Pearl Diving in Bahrain
Updated: Aug 13, 2019
Before Bahrain discovered it had oil, and that other people wanted its oil, the country focused its national energies on pearl farming. Diving for pearls has been a lucrative profession in the Persian Gulf for centuries. Able to hold their breath for several minutes at a time, pearl hunters can free dive to collect tens of oysters in their mesh bag before surfacing. As demand grew, farming oysters became a lot more lucrative than simply hunting the natural ones. A handful of small, whitish pearls can be sold for several hundred dollars at wholesale prices today. And black pearls, the rarest of pearls, can bring in thousands. So if you can dive for pearls while vacationing, why on earth wouldn't you!?
The rule is, if you find a pearl in the ocean, you get to keep it.
Booking a pearl dive in Bahrain will cost a little more than a regular two tank dive. Your dive site will also be at a different spot. Chances of spotting oysters on a regular dive are pretty slim. I had actually booked a regular dive (with Into the Blue) but after seeing the sorry state of the corals on my first dive, we decided to check out pearl diving instead.
A quick note on the corals in the Persian Gulf - the last time I dove in this general area was in Oman in 2012 and the corals there were thriving. Not as extensive as something you'd see in the Caribbean or the Great Barrier Reef of course, but still quite alive and colourful. The corals I saw in Bahrain this year (2019) were all unfortunately dead and covered in algae. When I asked my divemaster about it, he said they began dying around two years ago (2017) and blamed warmer waters for it. Whether it is due to the increasing water temperature, or pollution from the nearby oil refineries and transport ships is unclear, but the damage is devastating regardless. However, keep reading for some good news for Bahrain's corals, just below!
Into the Blue, who I dove with, keeps a boat at the marina located inside the Al Bander Hotel & Resort. If someone in your party is not a diver, this place also has a fantastic pool with a swim up bar to keep anyone entertained for hours.
Diving for pearls doesn't necessarily require scuba gear. We anchored the boat in about four feet of water and dove down with only a weight belt and a mask. Initially, it's tricky to find the oysters as the seabed is covered in clumps of seaweed. But once you get used to the idea of moving it around with you hand, or kicking it with a booted foot, you'll find the oysters hiding underneath. But you won't be able to tell which ones have pearls inside and which don't. Its a good bet to gather up the big ones as they are always more mature and would have had time to grow the pearls inside. Pearls are after all simply particles that got inside the oyster shell and were coated with the oyster's natural chemicals over a long period of time.
I spent about an hour and half pulling up oyster after oyster from the sea. I was proud of the significant pile that accumulated on the boat's deck and could picture my forthcoming riches glistening in the sun. At about 50, we started shucking them.
Oyster after oyster opened up empty.
The gooey mollusk inside was prodded and swirled but produced nothing. Soon, my pile evaporated back to the ocean.
A hunter's zest took over and I dove for a dozen more. But again, no pearls. I was starting to see why pearls cost so much money.
But I wasn't the only one diving for pearls that day. Another member of our small boat party had been casually collecting oysters as well. Upon opening her third one, she found a small white pearl.
Would I do pearl dive again? Possibly, but not anytime soon. I am however looking forward to the completion of Bahrain's new Underwater Park. Phase 1 involved the sinking of a 747 aircraft to create a wreck site for divers. The wings had to be removed and transported separately, the inside was stripped of all hazardous materials and swim passages enlarged to ensure diver's safety.
Soon, over a hundred sculptures, made by international artists, will be sunk to create an underwater gallery and a pearl diver's house will be reconstructed underwater, on an enlarged scale to allow diving. The most thing I am excited about however, the is development of artificial reefs which will attempt to regrow lost corals. From the concept drawings, it looks like these will be in the shape of hollow spheres, spread out over a large area like spilled marbles.
Once completed, this will be the Disneyland of the ocean.
And I'm pretty sure the gift store will be selling pearls.
If you want to go diving in Bahrain, I would highly recommend Into the Blue. Faisal is a great boat captain and Instructor!
Some Practical Tips about diving in the Persian Gulf:
1. It is hotttt, don't bother with a wetsuit.
2. You might need more weight than usual as the water is very salty.
3. The dive boats aren't as strict with their time and you might leave later, and come back later.
4. Book in advance, there aren't many dive shops.
5. You won't be required to have a dive computer, unlike some other places.
6. Unfortunately, the corals have seen better days.
7. Don't be freaked out by the large oil refineries on the coast, the water is clean.
8. Gear might be scarce or in a different size, it's better to bring your own.
Happy Diving :)