February 2011: Ishigaki Island, Okinawa, Japan

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…

Practical Information

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…..

February’s dives

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!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manta_Rays

About Rising Bubbles

Bonnie Waycott is a dive master and writer focusing on Japan's scuba diving and aquaculture. She is currently taking an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture at the University of St Andrews via distance learning and is due to graduate in December 2017. Her written work has been featured in Asian Diver, Scuba Diver AustralAsia, DIVE, Marine Biologist, The Fish Site, Fish Farmer, Hatchery International and Outdoor Japan Traveler, while for Japanese divers she writes about marine-related issues abroad for Japanese diving website Ocean+α. You can follow Bonnie on Twitter (@risingbubbles), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RisingBubblesNotesOfANewDiver/) and Instagram (@bonniewaycott).
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