Kozushima: A Volcanic Wonder for Macro Lovers
Three hours and forty-five minutes south of Tokyo is an island where some gods were said to have met to discuss how to share freshwater. Exactly what they said and how they decided to share the freshwater is not entirely clear but Kozushima, as the island is called, is famous for a lot more than this ancient legend. It's a tiny place formed by volcanic activity that bubbled up from the Pacific Ocean many moons ago. Today, with a population of fewer than 2,000, it's quiet and idyllic, its beautiful white sandy beaches and warm water drawingvisitors not just from Tokyo but also from other, more faraway, parts of Japan.
With an array of campsites and an outdoor hot spring right by the ocean, Kozushima is most popular among those who want to leave the big city and have a quiet peaceful holidaysunbathing, swimming, having a bath outdoors and enjoying a BBQ on the beach. But for the keen scuba diver, there are a lot of sites waiting to be explored. On the island are a couple of dive schools, one of which has a good number of foreign divers as well as Japanese and can therefore cater to non-Japanese speakers.
Pelagic Thresher Sharks
The Pelagic Thresher shark (Alopias pelagicus) is the smallest of three species of Thresher sharks, the Common Thresher and the Big Eye Thresher being the other two, all are listed as vulnerable on the INUC Red List. While the number of Thresher sharks are on the decline they still are a common species of shark to be caught by commercial fisherman and in many places are still sought after as a game fish. They are seldom seen by divers however. The three species are all technically pelagic, in that they generally live in deep water. The Common and the Big Eye are known to visit shallow areas to feed and will at times stay for a while before dipping back into the deep waters. Threshers will also breach, a trait common with dolphins and whales but not common with sharks. Generally they have no pattern to when they visit shallow waters, also Threshers are loners. They seldom travel with another of their species and are shy around divers. These are some of the reasons that Threshers are not as common a sight to divers.
The Pelagic Thresher lives in warm tropical waters and are migratory. They can be found in the tropical and semi-tropical waters of the Pacific and Indian Oceans including the Red Sea. Not as much is known about them as the other two species. The Pelagic Thresher seems to be the one that values its privacy the most. Individual sharks separate themselves from others with both horizontal and vertical distances. They seem to keep themselves at depths between 60 and 250 meters. While they are believed to be highly migratory, there has been no studies to conclude the range of individual sharks. Unlike other marine animals threshers migrate individually not in pods.
I was on the internet the other day searching for some information on dive watches and came up with a number of interesting comments on the web. Some of them made me wonder if I was really out of touch with diving, or do I just have a different viewpoint of “most” divers. My first shock was learning that I never owned a “serious” dive watch. A leading dive magazine had an article which included this quote, “a serious dive watch must be able to withstand 20 atm of pressure”. My first dive watch was a Citizen Hyper Aqualand that include a depth gauge and allowed the dive profile to be exported to my PC, but it was only rated for 100 meters or only 10 atm. I was very happy with the watch and never had any problems with it not being a “serious” dive watch. For myself, I am happy diving at less than 4atm, so the 20 atm of pressure threshold is not that important to me. Later in the article under a title of “For The Deep Diver”, they discussed a watch rated at 1,000 meters. To their credit they did mention that the diver would be crushed before the watch.
Another website told me what is the most popular watch for scuba divers and going to that company's website learned that the watch is “At home in the oceans, where it remains an indispensable instrument for every diver” the watch being described is the $8,000 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Submariner. While a model of the submariner was available when I purchased my Aqualand, I never gave it any consideration. Another website had an article for the “5 Best Diving Watches”, the lowest price one was more expensive that the last new car I purchased and the most expensive was in the range of my house.
What could be better than to walk into the sea early in the morning with your dive gear and a picturesque view of Mount Fuji? At Osezaki on the northwest tip of the Izu Peninsula south of Tokyo, this is exactly what you'll get if the weather is good. Small and protected, this little bay is where divers from Tokyo go to get certified, get further training, or simply dive for fun. It faces out into Suruga Bay, one of the deepest bays in Japan at around 2,500m with around 1,000 kinds of fish. The view of Mount Fuji makes Osezaki Bay quite possibly the most scenic dive location in Japan.
Crowded with divers in the summer, the bay is wide with several dive shops, restaurants and inns lining the big sandy beach. It's also very sheltered and the sea is calm, which makes it ideal for training and a chance to put various skills into practice. After signing in and arranging their dives with one of the many dive shops, divers pick a spot on the beach, lay out some picnic sheets and set up their equipment before walking into the water. Once in, the underwater scenery begins with a stone grey pebbly and rocky bottom at the shoreline. When visibility is good, this part is not to be dismissed because even at 2-3m of water you can see up close the seaweed sticking to the rocks and an array of fish darting about below. The next feature is a pile of big rocks and concrete boulders, followed by a slight drop into sand, mud and muck to around 8m. From then on the bottom becomes sandy, muddy and mucky, spreading out towards the deeper depths. With no more drop offs, divers are free to swim out into the unknown. There's usually very little current, so diving conditions are normally not the least bit challenging but when it's crowded with divers stirring up the bottom or gathering around to photograph the next nudibranch, visibility can get pretty poor.
Like The Superhero's Sidekick- The Value Of A Wetsuit Is Often Overlooked
The wetsuit is often the first piece of dive equipment many divers purchases after they have their own mask and fins. It is also very likely the least researched and understood purchase a new diver will make. While he will spend hours and hours researching on the internet and asking other divers about their BCD's and Regulators, when it comes the wetsuit it is likely just asking the instructor how thick should I get. The wetsuit helps your diving with three important functions: Thermal protection, Buoyancy and protection from scrape and cuts. In my view, the wetsuit is the most individualized item in your kit. Double that for the ladies as in many cases the style element is more important to them. While any wet suit that is a proper fit and appropriate for the water temperatures will do, a little research and clear thinking will get you a suit that is the best wetsuit for your diving. I have broken out a few points to consider.
Wetsuits are made out of neoprene and the thickness determines the thermal properties. Neoprene is a rubber material injected with nitrogen during the manufacturing process. Back when I bought my first wetsuit 17 years ago, not only was that a true statement it was the entire statement. While still true it is a little more complicated. Wetsuit today are made from neoprene that in many cases have had other materials included in the manufacturing process. Spandex or similar material is often added to the neoprene to allow it to stretch and concur to your body better. These suits are generally easier to get on and off. While being worn they hug the body closer eliminating air pockets. The major manufacturers are all using this material. I would be cautious of getting a suit using standard neoprene as the new materials are better suited for diving. Similarly related, get a suit that is designed for scuba diving. The grade of neoprene used in wetsuits for are sports are not able to withstand the pressure encounter while diving.
In early June, hoards of divers and non-divers arrive for an annual clean-up project aimed at removing debris and litter from the lake bottom and surrounding areas. The lake is around 900 meters in altitude and goes down to a depth of around 138m. Following a Mount Fuji eruption in the 9th century, a large prehistoric lake separated into three smaller ones that are still connected with each other by underground waterways. LakeMotosuko is one of the three.
Before the clean up, divers can pick up a map from the organizers, which marks out areas with the most litter. Once separated into pairs, they are then free to choose where they want to go and head right in. The lake is caked in thick sediment (ash and silt) so stable buoyancy is crucial. Kicking hard will stir up the sediment and worsen visibility, making things difficult not just for yourself but also for your buddy and in the worst case you can lose each other altogether. Each buddy pair also has a mesh bag to put the litter into so the diver with the bag must remain suitably buoyant as his or her load becomes heavier.
Upon descent, the underwater scenery begins with a slope of sediment and volcanic rocks, strewn with items like fish hooks, fishing lines, beer cans, plastic containers, hair ties and small boxes that once contained takeaway meals. Usually the clean up is conducted at a maximum depth of around 9-10 metres. A lot of debris is simply dumped into Lake Motosuko due to the camp sites, excursion boats and windsurfing facilities that are close by, while pollution from various water activities has made the lake cloudy so despite swimming carefully, visibility is not altogether great. However, there is some life to be spotted such as weed-like plants and some large grey fish that are probably a type of trout, as rainbow and brown trout are known to inhabit the lake in addition to shrimp and other smaller fish. At 16 degrees the water is cold. Wearing a dry suit is the best option by far but it’s possible to cope in a 5-7mm wetsuit and a 3mm hood and vest underneath. A hood and gloves are also essential. Due to the altitude and low temperature, 30 minutes is the recommended time to stay underwater.
Stayed in GBPT in Riviera Maya Mexico for a two week holiday with my girlfriend. I knew this was the time of year Whale Sharks are around Holbox, Isla Mujeres and Isla Contoy and so I booked to swim with them. Not only did we see these in Mexico we saw a Flying Gurnard at our resort reef which was beautiful, we saw Southern Stingray and Green Sea Turtles at Akumal and also a great Barracuda which was enormous! The other thing I saw was what I think was a Lesser Electric Ray (Carribean Ray) also at our hotels reef. I definitley reccomend Mexico for its snorkelling and diving!
This is one of the ships that have been wrecked in Santa Maria bay. Santo Antão was a cargo ship 14 crew, built in 1957 in Lisbon. The ship had a length of 53.30 m (with maximum beam of 9.02 m, Draught 3.35 m at the bow and stern Draught 3.63m). Santo Antão was carrying goods between the various islands in the Cap Verde Archipelago. Sunk during a storm to hit a reef near the shore of the island of Sal in 8 January 1966. A short, 8 minutes boat ride from Riu Hotel bay with Scuba Caribe Diving Center. The dive with depths ranging 7 to 11metres, visibility is between 8 and 30 metres. For lovers photography, the extraordinary diversity of fauna, a sanctuary of porcupine fishes is truly impressive and makes this a mandatory dive.
This is the third of my trilogy. Of the three, this was the least memorable. To start with there is no jetty so the boat comes into the beach and you have to wade into the surf to about chest height with a mesh bag with your kit in and climb into the boat. This side of the channel (see my Cozumel report) the sea bed is at only about 12 m so good visibility and long dives (even I could last 55 minutes!). Primarily this is drift diving although one was a mix of coral reefs and drift. There is good fish life, primarily large shoals of grunts and snapper which will let you get very close indeed - to less that a metre. There are plenty of large moray eels of various species and we saw one eagle ray although that was rare for this time of year. There is also a large number of yellow rays (which look brown under water)which I think are limited to this location and that occasional large grey ones. We dived with Yucatek Divers, a Swiss owned operation, who can also organise cenotes diving (see my Tulum report and photo hopefully attached with me upside down) and would happily recommend them as they can also do you a deal with hotels if you dive with them. This is the most commercial part of the area and whilst there is almost limitless bars restaurants and shops, the salesmen that go with them aren't too bad but can get a bit tedious
I visited Malapascua island, which is just off the far northern tip of Cebu Province in the Philippines. I stayed at Thresher Cove resort and the resort and diving was wonderful. The resort is new on the site of an old resort that had been abandoned. it sits in a small cove with a hill all around the resort. Nice white sand beach at high tide, at low tide the sea grass is uncovered. Mostly backpackers were there on my trip. the accommodations range from tents and dorms to a luxury villa. The dive center has all new equipment. They have two large dive boats and two small six paxs.
Although this island is visible from the mainland, the diving here is very different and much better than Playa del Carmen and thereabouts . It is rightly considered one of the best diving locations in the world. There are dozens of dive sites on the leeward side of the island and apparently over 100 dive operators which means this is also one of the cheapest places to dive in the world (Roatan in Honduras is probably the cheapest place). It is mainly drift diving here along the legendary wall and very good it is too. Clear warm water (28 degrees) of that's your thing - it's certainly mine. However the best dive we did by far was Palanca Caves. This is a collection of huge corals and dramatic swim-throughs down to a depth of >30 metres. Google images and videos are worth a look. We dived with Scuba Gamma, a very friendly French owned operation who have a six man boat so none of the big groups you sometimes see there. They will pick you up and take you to the dock. Recommended. You can fly direct to Cancun from the UK and then a taxi or bus followed by a ferry or to Cozumel via the US. High season is December to May. June was fine though but quiet.
We have dived three cenotes as part of a dive trip in the Cozumel/Playa del Carmen area. Dos Ojos, Carwash and Gran Cenote.
This whole part of Mexico has this huge network of underground rivers called cenotes and a large number can be dived without needing a cave diving qualification. Although you can go from Playa del Carmen, Tulum is better because there is no ocean diving to speak of so all the dive operators in town specialise in cenote diving, and many of the good ones are only a few minutes drive away.
A quick look on Google images will give you a good idea of what to expect. Provided you are OK with confined spaces, although some of the caverns are huge and you have good buoyancy, I would recommend this to everyone. Even poor air-consumers are fine because the dives are relatively shallow (rarely more than 15 metres) and the water is still, the dives are really gentle. Strict rules apply to those that lead the dives, which are actually treated as cave dives in terms of redundant gear, even though they are not. For non cave divers you will always be able to see the surface even though it may be up to 60 metres away. Visibility, subject to the amount of available light is to all practical purposes, unlimited.
Because the dives are shallow there is little in the way of surface interval, so by the time you have driven from one cenote to the next and kitted up, you are ready to go again.
One other thing; because the water is so clean (it's effectively spring water that has filtered through the limestone) your kit will be cleaner at the end than at the beginning and will be ready-rinsed.
It is the wet season between August and November and it can be very wet apparently. We're here in June which is off season but that is all plusses for us, it's quite (we were the only divers with the guide today - they are allowed a maximum of four divers) yet apart from the occasional shower it's been continuous sun. But this is proper heat 38 degrees C.
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