It was my first time visiting the southern Japanese islands of Okinawa. Rather than go to the main island with its legendary aquarium, we decided to head for a small little resort called Ishigakijima, renowned for its fantastic diving.
It had been a while since I was last in the water. Nearly a year, actually. I remember just finishing BSAC Sports Diver rescue training in the U.K right after graduating university. I was understandably a little nervous at getting back in the water without any refresher courses, but things quickly slid into place.
We spread the diving over two days and were the only two on the boat with a couple of young male Japanese dive instructors. It turned out April was just before the busy season, so we had the luxury of personal dive tours and a large boat to take us skimming around to various parts of the island.
Okinawa being further south than the Japanese mainland and warmer meant that it had a positive feast of gorgeous critters to see. The most memorable of my experience probably being swimming with a Red Sea Turtle. We came across one nestling itself in the coral beds and I approached cautiously, so as not to frighten it. After snapping a couple of pictures, we moved closer, but the turtle was soon disturbed, gracefully pulling itself up and outwards towards the blue.
I wasn’t going to give up that easily though, and finned after it. The turtle evidently wasn’t in much of a hurry though, and with some moderate finning, I kept myself as its side. Rental compact camera in one hand (alas, not my beloved E-P1), I was torn between wanting to shoot pictures, take video and reach out. Somehow, I managed to do all three, and for a few seconds, I glided alongside with my hand resting on the hard shell of the wild turtle’s back. It was quite simply amazing.
Before I knew it though, I was staring out into nothing but deep blue. I had a mild panic spasm in my head, before frantically looking around and finding the sea bed, and my instructor buddy back in the distance. The turtle was swooping back around to head back to the coral, so I followed it snapping a few more pictures before leaving it be.
My buddy was spending most of the time training to get their PADI Open Water licence. This is the equivalent of BSAC’s (the British Sub-Aqua Club) Ocean Diver. My Sports Diver licence is the one above that, theoretically letting me go down as far as 30m and arming we with rescue skills. Well, that’s what I studied, anyway… Controlled Buoyant Lifts, and whatnot.
As my dives were classed as ‘fun dives’, I had the choice in what I wanted to see and where to go. My instructor generously took me around various locations, pointing out things I would have otherwise missed, from tiny thumbnail-sized shrimp to huge, squishy sea cucumber. I was surprised as how many sea cucumbers there were in the sea, and at how many bizarre colours and patterns they sported. One nasty black variety squirts a sticky white substance out of its rear when squeezed, much to the delight of many a novice diver.
Short breaks between dives gave us time to recuperate and ‘off-gas’, which means to get rid of the excess nitrogen that has been absorbed due to the higher pressures at deeper depths. Did you know that you are not allowed to fly or travel through places with high altitudes after diving? There are all sorts of tables and computers for working out how long you must wait before it is safe to travel. Go too early and you risk decompression sickness.
Back under the water and we come across fishes. More beautiful coral and these alien little creatures called ウミウシ, or nudibranch – a fancy way of saying ‘sea slug’. Fascinating things though, in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I came across a whole book of them just the other day while browsing a Village Vanguard store in Japan!
Another terrific point of the dives was the chance to meet the Broadclub Cuttlefish, affectionately known among divers in Japan as コブシメ. The little fins at the side swish playfully and the tentacles stretch out in front. Its ink sack lies below it in a tube form, ready to squirt when threatened. This rotund, joyous little creature is the cause for my recent gacha-gacha capsule figure collecting craze. I’m after all the squid series!
I was resting myself on the sea floor in marvel while being completely surrounded by these cute little critters when one decided it wanted a closer look. It swam closer, about a metre or so above me, looking down and flicking its little squid legs inquisitively. I got the feeling it intended to grab my head, the way it inched towards me, but it decided otherwise and floated by at my side, its strange slit-shape eye conveying some unfathomable squid emotion that I can only assume was deep disgust as my being there during mating season.
More strange plants and lifeforms as we swam around. I forget the name of this one, but it was rather dazzling among the blue and green tinted coral. Black and yellow too – isn’t that the universal symbol for ‘don’t touch?’
Finally, here’s one more nudibranch. Quite a cutie, this one!
We did also go out to the manta area, but to our great disappointment, the rays had already swam off for the day. Just bad timing. It’ll have to wait to another trip! My buddy succeeded in passing the PADI Open Water exam though, so there’s one more qualified diver in the world now! I highly recommend giving the sport a try if you’ve never done it. It really is no exaggeration to say that its like visiting a completely new and ethereal other world. I’ll post about the treking and kayaking we did on Iriomote island sometime soon too!
Any readers out there who dive themselves? Where have you dived and what have you seen?