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Saturday, January 13, 2007

Swimming in the sea in Qatar – Is it safe?

In a country like Qatar, it’s truly a relief to cool off in the sea – and there are any number of almost deserted beaches in which to do so. But is it truly safe to swim in Qatar’s seas?

Before I frighten you with a list of hazards, I should mention that I (along with everyone else I know) go swimming in the sea all the time, I take my two year old daughter with me and I have heard of no fatalities in the two years I have lived in Qatar. However, I do wear wetsuit boots to protect my feet from both sharp coral and the possibility of stepping on a stone fish or sting ray.

Potential Hazards


Barbecuing is popular in Qatar. Unfortunately, many people do not clean up after themselves and every public beach seems to have broken glass hiding among the sand. It's best to avoid bare feet even before you get in the sea.


Should you get stuck in a current, the advice remains the same as ever – don’t swim against the current. Either swim across the current, or wait until the current stops and then swim back to shore.


There are both large and small species of jellyfish. I have only experienced mild irritation to the skin from the smaller types while fishing (waist deep) in the sea, but more poisonous species do exist, and some people on Qatar Living have reported very painful stings.

Sea snakes

Although there are several species of sea snakes living in coastal waters in Qatar, none of them are aggressive. Although poisonous, they do not represent any serious danger unless disturbed.

Stonefish and Lionfish

Qatar has two types of these deadly fish: stone fish (synanceia) and false stone fish (pseudosynanceia). Both normally occur around rocks, and as they have very effective natural camouflage they are extremely difficult to spot. Stone fish poison is very strong and stings can be fatal. Lion fish are also extremely venomous, but are more visible than Stone fish. In the event of someone being stung by any of these fish, get them to a hospital as soon as possible.


Despite recent publicity, stingrays are rarely fatal. Incidents happen when the fish is taken by surprise. I tend to splash about when entering the sea, to let the fish know I am coming - occasionally you may see the fish swim away as you approach. In the event of someone being stung, immerse the affected area in water as hot as the person can bear. The person should then be taken for immediate medical treatment.


The Persian Gulf has a huge range of sharks, from small harmless reef sharks and nurse sharks to hammerheads, tiger sharks and great whites. Despite this, it's really not something to worry about. Shark attacks are extremely rare, and sharks have more to fear from humans than we have to fear from them (see this article).


The threat you should worry most about it! Riding jet-skis in Qatar, like cars and motorbikes, is an opportunity for young men to behave like complete idiots, and youths compete to show off their skills and bravery.

This may seem a scary list, but as long as you avoid those jet skiers and take reasonable precautions you should be okay. You may also be lucky enough to see other, less scary species but equally fascinating species such as dolphins, turtles and the rare dugong or sea cow.

Also see:

Qatar Sea Slugs

Discovering Qatar by France Gillespie

Qatar Visitor Bookstore

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