover and they reserve you very beautiful meetings.
I think that much remains to be discovered and explored and despite the years spent diving here, I continue to make fabulous encounters. So do not hesitate to soak your mask and fins during a scuba diving or a tour in PMT.
In reference :
- Reef Fishes, UAE and Gulf of Oman, Richard F. Field.
- Sharks and Rays, Elasmobranch guide of the world by Ralf M. Hennemann.