Growing up so close to the water, I’ve always loved being in the ocean. Although a dip in Dubai’s warm sea and basking out in the sun is a wondrous way to relax after a long day, for more adventurous swimmers, a trip to Alaqa, Fujairah is a must.
There are several resorts that dot the shoreline of Fujairah, but for those who like to rough it, camping out on the beach is an option (one which I frequently opt for). You can fall asleep under the stars, watch the washed up plankton glow on the shore at night, and listen to the tranquil sounds of nature. Just off of the coast, there is a large rock formation that sits aside a coral reef, where you can rent out a kayak or a boat ride, jump into the blue waters and go for a swim or a dive.
Colorful fish dot the sea, and schools of flying fish dart across the surface of the water. We were even lucky enough to see a sea turtle swim lazily by a couple of times.
While swimming around the coral reef is highly recommended for those wanting an unforgettable underwater experience, swimming from the shore to the reef and rock formation is not. Being an experienced swimmer myself and having already done the 20 minute kayak ride to the reef, a friend and I wanted to try to swim to the reef and rock formation. It seemed like a good idea. A fun idea.
We soon realized that it was a bad idea. The water in between the shore and the coral reef was dotted with green algae, and had almost zero sea life. The white sand and bleached, dead coral blended in together, which made it quite a boring swim.
Half way through, however, I heard my gurgle something through her snorkel.
Remember how I said the water was with almost zero sea life?
Because of the abundance of algae that was in the water, it was the perfect habitat for jellyfish (fun fact: some species of jellyfish have a symbiotic relationship with algae).
Freezing in mid-stroke, we stuck our heads into the water in disbelief, focusing on our nightmare-ish surroundings. Hundreds -no- thousands of baby jellyfish surrounded us. I could almost hear the tiny crackle of their stinging tentacles in the water.
Now, any normal person would have turned tail and fled back to shore. But we were already at the halfway point between the shore and the marine reserve, so we decided to persevere and make it to where the water cleared up near the coral reef.
After about an hour or so of snorkeling around the reef, we decided to make the journey back to shore. I dreaded swimming back through the baby jellyfish, but we barely got stung on the way to the coral reef. How bad would it be if we kept powering through?
Pretty bad, it turned out, since we also forgot to account for one more thing: the tide.
While we were snorkeling, we failed to notice that the tide went out, and the water around the coral reef began to grow very, very shallow. Shallow waters don’t really sound like a problem, except that we wanted to avoid stepping on the coral reef. Coral reefs are one of the most fragile, yet essential, ecosystems in the world, providing an environment for over 25% of sea life. Although coral reefs look like mere rocky structures, they are actually live organisms. They are highly sensitive to water temperatures, which are fluctuating due to the effects of climate change, resulting in a mass depletion of coral reefs, thus robbing sea life of their environment, food, shelter, and more (domino effect, anyone?). Coral reefs also take years to grow a few centimeters, which makes preserving coral reefs an even bigger priority. Stepping on coral reefs would damage and kill the coral, and was not an option for us.
There were also sea urchins. Everywhere.
Their little, black, spindly bodies looking like menacing balls of pins in the water, waiting to prick us. The water was so shallow that we had to stiffen our bodies and float, letting the tide carry us back out to sea where it was deep enough to start swimming.
After miraculously escaping the coral reefs, low tides, and a sea of sea urchins, we were left with the swim back to shore. We managed to dodge the fluther of baby jellyfish, but as luck would have it, I swam right into what I assumed was the Mama Jellyfish. I escaped with jellyfish stings everywhere.
I was married to a spare bottle of water that I had filled with vinegar for the rest of our beach trip, which we had luckily brought along with us for our camping trip. Vinegar is a wonderful, albeit smelly, home remedy to sooth jellyfish stings. Contrary to popular belief, peeing on yourself (or finding someone else willing to pee on you) is not a remedy for jellyfish stings.
The takeaway from this trip was:
- Respect the wildlife, whether it is above the water or in the water.
- If you’re going to camp on the beach, come prepared.
- Rent a boat or kayak ride up to the coral reefs. It might cost a few extra bucks, but it will save you from the exhaustion of swimming through fluthers of jellyfish.
- Don’t forget your swimming gear!