Dumsuq and Qummah Islands in the Farasan archipelago

After the obligatory sign-off by the coastguard, we take a small boat south beyond the tip of Farasan Kebir and across open water to Dumsuq island. The sea is choppy but not as harsh as it is later in the day when the winds pick up and so we bump, and only at times thump, across the deep blue water. The little island is entirely untouched bar a small coastguard station and a few old wooden shelters in the long and narrow inlet. The narrow beaches are pristine and the interior a patchwork of bare ground and tussocky shrub vegetation. There are no grazing animals apart perhaps from hares, so the vegetation is responding solely to the rainfall and the poor soils developed on the hard coralline surface. There are caper white butterflies and a yellow splendour Colotis protomedia on the flowering caper bushes; hoopoe larks are common and an unoccupied osprey nest is located at the end of the only small hill. A Saunders’s (or little) tern flies over with a familiar screech carrying a fish and likely breeds here.

The trip north west to the island of Qummah passes through a pod of some 50 dolphins with an attendant and noisy flock of white-eyed gulls and brown noddies all hunting a shoal of fish. Qummah is memorable for the large number of bird traps, like small and crudely constructed Larsen traps, at one end of the island. Apparently, the migrant birds are trapped in spring and autumn, which provides another source of food for the islanders. As we land under a fiercely hot sun, we meet an old fisherman wrapped in a thick blanket on the beach in front of a string of dilapidated fishing huts behind which is a large crumbling German fort built in the Second World War. Our very skilled boatman and he catch up, with much good humour, as they both were born on this small island and both have made their lives from the rich fishing in the surrounding seas.

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