Saturday, June 23, 2018

Turtles, Rays, Batfish, and Honeycomb Morays at the Aquarium, Daymaniyat Islands, Oman

Logged dives #1589-1590

Diving was cancelled Friday due to bad weather, but had cleared enough by Saturday June 23 to make for a pleasant day out from Global Scuba in Al Azeiba, just behind the airport at Seeb near Muscat where I shot these videos mostly on the Aquarium reef in the protected Daymaniyat Island chain.

This might have been my last chance to dive the Daymaniyats, something I have done often before. When we pulled up to the Aquarium anchorage, the boatman pointed to the water nearby and said there was a whale shark there. On most boats I've been on the boat would have gone over there and let us all snorkel with it, but our guide proceeded with anchoring the boat on the site. I figured we'd see the whale shark once we were in the water, but our guide made a fundamental error. He entered the water to check the current, and reported back that it was "small". However, when I entered the water, I found it was big, and I had to make a deliberate effort to fin myself to the anchor line and hang on. 

When I am in charge, I often enter the water without scuba, just as our guide did, to check the current, and when I detect one, I make a point to tell all the divers to go directly to the anchor line and hang on there, in order to prevent what happened next. My buddy entered the water after me, found himself in current, and tried to descend in it. However he was under-weighted and being unable to descend, was getting swept astern from us. The boatman should have thrown him a tag line, or been standing by to assist divers with any weight problems, but the boatman had entered the water with the mother of one of the divers, who had paid for a snorkel trip, so there was no one on the boat. I ascended back up the anchor line and got my buddy's attention and got him to swim to me at the surface and take my extended hand. I pulled his to the anchor line where he was then able to pull himself to the bottom, but by then all the exertion had cost him a lot of air, and buoyancy issues took a lot of what remained

There were three of us in our group. The third was a young lady beginning diver and the guide was essentially monitoring her (her mother had joined as the snorkeler). The Aquarium is a shallow reef about 6 or 7 meters at its top with walls to the north and sloping coral to the south. In order to manage this group, our guide opted to take us to the shallow side of the reef away from the wall where whale sharks like to hang out. As you can see in the video we enjoyed a lot of fish life as we rounded the reef and came up the other side. At one point I saw a marble ray at about 20 meters and popped down to it, but from there we spiraled back up to the top where at 35 minutes into the dive we had to send my buddy up the anchor line. The guide then led us back down the shallow part of the reef but returned us to the anchor line at 45 minutes because the young lady was low on air. I showed him my gauge with 110 bar remaining. He signaled me to swim around the top of the reef, so I stayed down.

I understood that the guide would accompany the young lady on her safety stop on the line, and I expected he would come back to join me, but after some time I realized he was not returning. I had been wandering around the reef top enjoying the mesmerizing schools of batfish with mackerel circling overhead, the huge honeycomb morays, and turtles, and when I eventually left the reef top I found cuttlefish, sting rays, and a scorpion fish in the plateau below. Being alone I didn't want to push out to the walls and risk not being able to return to the boat in the current, but having a chance to thoroughly explore the top of the reef as the only diver on the site was a rare opportunity, and a unique way to dive the Aquarium, as you can see in the videos.

Map credit, Teresa Zubi (2013):

Our second dive was at Guno's Trace, but visibility was poor there, compared to the clarity of the Aquarium. We found more turtles, rays, and honeycomb morays, and I included some of those videos in the one I posted to YouTube. I didn't take all that many. My camera battery was barely holding out, and I was using it abstemiously in case we came across a zebra shark (which we didn't). Still it was a lovely day out diving.

Cat saga

Bobbi and I had an unusual reason for going to Muscat that weekend. We are leaving UAE, and we have been able to find no one where we live in Al AIn to offer a happy home to our gentle cat. The fact that most people we know are leaving soon for their summer holidays makes it inconvenient for them to take on a pet when they are anticipating being away for a month's vacation. However our son Dusty and his wife Michelle offered to come and get the cat and take him back to Doha with them. 

Since Donald Trump's visit to KSA a little over a year ago, followed closely by the Saudi and other GCC countries announcing a blockade of Qatar, there has been no direct contact between UAE and Doha, making it difficult and expensive for us to see our children and grandchildren there. Oman has profited from this state of affairs in the year since the blockade was imposed since anything going from UAE to Qatar has to include a detour through a neutral country such as Oman, Kuwait, or Ethiopia (take your pick). Qurum Vet Clinic in Muscat has been able to capitalize on this by expediting shipment of pets between the two countries. It's expensive, but Dusty and Michelle offered to pick up the tab from their end and in response to such a gesture of concern and affection for our cat Lars (a.k.a. Lardy Bardy or simply Puddy Tat) we reciprocated by having the cat vaccinated, taken by a vet in Al Ain to the UAE border and back for paperwork and health check prior to our driving him ourselves to over the same border after work on Thursday and into Oman, where we had to import him (2.5 hours at the border and 400 dirhams in fees) and then drive him to Muscat where Dusty and Michelle had taken an apartment and were waiting for us with our grandson Kai, whom we hadn't seen since last Christmas. We used used to see both our sons and both grandchildren often when Doha was just a 45 minute flight away from UAE airports.

The rest of the family were unable to make it on Saturday when I was finally able to go diving. Michelle was returning that afternoon to Doha with Kai and needed to be at the airport before my boat would return to base. Dusty would not have been able to do more than one dive since he was flying later that night, and he needed to help Michelle organize last minute documents for the cat and take here to the airport, and Bobbi opted to maximize her Bibi-time with Kai. So it was only me to pitch up at Global Scuba for the trip to the Aquarium and Guno's Trace, where I took the above videos.

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My reply: 

Vance Stevens It's a problem everywhere. We've been diving in this area for 30 years. Oman and UAE used to have truly remarkable corals last century, but construction on the coastlines and encroachment of fishermen even in protected areas, their decimation of shark populations, impact from shipping (bilge flotsam turns up on beaches) plus the impact of major storms and red tide (which in turn is a global warming issue) have all caused significant deterioration in what divers can still enjoy here.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Diving Dibba Rock and Musandam with Freestyle Divers based in Dibba, Fujairah

Logged dives #1586-1588

It's been a year now since our good buddy Chris Chellapermal closed up Nomad Ocean Adventure just north of the border between UAE and Oman and sold his operations there and in Dibba, Fujairah, to Darryl and Marine Owen, who restored the name Freestyle to the dive center originally established at the Royal Beach Hotel by our good dive-buddies Terry and Andrew Moore, and later sold to Chris, who changed the name to Nomad. Meanwhile, Bobbi and I learned in February that we would be leaving the UAE and in preparation for that have not been diving so much as before, but Darryl and Marine were interested in buying some of my equipment, and offered Bobbi and I free diving for a day if we'd drive it all over there. So on June 1, just a month out from our permanent departure from our home the last 21 years, we loaded our car up with 500 kg of dive stuff, and at long last dived once more with Freestyle Divers.

We drove up on Friday morning and made a dive on Dibba Rock that afternoon, just the two of us, Bobbi and I in the boat, plus the boatman, of course. Diving was decent and refreshing. We didn't see rays or turtles but we found the common reef and bottom dwellers amid schools of snappers, and if you're watching the video, did you see the two sharks? The last one was right at the end of the video.

We took a room at the Royal Beach hotel with a lanai view of Dibba Rock popping up out of the ocean, and dived the next day on a boat provided by Freestyle heading for Musandam from the Omani port of Dibba just over the border. There was just one other diver on the boat, Valerie Hickey from Ireland. Darryl had intended to join us but had to drop out at the last minute so I got to lead the trip, and direct the boatman to take us to dive wherever I thought would be appropriate, which is one of my favorite things to do in UAE and Oman.

Our first thought was Octopus Rock, but when we arrived there, I tested the water, and found a stiff surface current that pushed hard to the north, so I decided it might not be wise to dive there with so many other choices available.

We had Virage, the boatman, take us to Ras Morovi and put in at the bay there. It was a much easier entry, and a lovely dive. We saw the usual suspects, schools of blue triggers, jacks, a conch clinging to a rock, a batfish, a zebra shark egg case, a cuttlefish, a couple of rays, and finally, near the sea-chest rock cutout on the north side of Ras Marovi, a resting zebra shark. That was the highlight of the day, though I saw a zebra shark, what I thought at the time was a leopard shark, in almost the same spot a few years back in 2013 (though I didn't carry cameras back then)

Above is the video from the Ras Morovi dive. Our second dive on Saturday was at Lima Rock. We put in just west of the middle of the north side. Current was fairly benign, so we went all the way to the east point and rounded to the other side. In the video (below), we descend onto a fish trap with a trio of lionfish, then pan to the seabed where we found a feathertail ray, except the Rollei didn't engage to capture it. We return to the reef where we follow a free swimming moray that Bobbi pointed out to us, indicating with her tank banger. From there we move to the infamous point, now at slack current, where we encounter schools of jacks. We hang out there for a bit then cross from north to south where we are rewarded with more fish life and mesmerizing schools of jacks. These go swirling on for a long time in the video.

At the end of the dive Bobbi helped me deploy my SMB by sending a flood of bubbles into it from her alternate air source. This should have worked well except that the clip holding the SMB to the reel had closed outside of the plastic, so when the SMB headed it up, the force pulled the clip apart and the SMB went up independent of its reel. We had not been diving deep so I motioned the ladies to carry on and went up, slowly and safely, to retrieve the marker bouy, which had drifted with the current a little back toward the point. Virage saw me and came with the boat, and relieved me of my weights and gear, but I retained my mask, fins, and snorkel and swam off to the east to retrieve the marker buoy. Meanwhile the ladies surfaced further west and Virage went to retrieve them. I collected my SMB and was forced to drift with the current past the point while Valerie and Bobbi took their time getting back on the boat. The only down side was that my camera was with my gear on the boat, so when the school of a couple dozen huge barracuda that live out there came up underneath me to check me out, I had no way to photograph them, but that was a cool way to end the dive. Back on the boat I attached my SMB clip to the string on the reel in such a way that it would not come off again. Live and learn.