Bahrain seeks UNESCO listing for pearl diving plan

Wed Jan 27, 2010 8:55am EST
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By Frederik Richter

MANAMA (Reuters Life!) - There was a time when Yousif al-Alawi could cast a line straight into the sea and fish from the roof of his old family home.

Broken seashells are still visible in the material used to build the crumbling walls of Alawi's house on Muharraq, an island adjacent to Bahrain's mainland. But a landfill program on Muharraq which also now hosts Bahrain's international airport has long since moved the shoreline too far for roof-fishing.

The modernization drive which built the airport and has made Alawi's roof-fishing days a distant memory is only a fractional representation of the effects of an oil boom across the Gulf states that has seen most of them reclaim land off their coasts and build the mushrooming business towers that have drastically changed the landscapes of Gulf states.

Until recently little attention has been paid to the effects that that break-neck growth has had on the cultural heritage of a region which embraces both the spartan life of the desert nomad and the rich traditions of a sea-going fishing industry.

The island kingdom of Bahrain will partly address critics who say that progress is trampling traditions Wednesday when it applies to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to have a project preserving its pearl diving traditions listed as a world heritage site.

The country first submitted the project as part of a tentative list of its natural and cultural heritage to the UNESCO in May 2008 and Wednesday submitted the nomination file for the pearl heritage project.

Harvesting pearls was a major source of income for Bahrain and the region until the early 20th century when Japanese cultured pearls flooded world markets and oil was found.

"Our research has shown that income from pearl fishing in Bahrain was more than double that of all other Gulf states combined," said Britta Rudolff, a heritage advisor to the Bahraini government.   Continued...