The Diving in Japan Series - Part 4- Star-shaped Sand and the Underwater World of Yoronto

Bonnie Waycott
28 April 2014

This subtropical island is almost a secret in Japan as not many people have visited or even heard of it, and I often wish it could remain that way, if only for the island to retain its natural beauty and charm.  Also known as Yoronto or Yoronjima in Japanese, Yoron Island is on the southernmost end of Kagoshima prefecture's Amami region.  With a circumference of 24km, it's considered the pearl of the East China Sea thanks to its beautiful bright ocean, surrounding barrier and fringing reefs and acomfortable average temperature of over 20C. 

Before you even think about getting into the water however, one thing you cannot miss is the island's famous star sand on what's known as the stardust beach.  The beach's real name is Yurigahama, and tiny pieces of coral from the reef wash up as star-shaped wonders.  Others say the sand is actually dead plankton dried into the shape of a star.  If you're bored of soaking up the sun or fancy delving into your inner child, this is the place to go.

The sea off Yoronto is almost permanently a tropical turquoise and shallow water stretches for miles out towards the reef.  The marine life is flushed with bright blue water and visibility can be superb.  The diving involves plenty of shallow sandy areas as well as drop offs, arches, tunnels, crevasses and narrow passageways. Huge monoliths also rise from a depth of over 30m ending at around 15m from the surface while collections of pinnacles of varying sizes add to the rugged topography of the dive sites.  At 34-35m lies a boat, said to have sank around May 1993.  With the right planning it's possible to dive this wreck but it's just as spectacular if you remain at 20-25m and look at it from above.  When the current is relatively strong, schools of white tuna and bluefin trevally are known to drift by.  The area surrounding the wreck is not home to much but the ascent is a natural amphitheatre - big coral mounds and lovely hard corals where nudibranchs, schools of longfin batfish and square fairy basslets reside. 

Several swim throughs and reef canyons burrow through other dive sites that are beautifully sculptured with a range of small and large crevasses and arches.  Some of the passageways here are particularly narrow so you need to keep your equipment close to you and maintain good neutral buoyancy but they are teeming with macro life and great for close up shots of anything you might find. Turtles and squid often play over the surface of these passageways while the best coral growth is there too, and tiny reef fishes dart in and out of the branch coral.  Blue banded snappers and triggerfish also feature in a variety of interesting settings, while porites coral also inhabits vast swathes of the area, housing a never-ending forest of Christmas tree worms of every colour in the spectrum that disappear instantly as you approach, only to open again very slowly once they know you are out of sight.

From around 15m and up towards the surface, it soon becomes clear that there is a lot more sand. The best way to get the most out of these parts is to crawl along with a light, taking a good look at the dark areas and openings along the bottom of the medium-sized rocks that are dotted around here and there. You never know what you might find - lobster prawns are abundant in the crevices along with red soldier fish and starfish.  Medium-sized sea slugs lie relaxing on the sand while green damselfish, threadfin butterfly fish, yellow brown wrasses and domino damselfish live quietly in the dark corners of the coral mounds.  Anemones also offer sanctuary to shrimp and clownfish.

The high season for diving in Yoronto runs from around June to August.  Water temperatures are usually around a very pleasant 28C - 30C, and while visibility can range from 5 to 30 metres, it is usually around 20 metres plus.  There are plenty of dive sites to choose from and an impressive and diverse marine ecosystem exists in the waters surrounding this idyllic little island. BukuBuku Divers run regular dives while package tours including return flight to Tokyo and accommodation, including breakfast and dinner, can be booked through Tokyo's Paradise Island Tours.

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