Saudi Arabia's underwater wonders offer scuba divers new depths of adventure

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The Red Sea is rich in marine life and has no shortage of mystery. There are many 19th and 20th-century shipwrecks that divers come from all over the world to visit. (AN photos)
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The Red Sea is rich in marine life and has no shortage of mystery. There are many 19th and 20th-century shipwrecks that divers come from all over the world to visit. (AN photos)
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The Red Sea is rich in marine life and has no shortage of mystery. There are many 19th and 20th-century shipwrecks that divers come from all over the world to visit. (AN photos)
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The Red Sea is rich in marine life and has no shortage of mystery. There are many 19th and 20th-century shipwrecks that divers come from all over the world to visit. (AN photos)
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The Red Sea is rich in marine life and has no shortage of mystery. There are many 19th and 20th-century shipwrecks that divers come from all over the world to visit. (AN photos)
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The Red Sea is rich in marine life and has no shortage of mystery. There are many 19th and 20th-century shipwrecks that divers come from all over the world to visit. (AN photos)
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The Red Sea is rich in marine life and has no shortage of mystery. There are many 19th and 20th-century shipwrecks that divers come from all over the world to visit. (AN photos)
Updated 24 March 2018

Saudi Arabia's underwater wonders offer scuba divers new depths of adventure

JEDDAH: With its constant temperature, clear water and excellent visibility, the Red Sea is one of the world’s best spots for diving.
Many enthusiasts come to Saudi Arabia to experience scuba diving. Mohammed Yaheya Ishfaq, a 36-year-old Pakistani, began diving in 2005 and became fascinated with the Red Sea.
Ishfaq, who has a master’s degree in architect photography, loved the region’s underwater world. “There are many 19th and 20th-century shipwrecks that divers come from all over the world to visit, and beautiful coral,” he said. “We need to show tourists the secret beauty under the sea in the Kingdom.”
The Red Sea is rich in marine life and has no shortage of mystery. Navigation errors in its shallow waters, severe weather conditions and equipment failures mean it is littered with wrecks that have been lying undisturbed for decades, attracting marine creatures that give them new life.
“Shipwreck diving is one the most popular activities in Jeddah and people are keen to explore these mangled remains,” Ishfaq said.
In 2015, Saudi and German archaeologists discovered two ancient shipwrecks along the coast in a joint project between the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage and the Philipps University of Marburg in Germany.
The Roman ship they found is the oldest archaeologically documented shipwreck on the Saudi Arabian coast. The remains of another ship dating back to the early Islamic period were also discovered in the area between Rabigh in the north and Al-Shoaibah in the south.

The Red Sea is beautiful to explore. Many private beach resorts, such as La plage, offer diving training for youngsters. Some also arrange deep-sea boat trips.
Ishfaq said people should respect the shipwrecks and avoid removing anything from them. “My advice is to never touch the wrecks since many are covered with fire sponges, hydroids, shellfish and broken edges that can cause injuries.”
Divers are allowed to descend a maximum of 40 meters for an hour and 15 minutes. “It depends on the weather and the depth; the deeper you go, the colder it becomes,” Ishfaq said.
“For me, diving is one of the most beautiful things in the world. People who don’t know how to swim can also dive with trainers . So forget any fear and get to see the underwater world at least once in your lifetime.”
The Kingdom has many establishments, such as Professional Zone and Natlus Divers, that offer scuba-diving facilities with training, instructors and licenses.
Hazem Al-Silimani, a Saudi scuba-diving instructor who has free dived (without equipment) in the Red Sea for a record-breaking six minutes, told Arab News: “We are enhancing our expertise to get more involvement from youngsters who want to learn diving. Our training starts in the swimming pool, where people practice holding their breath and learn how to control their mind to stay underwater.”
For scuba diving, people should not exceed their comfort zone or exceed their skill level, he said. They should respect the capacity of their equipment, and ensure that it is in good condition and working properly.
Mohammed Al-Nahdi, the owner of the Professional Zone diving club, said: “Our aim is to socialize people with different nationalities living in Saudi Arabia so they can explore the beauty of Red Sea. Scuba diving is a sport that helps people to make friends, to socialize more, because no one can dive alone in the sea. They have to be in a group.
“We have signed contracts with schools, colleges, and universities in the Kingdom, such as King Faisal School in Yanbu and King Faisal Training Academy. As authorized diving trainers, our aim is to encourage students to start diving from a beach, then go boat diving, which gives more confidence to youngsters.”
There are several other diving resorts and marinas around Jeddah, such as Ahlam Resort, Dive Village, Durrat Al-Arous, Nakheel/Ghulam Beach Resort, the Red Sea Resort, Al-Ahlam Marina, and Al-Nakheel Village.


A Saudi app that promotes Arabic reading

Updated 27 min 45 sec ago

A Saudi app that promotes Arabic reading

  • Lamsa was launched in Saudi Arabia in 2012
  • It provides an innovative way of motivating children to learn

DUBAI: The most crucial year in a child’s education may be the age of 8, or third grade, according to a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.The organization, which focuses on improving the wellbeing of American children, found this to be the developmental phase when children transition from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”

The research also established that third graders who lack proficiency in reading are four times as likely to become high-school dropouts.

The significance of this pivotal point in early childhood development is what drives Badr Ward, CEO of Arabic edutainment app Lamsa, to develop innovative ways of motivating kids in the Arab world to read and learn in their language.

“If we don’t encourage reading at that age, we could be taking the risk of them having a life-long issue with catching up,” Ward said.

Since children already spend a considerable amount of their time on connected devices, Ward is convinced that edutainment — media designed to educate through entertainment — is the best way to make screen time “relevant and meaningful.”

Badr Ward, CEO of Lamsa. (Supplied Photo)

Launched in Saudi Arabia in 2012, Lamsa provides an ad-free platform featuring animated literature, rhymes, songs, interactive games and educational videos in Arabic for children aged between 2 and 8.

Ward said: “We have to face reality. Education systems across the world are legacy systems. Whether we like it or not, technology has changed the way we consume information. Children today have access to devices from the moment they are born. So whether it’s reading on paper or e-books or interactive storytelling, we need to look at encouraging them to read, and to love to read and learn.”

Ward explains that much like a favorite teacher impacts a child’s interest in a subject, edutainment has a significant effect on their curiosity about a topic.

He modelled the characters in the edutainment app after his daughter Joory and son Adam, whose lack of interest in reading prompted him to start Lamsa.

Ward sought advice from his friend Leonard Marcus, an author, historian and expert on English language children’s literature. Marcus recommended taking the kids to a comic book store and letting them explore without forcing them to buy anything.

“So I did that,” Ward said. “We went to the comic book store, and I let them roam around. They were fascinated by the images.”

“Arabic is not just a language. It’s so important for children to understand their heritage and culture.”

Badr Ward, CEO of Arabic edutainment app Lamsa

He then asked his kids if they wanted anything, and they asked to have some of the comics. “In the evening, I found my children opening the comic book and just laughing,” he said.

“Because of that start three years ago, they can’t let go of books now.”

Ward said seeing the power of images and illustrations has made him support using pictures to captivate children.

The lack of quality and culturally relevant educational material in Arabic remains a challenge, he said. For this reason, Lamsa’s content library has been developed to celebrate Arabic not just as a language but as a source of heritage, culture, literature, music and food. The app team works in partnership with Arab authors, illustrators and organizations.

“Arabic is not just a language,” Ward said, adding that for Arab children everywhere, understanding cultural context is crucial to their values, beliefs and identity.

“It’s so important in the development of children to have a clear understanding of where they come from. In order to establish understanding of other cultures and learn tolerance, you need to start with your own. It’s fundamental to confidence, identity and heritage.”

 

 The Middle East Exchange is one of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Global Initiatives that was launched to reflect the vision of the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai in the field of humanitarian and global development, to explore the possibility of changing the status of the Arab region. The initiative offers the press a series of articles on issues affecting Arab societies.