Ashore, at sea
For Bader al Shehi, a scuba diving instructor from Khasab, Musandam, the real meaning of life begins around 20-30 metres below the level of the deep blue sea where the fantasy of marine life comes alive in a thousand hues. Bader, who had to keep his passion harnessed during the current COVID-19 pandemic, had been worried about his existence as he did not have any back-up plan ready. He, now hopes to soon resume his dives with a new set of precautions and also plans to keep himself afloat in the face of calamity with new options.
The owner of a dive centre where he trains interested persons of all ages, Bader also heads a group of Omani divers which was started in 2013 to enjoy scuba diving for fun and for discovering new dive sites in Oman. They also try their best to protect the marine life in Musandam whenever they go out on diving expeditions. In 2016, the team of divers registered themselves as Musandam Discovery Divers comprising 45 odd members.
“We not just enjoy diving but also make every trip a mission to preserve our marine environment. Apart from enjoying diving and viewing the most fascinating underwater sights, we also put in efforts to clear diving sites of garbage that can get dragged into the sea as well as collect trash from the sea which can adversely affect our marine life,” he says, adding, “Often, we also take up risky activity like finding people who have drowned or got lost underwater.”
During the lockdown, all of Bader's regular activities had to be stopped as people prefered to stay indoors while all adventure activity in Oman also came to a grinding halt. Bader had to spend his time drawing up new plans for his business, researching new dive sites as well as doing online marketing to keep his centre in circulation. He also ventured out to discover new dive sites elsewhere in Oman but could not come to Muscat as its borders had been closed during the lockdown.
Bader, however, treasures the extra time he got to spend with his family which is otherwise not possible. “Normally, I'm very busy during the week as well as the weekends and have little time to spend with my family as I am busy organising and training my team. However, during the lockdown, I enjoyed quality time with my family members and it was really good,”
The positives from the lockdown that Bader drew included the quality time spent with his family, the opportunities he got to relax his mind and body as well as to reflect on the past. The negatives, however, was the halt to his thriving business and the uncertainty of reopening looming large over him everyday, he said.
“The biggest lesson I learnt from this lockdown was that I need to keep my options open. I have been successfully running my dive centre, but in the face of the pandemic and the lockdown, I did not have 'Plan B' ready,” Bader said, adding that he is now focussing on opening up the horizon of his career to include other options of income.
Recently, Bader went for a dive and was pleasantly surprised. “I noticed now that the marine life underwater has improved and increased. Also, the corals have become more beautiful. And, I guess, this is because human interference in the ocean has stopped for some time as fishing and other commercial activity has been stopped for 2-3 months.
This is a good sign for our marine life and it is our responsibility to let it thrive,” he asserted.
Bader also said that, post COVID-19, greater care will be taken during all diving activity. To be sure that divers are safe during diving, all participants will have to fill up a medical form stating that they are healthy and free from communicable diseases.
Also, all equipment and gear will be cleaned and sanitised before and after every dive to protect everyone from the virus. People will be encourged to purchase and carry their own equipment, rather than hire them out, to make sure that they are safe, he said, hoping that all tourism activity will soon pick up and he will be back in the reckoning.