It’s no secret that pearl diving is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. It sees divers having to essentially free-dive (diving without the use of breathing apparatus) and search the ocean floor for oysters that contain pearls. The skill and technique required just to come up with a handful of pearls is making this an increasingly unpopular career choice (dwindling numbers of women pearl divers in Japan and Korea, called ama and haenyo, or “sea woman” in their respective languages, are a testament to this).
However, those interested in diving for their own gleaming treasure can make their way to the waters of Bahrain. The Persian Gulf is known as a hotspot for pearl cultivation, and Bahrain is among the Arab countries surrounding the Gulf whose major trade export before the discovery of oil was pearls. The closely guarded Gulf waters of Bahrain used to be closed to visitors looking to collect their own pearls, but in 2017 the government opened it up to allow a small number of operators to lead tourists on pearl diving expeditions.
Though the activity is not for the faint-hearted, modern developments have made it a lot safer, and participants don’t have to be certified divers to take part. All you have to do is book an excursion with one of the Tourism Authority-recognised dive operators, and apply for a pearl diving pass from the government before attending a safety and training briefing on the day of the excursion.
Once done, divers are allowed to collect up to 60 oysters that will be opened on the return trip to shore, before a professional inspects the pearls and packs them for the divers to take home.