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Mizugama Reef's Surprises: Lion, Scorpion and Raggedfin Fire Fish

By: John Chandler

Date Posted: 2001-01-26

Sometimes is pays to just stop and listen. It was a day just like any other day when two buddies began discussing their recent dive on some concrete blocks not far away from Kadena Marina. They were enthusiastically sharing their excitement about having the opportunity to video tape and photograph a large number of Lionfish they found free swimming in, around, and above a series of concrete blocks located directly off the reef at Mizugama, a place we frequently call Kadena Steps. Wow, Kadena Steps, I have dove that area for years and I have never seen any blocks much less a profusion of free swimming Lionfish (a photographer's pleasure equal to a seven year old's excitement on Christmas morning). So I listened on. Finding their excitement to be infectious I was already re-arranging my dive schedule to accommodate a trip to Mizugama. Luckily for me my dive buddies observed my enthusiasm for their discovery and got an invite to accompany them on their dive. So here we go, I think you may want to put this one on your winter dive schedule.

What to expect: You will enjoy one of the easiest entry points on Okinawa. The reef is not more than 30 yards/meters from the bottom edge of the steps. How ever the swim out to the blocks will definitely cause this to be a fitness dive. The blocks are about 200 yards beyond the point when the Mizugama Reef meets the sandy bottom. But when you arrive at the blocks they present a certain eerie feeling that quickly turns into that same excitement my buddies were sharing, which is where the idea for this dive started. Here Lionfish love to ambush smaller fish. The concrete blocks stock the lush nutrition of the hard and soft corals living on this man-made reef which attract small bait fish into the blocks and into the ambush sites of the hovering Lionfish. This is survival of the fittest at its best and after the swim out to these blocks you will understand that a good dive plan and a great compass is essential to safely diving this site. But when you get here the Lionfish, Scorpion fish, Raggedfin Fire fish, and schools of Banner fish swimming by in and about these blocks makes the swim and all your work learning to use an underwater compass well worth the effort. This is a great dive!

Recommended 1st Dive Profile: Enter the water at the centermost portion of the steps. Be careful. At low tide you will walk across some slippery algae covered steps. The buddy system works best here. Walk straight into the water perpendicular to the steps about 15 yards/meters and you will see a cutout in the reef line that has about 12-15' of water in it. Fin up here. At high tide you will have snorkeled this same distance. On snorkel, set a compass heading due west and swim over the rocky bottom. You will see old and abandoned pipelines among the rocks. As you move through this area a coral mound will be rising up on your left from about 30' of water. Continue on snorkel using the sand filled channel below as your guide and follow this out until you reach the area where the reef slopes down meeting the white sandy bottom. Set a compass heading for 240 degrees (Remember that 270 degrees is due west). Descend here and begin your dive toward the blocks, maintaining the 240-degree heading. Pace yourself and swim at your own pace watching your air consumption. You will reach the blocks in about 10 minutes, swimming at a moderate pace. Check your air pressure when you hit the blocks because you will want to return when your pressure falls below 1500 psi.

Recommended activity: As you swim across the wide expanse of white sand pay attention. You may see an occasional Sting Ray or Sole resting in the sand. I have found that on your first dive on the blocks just the fun of discovery is all the activity you want to experience. Subsequent dives here will be great opportunities for photo and video opportunities

Other activities: A wonderful dive site for advanced students to hone their underwater navigational skills or begin the hobby of underwater photography. The long swim will test even the best navigator

Aquatic animals found here: Sunset Wrasse. Clown Fish. Parrot Fish. Octopus and Cuttlefish. Spider conch and Egg Shell cowries are not uncommon here.

Site Location: North of Kadena Gate #1 on Highway #58 just past Kadena Marina you will pass the Kadena Navel shopping center. At the next traffic light, at the large green roofed pachinko parlor, turn left. Follow this street to the sea wall. Turn right and follow the wall until you reach what appears to be concrete bleacher seats on your left. The "Steps" are obvious. Park anywhere along these steps. Please be courteous and keep your voices down, they tend to carry a long way and there is a short distance to the nearest apartment window.

Best time of year to dive: All year long. If you want to see sites like these and learn about dive activities available to you on Okinawa and the Pacific please visit my website at www.jwchandler.com and say hello. See you at the Steps. I will be the bald guy staring down at his compass.

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