Oman diving – the Darling Damaniyat Islands
When I first moved to the Abu Dhabi in 2007, I was determined to dive every dive site listed on line and in the guide books. It soon became clear there were only a handful of locations to really dive and see the most interesting marine life. So, between 2008 and 2010, my (then) dive buddy Sue and I tended to go to the Indian Ocean side of the UAE and Oman. This blog entry focuses on the Damaniyat islands near Muscat, which is, in my view, the best diving in the region. I also dived the Garden of Eden and the Three Sisters yesterday.
About the Damaniyat Islands
The Damaniyat Islands are group of nine islands about 18km offshore to the North of Muscat, lying in three groups; the Eastern, Central and Western Damaniyat Islands. They also form a National Marine Park and nature reserve, as they are a magnet for migrating birds and nesting Hawksbill turtles. Beach landings are therefore prohibited during the summer months. Every visitor needs a marine pass from the Ministry of Environment and Climatic Affairs. These cost 5 OMR per day per person and are usually purchased on your behalf though your dive or day trip operator. Official boats do check up, so don’t risk going without a pass.
Damaniyat Islands location:
As I now live in Muscat, my local dive centre is a short 10 minute drive from my apartment and not a 5 hour hike from Abu Dhabi! One day the boat was full, so asked if there were no shows then to call me.I was still in my bed at 8am when I got the call and was on the boat by 8.35am.
There are a total of 17 dive sites in three island groups at the Damaniyat Islands, varying from around 5m to 30m.It is perfect diving for less experienced divers seeking to increase their log book entries and confidence. All dive operators carry water and surface interval snacks.Dive sites:
Central Damaniyat Islands
Eastern Damaniyat Islands
Western Damaniyat Islands
Here is a selection of what I have seen over my years diving in the Damaniyat Islands. Please note I use only a simple point and shoot camera and don’t claim to be a great underwater photographer!
Just so this isn’t the world’s longest blog entry, here are my top three dive sites at the Damaniyat, although I generally only dive the Central and Eastern Damaniyat Islands:
Although not strictly within the boundaries of the national park, this site is a mound that didn’t quite make it to the surface. I have dived all over the world, and this site remains one of the finest I know. It is a very popular dive site, also for fisherman simply because it is so full of fish and is just outside the marine park.
The Dive: Dropping down to around 8m to the top of the mound, access to the site is gained though a deep crack, where you will drop to around 20m, then to 26m. Turing right, keep the wall on your right and make your way along until the wall flattens out to a reef, bringing you up to about 18m. Take a right and effectively do a big U turn, going over the reef on top of the mound until you return to your boat’s anchor point. Current can be strong at this site.
What you’ll see: Everything. This site is particularly known for its resident common sea horse, cow tail sting rays, leopard sharks and schooling jacks, snappers (various), red tooth trigger fish, fusiliers,butterfly fish, big eyes, wrasses, occasional barracudas, trevallys and tuna. Diving in the Spring months you are guaranteed to see cuttle fish during mating season. The best time to dive this site is when the current is strongest – when everything comes in to feed, but is for experienced divers only. Just grab a rock and enjoy.
The Dive: Another popular and well dived site, this is a drift dive, with the direction depending on the current. A rocky peninsula on Al Jabal Al Kabeer, the best route is from the open sea, working your way round to the sheltered Police Bay. Dropping down to about 22m, you follow the wall down until you hit the sandy bottom. Leaving the reef/wall to your left, a straight forward interval dive works best. There are a lot of interesting nooks and crannies to explore, and depending on your dive guide, you may take in a couple of interesting swim-throughs. As to come to the entrance to Police Bay, you will find some lovely table coral and rocky outcrops, bringing you nicely to your 5m safety stop.
What you’ll see:
Turtles! Giant honeycomb moray eels, starry moray eels,geometric moray eel, surgeon fish, spade fish, jacks, snappers, fusiliers, butterfly fish, big eyes, wrasses – broom tail, red tooth triggerfish, sweetlips, lobsters.
The Garden of Eden:
The Dive: Sitting in the Central Damaniyat Islands, this is a pretty and easy site. Dropping down to around 19 – 20 m taking the island wall either left or right, depending on the current. Again, and interval dive is best, working up to some lovely rocky pinnacles attached to the island, with deep cracks and small holes fish escape to. As you approach the end of the dive, you will come up to nice shallows over a coral crusted mound or the island wall – which is just perfect for an interesting safety stop.
What you’ll see:
Lots of lovely table coral and soft coral, smaller reef fish, turtles, Giant honeycomb moray eels, starry moray eels, geometric morayeel, surgeon fish, spade fish, jacks, snappers, fusiliers, butterfly fish, wrasses– broom tail and flounders on the sandy bottom!
Kit: Whatever the temperature is on the surface, allow for a 3 – 4 C drop at around 12 – 14 metres. Even in the heat of the summer, I have recorded 24C on my dive computer at depth. Outside of the summer months, full wetsuit 3 or 5mm. Gloves are optional. Whistle or SMB/safety sock is recommended – just in case!
Here is my favorite short video clip of a Hawksbill turtle trying to have a quiet snack. I found it quite funny to watch.
Finally, I don’t endorse any particular dive operator. I have tried most of them over the years. The one I now go regularly to is Global Scuba, mainly because I know the routine, the dive guides, it is a ten minute drive from my apartment and I am generally home by 2pm after two morning dives.
Update 25 November
My last three attempts to dive with Global Scuba has kept my dive kit dry. Either the boats are full, over booked or they have not called back to confirm. I have also heard first hand reports of defective rental equipment (leaking regulators). If you are considering a day of diving at the Damaniyat Islands, the only other operator that offers shorter daily boat ride is Extra Divers at Al Suwadi. It tends to cater more for German dive tourists, or weekend dive trippers from the UAE. All the other Muscat operators go to the Damaniyat Islands, but not daily, and it is a longer boat ride.