June 2011: Kumejima, Okinawa, Japan

Saturday June 18th 2011

It’s now June, and summer is definitely here as I begin my dives on the island of Kumejima, Okinawa.  4-5 months since I was last in this area, and it’s already boiling hot, a little over 30 degrees, with a very strong sun.  Despite some slight humidity when I got off the plane, in terms of weather this was shaping up to be the ideal weekend for some serious dives. 

Kumejima consists of around 9600 people.  Located in the East China Sea, it’s the most popular of the islands around Okinawa.  The bays are surrounded by sand dunes and coral reefs, while mountains are spread out from north to southeast.  Eef beach, a major resort area, and where I went diving today, has some beautiful white sand.  It’s full of people, drinking and eating establishments, and of course accommodation.  But the most famous place on Kumejima is Hatenohama, a 5km sandbar on the east side of the island, and a popular sightseeing spot.  It’s only accessible through a day tour, and has crystal clear waters that are great for swimming, snorkeling and diving. 

Last month the excellent guys at Tokyo Diving Center recommended that I contact one of Kumejima’s main dive schools, Dive Estivant, for my June dives.  As a friend is off diving with the school next weekend, I decided to give them a try.  They came to pick us up at the airport, and we were soon on our way in a mini-van with about 6 other people.  But as much as I was excited about diving with others, I wasn’t overly impressed with how the day went.

When we arrived, everything was chaotic, rushed and busy.  Tourist season had definitely arrived.  I was immediately given a few wetsuits to try on, but with time limited, I had to rush to put on about 3, and trying on tight wetsuits indoors in boiling temperatures, 3 times, is not easy.  After being driven to my hotel, I had an hour to unpack.  Then I was picked up and driven back to the school.  No explanations were given on how the dive was going to proceed, and I was soon on a boat heading out to our first spot.  It later turned out that the other divers all flew to Kumejima quite regularly, and dived with the same school.  They were extremely experienced, laden with expensive equipment and heavy cameras, and familiar with all the good Kumejima dive spots.  This made me wonder whether a lot of the school’s customers are either local or regular, hence the lack of explanations. 

I dived once today, a deliberate arrangement on my part having learned from Ishigaki how exhausting it is to fly and get straight into the water.  I was paired up with my own guide, while the others paired up with each other, and were assigned another guide.  Our aim was to dive to around 20m, and watch the coral spawning. Corals must rely on environmental factors such as lunar changes, sunset time, and chemical signalling to determine the proper time to release gametes into the water.  As our dive began after 4pm, our guide reckoned we had a pretty good chance of seeing something. 

Unfortunately it was not to be, and despite the excellent visibility and warm water (25 degrees!), I didn’t spot anything that I hadn’t seen on previous dives this year.  There were some incredible tropical fish, but nothing that stood out.  As I swam past the different coral and rocks, I knew there was more to everything, and wished I understood more about spotting unusual fish, or rare coral features.  On the surface all you can see are beautiful coral or colourful fish, but the marine environment is about much more than that.  No spawning either.  The tropical fish did make up for that though, they were extremely fun and relaxing to watch.

During the dive we stayed close together in a group so I was no longer next to my guide all the time.  This was probably a good thing for me to experience. Although our guide was my dive buddy, it was more of an advantage to stay a little behind, and be among the other divers.  With nobody watching me all the time, I had to make my own judgments – control buoyancy, keep an eye on my air, and remove any water that got into my mask.  I began to feel happy about slowly being able to do that alone. 

I’m disappointed that I can’t really write in detail about what I saw.  The dive was smooth and nothing exciting, but it got my confidence levels up a bit.  Back on land, everything was rushed again, and I was told to be back at 10AM the next morning, with no explanation of where I would be going and who with.  It seems Dive Estivant really caters towards the more experienced diver, there was nobody available after the dive to tell me how deep I’d gone, where we went and what we saw.  As a new diver, I’m still keeping a record of all that, but the guides were simply too busy with other stuff.  On the plus side, it will be good to go through my photos and look up the names of fish by myself, rather than being told, and from now on as the summer tourist season begins, more and more people will be out diving, and I may have to get used to going it alone. 

June’s dives:

Tonbarazashi: depth: 15.8m, dive time: 47mins, visibility: 25m, average depth: 7.9m, dive in: 17:08, used a 10L tank, 4kg weight belt (later reduced to 3kg during the dive), and a 5mm wetsuit.  Saw lots of tropical fish, clown fish, parrot fish, moorish idol, and butterfly fish.

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