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Snorkeling makes exploring the underwater world easy

By: Kenny Ehman

Date Posted: 1998-07-10

Exploring Okinawa's marine world may be one of the most memorable experiences during your stay on Okinawa. The clear, warm waters surrounding the island provide the perfect conditions for a variety of corals and tropical reef fish. Of the 400 coral species found in Japan, 370 of them can be found here in Okinawa. Compared to the 70 to 75 species of coral found in the Caribbean, Okinawa's coral reefs provide some of the richest diversity in the world for both divers and snorkelers. Although most areas with such rich diversity are located in the tropical region of the globe, the 'Kuro shio' current provides the warm water necessary for corals to exist in Okinawa.

One of the best ways to experience the pleasures of Okinawa's underwater world is snorkeling. There is no license required, no heavy equipment to lug around, and it is easy to learn. Kids can also safely enjoy snorkeling, making it an excellent activity for the whole family. You will be amazed at how relaxing and fun this sport can be, and you will begin to learn about a whole different world, up close and personal.

The first thing to do is either rent or purchase a mask, snorkel, fins, and dive boots. With these items in your beach bag, you can snorkel anywhere and anytime. Tsunami Gear, Four Seasons, and the Kadena Marina carry a wide range of gear, with costs that range from very cheap to very expensive. If you are going to spend money, do so on your purchase of a mask. If your mask leaks or is uncomfortable you will have wasted your money, so make sure it fits properly. The best way to test a mask is to place it on your face without the strap. While gently pushing, slightly breathe in through your nose. The mask should stick securely if it fits correctly. Boots should be the type with a felt soul, not rubber. This will protect you from spiny sea urchins and other sharp objects. Beginners will find fins that are soft and flexible much easier to work with, and a snorkel that is easy to clear will also make your experience much more comfortable. If you are not a good swimmer, you can still enjoy snorkeling by purchasing and wearing a life jacket. It will keep you afloat, and let you concentrate on having fun. Most sales persons will be happy to help you with choosing your first set of equipment.

The next step is to find a nice place to practice. The fringing reefs of both the main island and the outer islands often provide shallow lagoons, which are perfect for beginners to practice and gain confidence. Make sure you go at high tide, so that you do not injure yourself or any living coral. There are plenty of snorkeling classes available for beginners, some of which are free. An instructor can explain to you all the steps from clearing your snorkel to using your fins efficiently.

Some of the beautiful fish you will see include blue damsel fish, butterfly fish, and moorish idols. As you stream through the water, you will swim over a sea bottom of sand and rock, coming upon wondrous colors of yellow, purple, and blue. They are the colors of the many hard corals that can be found inside the reef. Peering closely between the skeleton branches of these living sea animals, tiny fish find refuge, darting in and out while trying to see what strange creature has arrived at their home. You can also see starfish, sea cucumbers, and sometimes schools of small squid. All of this and more, await you in an endless blue background.

Once you have mastered snorkeling inside the reef, you can venture beyond it with a partner. Larger fish like blue striped grunts, parrot fish, and bat fish can be seen cruising through the deep blue water. The fish are an endless array of rainbow colors. The reef from here spreads out like fingers, abruptly dropping off to the depths below. Colonies of coral are everywhere. Huge table coral spread out before you, as fish gently swim over them. Looking straight out beyond the reef, a back drop of deep blue reminds you of the ocean's mysteries that lay beyond. Looking down, reflected rays of sunlight appear to stream up from the bottom of the ocean floor. This world is seldom seen by many people. It is truly fascinating.

If you haven't tried this great sport yet, you should give it a try this summer. Always remember to snorkel with a friend. Never enter the water during rough sea conditions. Do not snorkel in isolated places. Do not touch or step on anything, and never try to remove any living coral or fish from the sea. Simply look and be amazed.

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