National Geographic : 2012 Mar
His face was like a walnut shell, and his eyes squinted with a lifetime of gazing into the white- hot glare of Arabia. e shamal was blowing o the sea in scorching gusts, making even the date palms droop. "It is the western wind," the man said in a raspy voice. "I feel its warmth." Behind him, the village of Film, notched into the mountains of Oman's Musandam Peninsula, shimmered like a brazier. Goats panted in the shade cast by upturned boats and the walls of a mosque. Just breathing made me feel as if my nostrils might burst into ame. Sami Alhaj, my Yemeni dive partner, said: "Underwater, with the corals, we get a little piece of heaven. Above water, with this wind, we get a little piece of hell." We soon ed the inferno and descended into paradise once more. Color marked our passage between worlds as vividly as temperature did. Where the colors of land were those of the spice suq---pepper, cinnamon, mustard, mace---the undersea world was drenched in the sumptuous The old sherman sat on a scrap of carpet in a thatched shelter by the sea. hues of a sultan's palace. Long, waving indigo arms of so corals mingled with pomegranate fronds of feather stars. Speckled-gray moray eels, whose gaping mouths reveal a startling burst of yellow, leered out of crevices, while butter y sh itted past in tangerine ashes. Had the legendary Scheherazade known the richness of these seas, she would have had stories for another thousand and one Arabian nights. She might have piqued the king's curiosity with the riddle of the reefs of Dhofar, in southern Oman; they ourish as coral gardens in winter and seaweed forests in summer. e trigger for this ecological shi ---found nowhere else---is the onset of the khareef, the southwesterly monsoon, which bathes the coast in an upwelling of cold, nutrient-rich water. Seaweed, dormant in the warm months, responds to the cooler conditions with a burst of luxuriant growth, carpeting the reefs with green, red, and golden fronds. Or she might have told the story of the tribe By Kennedy Warne Photographs by Thomas P. Peschak Arabian surgeonfish---named for a pair of orange, needle-sharp "scalpels" near the tail---joust for territorial possession on a coral reef in the Red Sea. During combat they fling themselves at each other, trying to slash fins or flanks. Once the battle is decided, the victor returns to grazing its algal patch.