Shell Collecting: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Coast

16 Aug

From January of 1986 until March of 1990, I lived and worked in the Red Sea port city of Jeddah (Saudi Arabia). During that time, I spent most of my weekends SCUBA diving in the glass-clear coastal waters south of Jeddah.

The reef at Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia's Red Sea Coast, 1988.

The reef at Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Coast, 1988.       (Click on image to see a larger version.)

The U.S. Geological Survey Saudi Mission (my employer at the time) maintained an isolated “rest camp” (two ancient but reliably air-conditioned trailers and a fresh water storage tank) known as Shuaybah, about 20 km north of Al Lith. I, my boss Paul Schmidt and his family would drive down to the camp late Wednesday nights (the last day of the Saudi work week) and stay the whole weekend, getting in three or four dives a day.

The reef wildlife @Shuaybah

The reef was lush, healthy and pristine. The visibility was usually better than this image suggests: I often dove in waters with 80-100 feet of visibility and so clear it gave  one the impression of flying in mid-air. (Click on image to see a larger version.)

Looking back, I wish I’d spent more of my time underwater collecting the scores of amazing mollusk shells that collected in huge piles among the reef flats just a few meters below the surface. The well-developed fringing reefs, gentle local current flow and relative absence of storms were ideal conditions for collecting handfuls of undamaged specimens. Add to that the fact that the long stretches of white-sand beaches backing onto low fossilized-coral cliffs were virtually untouched by human hands; at the time, there was no tourist industry in The Kingdom and the vast majority of the local population avoided swimming in the sea. Just walking along the beach I found so many good specimens I could afford to be picky and discard shells I’d now give my left nut to find here on Maui.

The following is a small sample of the all-too-few shells I collected back then. Seeing them again almost makes me wish I could go back to Shuaybah with an empty duffle bag: I’d easily fill it with molluscan treasures!

Spider Conch

Giant Spider Conch (Lambis truncata sebae), aperatural view. Collected November 1988, inner reef flat zone, depth ~7 m; Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia. (Click on image to see a larger version.)

 

Marlinspike Auger

Marlinspike Auger (Terebra maculata), abaperatural view. Collected December 1986, on reef flat, approx. depth 8 m; Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia. (Click on image to see larger version.)

 

Virgin Murex (Chicoreus virgineus)

Virgin Murex (Chicoreus virgineus), aperatural view. Collected September 1987, inner reef flat zone, depth 8 m; Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia. Shell is about 18 cm long.
(Click on image to see larger version.)

 

Rake Scallop (Mirapecten rastellum)

Rake Scallop (Mirapecten rastellum). Dorsal view. Collected January 1987, sandy bottom near coral, depth ~10 m; Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia. (Click on image to see larger version.)

 

Ornate Clam (Lioconcha ornata)

Ornate Clam (Lioconcha ornata). Dorsal view. Collected February 1988, coral rubble, depth ~5 m), Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia.
(Click on image to view larger version.)

 

Tridacna and coral

An immature Fluted Giant Clam (Tridacna squamosa) overgrown by a small colony of branching coral. Collected March 1989, inner reef flat zone, depth 5 m Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia.
(Click on image to see larger version.)

 

Tapestry Turban (Turbo pentholatus)

Tapestry Turban (Turbo pentholatus), abaperatural view. Collected June 1989, in shallow reef detritus, < 1 m depth; Shuaybah, Saudi Arabia. (Click on image to see larger version.)

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One Response to “Shell Collecting: Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea Coast”

  1. Liz Croonquist 17 August 2014 at 12:45 PM #

    How often I’ve thought you need to market your work, & today’s photos are no exception! I could almost feel the Saudi Arabian desert heat! Webshots is something I subscribe to, and your work could easily fit right in with the rest of the pro photographers from around the world! Thanks for sharing these great photos and for the Ancestry updates, too…fascinating! Hope all is well with you, Liz

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