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In Search of Butterfly and Blue Damsel Fish at Mama-San Beach

By: John Chandler

Date Posted: 2000-07-07

John Chandler reviews a site which is his “family's favorite beach in the world”. To get there it involves a little bit of adventure driving. It may afford a glimpse of an Okinawa you have never seen before.

Mama-San Beach (Shiosai or Oodomari Beach to the locals) got its nickname back in the early 1980's when a really nice family, that owns the property, began to improve the beach and build the road and facilities we now enjoy. This a natural white sand beach that you can dig your toes into and just when the sun has really heated you up you can get up and dive into crystal clear waters and not have the usual limestone and coral reef. It is all white sand. You will love it! Bring your snorkel gear, your SCUBA gear and your kayak. There is fun in the sun for everyone.

Dive Site: Mama-San Beach on Ikei Island Level of difficulty. Novice.

Site Location: Ikei Island is just beyond Henza Island in Gushikawa Bay directly across from Camp Hansen and Kin Blue Beach. From Kadena leave Gate 2 driving straight across the intersection stay on this road until it intersects with Highway 330. Go straight across that intersection as if driving to Sam's by the Sea. At the third traffic light you will approach the intersection with a four lane. Turn left on this four lane and follow it out until it turns into two lanes then intersects with Highway 8. This is the route that will take you toward White Beach. When Highway 8 intersects with Highway 31 turn left at the sign directing traffic toward Yakena Village. Follow this road down the hill to the intersection and bear left. This road takes you across the new construction to Henza Island. Follow the road around Henza Island passing the new bridge on your right and then around the petroleum refinery on your left. The road bears back around to your left then across a small bridge. A small fishing village is on your right. After crossing that bridge continue straight and stay on the improved road which by-passes the fishing village on your right. This road is a new by-pass that will drive you around through cane fields and up hills with great views of the Pacific Ocean on your right. Follow the signs to "Big Time Beach Resort." These will wind you through a second fishing village and then around to a red girder bridge and the famous Blue Lagoon swimming and recreation area. The Blue Lagoon is obvious. Just beyond the Blue Lagoon take the small incline that bears around to your left and then straightens out. At fifty yards past this hill you will see a sign, all in Japanese Kanji, that points a red arrow to your left down an unimproved road between two cane fields. Follow this road until you come to a new factory (a cigarette factory) and turn left, then right, around the factory. Follow this road down and into the tree line. Trust me you are almost there. Follow this concrete road down the hill and it will open up into an obvious recreation area. Mama-San and her family have improved this beach over the past 20 years. They built the concrete road down the hill by hand! A young man will meet you and ask for 300-400Y each for parking space and use of the facilities, which include a restroom and shower facility. The beach is one of the few white sand beaches with no coral rocks on the island. It is as good as Okuma and has fewer people to bother you.

What to expect: Without exception the best all-around beach dive on Okinawa! You will experience a nice slow descent from the beach to 30 feet then a sloping descent among coral and broken rock with an even further descent to 70 feet across a sandy bottom among the mooring lines for fishing nets. A very safe place to dive that is especially inviting for novice divers and diving families that have varying degrees of experience. Mama-San beach also offers a great place for non-divers and snorkelers to enjoy a beach totally void of sea urchins and coral rocks. There are NO URCHINS!

Recommended 1st Dive Profile: Enter the water and fin up in waist deep water. Roll over on a heading that will take you straight off the beach toward the float lines. Snorkel as far as you like and descend when you feel comfortable. Thirty yards off shore you will still be in 15 feet of water and at 60 yards you will be in 25 feet of water over broken rock and coral formations rising from a sandy bottom. The float line is 175 yards off-shore. It is best to go on SCUBA at the 60 yard mark since small boats will traverse the area between the float line and shore. On SCUBA follow your westerly heading across coral mounds hunting in and around looking for shells and enjoying the schools of chevron, butterfly and blue damsel fish that dot the white rocky rubble, sand and coral with beautiful splashes of their yellows and blues. At 45 feet you will notice a decline that slopes down quickly to 60 feet and into white sand. Continue on this course descending between 60 feet and 70 feet you will notice mooring lines arching upward. These moor the float together in a network that support the fishermens’ nets. The bottom here is dotted with clumps of discarded nets which have become home to colonies of yellow moray eel, lion fish, and octopus. The sandy bottom is also dotted with groups of large starfish walking their way across the open sand. When you reach 70 feet you will have time to enjoy looking around in and among the nets. Searching trails and pulling up six and seven inch marlin spike augers or, on your way back in, poking in and among the broken rock hunting for the elusive large white remosa murex shells that enjoy living in the sand and rock of this area. On a reciprocal heading you will ascend slowly and safely back up the incline and into the broken rock and coral enjoying the schools of tropical fish that welcome you back across the reef.

Other activities: During summer when the sun is high overhead and penetrating its deepest, the underwater photographer can use the blue azure reflection as the perfect backdrop for those buddy shots silhouetted against the surface. Also a great spot for instructors to conduct rescue and divemaster training. A perfect place for everyone to enjoy a picnic or a camping trip that will include a night dive.

Aquatic animals found here: Yellow Moray Eels. Blue Ribbon Eels. Octopus. Lion fish. Tropical fish of every kind too include Clown, Butterfly, Chevron, and Blue Damsel fish.

Best time of year to dive: All year around. The sand can be very hot in the summer afternoons so bring shoes to walk across the beach and don't forget an umbrella to shade you from the sun as needed.

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