In Part 2 of our series Diving in Japan, Bonnie Waycott takes us to northern Japan, and introduces ice diving off Hokkaido's Shiretoko Peninsula.
When winter arrives in Japan, it doesn't mean that you have to give up on scuba diving until the summer. Hokkaido, the country's northernmost island, may be covered in snow and ice. Blizzards and bitterly cold winds may sweep the area frequently. But if you're feeling brave enough to take on a new challenge, you may want to visit. In February, frozen ice from the Sea of Okhotsk breaks up and is blown south to the Shiretoko Peninsula. This is home to the ice diving season that begins around the end of January and lasts until mid-March.
On land, the peninsula is something else. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2005, it's full of national parks and a range of wildlife such as deer and bears. In winter however, it's surrounded by ice floes. These can be observed during a short boat cruise but if you really want to get up close to them, well this is when diving comes in.
The vast majority of people who go ice diving tend to be repeaters but new challengers are always welcome. A good point of contact is theIruka Hotel an English-speaking dive school and hotel that can cater to non-Japanese divers.
As conditions are extreme, ice diving comes with some strict safety procedures. Before the divers assemble for the first dive of the day, a hole is dug over the chosen dive spot and a small base is then created for assembling equipment, changing or just to keep warm. Through the hole goes a long rope which divers are told to never lose sight of. Because of the cold (the water temperature tends to be between 3 and -2 degrees), all dives are kept to within 10m, and usually last about 30mins. It's essential to be familiar with your equipment, to double check your dry suit and make sure it's properly fastened. Divers are also given special regulators that fit firmly into the mouth with a band that goes around the head, while a number of staff members from the dive school are stationed around the hole in case of emergencies. Descending slowly and keeping a firm grip on the rope are also requirements.
Movies can pack a powerful emotional – and sometimes educational – punch. Consider sharing your passion for the marine world by gathering your friends together for an ocean movie night. There are plenty to choose – from the awe inspiring to the heart breaking – here are a few to consider.
Books are a great way to share your passion for nature – especially when those books have pictures and are fun to read. The books listed below can help you introduce conservation to the children (or adults) in your life in a fun and interesting way. Consider gifting one of these stories – who knows you may have just won over a new environmentalist.
A harsh environment with huge amounts of snow and blizzards, icy cold winds and changeable conditions is no place for the faint of heart, and even less so for diving - or so you would think. This is Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island, in the midst of winter, but its pristine ocean and mountainous landscape are still enough to draw adventurous divers. In February, frozen ice from the Sea of Okhotsk sets out on a journey.
Lloyd Lee over at Backpacking Scuba Diver has just released his first E-Book which includes 16 beautiful images capturing different kinds of nudibranchs in the waters off East Timor. The book also showcases information about these amazing little creatures, so not only do you get to look at these wonderfully colorful sea snails, but you get to learn about them too!
He teamed up with underwater photographer and OW Scuba Instructor, Stéphanie Lecoeur, whose talented eye was behind the camera of each shot. She's been photographing ocean life from Greece to Indonesia and places in between.
To get this book, simply sign up to the 'Backpacking Scuba Diver' newsletter which will subscribe you to the 'BSD Report', as he calls it. It's a once a month email giving you the quick run down of what Lloyd and Backpacking Scuba Diver have been up to. At the moment, he's taking his Divemaster in East Timor so there should be more interesting articles on the way!
Many divers, especially those that live near their diving locations plan and dream of having their own dive boat. Boats are a very expensive item and purpose built boats for diving are even more so. Before I bough my first boat I heard the saying the second happiest day in a boat owners life is the day he bought his first boat, the happiest day is the day he sold it. Having owned two boats, I can appreciate the saying. Boat ownership can take over a major portion of your life and your wallet.