If you didn’t know, I’m a bit afraid of the sea. It freaks me out. I don’t know much about it, I don’t understand it and my preferred food isn’t fish. I hope that I won’t become their food either. So what do I do? I get voluntarily enrolled in a PADI Open Water Diver course. Today was to be the actual day where we got to go out to the open sea and dive to re-practice the principles and exercises we learnt on Friday, and swim around with the fishes and explore some of Bahrain’s reefs. To say that last night’s sleep was a bit fitful, well, it would’ve been about right.
The boat sailed on time from Manama and headed to Fasht Aladhum which is approximately eight kilometres east of the main island of Bahrain, opposite Sitra.
The trip took less than an hour through a choppy sea with meter high swells at some times. We arrived at the dive site and proceeded to set up our dive kits while the captain fought with the waves to keep the boat steady. Ant, the dive master, jumped in and laid the “down line” and ensured that its tether lied on a sandy patch on the sea bed to prevent any possible damage to any of the surrounding fragile corral or reefs. I loved the fact that EcoArabia were walking the talk and living up to their name. The team were at pains to ensure that they leave their dive sites with no damage. We were briefed to ensure that we should not touch anything and just enjoy the sights and sounds underwater and be careful how we swim so we don’t bump into the reef and damage any of its components.
The time had come to jump in.
Bert Kreischer, Trip Flip TV show.
Remember that anxiety I felt? Well, when I actually jumped in for the first time, that fear and apprehension I previously felt mostly dissipated. Not immediately and not completely, I grant you. Once I gained my bearings and arrived at the down line together with the re-assuring presence of my buddies and instructor, those ugly feelings were replaced with confidence aided by recalling our instruction and training. I was itching to follow that line down and start exploring a world I was not privy to, and until recently, was not even an option I would have considered had that challenge not been laid down by one of my EO forum mates.
I followed the line down to the sea bed with Alexandra where she proceeded to test my skills and understanding of her training and I was happy that I performed them all to her satisfaction. How did I know that I had done so? Well, she wouldn’t have let me off, that’s for sure. And I would not have been rewarded with a leisurely exploration of the reef and sea bed. The fun part of the dive had started. Alexandra led the way and I kept up. I am grateful to her for pointing out several interesting features that I most definitely would have missed because my mind was going through checklists and trying to adjust my swimming attitude, trim and many other things, especially at the start of the dive. That’s why I actually opted not to take my camera with me on this dive as I wanted to concentrate on learning and observing first had. I’ll be sure to take it with me on the next dive.
My observation on this dive is that Bahrain’s reefs are no where near as beautiful as those of the Maldives, and the water was so murky today that it was impossible to see beyond a couple of meters which was probably due to the choppy sea. Nonetheless, I noticed plenty of life down there: sea urchins were everywhere, many brain corrals, crustaceans and of course many kinds of small fish and plenty of them.
When my tank’s gauge read 100 bar I signalled Alex. It was time to simulate a “no air” situation as we agreed. Alex and I went through the procedure and rose to the surface. That ended the dive.
When I got back on the boat, it hit me. I actually enjoyed the experience! The dive was too short and I was ready for more. I thought it had only lasted for about ten minutes; however, according to Alex, the dive actually lasted forty-three whole minutes!
I now revel in the images of what I witnessed under the waves; how the fish were darting in and out of the reef and rocks, the different kinds of fish available, the plentiful sea urchins and even a small jelly fish that I had to swim around to avoid its tentacles. I was amazed at the marine life I witnessed. I had the impression that everything was dead so I was pleasantly and happily surprised to see some actual life down there. I had expected a lot less.
Of course I cannot provide any scientific comparison of what the situation was a number of years ago with what I saw today. To me; however, as a person who experienced this world in Bahrain for the first time, at least there is something to responsibly enjoy. I do hope that the government here declare some of our reefs as nature reserves. I know that at one point, even this Fasht Al Adhum reef system was considered for dredging and converting into yet another city. If this were true, that, in my opinion, would be an unfortunate and inconsiderate mistake against future generations. It is vitally important to protect these fragile environments to allow their resident marine life to flourish along with responsible eco-tourism.
Our last dive in this course is coming up on Monday. I can’t wait to visit another reef system under the guidance of experienced divers. I do hope that the weather and visibility underwater will have improved by then so that we can enjoy the experience more. I’d like to take that dive as an opportunity to take some pictures and videos underwater. It should be fun!
Read the first article detailing my journey to the PADI Open Water Diver certification