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United Arab Emirates: hot shelling! by José
 

Sandy Beach Hotel - Fujairah, UAE
Every year I like to plan at least one trip to some unusual place to collect shells. This year I decided to go to United Arab Emirates. Although the neighborhood is not the most peaceful and friendly area, UAE is a great destination.
I planned the trip with the help of two friends, André Weber, from Switzerland and Horst Kauch, from Dubai. Of course, I took our friend diver with me, Alfredo Bodart.
It is not too hard to get to Emirates if you are member of European Community, but it gets harder for other countries such as Oman. I had to find a sponsor to guarantee my stay in UAE, to purchase a visa, and to confirm hotel reservations. I flew from São Paulo to Zurich, and from there to Dubai – 17 hours! We had to overnight in Zurich on the way.
We arrived in Dubai in the afternoon. The temperature was quite cool: 36°C (104°F!!!). The Dubai Airport is fantastic, extremely modern with beautiful futuristic architecture. Immigration is quite interesting, first you get your visa paper, after they take a picture of your retina, and then you go to the immigration desk for questions. Everything is easy, if you have a sponsor.
We immediately contacted Horst, and we met him the following morning. He helped us with car rental, since we had problems with our reservation. Horst gave us all the information and showed us part of his collection. A large number of the shells shown in the book Seashells of Eastern Arabia by Don Bosch et al. came from Horst’s collection.
Immediately after lunch, we left for the Emirate of Fujairah, on the Indian Ocean side. We arrived in the Khor Fakkan area and went to the Sandy Beach Hotel. Alfredo went snorkeling just after dark, because he was so excited. After two hours, he brought back a large number of shells, most very common, but all in good condition. He found our first Conus pennaceus quasimagnificus DaMotta and the first Cypraea pulchra Gray. He also found other cowries, such as C.grayana, nebrites, caurica quinquefasciata, ziczac and gracilis. We woke up early and found out that the hotel had no breakfast. We ordered something to eat, and they brought old bread and butter of dubious freshness. From this, we learned that food is not easy to get in this part of the world, and is very expensive. We left the hotel area to explore the north coast. We drove up to Dibba and crossed the border to Oman. We didn't find many places to collect – most the coast is now private property and they are destroying most the costal reefs by building large artificial reefs.
I stopped in a supermarket to buy some snacks and drinks. I bought a cooler and we put in lots of ice. I decided to keep all the collected shells frozen. Finally we stopped to snorkel in a kind of "desert" beach. We had our first disappointment: the water was not clear. Visibility was about 4-5 meters. Then I noticed that not only was the water not clear, the air too was a problem. There is lots of sand in the air, and water everywhere! And the temperature is always over 40°C! In the time to go from the water to our car, our wet suit was dry!
We found lots of shells, but all common and again in good condition. Alfredo found some more Conus quasimagnificus and two very nice Conus striatus subfloridus DaMotta. He also found a 101-mm Conus textile! The next day, we explored many places and the results were similar, just a few new species. We decided to move to the Persian Gulf area.
We drove back to Dubai and we left all shells in Horst's freezer. We rented complete dive equipment and went to Um Al Quwain. I had the sensation that the entire country is under construction. And there are no good signs to show the way. I got lost in a humongous traffic jam and missed some exits. Finally, at night I found a hotel, a lousy one!
Again, no food, but they had a special party for Russian tourists. In the morning we tried to snorkel in Khor Raidah, a large harbor with mangroves. The results weren't really exceptional – only common species. We moved north to try to get to Khasab on the Oman side. Unfortunately we couldn't leave UAE because of our visa. If we had gone, we could not have returned to UAE. The UAE visa is mostly one-time entrance! And there is nothing in this part of Oman because it is not connected to the main country. It is quite strange, the main part of Oman adjoins UAE, but it has two additional territories inside UAE – one is in the middle of Fujairah, and the other is at the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, on the Strait of Hormuz, where Khasab is. Both areas are very poorly inhabited.
We did some snorkeling and diving just before the border and found some nice bivalves and populations of Cypraea turdus nivea and turdus winckworthi. Back to Dubai, to freeze our shells, then we decided to return to Fujairah, but now with complete diving equipment.
During the next four days, Alfredo did 14 dives! He found many other nice shells, especially Cypraea pulchra and Conus quasimagnificus and subfloridus. We found also some nice Cypraea felina fabula Kiener. And by the end of the trip, we had a large amount of frozen shells.
In Khor Fakkan, we stayed at Le Meridien and it had all the diving facilities we needed. On the last day, we rented a boat to dive at Martini Bay. Just after we started to dive, Alfredo and I had a bad surprise
– we were in the middle of a jellyfish family reunion (felt like Nemo and Dory…). Luckily we had our wetsuits to protect our bodies, but we were badly burned around the mask and regulator! I had more than 30 burned spots on my face! Back home, my 1½-year old daughter asked if I had a fight with a lion! Despite the jellyfish, we decided to stay in the water – after all, I had paid US$ 300 for the boat! We found some Haliotis unilateralis and my 101-mm Conus textile!
We went back to Dubai to prepare all our shells for a 40-hour trip. Horst had some special bags and we put everything frozen in our luggage. I called the airline to see if there would be any problem carrying the shells this way, and they told us that we might have problems with the local authorities because Dubai has restrictions on shell collecting. If something happens they told me to try to explain that the shells came from other Emirates, which was true. We
didn't collect a single shell in Dubai. They have destroyed all the reefs doing such crazy construction as artificial palm islands.
We didn't have any problems checking our luggage, and I was praying that the shells would get home before they started to smell. We had to wait 16 hours in Zurich between connections and after a 12-hour flight to São Paulo, we had no problem with the shells.
The Emirates were a great surprise. We didn't find any rare species, but we had an opportunity to see and contact a very different society. Dubai looks like an extremely modern Western city with people dressing in the old Arab way. The buildings are fantastic, the hotels are ultra-modern, the roads are perfect, and the shopping is the best. They are trying to mix the Western and the Arab ways of life, and it seems that they are doing a great job.
Dubai is an example of what the Middle East could be if everyone lived in peace.

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