UAE jumps back into pearl diving

UAE jumps back into pearl diving

"Heritage is our foundation," said Ali Saqr al-Suweidi, pulling a red handkerchief out of his pocket to reveal a small handful of milky pearls, "and our heritage is the sea."

The descendant of Emirati pearl divers, 58-year-old al-Suweidi - or Major Ali, as he prefers to be called - has been sailing in the Gulf since he was eight, and searching its waters for riches since he was a teenager.

Today, he is president of the Emirates Marine Environmental Group (EMEG), a non-profit organisation devoted to the study and protection of the UAE's aquatic treasures. The group regularly organises pearl diving expeditions for locals and foreigners alike, determined to keep this now-neglected tradition alive.

"There is this story my grandfather used to tell me about a diver who brought a sheikh onboard to pray for pearls. For three months they prayed and no pearls came. The diver eventually dismissed the sheikh and, soon after, he found a huge pearl," al-Suweidi told Al Jazeera, recounting one of the many tales set amid the UAE's historic pearl trade.

"He gave it to the captain who recited a prayer and cast it out to sea, saying it was cursed because the diver discovered it after abandoning the sheikh. Later, the cook found it in the belly of a fish he was preparing for dinner."

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