February 2013: Miyakojima, Okinawa, Japan

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Monday February 18th and Tuesday February 19th 2013

Not to be confused with Miyakejima further south of Tokyo, Miyakojima lies about 300km southwest of the main island of Okinawa.  It’s a relatively flat place, made up of limestone and surrounded by smaller islets offering spectacular coral reefs, huge tunnels, rocks, arches and caves.  Two ocean currents run north past the island; the Taiwan Warm Current in the East China Sea which travels alongside mainland China, and the Kuroshio current which begins east of the Philippines.

Miyakojima is well known for its large number of limestone caves and arches.  Most of them are winding, horizontal to stepwise tunnels which open out into more sandy wide areas and smaller coral reefs.  The location of their entrances of course varies, some are as deep as 40m to 70m and some inner parts  can be almost or totally dark.  Because of the low energy of the seawater in the area, the sediments found along the bottom are generally very fine.   A lot of the main dive sites that offer this kind of environment can be found along the north coast of Irabu island, one of the many islets surrounding Miyakojima.   Here are some of the sites we visited:

The Overhang is almost at the central north coast and typical visibility is around 25m.  Descent is a giant stride from the boat and then along a rope to about 10m.  The area is very open with rocks and boulders dotted around.  Turning left and continuing down to 15-18m brought us to an opening with a number of smaller rocks which house a huge variety of coral and are home to linear blennies, emperor shrimps (if you look very closely) and plenty of semi circle angel fish streaking by.  The surfaces of the rocks, around 12m, are where the water is clearest.  Under the glare of the sun you can spot white spotted puffer fish, peach fairy basslets and coral groupers.

The Cross Hole is about 15mins away and offers a range of underwater caves and small cliffs.  Swimming down to about 15m, we arrived at the bottom of one huge rock formation.  Some of the rocks are almost like monoliths.  Here we turned left, heading down to about 18m and came to a small series of rocks clustered together.  White spotted puffer fish and yellow fin goatfish hover about while schools of yellow spot emperor fish flit around.  Next to these is a dark entrance into a small tunnel which is part of a massive rock.  Once inside, we swam straight up.  Its dynamic shape is impressive, offering a glimpse of interesting limestone formations and sea life different to usual coral gardens.  The exit is shaped slightly like a diamond and the sun shining through as we emerged was spectacular.

The W-Arch is 5mins or so away from the Cross Hole.  We used a rope to descend to around 6m.  Below us was one huge rock to the right and another on the left that had separated into two parts. We swam down to the left rock and arrived at a slight crack or opening at the side at around 11m, where schools of Indo-Pacific Sergeants darted in and out.  We moved on to about 18m before turning right towards another rock and swimming into a small entrance.  This led us down into a small area of dead coral, sand and bits of rock where we could literally sit and look up at the sun streaming through the openings.  The fish were bright and plentiful.  Yellow long nose butterfly fish had made a home for themselves in the dark corners, while coaxing a lionfish to swim towards the sun for a photo was perhaps not the best thing to do as he darted off, his fins bright red, leaving us with not the best of pictures.

The highlight of the L-Arch is a 30m point through a tunnel which took us to the home of one giant trevally drifting slowly past. Next to us was a medium-sized boulder where we could hide and watch him from afar.  The water is extremely blue but isn’t home to much else, so heading back up the tunnel to 22m we found a more interesting environment, including rocks large enough to carry various coral species such as brain and table coral and hide lion fish, Indo-Pacific Sergeants, Black Fin dart fish, and tiny squat shrimps.  At 18m is a much smaller rock where we spotted a school of Indo Pacific Sergeants hanging around close to the sand.  For the rest of the dive, we stayed between 10m and 5m and came across more lion fish and blue striped snappers.

The focus of Gakeshita is one large rock surrounded by some smaller and perhaps even not-so-exciting ones that divers can meander through.  The maximum depth is around 22m with the large rock’s surface lying between 8m and 12m.  A huge variety of marine life has taken up residence here.  The rock’s surface is covered in an array of anemones that all shield varying kinds of clownfish including the orange clownfish, skunk clownfish and two-banded clownfish.  Some hide away as divers approach while others are more aggressive and can try to attack as you take a photo.  We also saw trumpet fish, shaded batfish, purple queens, a clown triggerfish, peach fairy basslets and yellowfin goatfish.  This site is good for beginner to intermediate divers to get a feel for two totally different things – coral gardens and limestone.

We were also able to swim into one rock before inflating our BCs and surfacing into an extremely humid pitch black dome.  As we rested at the surface, the swell from the open sea began to enter causing the water level to rise and with it atmospheric pressure.  As the swell receded, the air pressure went down, making our ears feel slightly uncomfortable, but soon we were met with a misty sheet of vapor hovering over the surface.  Such vapor is created when the water level rises and falls in an area of high humidity and there are said to be very few places to observe this while diving.  The ocean seen from inside the dome was a transparent blue and along with the vapor, formed an almost mystical sight.

Wataguchi Garden is extremely accessible and will appeal to beginners or as an easy relaxing dive at the end of a long day.  Coral gardens (staghorn coral, gorgonian fans and table coral) met us upon descent, while nearby a ray emerged, shaking off its sand camouflage and disappearing into the distance.  The maximum depth is 11-12m, visibility is pristine and the water not too cold.  The dive consists of meandering between different rocks and coral heads along a bottom of pure white sand.  After a good deal of sea snakes, black spotted puffer fish, white backed anemone fish and even an adorable medium-sized puffer fish drifting slowly by with huge eyes, we spent the rest of our time swimming between each rock, all of them a lot more spread out that we thought.

Practical information

  • I booked the Miyakojima trip with Paradise Island Tours based in Tokyo (http://www.pit-diving.com/travel/)
  • JTA flights direct to Miyakojima leave from Haneda airport at 6:55AM, getting to the island around 10:15.  Return flights to Tokyo leave around 20:00, arriving at 22:35.
  • Our school Dive Kids (http://www.divekids.jp/a/frame1.htm ) was there to meet us on arrival and drive us to the school.
  • Diving equipment can be sent from Tokyo in advance for about 2,500yen, using Kuroneko Takkyubin.
  • Dive Kids is about 5mins’ drive from the main port.  On the left side is a huge area to wash, hang/dry equipment and take showers (no shampoo, conditioner and soap provided), while next door on the right is an area to fill in log books, complete with an outside terrace, plenty of books and magazines on marine life, and free coffee.
  • After being picked up at the hotel, we drove to the port and left the van there during the day.  All dives are boat dives.  The boat is very spacious with an outdoor deck and an upstairs for catching more sun.  Bring your own towels, sun cream and any other necessary items but sweets, tea and coffee are available all day.
  • Lunch is Japanese style and homemade.  We had takikomigohan (fried rice seasoned with soy sauce and vegetables) and tonjiru (miso soup with pork and vegetables) accompanied by pickles, kimchi and hot tea.
  • 2L bottles of warm water are available on deck for divers to pour over themselves when exiting from cold water.  There is a shower but it wasn’t in use.
  • All entries are giant strides from a small platform.  Ascent is via a ladder.
  • On the school’s white board, the staff draw a detailed map of every dive site you visit, along with fridge magnets of different fish.  This helps immensely when completing your dive logs and gives an excellent idea of what was seen and where.
  • We stayed at the Seiru Inn Hotel about 10mins drive away from Dive Kids.  The hotel is clean and spacious with WIFI and other usual amenities available such as towels, shampoo, soap and toothbrushes.  Breakfast is a buffet of rice, miso soup, bread, various vegetables and fish, eggs, tea and coffee.  Check out is 11AM.
  • Close to the hotel are a few good izakayas (Japanese style pubs) to go to for dinner.  The best is Usagiya which is next door to the hotel, offers salads, soups, small meat dishes (cubes of fried beef), raw fish and some live music accompanied by drums and the sanshin shamisen.  Customers can (or rather should) dance!
  • There is a range of convenience stores and general shops nearby.
  • The total cost was 80,000yen, including return flight, 4 boat dives including tanks and weights, two nights in the hotel with breakfast, and all transport.
  • Dive Kids will also drive you to the airport after your stay.

February’s dives

Dive 1: The Overhang: depth: 24.2m, dive time: 33mins, water temp: 22C, entry time: 11:53AM, exit time: 12:28, average depth:  12.4m, used a 10L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 2kg weights. Start pressure: 200 bar, End pressure: 40 bar.  Saw white spotted puffer fish, peach fairy basslets and coral groupers.

Dive 2: Cross Hole: depth: 24.0m, dive time: 37mins, water temp: 22C, entry time: 13:42, exit time: 14:20, average depth: 12m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weight.  Start pressure: 170 bar, End pressure: 20 bar.  Saw white spotted puffer fish, yellow fin goatfish, yellow spot emperor fish, Indo-Pacific Sergeants and their eggs, sweepers and humphead parrot fish

Dive 3: W-Arch: depth: 16.1m, dive time: 38mins, water temp: 22C, entry time: 15:20, exit time: 15:58, average depth: 10.3m, used a 10L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 2kg weights.  Start pressure: 180 bar, End pressure: 20 bar.  Saw trumpet shells, magenta dottybacks, lion fish, Indo-Pacific sergeants, black fin dart fish, firefish (in schools) and yellow longnose butterfly fish.

Dive 4: L-Arch: depth: 30.8m, dive time: 33mins, water temp: 22C, entry time: 09:41AM, exit time: 10:04 average depth: 14.4m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 2kg weights.  Start pressure: 200 bar, End pressure: 40 bar.  Saw Indo-Pacific sergeants, black fin dart fish, squat shrimps, blue striped snappers, giant trevally, lion fish and firefish.

Dive 5: Gakeshita: depth: 16.1m, dive time: 46mins, water temp: 22C, entry time: 11:05AM, exit time: 11:51AM, average depth: 8.6m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weight.  Start pressure: 180 bar, End pressure: 40 bar.  Saw trumpet fish, shaded batfish, purple queens, orange clownfish, clown triggerfish, peach fairy basslets and yellowfin goatfish.

Dive 6: Wataguchi Garden: depth: 12m, dive time: 46mins, water temp: 22C, entry time: 14:22, exit time: 15:08, average depth: 9.1m, used a 12L tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 1kg weight.  Start pressure: 170 bar, End pressure: 70 bar: Saw goldlined sea bream, coral groupers, semi circle angelfish, black spotter puffer fish, arrow cardinal fish, sting rays, sea snakes, white backed anemone fish and one porcupine fish.

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