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Saudi Red Sea divers explore freedoms off coast

Issued: 2018-03-25

In this March 7, 2018 photo, Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old female Saudi dive instructor, waits in the water for Tamer Nasr, an Egyptian diving instructor to explore the waters off a sandy island in the Red Sea near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

In this March 7, 2018 photo, Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old female Saudi dive instructor, left, prepares to dive with Tamer Nasr, an Egyptian diving instructor, to explore the waters off a sandy island in the Red Sea near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (AP Photo/Fay Abuelgasim)

In this March 7, 2018 photo, Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old female Saudi dive instructor, films natural life on a sandy island in the Red Sea near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

In this, March 7, 2018 frame grab from video, fish swim on a virgin coral reef near a sandy island in the Red Sea near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (Nouf Alosaimi via AP)

In this March 7, 2018 photo, Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old female Saudi dive instructor, left, and Tamer Nasr, an Egyptian diving instructor, return from a dive to explore the waters off a sandy island in the Red Sea near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

In this March 7, 2018 photo, Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old female Saudi dive instructor, right, and Tamer Nasr, an Egyptian diving instructor explore a sandy island in the Red Sea after a dive, near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

In this March 7, 2018 photo, Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old female Saudi dive instructor, rinses off after a dive off a sandy island in the Red Sea near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

In this March 7, 2018 photo, Nouf Alosaimi, a 29-year-old female Saudi dive instructor prepares to explore the waters off a sandy island in the Red Sea near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

In this March 7, 2018 photo, a sailor collects his anchor rope after a dive in the Red Sea, near King Abdullah Economic City, Saudi Arabia. Saudi has the longest coastline of any country along the Red Sea, and the kingdom's nascent tourism industry is betting on the clear, blue waters, coral reefs and idyllic islands off its western coastline to lure visitors from around the world. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)

OFF THE COAST OF JIDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and the sea is a glimmering turquoise. Nouf Alosaimi is on a discovery dive around a small, sandy island in the Red Sea that's home to busy crabs and a few seagulls.

Jellyfish float near the edge of the boat in waters so translucent the fish are visible deep below. The 29-year-old Saudi woman is wearing a diving suit and a necklace with a silver charm in the shape of shark's tooth, a nod to her nickname, "Sharky." In the water, she wears a swim cap, but on the boat — the sole woman diver among a group of men — she goes bareheaded.

Out here in the Red Sea, it's easy to forget this is Saudi Arabia, a conservative Muslim country where the vast majority of women cover their hair and face with black veils, wear long, loose robes, known as abayas, in public, are largely segregated from men and cannot travel abroad without the permission of a male relative.

The serene waters north of the bustling city of Jiddah are the scene of a dramatic experiment to encourage tourism in the reserved and traditionally closed kingdom. It's exciting for Alosaimi on multiple levels. It's bringing new opportunities for women, as a corner of the country is carved out with somewhat relaxed rules. And it's opening up miles of untouched coastline teeming with unexplored seascapes for her and other divers.

"We are here on an island in middle of the Red Sea. We want to discover this place," Alosaimi said before her dive. "We may find this island beautiful for a picnic. We are creating a diving product here."

Alosaimi, a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer, is a pioneer in her field, holding a local record for the deepest dive by a Saudi female at 345 feet (105 meters). The technical dive required five tanks and lasted more than 70 minutes.

Her passion for diving takes her on an hour-long bus ride to work each day from Jiddah to King Abdullah Economic City. There, she works at a dive center recently opened at the Bay La Sun Marina and Yacht Club in preparation for the kingdom's plans to open up to tourists later this year.

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