National Geographic : 2012 Mar
• of mudskippers that have their sheikhdom on the shores of Kuwait Bay. eir name in Per- sian means "lazy ones," because they appear too lethargic to follow the falling tide. Instead, each goggle-eyed sh builds and patrols its own mud- rimmed swimming pool. Shining in slippery coats of mud, they wriggle through the slurry of their ponds, waddle along the walls on their broad pectoral ns, then ing themselves into the air, exuberant as porpoises. Might she have mentioned the ghost crabs of Masira Island? ey build perfect miniature Mount Fujis of sand every night, only to have them leveled by the winds the next day. Scheher- azade would have had no shortage of material. " . In my depths all treasures dwell. Have they asked the divers about my pearls?" the Egyptian poet Muhammad Ha z Ibrahim wrote a century ago. Few survive today of those champions of the sea, the pearl divers of gen- erations past who sought the greatest treasure of all. Forty, y, a hundred times a day they dropped to the sea oor, as deep as 65 feet, with- out goggles and o en wearing only a thin woven garment to protect against jelly sh stings. With other risks, they took their chances. Men died from stingray jabs, from poisonous stone sh spines, from shark bites. Clownfish---cruel joke---attacked their eyes. eir eardrums burst, and some went blind from constant exposure to the salty water. Pearls were the diamonds of the ancient world. In Ha z's time they were the Persian Gulf 's most valuable resource, and 70,000 men were engaged in collecting them. But the divers saw little of the wealth they brought up. e oysters were thrown into a common pile, to be opened the next day, when dead. Even if a diver brought up a pearl of Steinbeckian magni cence, he would never know it. Debt drove them to dive. Debt inherited from their fathers and their father's fathers. Yet pearling was equally a matter of deep cultural pride, part of a maritime tradition that is as Arabian as deserts and dates. rough the waters of the Persian Gulf, East met West, the wealth of Africa and India owing to the em- pires of Europe. Until the 1930s, great Kuwaiti dhows, or booms, with names like e Triumph of Righteousness and e Light of the Earth and Sea, set their lateen sails to the billowing north- easterly wind that blew them to Zanzibar and Mangalore. Months later the khareef brought them home again. e seasonal uctuations of the winds were the fuel of Arabian commerce. e winds were Allah's, and the winds were free. en came oil, and a seafaring way of life that had endured for millennia melted away at Let em Eat Shrimp, published in 2011, is Kennedy Warne's book about the loss of mangroves. omas Peschak's photographs of manta rays appeared in the July 2009 issue. Highly venomous---but not aggres- sive to humans---sea snakes are common in the shallow waters of the Persian Gulf. They feed on small fish such as gobies, some- times entering their burrows in the seabed to snag the occupant. Sea snakes can remain under- water for up to two hours before surfacing to breathe.