May 2012: The Return to Miyakejima

Tuesday May 29th and Wednesday May 30th 2012

In May, Miyakejima is a beautiful place to go diving.  Although quite an unlikely destination for divers (most people head to the area and the nearby Mikurajima island to swim with dolphins), the warm Kuroshio current or Japan current begins flowing northeast along the area at this time, bringing warm temperatures, high productivity and plenty of marine life.  Last year I visited the same spot to watch squid lay their eggs.

Jack Moyer, a marine biologist who spent years studying the marine life of Miyakejima, noted about 10 years ago that the eruption of the island’s 7000-year-old volcano in 2000 did seriously damage things underwater.  Last year the waters were bright and healthy, and it seemed that they at least were back to normal, but the island is desolate and even a tad gloomy.  Covered in dead black trees and rock, with not many people, the effects of the 2000 eruption are still very much obvious in this seemingly quiet and remote part of Japan.

We set off slightly apprehensive.  This year the Kuroshio current remained much further south of Miyakejima, and the boat departed on a cold and windy night.  The next morning after a short rest, last year’s dive school took us to Okubohama, one of Miyakejima’s main dive spots and home to the famous squid.  The site takes you down a pebbly beach towards a huge rock on the right hand side.  This rock is very much alive, ideal for finding nudibranchs, small crabs, anemones, shellfish and of course fish – clown fish, puffer fish, spotted burrfish, cowfish, whitefingered frogfish, blue emperor fish, spiny lobsters and threadsail filefish.  The top areas of the rock are often hit by the waves, so hovering at the sides and remaining horizontal gives the diver good shelter, some nice photo opportunities and even buoyancy practice.  It’s an area well worth exploring, and good for beginners too.

A left turn from the huge rock takes you over a big stretch of sand with not much else below, apart from the odd moray eel darting here and there.  Soon a plant approaches (put there deliberately), and this is where the squid gather.  Although the plant was caked in eggs, some were brown and dead, while hungry moray eels were aiming for them, and keeping the squid away.  This year the murky water was cold, dark and even depressing.   Instead of last year’s warm and happy scenes, the area had become a haven for moray eels.

The next day we were introduced to a new dive site, Gakkoshita.  Meaning “underneath a school,” the area is named after an old derelict school building, destroyed by the volcanic eruption, that stands right next to the bay. The entry point is a mass of volcanic rock that divers must clamber over towards a tiny pool of water.  Once in the water, there is a small tunnel, home to thousands of juvenile black-stripe sweepers, tiny fish that are dusky silver or yellow to grey with a slightly black caudal fin.  As you swim through them, the area opens up and takes you down a huge amount of rocks and boulders scattered about at random.  Soon there is a dropoff offering a sharp descent.  The topography is not much, but popular fish include the bluespotted boxfish, a type of nudibranch with black spots and a white body, known as the Chromodoris Orientalis, yellowtail fish, yellow striped butterfish, longnose hawkfish and the fire goby, a tiny fish with a bright yellow/white head that shades into a red orange tail.  Often kept in aquariums, they look unusual and add a nice touch to an area already brimming with fish.

It was in Gakkoshita that our guide ran out of air.  When diving with a dive school, a lot of people (including myself) tend to put all their trust in the guides, believing that their years of training and experiences mean that they know the equipment, correct procedures and what to do.  After all we are also paying, so why not simply relax, enjoy ourselves and follow the guides?  Ours didn’t give the out-of-air signal straight away and instead simply showed us his gauge, so it took me a while to understand what was going on but as the dive was called off I was able to witness for real the alternate air source ascent, where divers share an air supply and maintain buddy contact while heading to the surface immediately and in a controlled manner.   The advantage of this is that each diver is able to breathe normally, and they can stay reasonably close which can help calm the out-of-air diver.  The majority of divers never experience an out-of-air emergency.  Such a situation can be avoided by careful planning and monitoring of air supply.  It turned out that our guide had picked up an almost-empty tank from the van, and used that to set up his equipment.  Afterwards, he had simply forgotten to check his air before entering the water.

Although we were disappointed at missing the squid, our time on Miyakejima gave us f food for thought and plenty of discussion on the boat home.  The one major lesson I took away from the island and which I processed over and over for some time to come, is that you are always responsible for your own actions, equipment and safety.  Never ever put all your trust in someone who has dived for longer than you have.

Practical information

All practical information for Miyakejima including details of the dive school, transport, costs and lunch/equipment arrangements, are listed under my entry from May 2011, “Miyakejima.”

May’s dives

Dive 1: Okubohama: depth 15.7m, dive time: 42mins, water temp: 19C, entry time: 10:18AM, exit time: 10:56AM, average depth: 8.8m, used a 10L steel tank, 3kg weight belt, 5mm wetsuit and 2-3mm hood/vest, start PSI: 180 bar, End PSI: 20 bar, saw moray eels, juvenile clown fish, frogfish, pufferfish, lionfish, squid eggs but no squid.

Dive 2: Okubohama: depth: 16.1m, dive time: 43mins, water temp: 19C, entry time: 14:38, exit time: 15:21, average depth 7.4m, used a 10L steel tank, 3kg weight belt, 5mm wetsuit and 2-3mm hood/vest, start PSI: 185 bar, end PSI: 35 bar, saw groupers, nudibranchs, moray eels, lionfish, clown fish, juvenile moray eels, spotted burrfish and cowfish

Dive 3: Gakkoshita: depth: 15.7m, dive time: 48mins, water temp: 19C, entry time: 08:05, exit time: 08:53, average depth: 7.5m, used a 10L steel tank, 3kg weight belt, 5mm wetsuit and 2-3mm hood/vest, start PSI: 190 bar, end: 30 bar, saw yellowtails, sea goldies, pearl-spot chromis, blue emperor fish and spotted snake eels.

Dive 4: Gakkoshita: depth: 11.7m, dive time: 49mins, water temp: 19C, entry time: 10:37, exit time: 11:29, average depth 5.4m, used a 10L steel tank, 3kg weight belt, 5mm wetsuit and 2-3mm hood/vest, start PSI: 180 bar, end: ??, saw bluespotted boxfish, white sea slug (chromodoris orientalis), amberjack, longnose hawkfish, and fire gobies.  This dive was called off half way when our guide ran out of air.

1 thought on “May 2012: The Return to Miyakejima

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