Saturday August 20th 2011
August saw me join up with last month’s dive group for a weekend of intense diving. As we all headed to our destination, I was delighted at the possibility of diving at least 6 or 7 times – an excellent chance to practise my skills, get more used to being underwater, and perhaps venture into something new.
This month’s destination was the island of Izu Oshima, about 100km south of Tokyo and 22km east of the Izu Peninsula. The island is part of the Izu island chain (which includes Miyakejima where I dived in May) and is well-known for its volcano Mt Mihara. The island’s close proximity to the mainland means it draws plenty of tourists from Tokyo. Although not as tropical as places like Okinawa, it still serves as a top dive spot. It also has rugged coastlines, plunging cliff faces, black-sand beaches, forests and clear seas.
My dive group organised everything and provided good information. A few days before departure, they sent us a document on the dive sites we were due to visit. Here are some of the details I received:
Nodahama – a shallow site, 15m or less, with a large arch called “Fish TV” because the arch often looks like it’s filled with fish. Possible to see rays, crabs, lobster, clownfish, sea anemones. Generally protected from currents.
Akinohama – divided into a number of zones from 4m to 40m. Soft coral, crustaceans and hard coral. Excellent for night dives.
Ohnohama – angelfish, turtles, tuna, and sometimes hammerheads. Most parts of the sites are 18m or less. Ring of rocks and hard coral can be found.
We spent the weekend with a dive school called Global Sports Club, which by coincidence was the same school my friends and I visited briefly last month, although we weren’t able to dive then due to bad weather. The school is a 15min drive away from the port, a very homely place with a cozy log cabin to rest in and leave bags, free tea and coffee, and a large deck next to the reception area where divers can comfortably set up their equipment. We got to the school around 5:30AM after a long overnight boat ride from Tokyo, but despite this some of the group were planning to head into the water first thing. Although I’d only slept for around 4hours, I felt wide awake and decided to join them.
By around 7:30AM I was literally jumping into the water for my first dive of the day in Akinohama. This site, on the northwest coast, is said to be the most popular on Oshima. A group of rocks stretches out into the sea like a pier, and serves as a convenient entry point. We entered the water taking one giant stride and gathered at a buoy to begin our descent. We followed the rope downwards and after gathering at the bottom, began swimming onwards. Unfortunately visibility was poor, the water was a little rough and there was a slight current which made buoyancy control quite difficult but having said that, there was an array of marine life on offer. Swimming amongst the walls of rocks and sandy seabeds, I was able to spot moorish idols, plenty of soft swaying coral and a huge orange nudibranch nestled beneath a rock, possibly the biggest I have ever seen and apparently quite rare.
Immediately following the first dive I began asking where our next destination was, and after a brief trip back to the dive school to unload the empty tanks and pick up new ones, we were on our way to Ohnohama for dive 2. This site is relatively far away south from the dive school, but still reachable. It’s popular for its varied hard coral and a ring of rocks that divers can swim around, all located at roughly 24m. Such a depth is ideal for a diver like myself who is still finding her feet but happy to try going deeper. Ohnohama is reached by a long flight of steps leading down from the car park to the beach, so we put on our equipment at the car park and walked down the steps. The steps literally stop in the water, which makes entering a little challenging. Some divers sat down to rinse their masks and put on their fins, while others did the same by standing and leaning on their buddies. Ohnohama has a rope attached to some rocks, so we were able to walk into the water following the rope and swim further out where it was still shallow, to meet our guide. Compared to Akinohama, the current was a lot stronger, and we had to descend further relatively quickly, in order to escape the waves crashing against the rocks. Despite the current, my buoyancy control was much smoother. I spotted the ring of rocks and hard coral, and enjoyed swimming around them looking at angel fish, schools of silver fish and one medium-sized dark grey fish biting away at the coral as well as various kinds of colourful wrasse.
After lunch we headed out to Nodahama in search of Fish TV. Nodahama is another good site for beginners, reasonably shallow, easy to enter, and known for its rocky beach, interesting rock formations and plenty of fish. Because of its shallow depth, the site is ideal for those who are doing their underwater tasks as part of the PADI Open Water course. The beach is quite interesting, and has a steep cliff on the right and lava rock formations on the left. With a clear image of Fish TV in my mind, I was particularly looking forward to diving in this area. Like Ohnohama we had to set up and put on our equipment at the car park before walking about 200 metres down the steps to the beach. By this point I’d become pretty confident in doing things myself, and going over everything one last time with my buddy, in particular where our extra mouthpieces were located in case one of us ran out of air. Entry at Nodahama was very simple. We literally walked into the water following a guide rope, and then gradually swam downwards. This type of descent is pretty comfortable as you can take your time slowly swimming, and before you know it you’re down at a reasonable depth and face to face with the rich marine life. Unfortunately visibility was pretty bad, to the point where we had to use torches and our guide decided to abort our swim to Fish TV as he wasn’t confident he could see everyone in the group despite the torches. Although extremely disappointed, I still managed to see some of the creatures up close. The rock formations were huge, teeming with soft coral, kelp and plenty of areas to get close to and shine some light over. I came face to face with moray eels, sea anemones, sea urchins and even some poisonous cat fish.
By the end of dive 3 I was beginning to feel pretty tired, but the group had organised a night dive and I was keen to join them and head underwater in the dark for the first time. This dive turned out to be the highlight of my first day on Oshima and I really enjoyed myself. What’s so attractive about night diving is the chance to experience a different underwater environment, as many marine animals are nocturnal. Seeing an explosion of different colours in underwater light, and concentrating on details under a narrow range of light are also reasons why night diving is so popular. Akinohama where I dived this morning was our destination, and there the first-timers were thoroughly briefed on what to expect. Upon entry I could see everyone’s torches so I wasn’t too worried, but buoyancy control was unbelievably difficult. I had no idea how close or far I was from the rocks below, and the light from a torch is not enough to figure this out. Often I kept ascending rather than descending, and it took a long time to get into a more stable position. Keeping track of my buddy was also challenging. I constantly looked around to make sure he was there, and often shined my torch in the same spot as him which is a good trick to learn in order to keep track of one another. Shining the torches over our hands, we were also able to signal to each other, checking that all was ok, and that we had enough air.
The marine life at night is definitely different to the daytime. I saw lots more schools of fish, some big, some small, the area seemed to be more crowded with fish compared to during the day. I also saw more moray eels than usual and even some lobster, but the best part was shining our torches over a small cuttlefish eating a shrimp. He promptly spat the shrimp out after we’d approached, and then proceeded to change colour, to look like the rock beneath him. Night diving is undoubtedly an excellent chance to see marine life displaying all kinds of behaviour.
Although the rest of the evening was pretty rushed (after the dive we had to quickly head back to the dive school, unload everything, wash our wetsuits and other equipment, and head over to our accommodation for dinner) and I was quite tired, I was extremely satisfied with today’s achievements. All the dives had been smooth, I’d been relaxed and very much looked after. As one of our members will soon be leaving Japan, we ended the evening with farewell drinks which included some champagne. That was the perfect ending to a really good day.
Dive 1: Akinohama: depth: 15.4m, dive time: 41mins, water temp: 23C, used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit. Saw moorish idols, soft coral and a huge orange nudibranch.
Dive 2: Ohnohama: depth: 13.4m, dive time: 34mins, water temp: 23C, used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit. Saw angel fish and wrasse.
Dive 3: Nodahama: depth: 10.1m, dive time: 56mins, water temp: 23C, used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit. Saw moray eels, poisonous cat fish and sea urchins.
Dive 4: Akinohama: depth 16.4m, dive time: 39mins, used a 10L tank, 3kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit. My first night dive, we dived in between 6pm and 6:30pm. Highlight was spotting a cuttlefish eating a shrimp. Also saw moray eels, some lobster and generally much more fish, particularly in schools.