Deep Dive Dubai opened on July 7 in Nad Al Sheba. The only diving facility in the world where you can dive to depths of 60 metres, it features a stunning underwater attraction that is themed to resemble an abandoned sunken city.
The 1,500-square-metre building is an oyster-shaped structure, inspired by the UAE’s pearl-diving heritage. Inside, the pool is home to an underwater city, where divers can explore multi-level sunken rooms, a garage and an arcade, play pool, climb staircases, even ride a bike. There is also an underwater film studio and a nearby media editing room.
Jarrod Jablonski, Deep Dive Dubai’s director, spoke to blooloop. Jablonski is a celebrated technical diver, record-setting cave diver, and one of the main architects behind the ‘Doing It Right’ (or DIR) system of diving.
A passion for diving
Touching on what drew him to diving in the beginning, he says:
“I’m not sure if I should really blame my mother, but she taught me how to swim before I could even walk. She had read an interesting book about teaching your infant to swim, so before I was even two years old, I was already swimming around in the water. I think she certainly helped to inaugurate my passion for the underwater environment.”
Jablonski grew up in South Florida, surrounded by water:
“My mom’s parents were both big influences in my life. I used to spend time with them out on their fishing boat, so it was part predestination and part environment.”
He started diving in South Florida, then, when he moved to North Florida for college, discovered caving.
“I was in a landlocked setting for the first time in my life. I noticed the springs. There was beautiful crystal-clear spring water coming from the ground and dark spaces at the bottom of them. That’s when I fell in love with cave diving. I got into technical diving, deep diving, cave diving and ultimately started companies that were based around those activities.”
The early days of Deep Dive Dubai
There’s a perception that cave diving can be dangerous. He says:
“It depends on what kind of cave you dive, what type of experience you have, how careful you are, particularly in the realm of recreational cave diving. Cave exploration opens up a whole other game because you don’t know what’s there, which can open up a lot of variables that can become more dangerous, particularly for new explorers. All of my most dangerous dives probably occurred in the first three to five years of my diving. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
Jablonski became involved with the Deep Dive Dubai project in its early stages.
“The principals considering this project wanted to create a unique training environment and to do something much grander than anyone had ever done before.
“At the time I was on an expedition vessel tooling around the world, so I wasn’t really looking for any other kind of job or activity, to be honest. I agreed to come to Dubai to look over the concept and discuss the ideas. When I saw that there was interest in doing something truly unique, that we would not only build the world’s largest, deepest pool but would make that a truly remarkable environment where the sky was the limit, I was interested.
“Everything was still open at that point for what kind of concept I would want it to develop. That was pretty exciting because it is unusual to see big investments made in the dive industry for diving destinations. Most of the business is tied up in the manufacturing sector, making diving equipment.”
Building such a pool in a desert location was a formidable challenge for the Deep Dive Dubai project:
“One obstacle we came up against that isn’t obvious, maybe it’s even counterintuitive, is that we hit groundwater at about 10 metres, or 30 feet.”
“We are fairly close to the coast here in Dubai. Not only are we close to the water table, but we’re also in a brackish water environment. So almost immediately, we had to deal with the water with large groundwater pumps that pump the water off-site, allowing work to continue in relatively dry conditions. Additionally, of course, digging that far down meant the walls had to be built to keep the sand from collapsing.”
Unique theming at Deep Dive Dubai
The theming, featuring a sunken city that divers can explore, is completely unique.
“ We had a number of different planning teams and we debated this a lot,” Jablonski explains:
“We looked at a lot of different themes because we felt this was going to be a really important component. It had to be something that’s fun to explore. There were a number of people that were interested in building a variety of things, from shipwrecks to a natural coral reef environment.”
“A couple of us, myself included, were firm about wanting something like the sunken city. I’m a diver. I dive all around the world and have been fortunate enough to do a lot of amazing dives, from great cave dives to tremendous ancient archaeology. But what I had never been able to dive was a really cool sunken city.
“In trying to mimic nature, we were always going to fail, but we could build something that really captures people’s imagination, and that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to create this unique place that allowed people to create their own story.”
The result is a post-apocalyptic city:
“It is kind of falling apart in different areas. We fully furnished some rooms and left others a little bit vacant. It allows your imagination to play games.”
Keeping things fresh
The plan is to vary the theming at Deep Dive Dubai over time:
“We are already actually in the active process of doing that,” he says:
“We try to keep it fresh. So, we put a lot of energy into the shallow parts, and now we’re actively doing a bunch of work at 40 metres because we want to really rotate that around. We left that a little bit less themed at the beginning and a little bit spookier and emptier. We’ll be adding additional features in that area, and will move them around a bit, as well.”
“We re-theme particular rooms. We are also working on a range of new props or new features in the pool that we can change around. Repeat visitors will have new things to find. On top of that, we’ve got plans for things like scavenger hunts and gold hunts once we get the facility a little bit further along.”
Deep Dive Dubai suitable for experts and beginners
While Deep Dive Dubai is likely to attract expert divers, it is also suitable for beginners.
“We do everything from snorkelling to first-time free diving and scuba diving experiences. That makes up a big part of the people that come here. I can’t think of a better place to try scuba diving, because there is a perfectly controlled environment, a water temperature of 30 degrees, no waves, no fish, no sharks, nothing to worry about, and a very interesting environment.”
“The first-time experience allows you to get down to 12 metres, which is more than enough to see a huge part of the really cool things in the shallower water.”
The visitor experience
He describes the visitor experience at Deep Dive Dubai from the perspective of a Discover Scuba participant:
“The building is shaped like an oyster. When you come in, having booked online, you’re greeted by a massive window that opens into the facility. You are taken for a fitting – all equipment is included for all experiences, so all you need to do is bring your bathing suit.
“The full deck is a little disconcerting because it looks like a really nice pool, but when you peer over the edge it just disappears below. You walk in down a gentle slope until you’re standing in comfortable water on a large shelf, and your instructor goes through a number of different pointers, then you’ll practise a bit in very shallow water. The instructor will gauge your comfort level, and bring you to progressively deeper areas.
“Even if you only dive a couple of metres deep, you’ll still get a tremendous experience, because the visibility means you can literally see the bottom all the way from the surface. That’s an exciting experience. Some people even get a moment of ‘I’m going to fall’, because the water is so clear. And then you start a gentle tour around the different areas. Some people like to play chess, some people like to ride the bicycle or to sit in the car, or play billiards.
“We have a variety of different interactive props – there is even a bookcase. The Discovery program includes an edited video of your experience.”
Around two-thirds of the pool is deeper than 20 metres.
“While it’s very engaging in the shallow water, the deeper water has a ton of additional features. You can enter the main shaft, which goes all the way to 60 metres, and from that shaft, you can access two entranceways at 30 and at 40 metres.
“Those entrances go into a large doughnut-shaped feature that you can swim around. It has a series of fully furnished rooms: a kitchen, living room, dining room, and bedroom. There are two doughnuts at 30 and 40 metres, connected by vertical shafts. My favourite is a big spiral staircase that connects the two.”
“If you’re qualified to dive to 40, then you can access the 40-metre level. And then, of course, if you’re suitably qualified, you can dive all the way down to 60 metres. We have a wide range of expert staff here that can accommodate any diving certification.”
Escape Deep Dive Dubai
One idea that has been entertained at Deep Dive Dubai – if only with reservations – is an escape room.
“There was some talk of it,” he says. “We have a couple of areas that we have not fully themed yet, partly because we use them for commercial or media purposes. We have been considering games and experiments. An escape room concept has been promoted a couple of times, and we’ve toyed a bit with the idea.”
“I think we would have to consider the full ramifications. Even pretend locking away might make people nervous.”
Touching on Deep Dive Dubai’s reception, he says:
“We wanted to open our doors and test the interest. It has been a bit overwhelming, to be honest. In the middle of the summer when Dubai is empty and with the pandemic going on, we expected to start slowly, but we really can’t meet the current demand. We’re adding a lot more staff now, so those people who have been trying to get in should take heart – we are definitely going to have a lot more spaces available in the very near term.”
Deep Dive Dubai & sustainability
Being a good environmental steward is a key priority, he explains:
“We recognise, of course, that this facility, like anything you build in the world, has meaningful environmental costs. We acknowledge that and bear the responsibility to make good on the investment and our carbon footprint.”
“From the beginning, we did what we could to minimise that long term impact to maintain a sustainable position. We wanted to be sure that we wasted as little water as possible, after filling the pool with 14.6 million litres. Which was no small feat! The pool water is re-circulated completely every six hours through a pump room, so we don’t throw away any water.
“The carefully controlled climate at the surface of the pool ensures we have very little evaporation. The pool is completely covered and shielded. That means we lose a lot less water than your average public pool because we are so insulated.”
All of the main forms of decontamination and disinfection are non-chemical based:
“First, all of the water flows through filter media for any solids that might exist. Then it goes through two large ultraviolet reactors, to kill any pathogens or bacteria. Then the water is directed into an ozone area. There’s also a copper-silver system, and the only real chemical used for disinfection is bromine; we only have a tiny bit of that in the water to help keep the ozone in solution for longer.”
Any temperature adjustment in the facility is done through solar panels.
“Fortunately, we don’t have to change the temperature of the groundwater too much here,” he says.
Ocean conservation is also a focus at Deep Dive Dubai:
“We want to do what we can to expand awareness in the local area about important aquatic efforts. So, we’re partners with the Emirates Diving Association (EDA), which believes that divers can help conserve the marine environment through observing, reporting and preventing environmental abuse. In addition, I founded a nonprofit, Global Underwater Explorers (GUE), through which we are also working.”
GUE is a scuba diving organization that provides education within recreational, technical, and cave diving, promoting education, conservation, and exploration of the aquatic realm, with a focus on protecting the maritime environment:
“Most of us on staff are passionate advocates for the underwater world. Many of us are members of that nonprofit. I’ve spent hundreds of hours donating time to work towards the preservation of the environment. We will be doing a lot of training here, and have hired a marine biologist to come on staff. She is building programs that we’ll use to bring school children in. We’ll educate them about the environment, as well as providing a snorkelling experience.
“We are coordinating with other nonprofit groups, and building some nonprofit conservation initiatives that we’ll be releasing this year. We’re excited to be an important part of the environmental and practical logistical components in the community.”
Future plans for Deep Dive Dubai
In the longer term, he adds:
“We want Deep Dive Dubai to be a popular destination spot. Both for freediving training and scuba diver training. We hope to be a place for free diving workshops. We have a world champion free diver here on the staff, along with many renowned technical divers.”
“Our aim is to be an important contributor to the region, and to the industry more broadly. We have plans to do a lot of work to help build and refine the industry. We are working towards being the nexus for the development and refinement of training in the region.”