By Tamjid al-Kohalni
Picture another world filled with uncountable mysteries and innumerable secrets: a world where you can live an adventure and discover amazing things. This is the watery kingdom of the ocean, the world under the water, accessible best through the sport of diving.
Diving is considered a hobby, an industry, and a modern sport. Humans have dived underwater for thousands of years in search of food and treasure, from the strange meat of the sea sponge to the shimmering luster of oyster’s pearls. The first divers dove without the use of any equipment. By the second century C.E., divers had begun fashioning breathing tubes out of hollow reeds, and in the beginning of the fourteenth century C.E., divers in the Arabian Gulf were using large glasses made from turtle shell to protect their eyes from the salty water.
The sport of diving has become one of the greatest tourism attractions in the world. Despite this, divers are only interested in certain key locations around the world. Fortunately, one of these areas are the Yemen seacoasts, whose unique marine environment and favorable diving conditions place Yemen diving on the international level.
In recent years, interest in sport diving along Yemen’s coasts has surged. Despite the limited space and rough terrain of Yemen’s coasts, the deep waters just off Yemen’s shores provide some of the most beautiful marine environments in the world. Some of these depths are rocky, while others are sandy or mountainous. Throughout, the pure waters of the red sea are offset by the magnificence and beautiful colors of Yemen’s coral and various aquatic species.
Ahmed Hassan al-Awlaki is a member of the International Union of Diving Teachers. He works in the Survey Office for Commercial Vessels in al-Hodeidah, a position he has held since 1969. Al-Awlaki says that Yemeni coasts offer a natural beauty unknown in most other parts of the world, although they lack investment and development.
According to al-Awlaki, Yemen’s tourist diving industry has been deteriorating for a number of reasons. One reason is the lack of tourism services in Yemen’s diving areas, such as hotels, restaurants, chalets, and transportation. Any would-be diver in Yemen finds themselves faced with a number of obstacles, including long transactions to obtain diving licenses or permits. These transactions are exaggerated and often useless, says al-Awlaki.
Aside from this, al-Awlaki says that there are few driving trainers working in Yemen, and only three dive centers. One is located on Kamaran Island, another is run by pioneer Yemeni diving trainer Safwan Anwar Hamed in Aden, and the last was established in the Mukalla governorate. Through these diving centers, people can receive training courses ranging in cost from $300 to $500 depending on the type of course and its duration. All graduates receive an accredited certificate enabling them to dive throughout the charming sea world of Yemen’s waters.
At the same time, Yemen’s coasts have been seriously threatened by harmful behaviors that could destroy their rare natural beauty. Al-Awlaki says that random fishing by Egyptian fishermen around Yemen’s cliffs could destroy many coral reefs in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. The Ministry of Fisheries grants licenses to Egyptian boats to fish Yemen’s coasts, but according to al-Awlaki the Egyptians fish in hostile manners that destroy seabeds and coral reefs, which in turn damages the marine life that inhabit these delicate ecosystems. Egyptian fishermen are not the only culprits, either; fishermen from other countries, including China, are similarly harmful.
Al-Awlaki emphasized that this random fishing still goes on today, behind the backs of the Ministry of Fisheries. When reporting on this destruction of Yemen’s seafloor, local fishermen often become the victims. They are accused of crimes they could not commit, as they are often fishing in Djibouti.
Moreover, commercial ships passing near Yemeni waters often throw their waste products, or leak motor oil, into the seas around Yemen. Oil is very dangerous to marine life, and a single can of oil can kill hundreds of marine organisms, as can various chemicals used in large-scale fishing.
Al-Awlaki feels that the government must take responsibility for these problems before Yemen loses its incredible marine environment. The General Authority for Maritime Affairs must place structured limits on fishing by reducing permits granted to foreign fishermen, creating stronger control mechanisms to enforce proper fishing procedures along Yemen’s coasts, and establishing stations for unloading expendable oil in order to protect the fragile marine environment from pollution.
Despite all the dangers facing Yemen’s coasts and seas, as well as the biodiversity and fish therein, Yemen’s seas remain some of the best in the world.
According to Marine Research, Yemen’s islands have over 2400 kinds of coral, 700 kinds of ornamental fish, 500 species of mollusk, 113 distinct plant species, and over 48 square kilometers of mangrove swamps.
Al-Awlaki has studied the coasts of yemen from the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Sea. According to his research, Yemen has more than 160 islands spread across its surrounding seas, and most of them are suitable areas for tourists to dive. Aldoama Island, Pklan Island, and al-Fisht Island, among others, would be great destinations for lovers of comfort, recreation, and most importantly, diving.
Kamaran Island is also a ripe spot for diving and environmental tourists. The island only covers an area of 35 square miles, but it is surrounded on all sides by beautiful beaches, many of which are punctuated by mangrove trees, seaweed, sponges, sea urchins, and coral reefs. The island is also blessed with beautiful weather all year round, making it a great site for a number of tourist activities, including diving, fishing, nautical recreation and water sports.
Yemen’s many beautiful islands would be great finds for any lovers of diving. Sport diving is one of the most beautiful and enchanting of marine sports, because it takes its practitioners deep into another world. The world of the sea, with all its peculiarities and strange new creatures of all shapes, sizes, and colors, awaits any diver willing to discover what Yemen has to offer!