Hot Tips: Scuba Diving in the Persian Gulf

The Persian Gulf, located at the northern point of the Arabian Ocean, is a vital part of the ocean system. Since the Gulf of Oman separates the Persian Gulf from the ocean itself, with Saudi Arabia on one coast and eastern Asia bordering the other, it could almost be called a “private” gulf for Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Kuwait City is perched at the top of the Gulf, and the twinkling “instant city” of Dubai is at the southern end (in the U.A.E.).

The waters may not always be as crystal-clear as the tropical dive sites you’re used to, but the sheer sense of adventure makes scuba diving the Persian Gulf well worth the effort.

Why is the Persian Gulf so special? First off: It’s possessing of a certain untouched loveliness. The balmy ocean waters that flow into the Persian Gulf are clean and full of plankton, feeding over 900 species of fish. Dive shops in the Middle East will take you out among pristine reefs and wrecks that support abundant aquatic life.

Secondly: there are no underwater crowds. Even though the gulf itself is only 650 miles long, the dive sites feel remarkably “secret.” Considering the relatively small, manageable size of the region (many divers take the opportunity to dive several sites in one trip), it’s surprising that these incredible sites aren’t teeming with divers.

If you’re ready for some desertside diving, check out a few of our favorite dive sites in the Persian Gulf:

1. Bahrain: The tiny island of Bahrain is an excellent place to start your Middle Eastern adventure, with its wide expanses of coral reef and frequent sightings of white-tip sharks. But be warned — if you start here, you might enjoy it so much that you’ll stay! You may even pay for your scuba diving vacation while you’re underwater: As the ocean floor is literally covered with oysters, the Bahrain government allows divers to collect as many shells as they can carry (along with all the pearls they find).

2. Saudi Arabia: The wreck of the Boiler is the most popular dive spot in Suadi Arabia, and for good reason! To get to the wreck, you’ll actually swim through a coral-encrusted tunnel — a commuter route for reef sharks, snappers and goatfish. These and many more colorful reef fish now staff the sunken vessel, makign it a bustling artificial reef.

3. Oman: Whether you’re toodling around inside the wreck of the Al Munassir or circumnavigating the Muscat islands, Oman will impress you. The waters around Oman are home to 85 genera of both hard and soft corals (including the elusive black and teddy-bear corals). You’ll see enormous table corals, too! Dive sites in Oman host almost a thousand species of fish — from the diminutive cleaner wrasse to the hulking whale shark.

4. Musandum Peninsula: Musandam, right above the U.A.E., overflows with marine life. There are 30 established dive sites within proximity. Stringent fishing restrictions put in place by the Sultanate of Oman mean that you’ll enjoy hundreds of species of spectaular fish (as well as frequent sightings of sharks and rays). Expect dive shops in the Musandum Peninsula to provide you with a huge glut of options when you arrive, based on the current conditions, and your input will tailor the experience.

5. MV Dara: When the MV Dara sank in 1961, 238 of its passengers went down with it. The remains of that gruesome day — a massive man-made reef — are now patrolled by turtles, batfish, snapper, rays, angelfish, barracuda and moray eels. (If you’re queasy, don’t worry: there are no public accounts of divers coming across human remains within the site.)

6. Kish Islands: Awesome diving! You’ll find a ship wreck, pinnacles and coral reefs with water depth up to 33 meters. Even with all this on-hand, it’s entirely possible that you’ll see no other divers. Angelfish, stingrays, turtles, barracuda, reef sharks…the list of occupants goes on and on. It’s no wonder that the Kish Islands are often called “The Pearls of the Persian Gulf.”

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