November 2011: Naha and the Kerama Islands, Okinawa, Japan


Friday November 25th 2011

This year Okinawa has been a key destination for me, offering some ideal dive sites in which to practice my skills.  As my attempt to dive once a month draws to a close, I found myself back in the clear blue waters of Japan’s south, completing my November dives close to Okinawa’s main city of Naha and enjoying a day trip to the Kerama Islands.

This month I was able to share the joy of diving with a friend, who joined me for a weekend with Reef Encounters, a school 30 minutes from Naha on the Okinawa mainland.  There we teamed up with a top diving instructor who had been with us on Hachijojima in October.  The famous Kerama Islands had been saved for Saturday, so today consisted of 3 beach dives near Naha, to slowly ease back into things.

Conditions at our first spot, Sunabe Water Plant, were rough.  A flight of stairs led directly to some concrete boulders but the tide was already quite high and we could clearly see the challenges ahead.  Watching the strong waves, I realised that we needed to get to the bottom of the water fairly quickly but not having dived for the past 6 weeks, I felt a little apprehensive.  Fortunately we were able to set up higher on land and carry our equipment straight down the steps to the concrete boulders which were big enough to lean against to put on our masks and fins.  Crawling across some slippery rocks into the water, we struggled to descend.  Divers use up much more air and energy in this kind of situation, which shortens dive time as a result, but we remained at around 10m and were soon rewarded with a vast coral garden spreading out for miles and crawling with fish.  We drifted past the common blue starfish, sea urchins and the usual angel and butterfly fish, before coming across a poisonous sea snake.  Staying a little distance away, we observed him from afar as he eventually slithered off into the deep blue.  Sunabe Water Plant had plenty of sand with no tunnels or crevices to swim through, making it an ideal site for brushing up on dive skills, provided the water is calm.

After lunch we drove to the other side of the Okinawa mainland for our second destination, Kin Red Beach.  Conditions here were calmer, and entry couldn’t have been more simple: straight down about 5 steps into the warm shallow water, sitting on the sand to don masks and fins.  This time we swam downwards, reaching the deeper areas slowly, which allowed for some smooth ear clearing.  As the sea was calm, we were given a chance to use our compasses and practice navigation.

Navigating your way underwater is no easy task.  But knowing where you’re going and where you are at any given moment makes a dive much more enjoyable.  After looking around at the rocks and sea walls above the surface, we began with a good look at our entry point underwater.  Knowing whether it’s sandy, rocky or full of coral can act as a landmark and help on the way back.  Our entry point wasn’t much to speak of.  Lots of sand, bad visibility and nothing which could serve as a landmark.  The cloudy water did make me a little nervous but we successfully navigated our way to the first rocky patch teeming with sea urchins and a baby lion fish swimming above.  Our next task was to take a right turn towards the sea wall, spend some time exploring and then swim back near to the wall until the water became shallower.  The sea wall was covered in sea urchins and algae and surrounded by fish including the trumpet fish chilling out close by.  Getting out a flashlight and shining it over the algae was most exciting, to get a feel of the different crabs and discover a baby crab, shrimp or fish hiding away.  The site was full of sand, and any fin kick created huge sand clouds, making visibility even worse.  As we swam back closer to the sea wall, I had to keep reminding myself that a compass is used underwater in exactly the same way as it is on land.  Being in the water does throw you off course, when really things are much simpler than they seem.

We stayed at Kin Red Beach for our third and last dive of the day which ended up being a night dive.  As I want to take my Advanced diving course next year, our guide suggested that during the weekend we tackle some more challenging dives.  My last night dive in Oshima taught me that it is definitely not something to be taken lightly, but seeing the sea come alive with nocturnal creatures and smaller organisms reflecting against the moonlight provides a very unique experience.  I look back on my dive in Oshima as a challenge overcome, and having dived in today’s spot earlier on, I felt much more prepared.  Crabs came out of their holes to hunt and scavenge, the same baby lion fish from the previous dive made an appearance again and a sleeping trumpet fish stayed completely still even though we shone our flashlights over him.  The sea urchins and anemones seemed a lot bigger, perhaps extending their spine and tentacles but the biggest highlight of all was phosphorescence.  Turning off your flashlight, then waving your hands around or rubbing them together creates an impressive light show as plankton reacts to being agitated by emitting light.

Having touched upon some of the more difficult elements of diving, it’s really hit home that I have a lot more to learn.  However, the beach dives today served as good preparation and a taster of things to come, and fortunately have only motivated me even more.

November’s dives

Dive 1: Sunabe Water Plant: depth: 10.9m, dive time: 37mins, water temp: 25.6C, average depth: 7m, entry time: 13:06, exit time: 13:43, used a 12L aluminium tank, 7kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw blue star fish, a sea snake, sea urchins, bug soft coral garden.

Dive 2: Kin Red Beach: depth: 10.6m, dive time: 1hr 6mins, water temp: 25.1C, average depth: 5.5m, entry time: 16:17, exit time: 17:23, used a 12L tank, 7kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw trumpet fish, crabs, sea urchins, baby lion fish

Dive 3: Kin Red Beach: depth: 7m, dive time: 29mins, water temp: 25C, average depth: 4.8m, entry time: 18:47, exit time: 19:16, used a 12L tank, 7kg weight belt and 5mm wetsuit.  Saw trumpet fish, crabs, sea urchins, baby lion fish and far too much sand!

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