This article was updated 1st November, 2022
When planning a dive vacation, the UAE, seldom is a location on top of the list. Most would be surprised to learn that a few miles away from the skyscrapers, the deserts, and the hills, just below the waves is a thriving diversity of marine life. From sharks to nudibranchs, wrecks and a whole lot more. Even after years of exploring the oceans around the UAE, we still find new dive sites, and surprisingly; new and growingly common marine life in the region.
For this article, we’ll keep it simple, and take you through some of the most remarkable, yet common marine life you’d find while SCUBA Diving in the UAE.
With over 3000 Species of Nudibranch around the world, these beautiful, colourful sea slugs would leave any fashion designer or model feeling intimidated. Ranging from 4mm up to 600mm in length, they are common finds around the UAE. Shedding their shells after their larva stage, the creatures can be found on reefs, surfaces of wrecks, and if you’re lucky, swimming (or dancing) in the open ocean.
Their name literally means “Naked Gills”
Their super-power is a keen chemical sensory organ that they use to distinguish chemical particles in the water, smell potential food sources, pheromones of potential partners, and threats.
They are hermaphrodites, which means they have both male and female genital systems, and both parents lay eggs.
They are carnivorous and use their extremely powerful jaws to feed on sponges, bryozoans, ascidians and hydras.
They can sacrifice parts of their bodies to save their core. The lost parts will then regenerate.
They usually live only for a few weeks, with some rarities living up to a year.
Did you know that a group of Stingrays are called a Fever?! Stingrays glide gracefully in the ocean in a spectacular manner, making spotting them a memory you’re not going to forget in a hurry. With more than 200 species of rays, there is still much to be discovered. Along the east coast of the U.A.E you’re likely to spot Cownose Rays, Black Spot Stingrays, Spotted Eagle Rays, Devil Rays, and if luck is on your side, a fever of Manta Rays.
They rely on their noses to find food.
They have no bones in their bodies, just cartilage!
They and Sharks have a LOT in common and belong to the same family.
The main predators of stingrays are sharks.
Stingrays give birth to offspring and don’t lay eggs.
They are born fully developed.
Stingrays are as old as dinosaurs.
These slow-moving and awkward fish can be found across popular dive sites along the eastern coast of the UAE. They look extremely adorable and can vary in size, shape and colour. However, DO NOT we repeat, DO NOT be fooled by their big, adorable eyes, they are the most poisonous fish in the ocean had contained enough poison to kill over 30 full-grown humans. Pufferfish will ‘puff’ up if they feel threatened. Keep in mind, that when a puffer fish puffs up, it is in defence and puts ample stress on the fish, so always, as with all marine species, keep your distance and admire them from afar.
They are the only bony fish that can close their eyes.
They don’t have scales.
Their teeth never stop growing and are fused together.
As babies, they are cannibalistic.
Dolphins have been known to use pufferfish to get high… Puff Puff Pass?
5. CLOWN FISH
Probably the most famous in today’s world, with a feature film on it, is the Clown Fish, AKA Nemo. With over 30 species around the world, they are a fairly common spotting along the shallow reefs of Fujairah, such as Snoopy Island, Sharm Rock, Martini Rock, Coral Garden, and many other shallower dive sites.
Clownfish and their residence; venomous anemones have the perfect symbiotic relationship. Clownfish are unaffected by the stinging tentacles of the anemones, and as such are protected by them. The bright colours of the clownfish attract other fish which are food for the anemones. In other words, their relationship is #relationshipgoals.
Schools of clownfish have a strict hierarchy with the most aggressive female at the top.
All clownfish are born male. When the dominant female dies, the dominant male will turn into a female.
They are omnivorous.
They are not great at swimming and have very erratic swimming patterns.
They communicate by popping and clicking sounds.
6. MORAY EELS
Like something out of a sci-fi movie, The Moray Eels are quite possibly the strangest and most intriguing marine life to spot. While they hide between rocks and other tight spaces during the day, once the sun goes down, they set out to hunt. Spotting them is an extreme satisfaction, and are found along the eastern coast of the UAE, including dive sites such as Sharm Rock, Dibba Rock, Artificial Reef, Inchcape 1, Inchcape 10 and a lot more.
They have 2 sets of jaws, exactly like the aliens from the Hollywood movie Aliens.
There are roughly 200 known species of Moray Eels.
They can weigh up to 66 pounds.
They don’t have gill flaps and use their mouth to push water to their gills and breath.
They have been known to join forces with other predators while hunting.
The infamous Lionfish has built itself a nasty reputation for its pure resilience and ecological downfall. With over 50 species of lionfish, they are extremely venomous fish that have almost no natural predators. Their dorsal spines are similar to hypodermic needles with venom sacks at their end. While they don’t attack humans, a stab from the spines will send neurotoxins rushing through the bloodstream in fractions of seconds. It is to be noted that they only use their venom as a defence mechanism, and there have been no recordings of diver fatalities from Lionfish.
They use their pectoral fins to corner their prey and usually eat them whole.
They have become invasive to non-native regions.
They can lay up to 2 million eggs per year, seriously offsetting the balance of ecosystems.
They are nocturnal and are known to follow divers on night dives following their flashlights to spot prey.
These fascinating marine creatures are incredibly hard to spot if they have decided they don’t want to be seen. Their ability to mimic shapes and textures and change to any colour (though they are colour blind) earn them the nickname ‘Chameleons of the Sea’. You can spot them on the eastern coast of UAE at dive sites located at Fujairah, Dibba, and Khorfakan.
Cuttlefish have three hearts.
Though they are colour-blind, they have excellent vision and can see a light spectrum invisible to humans.
They have eight arms and two tentacles.
They use an oval-shaped cuttlebone to maintain buoyancy.
They have Blue/Green blood.
They can produce ink to confuse and hide away from predators.
No matter how many graceful sea turtles you encounter, the excitement of spotting them is always the same. The United Arab Emirates is home to plenty of green sea turtles and is fairly common to spot. On occasion, if you’re lucky you’d have the opportunity of spotting the rare, and now critically endangered Hawksbill turtle. The oldest fossils of turtles are dated back 100 million years back, but sadly due to human activity, most species are endangered and facing extinction.
They breathe air and lay eggs on land, but live primarily in the sea.
They don’t need the support of SCUBA gear since they can hold their breaths underwater for up to 5 hours by slowing their heart rate and preserving oxygen.
Leatherback sea turtles have existed in their current form since the time of dinosaurs
Turtles shed skin and shells as they grow.
Sea Turtles don’t/cannot retract into their shells
These long and slim fish look like a floating sticks in water and can grow up to a staggering 80 CM in length. The Trumpet Fish also can change its colours to yellow, grey and brown. Even though they are slow-moving, they can be a challenge to spot as they blend into the surroundings and can almost look transparent. The Trumpet Fish can be spotted along the east coast of the UAE, at dive spots around Dibba, and Fujairah.
They can lay up to 1000 Eggs.
They are carnivorous and feed on small fish and crustaceans.
The Males carry fertilized eggs with them till they hatch
Could you guess why and how they got their name? These bright-coloured fish can be found between rocks at the Dibba and Fujairah dive sites. Usually spotted in schools of dozens, they are led by a dominant male that earned his spot by switching genders when the past supermale dies. These are some of the most gorgeous looking fish due to the multi-colour scheme they have, and are almost a guaranteed sighting at sites such as Dibba rock, Sharm rock, Artificial reef and a few others.
They build sleeping bags… From Mucus.
They have incredibly powerful beaks and can eat at 20 bites per minute.
Their teeth are harder than most metals.
They are gender fluid and change colours too.
All marine life has its purpose and plays a vital role in the ocean and the world. Every marine life, no matter its size, is crucial for the existence of life on earth. As are all animals, with the only exception being humans. We must keep protecting the oceans and strive to be better humans – it’s easy to forget the stunning array of coral and tropical fish that surrounds us. In fact, we are polluting and over-fishing the oceans at a rate that is currently putting all not just marine organisms in danger, but us too!
Do you have any interesting facts that were missed in this article? Write your comments below!