Some of the world’s finest pearls are found in the Persian Gulf. For hundreds of years the ancient pearling industry was the major source of trade within the UAE. But in the 1930s the Japanese introduced cultured pearls to the market at much lower prices and the demand for natural pearls crashed by 1950.
In recent years pearling has made a comeback with increasing demand for natural pearls on the rise. Traditional pearling methods are once again being reinstated, and now visiting groups have the chance to find their own treasure as well.
Jumeirah Group in Dubai launched a traditional pearl diving program in the oyster beds of the shimmering shallow waters of Jebel Ali. Participants climb onboard an authentic wooden dhow to learn about ancient pearling traditions and then try it out themselves. If you’re lucky enough to find a gem of your own, it’s yours to take home.
The diving experience begins at the wave–shaped 598-room Jumeirah Beach Hotel, which recently underwent a renovation incorporating a new beach-inspired design to 70 guestrooms.
From the hotel, participants are then taken by bus to Palm Jebel Ali, one of three manmade islands found 20 minutes outside of the city.
The group is welcomed with a hearty breakfast, all the while being briefed for their upcoming dive. They are then robed in a traditional diving outfit, consisting of a flowing white cotton shirt and large trousers that tie at the waist. After everyone is dressed, they step aboard the dhow while carrying freshwater urns on their shoulders.
The crew, made up of locals descended from pearl diving families, begin the journey with story-telling. Upon arrival at the sea beds, group members scour for oysters, and those who aren’t up to the challenge have the opportunity to snorkel instead. Once everyone’s oyster buckets are full, the crew provides a lesson in oyster shucking, followed by a traditional lunch of typical Emirati fish and rice.