WKND Special: The green mermaid with a mission
Ehdaa Al Barwani, the first and only female Omani dive instructor, recently dressed up in the national costume and went diving to raise awareness on underwater conservation
When one expects to see images of locals or tourists flaunt the national dress of a country, one imagines individuals posing against the backdrop of mountains and monuments, right? Ehdaa Al Barwani’s Instagram feed (@dive.with.dee) came in as a pleasant surprise, with pictures of her in Oman’s national costume under water.
The 33-year-old Omani diver donned the costume last year as part of the country’s National Day celebrations, with a mission to raise awareness on underwater conservation. “The idea to capture the dive in a photoshoot came from the desperate need for us, as Omani nationals, to work towards keeping our seas clean,” says Ehdaa, who is also the owner of Aura Divers, a dive centre in Muscat.
She is the first and only female Omani dive instructor, and aspires to encourage women to join the ever-growing scuba family. She has travelled to Dubai many times for short stays but is yet to dive here. “I’d love to dive in Fujairah soon,” she adds.
How challenging was it to dive in the attire?
The Omani dress is versatile and warm. Women used to wear it daily for a variety of activities, whether tending to the fields or mending fishing nets at the shore. Diving in it wasn’t any different.
What is the message you wish to send out?
Reusing and recycling old items has become an important aspect of the push to preserve the world’s environment. The problem with disposing old ‘junk’ is that eventually it ends up in a landfill, seeps into our soil, and inevitably into our oceans. This has posed a large decline in healthy coral reefs, which, in turn, affects us in myriad ways. During my dive, I encourage divers and students to pick up any plastic or rubbish and pop it in their pockets to be thrown away later. This encourages good habits and instills a sense of responsibility in them. We can’t expect people to be aware of the level of rubbish without them seeing it, neither can we expect them to understand the beauty of the underwater flora and fauna without them being able to swim amongst it.
Was the photoshoot one of the first such novel ideas?
I did a smaller series celebrating Omani Women’s Day. It was to spread the idea that women are capable of doing many great things. The response was positive and supportive. I have been working with reclaimed wood from construction areas that’s been washed up ashore. There are so many creative ways the wood can be reused and recycled. I’m now working on a series showcasing this.
When and how did you decide to become a diver?
I started my open water back in 2011. With Muscat being a coastal city, I grew up close to the sea and was somewhat a water baby. We used to go to the beach every Friday for family get-togethers and I would spend the day in the water, so becoming a diver was an easy and natural transition. I was also travelling for a while, and working as a divemaster was a good way to earn some money to sustain my travels. During the course, I realised that being a diver was also a great way to meet new people and immerse yourself in the culture of living and working alongside the locals.
Share your most fascinating diving experience with us.
Diving in Nusa Penida, South Bali was wonderful. I had originally gone searching for the sunfish, a fascinating fish that can grow up to 2000 kg, but they are rarely seen even during the season. But I did get to dive with giant Manta Rays, the highlight being when I got separated from the group and a giant manta glided around me. It was fascinating to see one up close.
What are your favourite diving locations?
Scuba diving in Moalboal, Philippines, is diverse and vibrant. Think big schools of fish, beautiful walls, canyons and caves, and fascinating macro life. Dramatic wall with colourful soft corals. You can also see schools of barracuda, beautiful caves, reef sharks, and also smaller marine life like nudibranchs and frogfish! The Daymaniyat Islands in Oman have some of my favourite dive sites as well; with over 30 gorgeous dive sites spanning nine islands, you never run out of new places to explore.
Message for female divers: ‘You go, girl!’
“Women make great divers. We have better air consumption. This might be due to the fact that we have less lung capacity than men, or because we sometimes have less muscle mass. Either way, we seem to always have more left in the tank at the end of a dive than male divers! We also have better buoyancy due to our higher body fat percentage, and hence are able to swim more efficiently. Women are also generally more patient and understanding — characteristics that are highly valued when teaching someone a new skill. The point is, women are more than capable of being great divers. Each year, more women are leaving their mark in the diving industry. This is just the beginning, we are capable of overcoming our fears, and paving the way for more women to be part of this industry.”