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  • Writer's pictureAlly Landes

DAYMANIYAT ISLAND TRIPPING


We’re really very lucky to have the Daymaniyat Islands situated so close to the UAE. It’s easy enough to make the most of a getaway weekend in Oman. The convenience of getting yourself over to the Millennium Resort Mussanah and dive these underwater island wonders with the Oman Sail’s dive centre is second to none.



On this particular trip, we were joined by 7 of our scientist buddies, Dr David Robinson from Sharkwatch Arabia and the Dubai Turtle Rehabilitation Project, Dr David Rowat and his wife Glynis from the Marine Conservation Society Seychelles, Dr Simon Pierce and Dr Chris Rohner from the Marine Megafauna Foundation, Clare Prebble – Ph.D. Student with Marine Megafauna Foundation and Professor Jennifer Schmidt from the University of Chicago – Global Whale Shark Genetics Database who had all come on a stopover to Dubai from Doha, Qatar where they had presented their research at the 4th International Whale Shark Conference (IWSC) that had happened from the 16-18 May.



We had heard about recent whale shark (Rhincodon typus) sightings at the Daymaniyat islands and arranged to make a trip with the team through SEAOMAN from Oman Sail. We split ourselves – 9 divers – between the 2 4WDs and filled the remaining spaces with all our diving equipment and camera gear, and set out on the 4 hour road trip across the border (not forgetting to take the new road that detours around Hatta, but comes back) in the hope to dive with, and photograph some whale sharks with a bit of luck. The Millennium Resort Mussanah booked us all in to their hotel apartments that are conveniently located just above the dive centre with a view overlooking the marina. The nice thing about the apartments is that they are equipped with kitchenettes, so you are able to cater yourself if you so wish to stay in the comforts of your room during your stay.



THE DAYMANIYAT ISLANDS

There are 9 islands in the archipelago of the Daymaniyat Islands Marine Nature Reserve which is a UNESCO protected marine park. They are renowned in the region for their unique ecosystem, migratory birds and nesting turtles. Whale sharks, leopard sharks, large honeycomb moray eels and rays are often spotted and it’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time!



SEAOMAN DIVE CENTRE BY OMAN SAIL

The dive centre offers Nitrox so if you are certified to use it, it is advised to book your tanks in advance as it makes a world of difference if you have to drive back to Dubai, especially if you are the designated driver.



The dive boat leaves at 0800 daily and is back around 1600 after two dives. It takes 1 hour to get to the closest dive site, Sira, and 1.5 hours to get to Aquarium, the furthest one away. The dive boat is perfectly adapted to store all your equipment, it’s spacious and comfortable. There is a smaller upper level with an elevated view which is a nice touch if there are many people aboard which means you can spread out.



As you are going to be out most of the day, you will want to think about having some lunch organised to take with you or it will end up being a very long day since last eating something at breakfast. That is, if you are a person able to eat first thing in the morning. The dive centre organises plenty of drinking water onboard, and they alternate with tea, coffee and biscuits one day and a selection of fruits another.



The hotel can arrange lunch boxes at AED85 each that consist of a bottle of water, a sandwich (vegetarian option available), some fruits, a small salad and a selection of pastries. You end up being the envy of other divers aboard if they haven’t arranged food for themselves. The only thing you have to remember, is to go to the reception in the main hotel to pick your lunch boxes up, or you will delay the boat departure as we had done the first day. It won’t make you popular.


THE DIVE SITES

1. AQUARIUM

11:09 | 23.3m | 26˚C

★★★★


Our first day out and the visibility was fantastic! Clear views up to 30m.


We saw 3 hawksbill turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) on this first dive and Simone always manages to get a few star poses from a few of them on our trips! A few minutes later, a couple of large honeycomb moray eels (Gymnothorax favagineus) peering out of a nook, entwined in conversation, gave us an approving Right of passage. A school of ring-tailed cardinalfish (Ostorhinchus aureus) made for some fantastic shots too.



Towards the end of the dive, some curious batfish came over to hang around and get their photos taken in the awesome viz. It was a nice introductory dive to the trip.



Aquarium is the top rated dive site of the Daymaniyats and rightly so, however on this particular day, there weren’t as many things to see as there have been when I’d dived it in the past. Everything you normally see here appears to be dosed on steroids. If you get to plan the trip as a long extended weekend and get an extra day in to dive Aquarium more than once, you will defintely see more of this dive site’s magic.


No whale shark sitings yet, but word from one of the other dive boats was that two had been spotted earlier. The day before we arrived, six had been spotted, so here we were hoping!


2. SIRA

13:13 | 16.3m | 27˚C

★★★★★


An epic start to this dive. It’s the cuttlefish mating season and we dropped down on a whole load of them. There is nothing cooler than a cuttlefish, and if anyone says any differently, they haven’t spent time hanging around these alien looking creatures and seen the functions of their vessel shaped bodies up close and personal. It’s a good job there were lots of them around, as no one had to fight over photographing a subject. I may have got a little too close filming my pair and got the wrath of ink projected at me in the rude intrusion of the female’s egg laying. It had not been my intention to disturb her in her labour and she had made it perfectly clear that I had.



There seemed to be a lot of scorpionfish on this particular dive, or I had just been made more aware of them when one very attractively camouflaged specimen, cushioned on the polyps of a soft coral, was situated just below me while filming yet another cuttlefish. Scorpionfish are not always the most interesting of fish to photograph, especially when they’re bland in colour and look no different from their backdrop resting place, but Simone managed to get a good shot of this one against the contrast of its throne. I then inevitably began to spot them throughout the rest of the dive, making sure not to place any of my body parts on one while filming in distraction.



Still no whale sharks, but, this was – in the end – the favourite dive of the trip.


3. DOC’S WALL

9:42 | 14.9m | 27˚C

★★★


Visibility on the second day was not as great as the first day, but we were still veering towards 15+ metres. The water was a little bit more on the cloudy front this time around.


Big schools of snappers hung in the foreground of many of the seascapes just about everywhere, creating amazing formations in their poetic motion. Unfortunately the depth of field was lost in the photo and video opportunities due to the thick texture of the water, unless you could get right in between them. It was tough to get close though, as the closer you got, the further away they swam, being pesky and fidgety little models.

Crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) had moved into the area and we came across quite a few of these big purple monsters scattered about the hard corals. There was no obvious damage from them at this stage and with it being a reserved marine park, one assumes the municipality will tackle the problem if one arises.



Sadly, no whale sharks popped out to say hello on this dive either, but we were accompanied by some golden trevally (Gnathanodon speciosus) that are renowned for hanging out with the big fish. We kept our eyes out towards the blue, but it was just a cruel tease!


SURFACE INTERVAL ON JUNN ISLAND

There is no better way to do a surface interval than in crystal clear turquoise water, overlooking a white sandy beach! A pure joy and a touch of paradise. Your lunch break will never feel as good as that once you’re back at work.



4. MOUSE TRAP

12:02 | 15.8m | 27˚C

★★★


Mouse Trap is the closest dive site to the turtles’ nesting beach and we saw 6-7 hawksbills feeding on the corals, which is where this article’s particular cover shot comes from.



We finally got to see a medium sized black spotted stingray, also known as a marbled stingray (Taeniurops meyeni) hanging out under a small school of fusiliers. We would have easily missed it if Simone hadn’t looked down and gone to get a shot of it, as it was below us as we were coming up to the shallows to hang out for our safety stops. Rays are regularly sighted at the Daymaniyats, but were scarce this particular weekend, as were the leopard sharks!



Once back up on the surface, the sea turned within seconds and started to churn up some mean waves. We had had flat calm seas up until this point and the call to close the day’s dives was upon us. With a tough clamber back onto the boat, we patiently waited for the other dive group of filmmakers to come up from their dives. A group of cameramen from an agency in London were over for three weeks to capture footage for a Canadian television network and were testing the footage possibilites of their first day.

And we still didn’t see any whale sharks! But all in all, it had been a great two days of diving.


It was a choppy ride back to the Millennium, but the rough sea did’nt slow the journey down. I had made sure to ask for late check outs so we could get back to showers and properly pack our gear away to make the long drive back to Dubai.


DRIVE OR FLY OVER

The choice is yours as to whether you prefer driving or flying over to Oman. If you fly, you lose out on a day of diving and you need to be aware the hotel is about an hour’s taxi drive from Muscat’s International Airport. With the option of flying, you get out of driving back tired with 4 or 5 hours of road ahead of you both ways! It really is a personal preference. We don’t like missing out on the dives, so it’s an easy choice.



OUR RECOMMENDATION:

The Millennium Resort Mussanah and SEAOMAN Dive Centre are located 85km north of Oman’s capital city, Muscat and an hour closer to the UAE.


A very big thank you to both the Millennium hotel and SEAOMAN for hosting our trip and looking after us so well!



MILLENNIUM RESORT MUSSANAH

Tel: +968 2687 1555


SEAOMAN DIVE CENTRE

OMAN SAIL

Tel: +968 2428 1400



All Underwater Photography by Simone Caprodossi

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