June 2013: Yoronto, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan

Sunday June 16th and Monday June 17th 2013

The last island in the Amami Island chain south of Japan is filled with traditional villages, sugar cane farms and a sandy beach known as the stardust beach due to deposits of dead plankton that look just like stars.  Flying over the brightest coral reef I have ever seen, I soon spot the island as it emerges in the distance, a hidden gem that’s shaped a bit like an angel fish.

Yoronto (or Yoron-jima or Yoron Island) is situated on the southernmost end of Kagoshima prefecture in Kyushu, southern Japan.  With a circumference of around 24km and a population of about 5000, it’s famous for its surrounding barrier and fringe reefs and a climate with an average temperature of about 20C.  Drop offs, arches, tunnels and crevasses feature widely at many of the diving spots as well as some narrow passageways where divers can swim over the star-shaped sand.  We spent two days on Yoronto and visited the following dive sites:

Shinaha is a beach along the northwest coast with a typical water temperature of around 29C.  The dives here are conducted close by, off a boat.  Divers descend along a rope to about 8m and turn right, heading down to about 10m.  This brings them to a vast open area covered in coral.   Between the coral are wide pathways of sand.  Cuttlefish are known to lay eggs and mate here while the area is very common for turtles (2 greeted us upon descent) and sea snakes also slither around so it’s a good idea to keep an eye out during the dive.

Denpoguchi is known for its range of crevasses.  The dive begins down a rope to about 8m and continues into a narrow tunnel down to a little over 15m.  Below is a bed of star-shaped sand and on either side the walls of rock stretch directly upwards, almost like monoliths.  To get the most out of this area, crawl along the sand with a light which you can shine into the dark spaces and openings along the bottom.  This is the home of lobster, prawns (if you look closely), lion fish, butterfly fish, red soldier fish, starfish and nudibranchs including an impressive yellow one with red spots called the Glossodoris cruenta, its frilly mantle moving from side to side.  The sun will shine through as you ascend, providing some great photo opportunities.

The coral reefs and coral mounds at B&G are smaller and the site is a vast area of sand, making it extremely good for trial dives and newly-certified divers.  As there was a first-time diver in our group, we stayed at around 5m exploring the many clusters of coral after descending from the boat (no rope required).  Our first encounter was with a medium-sized anemone, home to a couple of aggressive clownfish and their babies as well as a small crab nestled closely among the tentacles. The fish here are bright and plentiful.  A medium-sized sea slug lay relaxing on the sand, while green damselfish, threadfin butterfly fish, yellow brown wrasses and domino damselfish live quietly in the dark corners of each coral mound. Not the most exciting dive for advanced divers but a great site to practice skills and take close up shots.

Chinsen Amami is a shipwreck at 34-35m.  It lies on its side and is thought to have sunk around May 1993.  With the right planning it’s possible to get up close but due to some new divers in our group, we looked down at the wreck from around 20m.  Visibility is excellent and the ship is crystal clear from above so this is not a good spot if you are scared of heights!  When the current is relatively strong, schools of white tuna and bluefin trevally are known to drift past.  The dive begins with a descent along a rope to 13m and a swim over huge colossal rocks and coral formations until the wreck emerges. The water is bright blue but the area around the wreck isn’t home to much and a more interesting environment awaits on the ascent.  The rocks are large enough to house a purple nudibranch at 18m, clownfish and anemones that all enjoy the little nooks and crannies, while schools of longfin batfish look extremely relaxed as they swim by along with pink square fairy basslets, blue banded snappers and triggerfish.

Any diver who enjoys rocks, crevasses and narrow passageways will appreciate the Double Crevasse, so-called after its range of small and large crevasses and arches.  It’s a good area to see small coral reef fishes darting in and out of branch coral and is one of the main breeding grounds during the spring for turtles and squid.  We descended along a rope once more to 13m and immediately entered our first passageway where a shrimp stared back at us with huge eyes.  Swimming over the star-shaped sand we saw lion fish and some starfish.  The passageways are particularly narrow so buoyancy is key and all equipment should be kept as close to you as possible to avoid tangling. It’s also teeming with macro life and a great site for close up shots.

Practical information

  • I booked the Yoronto trip with Paradise Island Tours based in Tokyo (http://www.pitdiving.com/travel/)
  • JAL flights via Kagoshima leave Tokyo between 8AM and 9AM and land around lunchtime or early afternoon.  It is possible to do at least one dive on the day of arrival.
  • Our school Buku Buku Divers (http:// http://www.buku2.com/main-index.html) was there to meet us at the airport and drive us to the school.
  • Diving equipment can be sent from Tokyo in advance for about 2,500yen, using Kuroneko Takkyubin.
  • Buku Buku Divers is about 10mins’ drive from the airport.  Immediately upon entering, there is a long table for divers to fill in and sign forms.  On the right hand side is an area for equipment storage and on the left an outside area to wash, hang and dry gear, and a couple of toilets and changing rooms. Not much in the way of books or magazines.  Free tea is provided.
  • After loading the van with equipment, we drove to the nearest port and left the van there during the day.  All dives are boat dives.  The boat is very spacious and flat with almost no indoor area.  Divers sit on the floor with their equipment.  Bring your own towel, sunscreen and snacks.  Sweets and tea are provided.
  • Lunch is not provided so don’t forget to bring something light!
  • All entries into the water are backward rolls.  Ascent is up a ladder.
  • After each dive, everyone heads back to the port for a quick break which means the van is stored with a LOT of tanks.  All dive sites are about 10-15mins from the port.
  • Divers are responsible for looking after their own equipment.  The hotel we stayed at has a special area to hang and wash gear so after diving we were driven back to the hotel and sorted out our equipment accordingly.  The next day the school collected us with our equipment.
  • We stayed at the Yoronto Village Pension about 15mins away from Buku Buku Divers.  The hotel room is not so clean (a bit dusty and furniture was old) but it is spacious with WIFI and other usual amenities such as towels, shampoo, shower gel, soap and toothbrushes.  Outside our room was a nice grassy area to sit and have a coffee or read.  Breakfast was Japanese style (rice, soup, pickles, vegetables and grilled fish) and Western (toast, eggs, salad, coffee) the next.  Dinner is excellent – in addition to the usual rice, miso soup, pickles and veg, there are all kinds of Yoronto specialties in terms of fish, meat and alcohol.  Dinner is in a separate tatami straw mat room, very Japanese!
  • There are no bars, pubs and shops close to the hotel.  Having access to a car is highly recommended.  Car hire can be arranged through the hotel, even for a 2hr period and there is a lot to see including the star-shaped sand, camp sites and sugar cane fields.  Very flat and easy to drive around.
  • The total cost was around 85,000yen including return flights, two nights in the hotel with breakfast and dinner, 4 dives (guide, tanks and weights) and all transport.
  • The hotel will drive you to the airport after your stay.

 June’s dives

Dive 1: Shinaha: depth: 10.8m, dive time: 47mins, water temp: 28C, entry time: 14:47, exit time: 15:25, average depth: 7.4m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit and 3kg weights (back plate, no extra weights), Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 80 bar.  Saw turtles and sea snakes.

Dive 2: Denpoguchi: depth: 15.2m, dive time: 46mins, water temp: 28C, entry time: 16:38, exit time: 17:25, average depth: 9.5m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit and 3kg weights (back plate, no extra weights).  Start pressure: 210 bar, End pressure: 70 bar.  Saw lobster, prawns, lion fish, butterfly fish, red soldier fish, starfish and nudibranchs

Dive 3: B&G: depth: 4.8m, dive time: 35mins, water temp: 28C, entry time: 09:15AM, exit time: 09:50AM, average depth: 3.5m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit and 3kg weights (back plate, no extra weights).  Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 135 bar.  Saw green damselfish, threadfin butterfly fish, yellow brown wrasses, domino damselfish, clown fish, anemones and sea slugs.

Dive 4: Chinsen Amami: depth: 22.4m, dive time: 33mins, water temp: 28C, entry time: 10:56AM, exit time: 11:37AM, average depth: 13.3m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit and 3kg weights (back plate, no extra weights).  Start pressure: 200 bar, End pressure: 70 bar.  Saw schools of longfin batfish. pink square fairy basslets, blue banded snappers and triggerfish

Dive 5: Double Crevasse: depth: 14.8m, dive time: 41mins, water temp: 28C, entry time: 12:38, exit time: 13;21, average depth: 10.2m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit and 3kg weights (back plate, no extra weights).  Start pressure: 190 bar, End pressure: 70 bar.  Saw lion fish and star fish.

About Rising Bubbles

Bonnie Waycott is a dive master and writer focusing on Japan's scuba diving and aquaculture. She is currently taking an MSc in Sustainable Aquaculture at the University of St Andrews via distance learning and is due to graduate in December 2017. Her written work has been featured in Asian Diver, Scuba Diver AustralAsia, DIVE, Marine Biologist, The Fish Site, Fish Farmer, Hatchery International and Outdoor Japan Traveler, while for Japanese divers she writes about marine-related issues abroad for Japanese diving website Ocean+α. You can follow Bonnie on Twitter (@risingbubbles), Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/RisingBubblesNotesOfANewDiver/) and Instagram (@bonniewaycott).
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