For our latest instalment, we’re leaving the coastline behind and taking the plunge with the UAE’s expert divers, who split their days between the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, to find out the country's best diving spots.
Making fishy friends in Fujairah
It’s famed for its legendary diving spots and diverse marine life, which is why, for Darryl Owen, managing director and founder of Freestyle Divers, nowhere compares to Fujairah for diving in the UAE.
“Dibba Rock is the oldest marine-protected area in the UAE and it’s probably the most biodiverse in the region,” Owen says. “There are some incredible coral reefs down there and lots of marine diversity from blacktip sharks and reef fish right down to little crabs and octopus.
“The dives there range from about five metres to 16 metres deep so it’s a good one for all abilities.”
Less than five minutes away from Dibba Rock lies Dibba Artificial Reef, and what Padi divemaster Jean-Michel Moriniere believes is the most fascinating dive site in UAE waters.
“I’ve been exploring Dibba Artificial Reef every weekend for the last six months and every time I visit I see something new,” says Moriniere, a lawyer and lecturer. “I’ve seen more marine life there than anywhere else, including large schools of fish, huge hunting fish, turtles, stingrays, giant pufferfish and groups of barracudas during winter.
“It’s a site in the open sea with a flat sandy bottom and you’ll dive to about 10 to 15 metres, depending on the tide.”
Only 15 kilometres up the coast from Dibba Rock lies Al Aqah and the jumping off point for Gunther’s Wreck, a rusting Nazi submarine that was sunk by a British light bomber during the Second World War. The wreck is named after the submarine’s only survivor, Gunther Schmidt, who bobbed in heavy seas for more than a day before making it to shore only to be taken prisoner.
“Gunther’s Wreck is about 24 metres deep and you'll still find a lot of metal structures down there,” says Owen. “Much of the wreckage has now been claimed by the ocean and within these structures you’ll also find plenty of angelfish, moray eels and seahorses.”
Take a dip in Dubai
About 45 minutes from the bustling shores of Palm Jumeirah in Dubai sits another shipwreck, Zainab Wreck, which is a cherished diving spot for Kelly Timmins, director of conservation, education and CSR at Atlantis, The Palm.
“I always find diving at shipwrecks truly fascinating,” says Timmins, a Padi master diving instructor. “Not only can you swim inside and around the wreckage itself, but these structures fast become home to a wide variety of marine plants and animals.
“One of my favourites is the sunken wreck of Zainab, originally known as The Seasroun Five, which was once an oil transporter that lies just off the coast of Dubai.”
The wreck sits 30 metres beneath the surface and is a haunting glimpse into the past, though it is also a haven for sea life today.
“One of my favourite parts of this dive is jumping in the water and swimming down to the wreck itself, where you’re often surrounded by yellowtail barracuda,” says Timmins. “They are long, narrow-shaped fish with bright yellow tails and a fierce look about them, but they are really beautiful.”
A little further off the coast at about 70 kilometres from Dubai lies Moon Island, another of Timmins’s favourite spots, which takes about 90 minutes to reach by boat.
“Moon Island is a quiet dive site shaped like a crescent moon,” explains Timmins, who heads up the Atlantis Atlas Project, which helps to protect wildlife around the globe. “The dive itself is easy to navigate as you just swim around the island’s walls.”
In terms of marine life, Timmins says you can see blackspot stingrays and honeycomb moray eels.
“The diving here is great, but the best part of my last trip was on the way back when we were fortunate enough to see a pod of around 20 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins.
“It was something I’ll never forget.”
Swimming with sharks in Sharjah
Shark Island is located off the Khor Fakkan coast of Sharjah and is a must-visit for divers, according to shark lover Timmins.
“This is where I saw my first blacktip reef shark in the UAE,” Timmins says. “It cruised past me at around 10 metres and it was incredible.
“I see sharks every day on my way to work when I walk past the Ambassador Lagoon, but there is nothing quite like spotting these sharks in the wild.”
The dive is relatively shallow, with maximum depths of about 16 metres, so divers won’t have to go to murky depths to come nose to nose with the ocean’s predators.
“Around 37 per cent of the world's sharks and rays are considered endangered, so whenever I see any shark species I feel incredibly fortunate,” Timmins adds. “I’ve also spotted fascinating tube-dwelling anemones in the area, which have long, flowing tentacles that retract quickly if you swim close to them.”
A stone’s throw away from Shark Island lies the sleepy seaside town of Khor Fakkan, which is the resting site of yet another shipwreck, Inchcape 2.
The boat was deliberately sunk in 2002 to act as an artificial coral reef, forming the perfect site for budding explorers, including Moriniere.
“You can enter the wreck easily and explore the soft coral at about 20 metres down,” he says. “You then exit through a different part of the ship past moray eels, lionfish, torpedo rays and colourful sea slugs.
“There’s so much to see in UAE waters,” he says. “I’d urge everyone to give it a try, though your first time definitely won’t be your last.”
Seven top UAE diving spots:
- Dibba Rock, Fujairah
- Dibba Artificial Reef, Fujairah
- Gunther's Wreck, Fujairah
- Zainab Wreck, Dubai
- Moon Island, Dubai
- Shark Island, Sharjah
- Inchcape 2, Sharjah