I haven't seen that much of it, but I am amazed by what I find, and at times, amused by my amazement.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Pearl Diving In Bahrain - The Last Chapter

This blog was originally started in April, just before I left Bahrain to start another job in Lesotho.  Since then I have suffered through a laptop crash, and even though I had backed up my files and photos, the photos of Rob & Robin that pertain to this blog have been lost - at least for now.

When I blogged about pearl diving in Bahrain in January, 2010, I promised the next blog would be about the history of pearl diving.  That didn't happen.  I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to write this.  Originally, the blog was going to be about a story that goes back to Gilgamesh, the King of Uruk, who in about 3750 BC travelled to a land called Dilmun and dove for the "flowers of immortality".  That land is now known as Bahrain. The "flowers of immortality" were of course, pearls.  At one time the waters off this island nation supplied 80 per cent of the world's pearls.

I was told about this story, and much more, by Rob Gregory.  Together with Robin Bugeja, Rob ran PearlDive, and was a tireless promoter of Bahrain's pearl beds, working to safeguard them by making the best beds part of a World Heritage site. While Robin put Joann and I through the paces of re-certifying our scuba credentials, Rob was in charge of making sure we understood that the oysters we were about meet had been cultivated by thousands of years of free divers, going all the way back to the beginning of recorded history. His class, which was supposed to last an hour, took over three hours. Even so it was a whirlwind tour. There was so much ground to cover.

 He was born in Bahrain where his British father was working there in the newly discovered oil fields.  He went England to complete his education, but he spent his summers back in Bahrain practicing his newly acquired scuba diving skills.  It was in 1969, during one of these summers that he got a job working as an underwater cinematographer for Disney studios, who were in Bahrain to film the movie, "Hamad and the Pirates".  The combination of diving, pearling and photography set him on a course that would shape his future.  Having run dive shops in New Zealand and Australia, he returned to Bahrain in 1990 and continued his diving career.  He is considered the first Westerner to dive the pearl beds of Bahrain.

Joann and I met him while he was video-editing a 12-part series for a Bahrain television station about the history, biology and conservation of the pearl beds. When he heard I had a commercial art background, we struck a deal to trade scuba diving for logo design work, to help publicize the dive business and promote his efforts to gain recognition for the pearl beds.
He never got a chance to finish that project.  Rob died of an apparent heart attack in February, while Robin was in Australia visiting family and Joann and I were home on R&R.

As I said at the beginning of this blog, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to write this.  He was a man with passion for his cause and a story to tell and I am not qualified to tell that story.  I would like to have learned so much more from him.  We knew him all too briefly. 

An excellent article about Rob and Robin can be found at: