July 2017: Bristol Aquarium, Bristol, UK

July 2017: Bristol Aquarium, Bristol, UK

Seeing marine life up close at aquariums is exciting but the small, confined tanks don’t seem to teach us about natural behaviour underwater such as migratory patterns, foraging behaviour or life spans. Part of me will always believe that scuba diving is a much better way of learning about marine life, but even if you know how to dive, aquariums can be a lot of fun, a reminder of the beauty of marine life and a chance to encounter fish and other stuff you probably know about already or have seen thanks to your diving.  Following a recent move to the UK, one aquarium has been serving me well as I wait for my dive gear and camera to arrive from Japan.

Conveniently located in the centre of town, Bristol Aquarium aims to increase visitors’ awareness and understanding of the aquatic world with over 40 displays of aquatic life. The displays are bright and impressive thanks to a combination of the latest technology including low level lighting, and successfully mimic conditions found in the wild. They cover an array of subjects from the UK coast, Mediterranean waters and freshwater habitats to tropical reefs and even amphibians and rainforests. Visitors can take the time they need going from tank to tank and reading about waves, coral reefs and the effects of overfishing and how we can make more sustainable choices through the fish we eat. What’s also nice about the displays is that they’re about the same height as the average child so little ones can see everything just as easily as adults. They can also enter a small helmet-like structure, stand up and look above and around them to watch seahorses bobbing up and down.

One unexpected surprise is the Urban Jungle, a botanical house under an inflated film roof that begins with an open-topped display of rays. As you make your way up, you can get a great view of the ray tank below and learn about exotic plants and tree species found in the Amazon and Mediterranean. The path then takes you into the upstairs part of the aquarium where you can look down on an ocean-like display tank. This area is also home to a massive intelligent and curious Pacific octopus that drew crowds of people during my visit.

The information boards are engaging and suitable for everyone, while the combination of plants and marine life is very original and well done. Visitors can enjoy panoramic views of marine life as they walk through a glass tunnel and with feeding demonstrations and talks on offer, there is ample opportunity to learn even more about what you’re seeing, with staff on hand to answer any questions. A ticket to the aquarium is valid all day, which means you can leave anytime and come back later for something specific if there’s anything you have missed or want to see again.

Although not as big or detailed as other aquariums I’ve visited, Bristol Aquarium is extremely educational with a really good focus on children. Hopefully the excitement and awe that these children get to experience will turn into a lifelong appreciation and respect for the ocean and all that it has to offer.

For more information on Bristol Aquarium, check out their website here: https://www.bristolaquarium.co.uk

 

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April 2017: Photo Record of Diving in Tohoku

The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of March 2011 is well remembered in Japan.  Some areas have recovered, while others are struggling to return to their former lives.  The same is true for the ocean and this month I’ve been enjoying the May 2017 edition of science magazine Newton, in particular a photo journal of Tohoku’s marine life.  Japanese underwater photographer Yasuaki Kagii shares his experiences diving in areas that were hit hard by the disaster. He presents his story through photographs and shares his thoughts on the species and underwater conditions.

Kagii begins by saying that marine life in Tohoku is flourishing and has adapted to a new and changing underwater environment. His first photograph is a tiny fringed blenny living in a pipe. Kagii explains how struck he was to see this small fish creating a new home for itself out of debris. He also presents an example of camouflage, as seen by a sunrise sculpin living on an electric fan that’s coated with pink coralline algae.

The contrast between life/happiness and death/sadness is also covered.  One of Kagii’s photos is an upside down car and a cluster of kelp growing on one of the tyres. Kagii touches upon the difference between death and sadness, as illustrated by the upside down car, and life and happiness that the flourishing kelp is said to represent.  In an attempt to highlight new life, Kagii shares the story of a spotbelly greenling laying its eggs on the sea floor. Nearby, gobies are doing the same, and in June, when the water temperature begins to rise, baby gobies burst forth from long white eggs and swim away, tiny white dots sprinkling like sand over the seabed.

Kati explains that when he first started diving off Tohoku in April 2011, he saw abalone, sea urchins and starfish but no sign of fish. He had been photographing traces of human life that had been washed away but when he came across a tiny lumpfish, a species that had survived the tsunami-ravaged seas, he decided to show people that Tohoku’s marine life was alive and well despite what had happened. Six years on, Kagii says he has  now discovered the true beauty of Tohoku’s underwater environment.

*****

I really enjoyed Kagii’s story.  Having also dived in Tohoku, I agreed with his impressions of beauty and diversity.  The March 2011 disaster was a unique opportunity for divers like Kagii to observe in real time an ecosystem recover from an extremely large natural disaster, and for divers like myself who don’t live so near to Tohoku, it’s been a good insight into a marine environment that didn’t get so much attention before.  By talking to fellow divers and local fishermen over the past 6 years, I have learned many things, for example that small fish with short lifespans thrived immediately after the disaster because of their short reproductive cycle and the absence of predators, as well as a possible abundance of food like nutrients and sediments that were brought in by the tsunami and settled on the seabed. Like Kagii, I believe it is important to continue highlighting the beauty of Tohoku’s seas and survival of its marine life, but there could be other purposes to such information. For example, Japan experiences a lot of natural disasters, and understanding how marine life recovers could help the country better prepare for future earthquakes or tsunamis.

 

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March 2017: Enoshima Aquarium

With dolphins, penguins, sharks and a shoal of dancing sardines, Enoshima Aquarium, which opened in 1954, offers a fascinating insight into the ecosystem of nearby Sagami Bay and beyond. The history of the tiny island of Enoshima, which lies just across the water from the aquarium, is strongly connected to the ocean, the wonders of which come to life in a small and quaint aquarium near Tokyo.

Close to the open sea where warm and cold currents converge, Sagami Bay consists of a deep ocean (almost 2,000m), sand dunes, rocky stretches and a tidal flat that offer a diversity of ecosystems and an unmatched variety of marine life. A little over 1,500 fish species inhabit the bay, while nearly 900 species of shrimp and crab and just over 2,000 species of shellfish, octopus and squid also call the area home.

It’s no surprise that upon entering the aquarium, one of the first displays visitors come across is the Sagami Bay Zone. Having dived in Kanagawa prefecture and surrounding areas before, a lot of scenes in the tanks were extremely familiar. The main fish species exhibition is the big Sagami Bay Tank, which contains only marine life that lives in Sagami Bay. The tank is designed so that visitors can walk around and enjoy the display from all angles. Its highlight is the huge school of sardines that spiral in a dashing spray of silver. Another impressive sight is the Rocky Reef Tank featuring a jungle of seaweed swaying back and forth. Thanks to intense rays of light, the tank is as pretty as a picture. Small algae appear to have grown naturally, while tiny fish can be seen hidden and tucked away amongst the seaweed.

As an aquaculture student, I was also drawn to the Shirasu (whitebait) tanks. In 2013, Enoshima Aquarium successfully began cultivating anchovy, one of the breeders of whitebait,and is now aiming to be the world’s first aquarium to offer a permanent whitebait exhibition. Visitors are guided through the egg, larvae and fry stage although straining your eyes is a must to make everything out! The jellyfish collection is also impressive, and a recent 3D mapping projection system makes them appear even more wonderful, by allowing visitors to completely immerse themselves in the thousands of different species.

Walk in further and there are sections dedicated to penguins and bizarre deep sea creatures. The latter is by far the most interesting with its host of alien-looking creatures on display and Japan’s deep-sea research is also brought to life, although the penguins won’t disappoint visitors who are after the cute stuff. There is also a chance to see research carried out by Emperor Akihito, an established marine biologist, and his father, the late Emperor Hirohito, who was an authority on the species classification of marine life in Sagami Bay. Enoshima Aquarium is a scientific discovery through a mixture of fun and entertainment. It’s a cheap and educational way to spend half a day in the area, and great for children as well. Life definitely looks good under the sea!

Find out more at the aquarium’s website: http://www.enosui.com/en/exhibition.html

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February 2017: Odawara, JAPAN

Monday February 6th, 2017 and Monday February 20th, 2017 

Prospering in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, Odawara city in southwestern Kanagawa Prefecture is a huge hub where major railways from Tokyo meet, and where tourists go to visit Odawara castle or see the cherry blossoms of Odawara Joshi-koen Park (Castle Ruins Park) during the spring.  When it comes to the ocean, fresh seafood arrives at the harbour every day and kamaboko, or steamed processed fish meat, is one of the city’s most well-known marine products.  Diving here, however, is almost unheard of, so I felt fortunate and excited at discovering a new place with Mr. Tanaka of Hayakawa Diving Service, who was introduced to me by a friend as I prepare to continue my dry suit diving this month.  At the dive centre, we set up our gear and walked over a stony pebbled beach into the water.

Descending slowly above a rope, we made our way over the rocks and pebbles to around 5m, swaying against the waves as we swam straight ahead.  Visibility dropped a little to around 5 – 8m, and the water was slightly cloudy from the sand and sediment being stirred up by the waves.  Beds of kelp and other seaweed growth were attached to the rocky boulders.  Black scraper fish mixed with puffer and box fish, punctuated with the odd starfish, sea urchin and some lion fish; just some of the many species found here.  On and around the rocky structures were frogfish and an array of life including moss fringe heads, crabs and tiny blennies.  There were also wrasses and other seemingly tropical species in the cold water, but they were subtly different from the other forms I have come to know in warmer waters.  I photographed a tiny fringehead blenny peeking out at me from its hole, while Mr. Tanaka pointed out a much larger hole-dweller nearby, a moray eel poking its head out from its lair and eyeing us cautiously. I also spotted what I thought was a pinecone fish deep within a crevice.

After exploring the 5m area for a while, we decided to head a little deeper and began swimming over a huge carpet of sand that at first glance appeared to be devoid of life.  But only a few metres in, the first sign of life came into sight and that’s when the action started – large stingrays resting on the sandy bottom emerged gently and swam off immediately as we approached, flicking their tails as they buried themselves further away.  A plaice watched us swim over him and I could only make out his shape by straining my eyes as I passed by. Below us was another long rope stretching into the distance, and we hovered above it for a while, exploring the seaweed growth and searching in vain for baby squid and other tiny signs of life.  Soon, the rope we were swimming over came to an end, and before us was a cluster of rocks caked in kelp and seaweed.  Another large moray eel sat perfectly still out in the open with mouth agape, allowing me to try and photograph it from a few inches away.  A Valentin’s sharpnose puffer swam slowly past, pausing just long enough in front of a cluster of kelp so I could get a better look at him.  The highlight of this site, however, is the tiny exotic coral crab, pink and white with tiny projections protruding from its head, sitting at the bottom of a thick branch of vibrant pink soft coral and extremely well-camouflaged.  On our way back to the shallower depths, we swam back over the rocky structure and I was shown a seemingly endless aggregation of bulb-tentacled sea anemones, resplendent in yellow and pink, that hosted two types of anemone shrimp.

Once we were back at the concrete tetrapods, Mr. Tanaka, who had introduced me to a range of marine life during the dives, quickly proved his mettle again when he showed me a baby lumpfish on a piece of rock, nestled among several stones and well-protected from the ocean swell. Mr. Tanaka has been monitoring the lumpfish and watching it grow, with regular updates and photos on his blog.  After observing it for a while, I reluctantly turned back towards the shore and the end of the dive.

Odawara is a great destination for divers in Tokyo who want to go somewhere quickly and easily for just one day.  The site is excellent for training and skills practice but not so good for those who want deeper depths, more adventurous diving and a bigger range of fish to observe.  At first glance there is not much to the site, but if you can discover, enjoy and appreciate the life and beauty within it, then some fascinating diving awaits at Odawara.

Practical Information 

  • To get to Odawara, take a direct train from Shinjuku on the Odakyu Line.  This costs just over 800yen each way (from Yoyogi Uehara station, which is slightly closer to home) and takes around an hour and a half.  There is also a Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo and Shinagawa stations, and the JR Tokaido Line which runs from Shinagawa station.
  • Divers gather at 9:20AM at Odawara station.  Mr. Tanaka from Hayakawa Diving Service (http://www.h-ds.com) will come to meet people and drive them back to the shop.  The drive is around 10 – 15 mins.
  • Hayakawa Diving Service is right next to a small bay that’s surrounded by concrete tetrapods.  There is a huge outdoor area and wooden deck with chairs and tables to wash and dry gear or relax and enjoy the sun. There are also some sheltered tables and chairs, a small office and indoor area for customers to sit in after diving (this area has dive magazines, books and underwater photos), four showers (two for men and two for women), four toilets (two for men and two for women), a changing area (around four indoor cubicles) and area to hang dry suits.  Shampoo, conditioner and hair dryers are provided but no towels are available.
  • All dives are beach entries.  Kit up on land and walk over the pebbled beach while wearing all gear.  Masks and fins are put on in the water, and divers descend by swimming over a rope which goes on to 5m past the tetrapods.  Maximum depth is around 11m.  Once past the tetrapods, there is a huge carpet of white sand and far ahead a small cluster of rocks with kelp, seaweed and other growth.  It’s an ideal site for skill practice but not so good for fish watching.
  • No lunch is provided and there are no shops nearby so divers must bring their own food and drink.  Hot tea and coffee is available.
  • Divers are responsible for washing and hanging all their gear after dives.
  • A day of two beach dives usually finishes around 15:30.  Mr. Tanaka also drives people back to Odawara station.
  • Two beach dives cost 11,500yen including tank, weights and guide.
  • English-speaking divers in Tokyo can arrange dive trips to Odawara and Hayakawa Diving Service with Ben Wouters of Dive Zone Tokyo (https://www.divezonetokyo.com) depending on schedule and season.

February’s dives

Dive No: 241, Entry time: 11:27, Dive time: 41 mins, depth: 11.5m, exit time: 12:08, water temperature: 16C, water visibility: 5m, start pressure: 190 bar, end pressure: 80 bar, used a 12L aluminium tank, scuba pro size 27 boots, ankle weights (500g on each ankle), 6kg weight belt, 3kg in pocket, dry suit.  Saw: lumpfish, moss fringehead, type of blenny, plaice, flounder, Valentin’s sharpnose puffer, black scraper fish, soft coral, starfish, sea urchins, coral crabs.

Dive No: 242: Entry time: 13:18, dive time: 40 mins, depth: 11.6m, exit time: 13:58, water temperature: 15C, water visibility: 5m, used a 12L aluminium tank, start pressure: 190 bar, end pressure: 50 bar, scuba pro size 27 boots, ankle weights (500g on each ankle), 5kg weight belt, 3kg in pocket.  Saw: same as above

Dive No: 243: Entry time: 10:40, dive time: 40 mins, depth: 7.3m, exit time: 11:20, water temperature: 15C, water visibility: 5m, used a 12L aluminium tank, start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 80 bar, scuba pro size 27 boots, ankle weights (500g on each ankle), 6kg weight belt, 3kg in pocket.

Dive No: 244: Entry time: 13:18, dive time: 38 mins, depth: 7.0m, exit time: 13:56, water temperature: 14C, water visibility: 5-7m, used a 12L aluminium tank, start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 100 bar, scuba pro size 27 boots, ankle weights (500g on each ankle), 6kg weight belt, 3kg in pocket.

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Interview with Japan’s DIVER magazine

 

Late last year, I had the pleasure of being interviewed by one of Japan’s major scuba diving magazines DIVER, which introduced my work and efforts to promote Japan’s diving to other countries. Here is my English translation of the interview that appeared in the February 2017 issue.

***********

Watch NHK’s News 7 and Newswatch 9 programmes in English, and you’ll hear a distinctive British accent. Bonnie Waycott, the face behind that accent, first became interested in the sea on Sado Island, where she often visited with her family as a child.

My mother is from Niigata prefecture on the Sea of Japan coast, and every summer my family and I would go camping on Sado,” Bonnie said. “My father taught me how to snorkel there, and I’ve been fascinated by the ocean ever since.”

But when Bonnie and her family returned to England, the ocean became a distant memory. Back then, Bonnie had the impression that diving in England was more popular among older people who had time and money and that young people didn’t dive much. In 2010, after she’d returned to Tokyo to live, she encountered the sea once again when she went to New Caledonia with a friend and booked a try dive.

Being in the water, breathing normally, with fish swimming all around me, was really impressive,” she said. “I knew then that I wanted to take up scuba diving properly so I became certified and set myself a goal to dive once a month.”

Bonnie started diving in Japan at Kabira Bay on Ishigaki Island in January 2011. Since then, she has been travelling across the country. She’s dived off Kumejima, Miyakojima and the Kerama Islands of Okinawa, Osezaki and Atami on the Izu Peninsula, the Izu Islands including Oshima, Hachijojima and Mikurajima, Kushimoto on the Kii Peninsula, and has even been ice diving in Hokkaido. She became a Dive Master on the Oki Islands, and six months after the Great East Japan Earthquake in March 2011, began working with a group of volunteer divers pulling debris from the sea.

I love the sea around Japan, but Hachijojima has had a lasting impression because of the Yuzen (Wrought Iron Butterfly Fish), a species endemic to Japan. What I like about Japan is that its underwater environment differs completely depending on the region. You can see everything from ice floes to warm temperate seas with colourful tropical fish and vast beds of coral reefs.”

Bonnie’s blog Rising Bubbles introduces diving in Japan to readers outside the country. She updates it at least once a month, and also writes articles for diving magazines in the UK and Singapore. She says that divers outside Japan don’t know much about Japan’s waters and also have a bad impression.

Some people have a negative view, and see Japan for its overfishing and the killing of whales and dolphins,” she says. “I’ve also felt that way, but I’d like to think that diving has changed that somewhat. The guides here do take care not to disturb marine life, and the hospitality at dive centres, as well as their determination to make sure the customer has a good time, is quite impressive. Diving has allowed me to see that Japanese people do live as one with the natural environment.”

Bonnie says that diving has also changed her impression of Japanese people. Those she works with are more formal and serious, but the people she’s met through diving are friendly and relaxed. However, she’s a little disappointed with the way Japanese people dive.

I think they should dive just with a buddy, not with a guide or in large groups. A non-Japanese guide would probably say you’re certified so find a buddy and go diving,” she said. “But the Japanese have a huge hang up about safety and it’s normal for a guide to be with divers all the time. I’ve dived with a lot of really good Japanese divers who have great skills, and it’s a shame that they’re still being shown around by a guide. Diving without a guide allows you and your buddy to focus more on communicating with one another, and you have a much better sense of safety. You become a lot more confident.”

In August 2016, Bonnie married a British guy she met through diving. Her and her husband met five years ago during a diving trip to Atami with Tokyo-based group Discover Divers Tokyo.

After the dive, when everyone was back on the boat, I grabbed a bottle of water and took a few sips when a voice behind me told me I’d taken his water bottle by mistake!” she said. “After that, our instructor said we should be dive buddies because we’re both British, and as we dived together more, we became friends. Maybe we wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for diving in Japan.

Asked what kind of diving she’d like to do and where, Bonnie is full of ideas.

I’d like to go back to Sado Island and meet the kobudai (bulgyhead wrasse),” she said. “I’ve also never dived in England so that’s on the list, but most of all I want to continues introducing Japan’s diving to the rest of the world and share with Japan news and information on diving in other countries. I’d like to be a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world.”

ABOUT BONNIE
Born in the UK, Bonnie’s father is British and her mother Japanese. She grew up in Yokohama from the age of 8 to 13 and went to a local primary and secondary school. After graduating from university in the UK, she returned to Japan in 2006 and began working as a narrator, translator and writer for NHK TV, radio and websites for foreigners living in Japan. She started diving 6 years ago and has logged over 250 dives. She’s also a NAUI Dive Master (www.bonniewaycott.com)

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January 2017: Tago, Izu, JAPAN

Tuesday January 17th, 2017

When most people think of diving, they think of a summer activity in warm, tropical waters but some areas offer other kinds of diving even when the warm weather is over. In Tokyo, for example, many dive sites nearby are open during the winter, offering a range of fun diving and training opportunities despite the cold. Although I prefer diving in warm water during the summer, one of my goals this year is to get used to cold seas, in order to prepare for future diving back in the UK.

For many divers, donning a bulky wet suit in winter, plunging into cold water and sinking to deeper depths where it’s even more cold would be a nightmarish experience. But scuba diving in winter can bring various advantages — much less crowds, better visibility and sea life you won’t see in other seasons. Most importantly, if you’re prepared, with a suitable dry suit and inner wear, winter diving can be comfortable and a lot of fun.

I began this year’s dry suit diving off Tago along the west coast of the Izu peninsula, where north- and south-flowing currents meet, bringing tropical and cold-water fish to the seas around its rocky shores. Also on offer are cave diving and shipwreck exploration, which provide a range of opportunities for divers of all levels. Depending on where you go, it’s also possible to dive at Izu for a day from Tokyo and even Nagoya.

Tago is a small fishing village about 3 hours south of Tokyo by train, located along an intricate coastline with uniquely shaped rocks and small islands. A small selection of dive sites are on offer at Suruga Bay, which is off Tago, and areas closer to shore. Tago’s waters are characterised by huge rocky boulders, soft coral gardens and sandy patches. At our first dive site, Shirosaki, many rocky structures appeared to have given way to erosion, resulting in various cuts and shapes below. These forms are covered in thick soft coral and sponge growth including a massive area of fan-shaped coral facing down towards the sand. Large undulations of coral are accompanied by hundreds of chromis and hunting lion fish, while the mild nutrient-rich currents help fuel a parade of marine life. Descending deeper along the rocky wall, the soft coral covering the tops of the rocks disappears. The wall drops to around 20m before ending in a bright sandy seafloor, punctuated by large boulders. With a maximum depth of around 25m, marine life was plentiful, with large sunstars, frogfish nestled close to soft coral growth and a small harem of sprat-like fish. Frequent encounters with nudibranchs and even a baby sepia toioensis (a species of cuttlefish native to Japanese waters) make this dive one not to be missed.

Our second dive site, Bentenjima, was a small islet about 10mins away from the port. As the descent begins down a large rocky structure, thousands of silver-stripe white herring can be seen feeding in the water column, cruising past, sometimes within arms reach, ambling through as they search for some unknown signal that causes them to pick out a bit of plankton for a quick snack. Bentenjima displays various walls with attractive folds, and is an ideal environment for a range of sponges and macro life. Three-spot damselfish appeared where the walls were covered in a variety of soft coral and sponge growth, small and trailing one after the other, moving in tiny shoals. There is also a section of rock at around 12m which is covered from edge to edge with amazing pink anemones, all of which were inhabited, of course, by their own family of clownfish. A Japanese angel shark slept in the sandy bottom, and small groups of network filefish moved above the rocks, when the comical-looking lactoria fornasini or thornback cowfish with a pair of spines projecting forward in front of its eyes and a distinctive mouth with thick lips, began wandering in and out of our sightlines, grouping together over the vase sponges and large gorgonians. The best surprises at Bentenjima, however, are kept for the safety stop in the 5m zone and the shallower depths, where soft corals sparkle with life in the shade of the round, impressive rock formations.

Winter in Tago offers a range of fascinating underwater experiences. Although the water temperature drops, there is plenty to see as long as you can relax and put up with the cold. Tago is one of those rare places where you won’t always be overrun by other dive tourists and can enjoy a relaxing day of diving, especially if you are able to head there on a weekday!

Practical information

  • The nearest station to Tago Diving Center (http://tagodc.com/category/1475893.html) is Rendaiji on the east coast of the Izu peninsula. Take the bullet train to Atami from Shinagawa in Tokyo and change to the Ito line which takes you directly to Rendaiji. A one-way trip comes to around 3,500 – 4,000yen and the journey is around 3 hours.
    When you arrive at Rendaiji, the school will pick you up by car. The journey is about 30mins from Rendaiji station.
  • Tago Diving Center is family-run by Mr and Mrs Yoshida and their daughter Sayuri who was my guide for the day.
  • Facilities include 2 toilets, 3 showers, basic and spacious changing rooms with private cubicles and a bathtub overlooking the bay. You can use the bathtub anytime to get warm as it’s always full of hot water. There is also an indoor area with a stove if divers feel cold.
  • No lunch, snacks, tea or coffee are provided and there are also no shops nearby so remember to bring your own food and drink.
  • Two boat dives with all equipment hire and drysuit rental comes to just under 20,000yen.
  • Customers set up their equipment and put it on before walking down some steps to get onto the boat. Perch on the side and put on your fins, mask and gloves before arriving at the site.
  • Entry into the water is a backward roll. Ropes are provided for the descent and a small step ladder is available for divers to get back on the boat.
  • There is no shampoo, conditioner or body soap available at the shop so remember to bring your own, in addition to a couple of towels.
  • Equipment is removed after arriving back at the dive school. Divers are responsible for washing and putting away all their gear.
  • Tago Diving Center will drive you back to Rendaiji after you dives and look up train times for you.

January’s dives

Dive No: 239, Shirosaki, Entry time: 11:18, depth: 22.1m, dive time: 43mins, exit time: 12:03, water temperature: 15C, water visibility: 5m, Start pressure: 200 bar, end pressure: 80 bar, rented neoprene dry suit, used 8kg weight belt, jacket BCD, used a 12L aluminium tank. Saw: frogfish, Goniobranchus tinctorius nudibranch、Cadlinella ornatissima nudibranch, branch coral, silver-stripe white herrings, lion fish and baby squid Sepia tokenises.

Dive No: 240, Bentenjima, Entry time: 13:09, depth: 23.3m, dive time: 40mins, exit time: 13:50, water temperature: 15C, water visibility: 5m, Start pressure: 200 bar, End pressure: 50 bar, rented neoprene dry suit, used 8kg weight belt, jacket BCD, used a 12L aluminium tank. Saw: Japanese angel shark, network filefish, lactoria fornasini, clown fish and anemone fish, three-spot damselfish and Japanese blacktail triple fin.

 

 

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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

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