Dive Middle East Exhibition 2005 Part III

The U.A.E. works towards environmental recovery and conservation

Over the last five years, Dubai has boomed.  Hotels, offices, resorts, shopping malls, and living space now covers the Arabian coast and also the inland desert.  There are parks, water worlds, golf courses, wetlands and roadways. Three large dredging projects, namely the two Palm Islands and the World Islands have been constructed in the marine environment off the coast of Dubai.

The results of this mass of construction has taken a heavy toll on the marine life and ecology system.  There are clear signs of conflicting interests between different human interests.  Dive and snorkel operations have lost around 20 dive sites along the Dubai coast due to the placement of these new constructions, described as the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Global marine industry pulls in some 1 trillion USD, but the marine ecosystem goes up to 21 trillion USD.  The sea accounts for 60% of the world’s ecosystem services.  Every 30 years, 30% of the marine habitat is lost through human development, or as may be described, “Tragedy of the Commons”.

Dredging and dumping of wastes, irresponsible construction methods, coastal engineering and land reclamation are a few of the reasons of the destruction of entire marine eco-system.  What is being done to assist the environment to recover?  Nakheel, the largest developer in the UAE has combined efforts with Sea Cult to create attractive habitats for fish and sea creatures and enrich the environment with enhanced marine biological diversity.  Reef Systems, combined with Sea Cult, is creating artificial reefs for the cultivation of ocean and sea beds, at the same time protecting underwater pipes and cables.  The reef, named Svenner Reef, is produced with concrete and has shock-absorbing cushions/fenders, and can be formed in profiles to make a curved path.  According to the speaker for this project, Professor Chris Hopkins, the plan is to create a ring of these reef structures which can be described as a faro (ring-shaped reef).  The Svenner Reef can be used on most types of sea-bed and is said to also avoid erosion which will be necessary for the unsettled sea-bed area around the newly dredged islands.

The artificial reef system is designed to provide hiding places for fray, fish and mussels, lobster, they attract fish and provide faster restoration of sea beds after the damage caused.  The materials used do not pollute the environment and have a long life-span. They can also be reused and recycled.

The effect of dredging has had a drastic effect on the turtle population.  The Jumeirah International group has built the Madinat Jumeirah Turtle Rehabilition Unit in conjunction with the National Marine Aquarium.  There are two species of turtle in the Gulf of Arabic, which are the hawksbill and green turtle.  The project takes in turtles caught in fish traps, nets, and those which have entered oil slicks or simply are sick from affluent and waste from construction areas.  They are brought in to veterinarians by members of the public and immediately referred to the Wildlife Protection Office.  The Madinat Jumeirah unit is currently a pilot project, with the National Marine Aquarium, Plymouth UK.  A large enclosure has been built and sick or injured turtles are rehabilitated there and then returned to their habitat after a health assessment.  The project also hopes to raise awareness regarding the issues facing turtles and the marine environment.  They also hope to gain a better understanding of turtle migration patterns and their general biology through a tagging programme.  I spoke to Spanish zoologist Barbara Lang who is working as an Assistant Manager of the turtle project.  She spoke of their first turtle release into the environment, which was tagged with a satellite tracker.  You can actually view the progress of this release at this website http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking/.  The name of the turtle is Maju, which means healthy in Malay.

Environmental awareness is the largest project in the U.A.E., with dive centres participating in different areas through different schemes.  Divers Down, based in Khor Fakkhan (Fujairah) is offering two courses/projects through Padi Aware.  The first one is a Whale Shark Project.  In the Musandam (Oman), just two hours from the U.A.E., whale sharks are seen during June and July.  A special form has been printed and all sighting are recorded on this form, including information on the length, scars, I.D. tag already present, location of sighting, date and time etc.  Photographs should also be taken if possible as whale sharks have different patterns on each side.  Shots of the gills, dorsal fin and laterals should be taken.  The information from the forms should be sent to www.whalesharkproject.org.

The second project is Aware KIDS.  Divers Down visit schools, and teach them about the environment, take children on snorkelling trips and do Fish Identification workshops and environment awareness training. Each participant receives a pack (see photo) with a fish brochure, sticker and a special card similar to a certification card.

Knowing your environment and understanding the immediate needs of our environment is attainable by furthering your education and training.  Pavilion Divers are the first and only PADI National Geographic Centre in the U.A.E.   To become a PADI National Geographic Training centre requires a certain standard of diving and service.  The Manager of Pavilion divers, PADI Course Director Phil O’Shea, plans to present the course to the Emirates Diving Association and the World Wildlife Fund in Dubai first, and then through proper planning introduce the course to customers.  The National Geographic course is not a certifying course from a diving instructor, but more an awareness and training programme from the dive centre.  However, all instructors have to be properly briefed, trained and prepared with the knowledge to conduct the programme.

The National Geographic course provides benefits for divers taking their Open Water course.  The basic open water course provides for four open dives, and if you combine the course with an NG course you get three more dives, two of those will be in the famous Musandam region where divers will get an opportunity to see a vast amount of marine species, good visibility and a pleasurable environment.  Divers choosing the Open water course combined with the NG course receive a fantastic training pack, including the standard Open Water course materials, an also almanac from NG and a DVD from NG called Passport to Adventure, all bound in a black zipcase with wide log-book pages (see photo).  It has four sections, teaching Adventure, Conservation and Exploration, with a special feature on marine life.  Learning to dive in the UAE seems to have some very attractive possibilities!

I asked Phil to explain to me the benefits of diving with a company such as Pavilion Divers, as opposed to joining a local club.  His reasons were clear:  the dive centre is affiliated to a world reknowned hotel, the Jumeirah Beach hotel, and gives the dive centre a lot of prestige, which has to be maintained through a five-star service.  Their boats are also owned and maintained on site at the hotel by in-house mechanics, making them in tip-top condition.  Safety is important in the diving industry and the dive centre has access to all the hotel maintenance facilities for the dive centre, cleaning, maintenance, non-slip floors, properly constructed compressor room and comfort for visiting divers.  Hotels have standard operating procedures and these procedures have to be maintained right down to the dive centre.

The Pavilion Dive Centre has a sponsorship agreement with Mares, and their retail area is practically a boutique.  Why Mares? I asked Phil.  Phil says he has worked with Mares for years and had learnt in previous experience how to service the equipment, it’s fuss-free and reliable.  When he joined Pavilion Divers Mares was already present and Phil was very hands-on in getting all the equipment serviced and upgraded to the latest in dive equipment trends.  They also receive grand support from Mares as a supplier. Phil was sent to the Mares factory in Rappallo, Italy, where he received top equipment specialist training.  The dive centre can just about offer everything in the Mares catalogue.

The last note Phil gave me was his emphasis on training.  Pavilion Divers is the only CDC training centre in the U.A.E., with two course directors present on staff.  The next IDC starts on 18th May and another one will be held in September.  Ernst van der Poll, Phil’s 2IC, will be holding a Rescue workshop this week and yesterday another 10 people signed up for a group Open Water course (Pav. Divers offers discount for groups).  Anyone diving with Pavilion divers or doing a course then has access to the hotel facilities on the day of attendance and you can bring a guest.  Nothing like spending the rest of the day at a comfortable private beach with luxury shower facilities and a choice of three pleasure pools.

My last conversation was with the Chief of Training Section of the Dubai Police, Capt. Juma Ali Khalifa Al Rahoomi.  Capt. Juma was trained as a TDI Tri-mix instructor by Karim Helal who is the Managing Director for TDI Middle East and Russia.  Capt. Juma has trained 100 divers in the Sea Rescue section of the Dubai Police to divemaster level.  The Dubai police are responsible for protection of Dubai, Fujairah and Ras Al-Khaimah.  Capt Juma sent out troops to assist in rescue in Indonesia after the Tsunami of 26 December 2005.  The police were already experienced as they had previously been sent to assist after the earthquake in Bam, Iran.  There are two sections in the Dubai police, one for local assistance and another for international stand-by.  They are also in the process of registering for the United Nations Standby Rescue operation.  All rescue, ambulance, airlifting services are free in the U.A.E. with no charge.  There is a police point almost every 20km and all members of the force speak English.  Their training period is six months to join the force but you must hold a University Degree to become an officer.  Tri-mix training for deep dive rescue and security commences soon and will be held by the Chief of Training.

The Dive Show was a real eye-opener to all the activities going on here in the U.A.E. and I would certainly recommend a visit from outsiders next year to discover all the mysteries of this beautiful Arabian peninsula.

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