Inland Sea – Qatar - Atlas Obscura

An enormous pool of shallow, salty water lies within a great expanse of sunkissed sand dunes. It’s a strange environment, made even more fascinating by its history as a pirate stronghold. 

Inland Sea (Khawr al Udayd) is a sea inlet of the Persian Gulf that straddles the border between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Due to low rainfall and high temperatures, the water is saltier than the nearby gulf.

Pirates from Abu Dhabi used the super salty body of water as refuge during the 1800s. It’s easy even for the untrained eye to see that anyone attempting to navigate the shallow waters would have to be familiar with the strange environment and possess remarkable seafaring skills. The pirates had both familiarity with the area and a knack for navigation, guaranteeing them a substantial degree of safety while they remained within the inlet.

They became so problematic that the British Navy was sent in to deal with the issue. Unfortunately, the Navy’s involvement and presence in the area only increased the already high tensions between Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.

Pirates weren’t the only ones who found a haven within this salty sea inlet. The encroachment of the hypersaline waters into the desert gave birth to a unique ecosystem, both above and below water. Different kinds of sea turtles, ospreys, cormorants, flamingos, desert foxes, and oryx drop by. Human visitors exploring during low tide are likely to find fossils of gastropods, bivalves, corals, sea worms, and more.

The remoteness of the Inland Sea is immediately palpable upon leaving Mesaieed, the nearest settlement. The comfort of driving on paved roads gives way to the thrills of navigating across rolling dunes and salt flats, which are sometimes interrupted by rough patches that resemble gravel. A visit during high tide means seeing the dunes gently sloping into the sea. Low tide, on the other hand, reveals a terrain covered by microbial mats that draw interesting patterns within the crystal clear water of the inlet.

Know Before You Go

Attractive as the Inland Sea may seem, it is not a destination for a casual outing. A 4x4 vehicle is necessary, and tires should be deflated to 18-20 psi prior to leaving Mesaieed. Although other vehicles will probably stop and help if need be, going as part of a convoy is by far the safest option. There are also tour companies that offer half-day, full-day, or overnight visits.

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