The Diving in Japan Series - Part 5- Ishigaki Island: Mantas and More!

Bonnie Waycott
12 May 2014

Ishigaki Island: Mantas and More

A lot has been written about the manta rays that congregate off Ishigaki Island in Japan's Okinawa prefecture.  But there's a lot more to this southern tropical paradise....

Ishigaki Island's coastline offers a good variety of dive sites but most visiting divers are lured to Manta Scramble, one of the island's most famous points.  As the name clearly suggests, this is where manta rays gather, or rather scramble, to feed on plankton and be cleaned.  Below them, divers can look up and marvel at this spectacular underwater show.  Out of the blue depths the manta rays appear and float gracefully, encircling you with an incredible ease of movement.  Manta Scramble is something of a rendez-vous spot for these beautiful creatures and worth a visit if you are a diver in Japan.  This is because getting up close and personal with these harmless giants makes for a dive that won't soon be forgotten.  If you're lucky enough to witness the graceful manta gliding and somersaulting through the sea, you'll be in awe.

With much focus on manta rays, dives off Ishigaki Island tend to always involve a visit to Manta Scramble if conditions are good, but if luck is not on your side and the manta rays don't appear, never fear because there is still a lot to see.  Schools of anthias fish give their name to Osaki Hanagoi Reef or Anthias Reef, which houses rocks swathed in gorgonians and othercoral structures that explode in a range of colour.  Deeper down, dark labyrinths seem to rise from the seabed producing an interesting contrast.  The huge structures offer refuge for a multitude of big and small animals.  From the many cracks, tropical species like sea goldies and white-rayed shrimp gobies dart here and there while honeycomb moray eels and leopard morays remain on guard, watching you intently and poking out from below.  Other sites are home to a mix of sprawling table corals, star and brain coralsthat are absolutely buzzing with a variety of angels, butterflies and much more.  Most of this coral can be found at 6-8 meters and there is a range of macrolife so fans of smaller creatures will want to pay close attention.

Other sites include coral formations shaped like huge mushrooms that average between 6-8 meters making them extremely suitable for beginners.  What's striking about these formations is their range - table corals, star and brain corals come together forming an aquarium-like world.  Take a close look as you hover above - sea snakes slither in and out in search of food while over the sand you may spot a few rays, shaking off their sand camouflage and disappearing into the distance.  The only slight negative tothese areas is that fin kicks easily stir up the bottom but the mild current soon takes most of the sediment away.  There is an abundance of life - spider crabs, trumpet fish, reef-top pipefish, box cleaner fish and squart shrimps are bright, plentiful and very chilled out as they swim slowly here and there.  A symphony of colourawaits while some of the rocks are like a painter's palette. 

Although the water temperature can be quite cold, it's worth visiting Ishigaki in January or February as these months bring a show of courtship, competition and mating when cuttlefish in the area begin to spawn.   There you are gliding over the reef when suddenly you spot something hovering atop the corals.  Getting closer you can distinguish its pulsating skin and huge sleepy-looking eyes.  As they deposit their eggs on the coral, the squid are extremely tame and perfectly happy to swim close to divers so cameras are an absolute must.  If you're lucky you might even spot layers of squid eggs nestled in between the branch coral, it's great to see so many squid, as well as other animals, on the spawning grounds.

Ishigakiisdiving, but it's also a lot more - wellness,relaxation, and somewhere quiet far from the big cities or the beaten path.

Dive school Umicoza is the most well known shop on the island that offers English-speaking guides.  If conditions are good, visits to Manta Scramble are almost always guaranteed.  The school opened in 1985 and is owned by Makoto Sonoda who has been diving in Ishigaki for more than 30 years.  Check out the school's website at http://www.umicoza.com/english/index.html for more information.

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