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The Ishigaki Surprise!

By: John Chandler

Date Posted: 2001-10-23

Last weekend seven of us, led by Rich Ruth, the owner of Fathoms Dive Shop, headed south for a four-day diving reconnaissance around the island of Ishigaki. On our many diving expeditions to Yonaguni, Rich and I have often traveled through Ishigaki changing planes for our final leg of the trip. On the way back from our last trip to the monuments at Yonaguni we decided to use the Columbus Day weekend to discover the diving opportunities on Ishigaki. Our discoveries came as quite a surprise.

Manta rays and magic reefs are things that divers on Okinawa dream about. The surprise is not just the quality and diversity of the hard coral reefs that abound in the waters of the Yaeyama Island group that surrounds Ishigaki. The surprise was that all the rumors of Manta Rays were true. They are there and they are BIG. But the best surprise of all was just how far away Ishigaki feels while it only 45-minute flight from Naha. What a combination! Great diving, great reefs, big manta rays, and it is only 45 minutes away.

What a surprise for all of us! Let me compare the diving, and then match up the prices of similar dive expeditions using Yap as a point of evaluation.

Manta rays? Yes they do exist on Ishigaki and our photos illustrate the evidence. Are they big, no, HUGE! The manta is really the draw for divers going to Ishigaki but the surprise is not the manta rays. The surprise is the pristine condition of the reefs. Usually we drive three dives per day with lunch served to us on the boat provided by local diving service contracted by Fathoms. These great folks led us to reefs that were the type I remembered diving on Okinawa 20 years ago. The vivid neon yellows and the explosive colors of the turquoise hard corals made us all think we were diving in a magazine ad. Much to our joy these dive sites are practically in our back yard and not the bone jarring 18-hour flights to those destinations we are bombarded with in the advertising found in all American SCUBA magazines. These reefs are only 45 minutes away.

Now for a comparison with Yap, where manta rays also abound. On Ishigaki our entire weekend cost less than $800 and that included everything, food, seven dives, lodging, and transportation to and from the airports. My last spring break to Yap was about $2,600 per person and $1,100 of that was just the airfare!

As with all great discoveries there has to be a drawback, and alas, there is also one here. Manta rays are pelagic (open ocean swimmers), and only pass by Ishigaki in the fall and spring. The advertised best manta viewing is during September and October, and then again in April and May. We are already planning our trip for the spring so if you are looking for a surprise you may want to look south and join us for our spring break this year. For more information about traveling and diving in the southern islands of Okinawa, contact Rich Ruth at 090 0866 0868. He can help arrange the same kind of surprise that we just enjoyed.

My gallery of photographs, which include manta rays, turtles and my buddies, the clownfish, are now available at the KOSC Gift Shop near the Kadena BX. I will be conducting several underwater photography classes during October and November this year so if you are interested in capturing your memories on film click over to my website at www.jwchandler.com and letís plan a class around your diving.

Fish Pic this week is the yellowstripe snapper (lutjanus kasmira) recently misidentified by Vann Williams on Ishigaki as a Grunt, or Croaker, often seen on the East Coast of the United States. However, these lovely yellowfish that enjoy grouping together under the ledges and in the mouths of caverns across the Pacific always add a welcome splash of color to the reef. Snapper like these can often be seen schooling along the reef at Sunabe Seawall and the dive sites known as the Junkyard and Runway Lights as well. Hope you enjoy meeting some new friends like these this week. The more you know about our reefs the more you will enjoy Okinawa! See you at the Beach.

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