Mapping dive sites in Gulf

The Arabian Gulf is the largest natural pearl diving area in the world, but now at least 30 per cent of the best pearl sites are inaccessible due to oil drilling.

By Emmanuelle Landais, Staff Reporter
00:00 April 29, 2007

Dubai: The Arabian Gulf is the largest natural pearl diving area in the world, according to Captain Mohammad Khalifa Bin Thalith from Dubai Ports at Jebel Ali Ports, who spent 4 years putting together a map of pearl dive sites.

The original map, which dates back 69 years and represents some of the most popular dive sites, was used to recreate a more legible record of places sought out by pearl divers.

"Some locations are 500 miles away. It was a great mission to go there. The best pearl sites are oil fields now so access is limited. There are eight areas, about 30 per cent which we can't get to," said Thalith.

"Pearl diving went on until 1950. It was very popular and competitive. Some sailors would swallow the big or precious pearls to hide them, but generally the divers had to have trust in the men on the ship," he said. Once the pearls were collected the oyster shells were thrown back into the sea.

Dive sites could have up to 1,200 ships on them at one time depending on the season.

The yield of pearls collected was then divided between the men aboard, with the captain, diver and the Al Saib - the man who pulled the diver back to the surface - receiving a major part of the harvest.

"Pearls had a great economic importance because people here only had palm trees and the sea. Money was made either by fishing or pearl diving.

"The price fluctuated a lot and it is difficult to say how much a pearl was worth back then, it was in Indian rupee too," said Thalith. Apparently the best year for pearls on record though was 1912, he said.

Have your say
Are you familiar with this ancienct UAE tradition and itts role in the nation's development? Shoudl there be information taught about it in classrooms across the country? Is there enough promotional material available? What more can be done to let people know of this rich heritage? Share your ideas at or fill in the form below to send your comments.

Your comments

Dubai should be called City of Pearl (as it lived for many years from the pearl industry) and not City of Gold (that came into the picture many years later). I hope Dubai will open Dubai Pearl Museum as the existing exhibition at Dubai Museum is a very basic one.