Time Out goes for a dive in the Gulf waters of Bahrain
In the pre oil days, pearls were the primary source of income for the locals, and Bahrain was the main trader of the rare commodity, supplying a staggering 80 per cent of the world’s market.While Bahrain’s economy is no longer based on pearling in particular, natural pearls are still collected from the island’s oyster beds, and adventurous types can dive for their own.
Although a number of oyster beds close to shore have been damaged or destroyed by oil spillages and land reclamation, more than 1,000 sq km of fertile oyster beds still flourish in the warm waters further afield. If you fancy following in the footsteps of Gilgamesh (the King of Uruk credited with making man’s first recorded dive in history in Bahrain circa 5750 BC) and diving for the so-called ‘flowers of immortality’ yourself, then it’s a good idea to get in touch with dynamic duo Rob Gregory and Robin Bugeja. The unstoppable verbal force take people out to the pearl grounds of Bahrain. Pearl diving is serious business to Rob; the fair dinkum Aussie has been diving the waters for 34 years, and was the first westerner to dive for Bahraini pearls. The pearl diving programme not only takes people out diving, but also offers an insight into the biology and ecology of the pearl oyster, the value of marine ecosystems and the importance of conservation. The boats they use never anchor on the vulnerable pearl beds, but instead just drift, ensuring minimal environmental impact.
The pearl grounds are relatively accessible, being 45 minutes by fast boats from the shore. The depths of the pearl oysters is typically between five and 20m, so you don’t need to be a diver to have a go. Conditions are generally excellent all year round, with water temperatures ranging from approximately 24°C in summer to 20°C in winter.
The chance of finding oyster shells containing pearls is rated as high as 60 per cent, and only in Bahrain are divers allowed to hunt for pearls and keep what they find. Rob has seen a few valuable finds since taking visitors diving: ‘A visitor in 1999 found and sold a pearl for over BD8,000 and last year there was a find valued at BD4,000,’ he told Time Out. For the most part, though, punters don’t cash their pearls in ‘because it’s something they found themselves and gives tremendous sentimental value to the product. They usually have them made into jewellery.’ Many of Rob and Robin’s customers are couples looking to commemorate their 30th wedding anniversary aka their pearl wedding; as gimmicks go, Time Out thinks it’s a great one.
The PADI Pearl Diver course typically costs around BD70 for two dives. Price includes the boat trip and hire of equipment, a theory programme – teaching of the history and ecology, so you know what to look for – as well as PADI certification upon completion. Diving conditions are good all year around, but you must be over 10 years of age to dive. For more information on pearl diving, contact Robin on 396 71748 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.