Monthly Archives: January 2018

January 2018: Japan’s Ice Diving Season

Definitely not for the faint hearted, ice diving is an extreme, adventurous activity that not many divers get to experience.  Those who do, however, find an underwater world like no other — a clear turquoise colour that’s unique to an under-ice environment, sunbeams that penetrate through the ice cracks and a feeling that you’ll never know what you might come across.

When it comes to ice diving, countries such as Russia or Canada may come to mind but the season is about to get underway in Japan, and I was delighted to see this two-page spread in the latest edition of Japan’s Marine Diving magazine, that explains what ice diving is all about and brought back some fun memories.

IMG_20180119_154803385Each winter off the northernmost island of Hokkaido, ice floes from Sibera are blown down across the Sea of Okhotsk, where they settle around the Shiretoko Peninsula, becoming more rounded as their edges soften.  It is here that the ice diving season begins, running in February and March.  While it’s possible to spot a few fish, most divers come to see the tiny, transparent sea angel or clione.  Besides the mesmerising layers of ice on the water surface, ice diving also provides other unique experiences..  Visibility is excellent, while particulate matter settles more easily thanks to the calm sea.  The rocky topography is also home to seagrass, crabs, starfish, shrimp and even tiny nudibranchs if you have a keen eye and are brave enough to withstand the -1C temperatures for long enough to keep looking.

Ice diving in Japan is more of a taster or introduction as opposed to a longer fun dive.  Most dives will usually be no deeper than 10m and for less than half an hour due to the extreme environment.  Non-Japanese divers who wish to try should ideally have some dry suit experience, an Advanced Open Water certification and most importantly, be able to speak some Japanese for safety reasons (briefings on safety measures and dive procedures will be detailed and strict).  If not, please make sure that you are accompanied by another diver who is able to translate on your behalf.

Dive shops on the Shiretoko Peninsula have become increasingly concerned about the lack of ice over the past couple of years, most likely due to climate change and global warming.  But the two-page spread in Marine Diving gave me a lot of hope, that ice diving is still possible after all.  If you’re a keen diver in Japan who speaks Japanese well enough and knows how to dive in a dry suit, I highly recommend this incredible underwater experience!

Click here to read about my ice diving adventure in February 2016: https://bonniewaycott.com/2016/04/06/february-2016-the-return-to-shiretoko-hokkaido-japan/

 

January 2018: Gearing up for Another Year

Friday January 12th, 2018

Happy New Year, and welcome to my first 2018 post written in the UK! I’ll be talking about the UK later but before that, this is a great moment to start looking back at 2017.

The year got off to a good start with a day of diving in Sydney after the famous New Year fireworks. Although not as glamorous as other parts of Australia like the Great Barrier Reef, Sydney has a good array of marine life and warm, comfortable water temperatures. I was impressed by the large number of dive spots that lie close to such a busy and exciting city. Our favourite find was this adorable baby cuttlefish during a shore dive near Manly.

I then spent a lot of time at a dive site near Tokyo that a friend introduced me to in 2016. Located close to the city of Odawara, Hayakawa Diving Service is about an hour away from Tokyo by direct train. I loved its close-knit community feel, the quaint little bay where all the dives were held and the independence of the instructor and dive masters. Divers were actively encouraged to find a buddy, plan a dive and dive the plan, unlike other shops in Japan where divers are simply shown around with not much opportunity to use their skills for themselves. Despite being so close to Tokyo, the marine life was incredibly varied and every dive brought new discoveries.

 

Women’s roles in society have been a hot topic and 2017 was no exception. In late 2016 I joined an NGO called Women 4 Oceans (http://women4oceans.weebly.com) and in May 2017 teamed up with another diver and ocean lady in Tokyo to organise a networking event (http://women4oceans.weebly.com/tokyo-event.html) for women working in marine-related fields. I was delighted with the opportunity to talk about my work and share my underwater photos. The event had over 40 participants and was a huge success, with plenty of inspiring talks and a solid group of women united by their love for the ocean.

In June 2017 my husband and I said farewell to Japan and returned to the UK to begin the next stage of our lives. This marked the start of an extremely hectic summer as 9 and 11 years’ worth of belongings started to arrive and we found a place to live in Bristol, all while dealing with the sadness of leaving Japan and learning to adjust to UK life. But as sad as it was to say goodbye to Japan, the UK is already bringing a host of marine-related opportunities. In September 2017 I spent two days at the National Dive and Activity Centre in Chepstow on a seahorse survey course run by the Seahorse Trust, a UK charity which studies seahorses and their habitats to educate the public and raise awareness of seahorse protection. We had two days of classroom sessions where we learned about seahorses, how to protect them, the role of divers and underwater surveys, and how to conduct such surveys underwater. Now that I’ve taken the course, I’ll be joining the instructor course in February 2018 to learn how to teach it to others, and take part in some survey dives along the south coast in summer 2018.

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I then delved into the UK dive scene even more when I travelled to Birmingham in October 2017 to attend DIVE, a 2-day annual event organized by UK magazine DIVER. Like the Marine Diving Fair in Tokyo, hundreds of exhibitors come together to offer training courses, dive gear and holiday packages, while divers can network and get diving tips and advice. As well as hearing a talk on freshwater diving, I met the staff of a dive shop in Plymouth, listened to a talk on UK shore and boat diving and saw some impressive underwater photos taken in UK waters.  October 2017 also saw the start of Blue Planet II on BBC 1. I was honoured to attend the premier in Bristol with the BBC Natural History Unit, and amazed by how much is going on in the UK when it comes to all things marine.

Later this month I will submit my MSc thesis on aquaculture and disaster management, specifically the recovery of aquaculture in Japan’s Tohoku region after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011 and whether that can serve as an example to other countries with aquaculture industries that are vulnerable to natural disasters. Having set myself up as self-employed, my aquaculture and fisheries writing work is growing fast. This year I’ve been put in charge of a new series on women in aquaculture for 5M Publishing in the UK (https://thefishsite.com/articles/women-in-aquaculture-new-series-launched) and (https://thefishsite.com/articles/women-in-aquaculture-conchita-milburn), and in May 2018 the UK’s Mercator Media (World Fishing and Aquaculture) are sending me to Singapore for a 3-day offshore mariculture conference. My main goal this year, however, is to discover the UK diving scene and I’m excited about this next chapter and discovering a new kind of diving. Rising Bubbles will continue with a mix of UK diving and aquaculture reports, and the latest marine and diving updates from Japan.

Thank you for reading, and see you underwater!