Monthly Archives: April 2015

April 2015: The Asia Dive Expo (ADEX) 2015, Singapore

Friday April 10th – Sunday April 12th

IMG_2422 IMG_2435

Last week on Thursday 9th April I headed for Singapore to attend my first ever Asia Dive Expo, the longest running dive show in Asia that’s otherwise known as ADEX.

Although the show is mainly for promotional purposes like last weekend’s Tokyo’s Marine Diving Fair, it’s an event on a much bigger scale, a chance to network, get tips and advice from underwater photographers, find some great deals on magazine subscriptions or sit down with a coffee and catch up with fellow divers.

For me, ADEX was a great insight into dive fairs outside Japan. Without further ado, here are some bits and bobs from the big weekend:

Friday 10th: Despite the opening day being on a Friday, thousands of visitors seemed to be pouring in, maybe to avoid the weekend madness and enjoy shopping for new gear and making contacts. The actual opening ceremony got underway around 3pm when hope was expressed for an even bigger and better show than before.

I was particularly looking forward to catching up with the Green Fins team after spreading the word about them in Tokyo last week. ADEX had much more of a conservation focus than Tokyo’s Marine Diving Fair, and word seems to be getting out about Green Fins’ environmental standards for the diving industry as visitors often came to check out the posters and stickers on offer, while a Green Fins talk was held as well. 10432131_10153260977319510_692235878288962081_n 11147078_10153260977374510_3844979768605000144_n

I also enjoyed meeting the staff at iSeahorse who have come up with a smart phone application that divers can use to upload any photos they take of seahorses. These photos are then picked up by scientists worldwide and contribute towards seahorse research. Marine conservation seemed to be high on the agenda at ADEX. There was much interest in Japan’s Sanriku Volunteer Divers, and magazines were keen to discuss possible articles on Green Fins’ initiatives as well.

Meanwhile a vast array of dive retailers was selling everything from wetsuits to fins at very good prices. One of them, Friendly Waters Seasports, had some bright and colourful BCDs on sale that would no doubt attract much attention if sold in Japan!IMG_2494

Saturday 11th: The second day opened early with heightened excitement as the weekend had arrived and the venue received an influx of visitors. Laurent Ballesta was a standout star with his brilliantly accessible talk on filming the coelacanth. His presentation pulled in huge crowds and generated buzz and excitement, while his photo display was stunning. I got to have a one-to-one chat with Laurent and was struck by some of the things he said. Listening to him, it hit home that as a diver it is not enough to simply take photos underwater. You need an idea, a goal, something unique or special (in his case the coelacanth) to stand out. Is diving in Japan my something special? Talking to Laurent certainly got me thinking.

IMG_2439 IMG_2468

Tour operators, liveaboards, resorts and clubs from across Asia were also out in force. The Philippines booth was excellent with information from every corner of the country as well as a slideshow of underwater photos and footage taken at some popular dive sites. There were also lots of goodies to buy from the guys at Canon and other camera makers, some very impressive equipment to spend all your cash on!

Sunday 12th: On the final day, it seemed that divers were going crazy with last minute gear grabs, attending as many talks as possible and doing the final networking and meetings before the event drew to a close. It was a great day to be at ADEX as I got the chance to reacquaint myself with the contacts I had made over the past two days.

During the weekend I’d been struck by the number of magazines that were represented and was lucky enough to speak to almost all of them. Peggy from Action Diver told me how her boss had gone diving in Okinawa and enjoyed it immensely, while the staff at online magazine X-Ray Mag sat down with me to go through my underwater photos and discuss some Japan-related options. It seems that diving in Japan is not that well known in the rest of Asia and I would like nothing more than for that to change one day. I also spoke to the editor of Scuba Diver Australasia magazine Alice Grainger, who is due to publish an article I wrote recently on diving off Yakushima. She expressed interest in Sanriku Volunteer Divers and we discussed the possibility of publicising coral protection initiatives in Okinawa.

IMG_2505 IMG_2511 IMG_2520 IMG_2525ADEX proved to be a great weekend with a vast range of exhibitors and speakers combined with a really nice location. For me however, the absence of Japan really stood out and it would be great to see Japan’s diving being represented there one day.

April 2015: The Marine Diving Fair, Ikebukuro, Tokyo, Japan

IMG_1620 IMG_1631 IMG_1634 IMG_1645 IMG_1652 IMG_1665 IMG_1672

Friday April 3rd to Sunday April 5th 2015 

Tokyo’s annual Marine Diving Fair is a unique point of access for divers to get discounts on dive gear, listen to talks from invited guests, catch up with one another and discover new dive sites in Japan and elsewhere.  Organised by Japan’s first scuba diving magazine Marine Diving which began in 1969, the event is mostly for promotional purposes but high on the agenda this year was travel to destinations outside Japan and plenty of information for the increasing tide of divers dedicated to creating images underwater as those in the underwater photo and video business shared their expertise through talks, one-to-one advice and special displays of top images.

As I headed to the event this weekend I was a diver on a mission, tasked with spreading the word on Green Fins.  Internationally coordinated by UK charity Reef World, Green Fins is a set of environmental standards for the diving industry that provides guidance and support to business owners, dive shops and national authorities to promote best practice underwater.  I was extremely impressed at the high level of enthusiasm towards Green Fins expressed by Japanese divers, dive shops and even PADI Japan.  Everyone was keen to know more and to do their part, so here’s hoping Green Fins will have a role to play one day soon in the Japanese diving industry.  Here are some photos taken while I handed out a few Green Fins leaflets:

IMG_1636 IMG_1638 IMG_1639 IMG_1656 IMG_1667

Another highlight of the event was catching up with Hiroshi Sato who established Sanriku Volunteer Divers, a group that’s been working to restore areas hit by the March 11th 2011 earthquake and tsunami in the Tohoku region.  Unlike previous years there was no Sanriku Volunteer Divers booth at the event.  Instead, Hiroshi was attending by himself to catch up with fellow divers and give a brief presentation on the Tohoku Salmon Swim.  Thanks to Hiroshi’s negotiations with local fishermen, people visiting his local area can don a mask and snorkel to observe the salmon return and run upstream after 4 years’ migration through the open ocean.  Today the salmon are coming back and Hiroshi offered an insight into the latest conditions as well as some tips on taking photos while observing the fast-moving fish.

Heading towards other booths nearby, I could see that the Okinawa region was out in full force.  One dive shop from Miyakojima Island had returned this year to promote the island’s diving and introduce the famous underwater limestone caves, tunnels and arches which I had the pleasure of seeing just last month.  Thanks to a new airport and more direct flights from Tokyo, tourism in Ishigaki Island is thriving and chances are that the diving industry there is going to get stronger.  The Ishigaki booth featured a host of dive shops operating across the island.  It was also great to see the lesser-known Amami region, particularly the islands of Okinoerabu and Yoron (one of my favourite diving spots in Japan!).  Both appear to be upcoming hotbeds of diving activity, with barrier and fringing reefs on Yoron and a range of marine life off Okinoerabu such as sea cucumbers, coral crabs and fish of all shapes and resilient colours.

Once again the Marine Diving Fair drew a huge audience from across Japan and even from abroad as special guest Laurent Ballesta, a French underwater photographer and marine biologist, gave a talk on 40 days of deep water diving and meeting the coelacanth, a legendary bottom-dwelling sea creature.  I spoke to some fellow divers who were also struck by how many people there were, and with such a big interest in Japan’s diving scene, perhaps there will be new and improved products, services and publications in the years to come.   It will be interesting to see just how much of a foreign input there will be too, as more individuals and organisations from abroad start to focus their attention on diving in Japan.

March 2015: The Return to Miyako Island, Okinawa, Japan

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Monday March 23rd – Wednesday March 25th 2015

The long winter months can leave the keenest of divers, including myself, seriously dried out, and early this year I planned to refresh my skills and get back into diving at a place that required some planning and at least a couple of days away from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo.  One place that ticks those boxes is Okinawa’s Miyakojima. Located about 300km southwest of the main island of Okinawa, this warm and tropical place is most well known for its underwater limestone formations and promises divers an adventurous experience, with swim-throughs, arches, overhangs and labyrinths of tunnels.  Most of the popular dive sites are about 35mins from the mainland, and although the journey can seem long and the sea sometimes choppy, there is a sense of anticipation and excitement as huge rocky structures appear in the distance and the boat makes its final approach.  With a decent selection of dive sites to choose from, we settled on the following spots:

Nakanoshima Channel:  This site allows divers to explore walls and swim-throughs created when the ocean worked its magic on the volcanic rocks a long long time ago.  The rocks here slope to a 14m-deep seabed over a jumble of medium-sized boulders that make an ideal habitat for all manner of darkness-loving marine life. Swimming through a narrow arch and then down to around 18m, it’s clear that the rocks are covered with sponges and other critters thriving in the nutrient-rich waters.  Juvenile parrot fish gently hover close by, while tiny jawfish also peer out from holes in the sand, gripping tightly as they sit and wait patiently for divers to move on or darting quickly out of sight if so inclined.  Close to this sandy spot is the entrance to a small tunnel, which seems to promise encounters with little creatures.  As we swam in, we hunted their nooks and crannies and spotted a shoal of red soldier fish sheltering deep within.  As the dive comes to a close, the tunnel spits you out with a tiny bit of surge, topping off a fun dive as you begin your ascent while closely examining a range of colourful nudibranchs.

Hon Drop: As its name suggests, this site is a drop-off that rises from around 35m to a shallow plateau at 8m.  One advantage of diving here is that during the journey back to the surface it’s possible to maintain a visual reference by following the wall and ascending to the shallows.  Swimming over the shallow plateau, the descent begins down the wall to about 12m, where soon you spot something.  It’s the star of the show – and what divers come here to see – a giant trevally that takes refuge at the rocky gullies and overhangs.  On good days it’s possible to spot around 3 or 4, disappearing into the deep blue with a flick of their tails. The shallow depths here are bathed in the sun as prism-like ripples of light skip across the rocks.  Leaf scorpion fish lurk in the crags of a rock, while curly anemones provide homes for a range of clownfish and  the odd blackspotted puffer fish can be seen finning away. The fish life here may be less abundant but the big rocky structures will keep divers entertained thanks to the diverse range of marine life.

Mini Grotto: Mini Grotto is the perfect example of Miyakojima’s colossal rocky structures and tunnels.  A boulder-strewn seabed slopes gently into the deeper depths, and a turtle sways back and forth, trying to munch on food it had found on the surface of a rock.  This site also offers a small tunnel ideally suited for open water level exploration.  Divers can easily enter at around 15m, penetrating the semi-darkness with their flashlights and swimming up and up towards the surface of the water as the sun streams into the opening, creating a spectacular scene.  Popping up above the water, it’s clear that the surrounding structures were carved out by waves centuries ago, and divers can float on the water, lie back and marvel at the immense beauty before them.  The only way out is back through the same tunnel but although it mainly consists of sediment, small rocks and gravel, it’s worth taking time out to study the nudibranchs that have found their way inside. Back in the shallows, shoals of chromis move into open water to feed on drifting plankton.

Mao no Kyuden: A large boulder area and labyrinth of tunnels offers an air of mystery and anticipation. With a maximum depth of around 25-27m, divers can’t spend too long here before reaching no-decompression limits, but even a short time spent at this point will reveal some form of life such as red soldier fish making a hasty retreat with their fins fluttering.  The structure here seems to consist of several large chambers and tunnels linked together and although divers are never far from an opening, it can sometimes be hard to tell where you are going.  Swimming towards the exit past shoals of fish, the immense beauty of the tunnel reveals itself and taking photos, divers are framed against an iridescent blue ocean, enveloped in a velvety blackness. At the surface, nutrient-rich water swirls around, giving life to vast schools of fish such as filefish and sweepers competing with one another for space.  Don’t forget to visit the candy crab at 21m, a cute little critter that’s well camouflaged against a piece of soft coral.

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 06:55AM, getting to the island around 10:00.  Direct return flights to Tokyo leave around 20:00, arriving at 22:35.  It’s also possible to leave a little early, around 17:15 with a transfer at Naha (18:00 – 18:40), arriving in Tokyo around 21:00
  • 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 2,500 yen, using Kuroneko Takkyubin.
  • Dive Kids is about 5 mins’ drive from the main port.  On the left side of the school 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.
  • 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 on the boat all day.
  • Lunch is Japanese style and homemade.  On day 1 we had a thick creamy pork stew with vegetables, and rice accompanied by pickles and hot tea.  On day 2 we had a clear fish broth with vegetables along with rice balls and hot tea.
  • 2L bottles of warm water are available on deck for divers to pour over themselves when exiting from cold water.
  • All entries are down a ladder from a small platform.  Ascent is via the same 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 dive logs and gives an excellent idea of what was seen and where.
  • We stayed at the Hotel Peace Island Miyakojima Shiyakusho (http://www.peace-k.jp/miyako2/) 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.  There is a huge bath on the 10th floor.  Breakfast is a buffet of rice, miso soup, bread, various vegetables and fish, eggs, tea and coffee.  Western style food (cereal, bread, fruit) is available too, and the breakfast area serves as an izakaya (Japanese style pub) at night serving a range of dishes such as sashimi raw fish, grilled meat and fish, salads, pizzas and chips. Check out from the hotel is 11AM.
  • Close to the hotel are a few good izakayas, a 24-hour convenience store, ice cream parlour and shops.
  • The total cost of the trip 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.

March’s dives

Dive 1: Nakanoshima Channel: dive number:166, depth: 17.9m, dive time: 51mins, entry time: 11:38AM, exit time: 12:28, water temp: 24C, water visibility: 20-25m, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 4kg weight belt.  Start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 60bar.  Saw juvenile bicolour parrot fish, jaw fish, red soldier fish and seaslugs (halgerda diaphana)

Dive 2: Hon Drop: dive number 167, depth: 14.5m, dive time: 41mins, entry time: 14:17, exit time: 14:57, water visibility: 20-25m, water temperature: 22C, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 4kg weight belt.  Start pressure: 180 bar, end pressure: 50 bar.  Saw giant trevally, turtles, blackspotted puffer fish and a couple of leaf scorpion fish

Dive 3: Mini Grotto: dive number 168, depth: 15m, dive time: 48mins, entry time: 09:46, exit time: 10:24, water visibility: 20m, water temperature: 22C, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 4kg weight belt.  Start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 60 bar.  Saw turtles, lion fish, stout chromic, red snappers, sea slug (halgerda diaphana and chromodoris kuniei)

Dive 4: Mao no Kyuden: dive number 169, depth: 24.4m, dive time: 38mins, entry time: 11:31, exit time: 12:09, water visibility: 20m, water temperature: 21C, used a 10L steel tank, 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest and 4kg weight belt.  Start pressure: 180 bar, end pressure: 30 bar.  Saw filefish, candy crab, sweepers and bigscale soldier fish.