Okinawa and particularly the Kerama group of Islands is a national park. It’s revered by Japanese divers as a hotspot but largely ignored by the rest of the world as one of the top diving destinations. Besides being fascinated by what lies under the water, I believe that divers can play a major role in conservation. Particularly when it comes to saving sharks.So while I only did one dive in Okinawa, I say it was the best first dives I’ve ever done.
It was a 5-minute boat ride from Zamami Island to Butsu-Butsu Coral in Gahi Island. I saw a sea turtle, several anemonefishes, aka clownfish, colourful nudibranchs, a large squid, Gobies and several sea snakes, which was a first for me. We were underwater for 36 minutes and only at a maximum depth of 19.1 m. It was so cold near the end of the dive, otherwise, I would have done another one. The water temperature was 20°C. I was told by my divemaster Yaung that it wasn’t even close to the best dive site found in Okinawa and this has put Okinawa in my bucket list again. Each of the islands is surrounded by coral reefs with upwards of 200 species. The Kuroshio Current enriching them with nutrients.
What Does Diving in Okinawa Offer?
Okinawa is home to diversified array of underwater life: anthias, butterflyfish, boxfish, puffer fish, clownfish, moray eels, octopuses, cuttlefish, sea turtles and manta rays. Divers frequently report seeing large schools of dogtooth tuna and bigeye trevally.
The subtropical climate makes the perfect breeding ground for humpback whales from January to March each year. It’s possible to hear them singing underwater. I spotted a mother whale and her calf from a boat the next day. Still, I’m adding hearing a whale sing while underwater to my bucket list because the first time it really alluded me. At Ishigaki Island, divers can spot huge manta rays.
Yonaguni is the island that intrigues me the most, one of Japan’s most remote island and is home to schools of hammerhead sharks, sometimes numbering up to 100. Also, Yonaguni has a mysterious gigantic ruin. Whether it’s real and one of the oldest artefacts on earth or is man-made is hotly debated. It is famous for the famous submerged monument, and serves as one of the most mysterious Okinawa diving spots. During winter, hammerhead sharks congregate by the thousands in the blue waters around the island and many fortunate divers find themselves swimming amidst them. Though the risk of injury from a hammerhead is almost zero, the shark dive is not recommended for beginners. There are plenty of places for beginners on this island, the above attractions are what truly set it apart.
Divers spot whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean at Yomitan Fishing Port. These gentle giants range from four to seven metres long. But eat only planktons. The Battle of Okinawa in 1945 resulted in 1300 wrecks. Japanese avoid wrecks due to spirituality and sometimes because of the sadness it brings especially if you lost a loved one in WWII. If you’re interested in wreck diving be respectful when enquiring.
Best Season to Dive in Okinawa
Spring till June is the best time. If you love the cold, then late fall and winter offer great visibility, upwards of 30 metres (1oo feet). While the visibility was fantastic, it was also colder than usual, when I dove in February. The temperature mainly stays around 15C in the Kerama Island. From June to November, it’s typhoon season. Most of the typhoons happen in July, August or September. Still, that doesn’t stop many tourists from visiting. July and August is the busiest season. If you do decide to travel during typhoon season, ensure that you have travel insurance.
Best Dive Spots
From my research for my bucket list, I have listed the best dive sites in Okinawa.
1. Zamami Island
It’s easily accessible from Naha. It's part of Kerama Shoto National Park. Sandy beaches,emerald green coast, and clear blue waters make it a great spot for tourists. The sea is full of a huge variety of seaweed and coral that is very easy to see so it's an extremely popular diving spot. This is also one rare places within Japan where you can spot whales.
2. Tokashiki Island
Tokashiki Island is in the same Kerama Island chain as Zamami Island, and is filled with many diving spots. On the western side of the island there are multiple diving spots for people of all experience levels. There's the Ariga Cable, in the north-western part of Ariga, a diving spot for beginners who can reach the depths of the ocean by following the cable. You might see spotted garden eels and orange clownfish poking their heads out from the white sand. If you're lucky you might even see a sea turtle! Also in the north in Nozaki you can see coral and the schools of fish that live there! It is one of the world's leading dive spots which can be enjoyed by beginners and experts alike all year round!
3. Chatan undersea Ruins
There aren't many opportunities to dive by ruins that are shrouded in mystery. On top of that, there are areas that even beginners can reach, so if you get the chance this is definitely somewhere to try.
4. Manza Dream Hole
On the west side of Okinawa's main island is Manza Dream Hole which is a beautiful diving hole near Onna-son. The 5m deep entrance is narrow, but it widens as you dive past 20m. It's exciting to meet a school of sweeper fish that live near the Dream Hole! Its for experienced divers.
5. Kabira Ishizaki
This is a popular spot with divers. Ishizaki lies on the western side of Ishigaki Island and is known around the world as a place where there's a high chance of meeting manta rays when you dive.
Accommodations are generally small hotels and guest houses that are simple yet clean. You find luxury hotels in the main island of Okinawa and in Naha. Many dive shops also have a guest house. With such enthralling surroundings, a scuba diving excursion makes it a perfect outdoor activity. If you are not a diver, even then you will have other marine activities to indulge in. It is home to some of the most beautiful natural beaches in the world. While for me it was only a single dive in Okinawa, it was an amazing one. Knowing that it wasn’t even close to the best one in the Kerama Islands with its colourful coral reefs, it’s in my bucket list and one of the unfinished affairs. It has been just the beginning of a larger journey.