Tokunoshima: The Home of Turtles and Whales
If you're in luck during a dive off Tokunoshima, you could encounter a good number of turtles or hear the sound of whales in the deep blue depths of the ocean. Located in the Amami region of southern Japan's Kagoshima prefecture, Tokunoshima is not the first choice among those looking for somewhere to dive as the more popular spots are much better publicized and attract plenty of customers. But give this quaint little place a chance - it may not seem exciting or inviting, but sometimes the unexpected places are always the best.
For one thing, Tokunoshima is a prime example of Japan's fascinating volcanic geology. Three small offshore rock islands collectively known as TonbaraIwaare the most popular and challenging dive point, with large tuna, giant trevally and other pelagic species swimming by. Due to considerable currents and location 30 minutes or so out in the open ocean, divers don't often get to visit but when they do, they are in for a treat. The fun begins at around 20 meters over a cluster of rocks that are teeming with starfish, redfin fusiliers, white tip reef sharks, sea snakes and large clown triggerfish. Crawling over these rocks takes you to a maximum depth of 30 meters where you can pause and peer down into the deep dark blue - this is where divers can go no further and where the surface of the rocks comes to an end. It's enough to send shivers of excitement down your spine, and the cry of the whales makes this already-tense dive feel just a bit more eerie.
Ryuji Suzuki runs Tokunoshima's main dive schoolKamui. He makes sure the dives are as entertaining as they are beautiful and one of the sites he enjoys taking customers toisShiotobiya. There, he introduces youto the jawfish, a comical and entertaining little thing with a large head, mouth and eyes. He peers out of his sandy burrow and darts out of sight immediately if provoked. Trying to find him is like a game of cat and mouse but with good timing, buoyancy and a decent camera, macro lovers can get some excellent shots. If you'd rather swim around and meet turtles, this is the place to be as wellbecause Shiotobiya is the home ofYamachan, Tokunoshima's famous green sea turtle that's lived in the area for over 10 years. His mountain-like shell (Yama is mountain in Japanese) means he stands out from the other turtles and normally he grazes off the rocks at around 10-15m or simply drifts about. Far from being camera-shy, he is more than happy for divers to swim up close and take his photo.
The island is not all boat dives, and if you'd rather enter the water calmly and quietly, you'll be taken to Senma Bay, where at four meters, over a flat bed of rocks, the site actually looks like any other with blennies, butterfly fish, angelfish and Moorish Idols. But keep descending to about 16 or 17 meters and you'll come to a sharp drop with a sandy bottom in the distance. The journey down is a great chance to see up close Tokunoshima's rough and rugged underwater terrain, full of small openings, cracks and crevices. The next lionfish or nudibranch could be just around the corner and large specimens of the endangered green turban shell also call the bay home.
Even though Tokunoshima is not that well known, it's a surprisingly good place to visit with a range of points suitable for both beginners and advanced divers. There's plenty of marine life to keep everyone occupied, as well as the odd swim-through to negotiate, and all at reasonably shallow depths. Just keep your eyes open and enjoy the experience!
Dive School Kamuican arrange all dives and accommodation on Tokunoshima, as well as return flights from Tokyo. The owner, Ryuji Suzuki, speaks some English. For more information, he can be reached on on 00 81 997-82-1514 between 8:30 a.m. and 6 p.m.