This week I enrolled on a marine biology distance learning course with a college in England. Although it’s a bit daunting having to knuckle down for the next year studying an unfamiliar subject, it’ll be exciting to see what kind of challenges this is going to bring. I have one year to complete 10 modules, with an online assessment at the end. During the year I need to answer questions at the end of each module and submit my answers to a tutor. The course is not as demanding as a degree, no big essays, field trips or practical work, but hopefully the certificate I get upon completion will be useful if I ever decide to pursue marine biology further. As I nervously look through my new folder containing 280 sheets of paper, I keep reminding myself how much I enjoy diving and discovering different fish. And that’s bound to help me along the way.
Sunday February 27th
Today’s dives were fantastic. A good night’s sleep works wonders, and the weather was even better than yesterday. Fanie told me this weekend is the first warm and sunny one since January. I actually woke up this morning dreading my dives, and was worried about clearing my ears again, but when Kaito from the school came to pick me up, the weather was so clear and sunny that I soon began to feel more positive.
Our first destination was yesterday’s Manta Scramble. Everyone was disappointed yesterday, and just as determined as me to spot some manta rays. The water really was completely still, not a single wave, and we were all 100% certain that we would see something good, when just as we were setting up, a huge manta ray leaped out of the water really close to the boat. Apparently it’s a very rare sight, and happened so quickly that nobody got a photo, but it was a stunning split-second moment.
I hoped that was a sign of good luck, as I descended slowly with no ear clearing problems, but unfortunately it was not to be. The mantas didn’t want to cooperate and disappeared entirely, leaving us to cruise around a little and enjoy the calm sea with no current this time. Again very disappointed at missing the manta rays but I focused more on the fish around me. Highlights were a sting ray slowly drifting past, and a tomato anemone fish. Manta Scramble’s coral mountains are perfect to hold onto while waiting for the manta rays and also good for taking close-up shots of coral, but it is sometimes hard to spot your dive buddy, especially if he or she is hiding at the other side, so you can’t get too absorbed with the fish!
After indulging in chocolate biscuits on board, our next stop was Yonehara, where Fanie and I dived to 14.6m. It’s a relatively shallow dive, but really worth diving to see the coral gardens and a cave. I was really looking forward to this. Swimming into a cave and then out onto some coral gardens sounded beautiful. The water was so blue that even from the boat I could see carpets of coral down below. This dive was spectacular. The coral growth at Yonehara is remarkably good. We began with a short swim around before arriving at the cave and then the coral gardens. Highlights included a rare leaf fish, paper thin and white, hiding inside a cluster of rocks, and an electric clam, bright red and buried deep inside some rocks. As I looked closely I could make out flashes of electricity across its centre. We also saw 4 different types of anemone fish – clown, tomato, pink, and clanks, all cousins with very subtle differences in colour and stripes. I became completely absorbed with what I saw, and even drifted away from Fanie to make my own discoveries, to the point that she had to remind me that if we wanted to visit the cave, we would have to do so immediately before running out of air.
To enter the cave, we swam over a large mountain of coral teeming with coral branches and other fish, then downwards. Once inside it felt cold and a little claustrophobic, but extremely cosy, and we discovered some big red fish staring at us with beautiful large eyes, huddled near the coral walls and lingering in dark tunnels. It was a tiny cave and ideal for getting a taste of more serious and deeper cave diving. Soon we were back out into the coral garden, swimming out towards the sun and bright blue water beyond.
This month was shaky to begin with, but otherwise fantastic. I’ve learned how important it is not to push myself, and to relax more, to focus on things 100% and really get the most out of the experience. I’m definitely addicted, and looking forward to my March dives already.
Same as January
Manta Scramble: 16.5m, dive time: 33mins, average depth: 10.7m, water temp: 22C, land temp: 26C, visibility: 25m. I used a 10L tank and wore a 5mm wetsuit. Saw a blue spotted sting ray, tomato anemone fish, and a manta jump!
Yonehara Pukapi Minami: 14.6m, dive time: 40mins, average depth: 7.9m, land temp: 26C, water temp: 22C, visibility: 20m. I used a 10L tank and wore a 5mm wetsuit. Saw a leaf fish, electric clam, pink anemone, clown anemone, tomato anemone, clanks anemone, purple queen
Saturday February 26th
This month I am back on Ishigaki island, and the weather is perfect, 25 degrees, really sunny with a slight breeze. Everyone at the dive school and the place where I am staying are on top form, but today’s dives were disappointing, I had huge problems clearing my ears, especially during the first dive. I knew I was capable, and yet today my skills simply didn’t work. My mouthpiece was also not working as well as it should, and although it didn’t affect my dives, it did throw me a little, and added to the fear and frustration I was already experiencing.
But I dived at two new dive spots today, Arakawa and Manta Scramble. Once again I dived with Fanie, the perfect dive buddy when you’re unsure and trying to get used to things. When we descended at Arakawa, the first thing we saw was a huge carpet of coral spreading across for miles. The coral life was rich, with interesting areas to swim through and a healthy collection of marine life. A lot of the coral was flat and we had plenty of dead ones and rocks to hold on to. After a while we reached a sandy area, the 18m spot, and found hard coral rising up from the seabed floor to the surface, ending with a beautiful explosion of colours at the top. We ascended slowly from here, stopping to poke around in the dark spots and find sea snakes, nudibranches, and sea slugs, while small blue fish darted in and out of the coral branches.
After a short break back on board, we headed to our second destination, Manta Scramble. Described online as “a legendary spot for manta ray spotting, just of the island’s north coast,” I’d been looking forward to visiting since last month. Manta Scramble is probably Ishigaki’s biggest attraction, as scores of divers come here hoping to spot the manta rays feeding off plankton. We descended one by one, holding on to the mooring line and slowly heading towards the bottom. Once you arrive, you need to hide away between the coral so as not to disrupt the manta rays. But we were so unlucky…..the only one we saw was, as Fanie cleverly described, “a racing manta” that quickly sped away when it saw us. We stayed at 14.9m for about 40 minutes, hoping to see more, but the current was extremely strong. Mild for an experienced diver but not for a beginner. Again a very disappointing dive, and such a shame because the marine life was superb, with lots of brain coral, smaller table coral, fissures and narrow canyons. Unfortunately it’s not the right season for manta rays, and the current tends to be strong at this time of year, so if I’m determined to spot them, I need to arrange another trip back.
But tomorrow we’re heading back first thing. Perhaps I’ll be in luck…
Same as January, although I paid about 80,000yen for my flights, accommodation (same place as Jan), and 3 dives. When I got there I paid 2,100yen per day to hire a camera, and wanted to do a 4th dive which was an extra 8,400yen. Bit of an expensive trip this time…..
Arakawa: 18m, dive time: 37mins, average depth: 11.9m, water temp: 22C, land temp: 25C, visibility 20m, used a 10L tank and wore a 5mm wetsuite. Saw nudibranches, juvenile sea slugs and sea snakes.
Manta Scramble: 14.9m, dive time: 44mins, average depth 10.4m, water temp: 22C, land temp: 25C, visibility 18-20m. One racing manta!