Monthly Archives: January 2017

January 2017: Ocean Planet, Ginza, Tokyo

Thursday January 19th, 2017

This month, I attended a small underwater photography exhibition called Ocean Planet in Ginza, Tokyo. One major theme in Japan when it comes to the oceans, and especially at this time of year, is the Tohoku region, which was hit by the March 11th 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Six years since the disaster, it’s still a huge topic, and the exhibition was an opportunity to think about that through a series of photos taken off the Onagawa area, and enjoy more light-hearted subjects such as whale sharks in Mexico and nudibranchs in Indonesia.

Underwater photographer Hiroyuki Tomura is from Saitama near Tokyo, and his work has recently been attracting much attention. Photography became something to accompany his diving, until he decided to study it more formally. An avid scuba diver, he has dived in various locations around the world and is always amazed at the beauty and diversity of the marine life he sees. Through his work and company (also called Ocean Planet), he hopes to raise awareness of our oceans and inspire others who are interested in taking up underwater photography. I took the opportunity to find out more about him and his work.

— What made you become an underwater photographer?
“I used to dive for fun in places like Okinawa and Izu, and began taking photos while doing so. I started to take photography seriously when I decided that I wanted as many people as possible around the world to see, and learn more about, the underwater environment that I was seeing and capturing.”

— What is the most important thing when taking photos underwater? What do you make sure you do?
“I focus on the distance between myself and my subject and check that my diving skills, such as buoyancy, are up to scratch.”

— What skills do you need to become a professional photographer?
“People define the word professional in different ways so it’s hard to answer, but if we are talking about someone who takes photos for a living, not someone who is just very good at taking photos, then he or she would need detailed knowledge of underwater photography to begin with. You need the skills to take good photos, but how can you put those skills to work on land, not just in the water? That’s worth bearing in mind. I’d also say the ability to market your work, convey a message and treasure the encounters you have and the connections you make.”

— What camera do you use?
“I use a mirrorless camera, Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II. It’s small, and easy to retake photos. It’s easy to operate in the water too!”

— Where do you like taking photos, and how often do you dive each year?
“Recently I’ve been diving quite a bit in Indonesia and the Maldives. I take a lot of photos of shipwrecks, so I like Micronesia, the Philippines and Palau. In one year, I’d say I spend over a third of my time in the water.”

—What’s been your most impressive or dangerous encounter underwater? Any special experiences?
“I’m always blown away by the ocean because it’s full of things that are very impressive. I’m easily impressed when I’m able to capture a subject I’d been aiming for but when I come across something I didn’t think I would…those unexpected encounters…I love those as well. I don’t think I’ve had any dangerous experiences underwater when it comes to marine life. I have had problems with my gear at deeper depths, which has been a bit scary, but luckily my buddy was there to help.”

— At the exhibition, you displayed a set of photos that were taken off Onagawa in Tohoku. How do you think the ocean has recovered since the disaster? Can you tell me a bit about changes in marine life, topography and seabed?
“I dived in the affected areas about a year after the disaster, and to begin with the seabed was covered in rubble. I saw a lot of things such as daily items and fishing gear. But thanks to friends who have been persistently removing rubble from the water and cleaning the seabed, the number of such items has gone down considerably in Onagawa. Incidentally, that is where I usually dive when I go to Tohoku. But the amount of debris is only going down because people are entering the water and working as hard as they can. I have heard that some areas still cannot be reached and a lot of debris remains. Compared to immediately after the disaster, marine life has recovered and towns and houses are being rebuilt, but it’s too early to say that the region has completely recovered.”

— Can you tell me about your future plans, places you want to dive this year, and any goals you have for 2017?
“I’d love to find more and more inspiration from around the world. There are too many places I want to go to right now! My goal for this year is probably to build even more on the themes I have been working on, and for as many people as possible to know more about me and my work. I’d love people to become interested in the sea because of me.”

— Lastly, do you have any advice for people who want to become professional underwater photographers?
“Continue. A photographer who I very much admire said this exact word to me. I would say continue, but always keep an image of the future you want in your mind. Never give up.”

As divers, we have all read books and articles on underwater photography, and there are a lot of amazing photos out there, but sometimes those photos can feel out of reach. What I enjoyed about Hiroyuki’s exhibition was how simple and accessible it was. Looking at his photos, I felt that I, too, may one day be able to take such photos. Not only was the exhibition thoroughly accessible, but it was also easy to understand, and a good primer for those of us who are passionate about diving and want to capture our experiences as more than just memories.

To see more of Hiroyuki’s photos, visit his website at http://hiroyuki-tomura.com

January 2017: Sydney, Australia

Monday January 2nd, 2017

Because of the famous Great Barrier Reef, Sydney is often overlooked as a dive destination, but dig a little deeper and the variety of year-round diving is clear to see. Further south where the water is more temperate lies a range of pristine sites, as well as an area of southernmost coral reefs with more than 60 sites to enjoy.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to travel too far, but after seeing in the New Year in Sydney, we were delighted to start 2017 in the water with a couple of shore dives north and south of the central business district. Sydney’s varied diving locations surprised us both, and with so many to choose from, picking two was hard. There are also areas that are perfect for beginners or indeed non-diving partners who want to give scuba a try. Because of the day’s weather and water conditions, we settled on two locations, Bare Island and Camp Cove.

Bare Island is an islet in south-eastern Sydney, about 16km from the central business district. It’s home to a fort structure built in the early 1880s, and offers spectacular scenic views. For divers, the eastern side of the island has better visibility and shallower depths, while the western side offers more marine life.

Crossing the bridge to the island, going down a flight of stairs and turning left across the rocks, we began our descent in slightly rough conditions along a cut out in the rock that looked like a small boat ramp. Although it’s a great entry and exit point, the dive can get off to a difficult start when the waves are high (as they were when we went). Underwater is a huge carpet of sand and some gentle slopes, punctuated by rocks and small walls decorated by soft coral and seaweed. Visibility is not always flash, changing from one day to the next, but when it’s good, it’s a treat for the eyes. We swam down a gentle slope decorated by rocks, coral heads and a variety of features from seaweed patches to more sloping sandy bottoms. The waters host their incredible marine life in and around these rocks, scattered among the seaweed and soft coral growth that populate the shallows. The highlight of the dive soon came when a huge blue grouper appeared from the deeper depths and began swimming with us. Clearly interested in divers, it came in for a close look, but, not too sure what to expect, darted off shyly, before returning and staying with us until our safety stop. The island is also a haven for macro lovers. Look closely and you can spot weedy sea dragons lurking among the kelp and seaweed, a fantastic display of anemones, as well as starfish, crabs and nudibranchs to keep you interested.

Camp Cove is a small beach at the southern entrance to Sydney Harbour. Popular for swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing, it’s a good spot for shore diving because the variety of marine life is more accessible to divers compared to other sites. As the beach is also quite sheltered, it remains protected from adverse weather apart from northerly winds and swells, and is an easy and relaxing dive site suitable for all levels. After the challenging entry and exit at Bare Island, we were delighted to walk into the calm waters of Camp Cove, put on our masks and fins and begin our descent through clear blue. Visibility was good at around 10-15m and clear sand spread out into the distance. I finned over the sandy carpet and soon spotted a porcupine fish nestling against a small rock. We then swam for a few minutes to the north reef, where we came across some rocky structures whose walls fell onto the sandy carpet. Kelp and seaweed covered the top at around 4-5m. There was a lot of small stuff to be seen here — starfish, crabs, nudibranchs and beautiful anemones. Soon, I looked down to see a couple of sting rays gliding gracefully below before settling on the sand. This was clearly a good spot for them to feed, and we could feel the mild current as we swam through and around a cluster of huge rocky structures. Hovering above, we were able to marvel at their beauty. With gentle sloping sandy reefs and more dramatic walls and pinnacles, there is plenty here to keep divers hooked.

Moving along the reef, we took our time examining the cracks in the rocks and the small overhangs. On and around the structures were more crabs, pipe fish, wrasses and some small red fish with huge eyes that I couldn’t identify. Underwater conditions couldn’t have been more benign, and the site is more than suitable for novice divers needing to be comfortable in the water. Cruising back towards the beach at the end of the dive, I spotted a tiny, well-camouflaged cuttlefish hovering over the sand and seaweed, and a frogfish sitting still close by.

Visibility in Sydney may not always be crystal clear but when it’s good, prepare to be impressed by the marine life that has colonised the area. If you’re looking for easy, leisurely dives at no more than 20m and plenty of photo opportunities, Sydney’s shore diving won’t disappoint.

Practical Information

• We booked our dives with Dive Centre Bondi (https://www.divebondi.com.au) on Bondi Road near the famous beach. Divers make their own way there by 8AM to show cards, log books and make any outstanding payments. We paid a deposit online beforehand.
• Two guided dives cost AUD$55. Full equipment rental (mask, boots, fins, wetsuit, tanks and weights, BCD, regulators and computer) is AUD$120, full equipment rental excluding mask, boots and fins costs AUD$100, while two tanks and weights rental costs AUD$50.
• At the back of the shop is an area to prepare gear, a changing room to try on wetsuits, store tanks, and sit and write up log books. There is also a car park, with two vehicles belonging to the shop.
• After preparing and loading gear into the vans, we drove to our first dive site.
• Note that no tea, coffee, snacks etc are provided. Divers must bring their own lunch, snacks, drinks etc.
• At Bare Island, we put on our gear at the car park and walked over the bridge wearing our tanks and other gear. The descent is down a small line provided by an SMB. Divers gather at the bottom of the line, before swimming out behind the guide.
• After the first dive and before the second, divers must dismantle their equipment and take off their wetsuits (no wet items in the vans).
• At Camp Cove, we also geared up at the car park and walked into the water, walked back out and removed gear at the car park.
• After the second dive, everyone returns to the shop. One hose is available to wash gear, but divers are responsible for their own gear only, not for anything they have rented.
• There are no showers, shampoo, conditioner etc available for customers. Customers are expected to go back to wherever they are staying and clean up there.
• The day ends around 3PM, and there are usually 6 available places for shore dives (maximum 6 divers and one guide)

January’s dives

Dive No: 237, Bare Island. Entry time: 10:45, depth: 12.3m, dive time: 37mins, exit time: 11:22, water temperature: 20C, water visibility: 5m, start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 100 bar, rented 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest, used an 11L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt. Saw blue grouper, nudibranchs, seaweed

Dive No: 238, Camp Cove. Entry time: 13:25, depth: 5.5m, dive time: 33 mins, exit time: 13:58, water temperature: 20C, water visibility: 10-15m, start pressure 200 bar, end pressure: 100 bar, rented 5mm wetsuit, 3mm hood/vest, used an 11L aluminium tank, 6kg weight belt. Saw: cuttlefish, pipefish, stingrays, frogfish, seaweed, sea urchins, sponges, porcupine fish.

 

January 2017: Gearing Up for Another Year

Happy New Year!  I’ve recently returned to Japan after seeing in the New Year in Sydney, and was delighted to start 2017 by diving near Bondi. I’ll be writing about that soon, but before I delve into the new year, this is perhaps a good moment to start looking back at last year.

Things got off to a great start in 2016 with a trip to the Similan Islands at the end of January. With white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters, the dive sites were excellent and we were blown away by the warm temperatures and rich marine life.

I then spent a lot of my time getting reacquainted with some of my favourite dive sites near Tokyo, such as Atami and Shikinejima……

……and discovered the island of Saipan in October. The Northern Marianas cater to all levels with shallow and deep dives, spectacular caverns and stunning coral reefs. Only 3 hours by plane from Tokyo, it’s a quick and easy destination for divers living in Japan (photos below courtesy of Jun Hashimoto at Wondersea).

I’ve seen a vast range of marine life over the years and in Japan at least, I felt that it had been kept relatively safe from growing numbers of tourists including scuba divers. But a fellow diver sent me an article stating that half of Japan’s largest coral reef had died because of unusually high water temperatures between June and September. Read more about the problem here: http://www.asahi.com/ajw/articles/AJ201612160042.html

To that end, efforts continue to safeguard the marine environment, not just in Japan but in other countries too, and the role of divers is drawing increasing attention. In October 2016 I welcomed to Tokyo Juliana Corrales from UK marine conservation charity The Reef-World Foundation.  She is involved in Green Fins, a public-private initiative of The Reef-World Foundation and the United Nations Environment Programme that provides a code of conduct to divers and dive shops to reduce environmental impact. On Juliana’s first trip to Japan, we visited dive shops, travel agencies, magazine and website editors to spread the word about Green Fins and got a Green Fins story in Marine Diving, Japan’s leading dive magazine.

To top off another active year, in December I became a member of a growing community called Women4Oceans (http://women4oceans.weebly.com), which supports, promotes and represents women working in ocean-related fields.

The beginning of 2017 will be the start of more opportunities. I’m delighted to have been approached by a couple of new publications regarding future diving articles on Japan, and in April I’m hoping to attending some diving events in Tokyo and Singapore. A dive trip to the Ogasawara Islands is also in the works, and in July this year I begin my Masters thesis in Sustainable Aquaculture. But by far the biggest change comes in May — after 10 years of living in Tokyo, I’ll be saying goodbye to Japan and returning to the UK. As sad as it will be to leave, I’m excited about my next chapter and discovering a new kind of diving. Rising Bubbles will continue, albeit in a slightly different style.

Thank you for reading and…..see you underwater!