Safety first when doing water activities off the coast of Okinawa

The Mermaid Cave in the village of Onna is a popular dive spot known for its beautiful views. But, as beautiful and serene as the region is, the water can quickly become dangerous.

In the past, a serviceman was swept out to sea while swimming in the area, also known as Apogama, and had to be rescued by a Japanese Coast Guard helicopter. With a high seas warning that would have been in effect that day, the service member was fortunate not to have sustained serious injuries.

In an interview with Stars and Stripes, Matt Lewis, scuba instructor at MCCS Okinawa’s Tsunami Scuba, described the views from Mermaid Grotto as “seductive”. But, he also described the potential for risk.

“Where it gets dangerous is the way the coral is structured,” Lewis said. “When the tide rises or falls, it can cause high tides.”

While Okinawa’s great swimming, snorkeling, and diving spots and amazing marine life may call for adventurous spirits, the first thing to consider is water safety.

Know your own limit

“The most common mistake is overconfidence,” said Gary Joyce, Tsunami Scuba’s dive program manager and has more than 30 years of experience as a diver.

“The most important thing about staying safe while diving is knowing your own limits and using good judgment within those limits,” Joyce said. “These limits are internal to your own comfort level, but there are also limits based on how much training you’ve had and sticking to the information you’ve learned.”

Dave Burrows, scuba diving coordinator at Destiny Charters, an off-base dive shop, stressed the importance of diving with a reasonably small group, as well as someone with experience.

“If you have five people, a good thing to do is split it into two groups of three and two. That way you can put the less experienced person with the more experienced person,” said the veteran diver with over 30 years of diving experience.

Decompression sickness

A common threat to divers is decompression sickness, or DCS.

According to the Divers Alert Network (DAN), the world’s largest association of recreational divers, decompression sickness is believed to “result from the formation of bubbles in the tissues and cause local damage”, which occurs if the pressure on a diver decreases too quickly.

The DAN cites “joint pain” and “numbness” as common symptoms. Failure to treat can lead to permanent damage such as ‘bladder dysfunction’, ‘sexual dysfunction’ and ‘muscle weakness’.

According to the DAN, exceeding or approaching the limits of the dive table too quickly is the most common cause of DCS.

“People these days rely on computers, but they often forget to pay attention to depth (dive computers indicate this),” said Aaron Burrows of Destiny Charters. He said: “Staying within your decompression limit is important. There are also applications that are useful.

DCS is defined by DAN as one of two types of decompression sickness (DCI). The other type of CDI is arterial gas embolism (AGE). DAN explains that AGE can occur if a diver ascends without exhaling air. Ascent causes the air in the lungs to expand, which can break down lung tissue and send gas bubbles into the arterial circulation. This can lead to brain damage. The network’s website says the key to preventing AGE is to “always relax and breathe normally while climbing.”

Rip currents

When swimming or diving off Okinawa, be aware of rip currents. Because the coral reef surrounds the island, the places where the currents occur are considered predictable. But what if you get caught by one?

“You can’t swim against him. If you get caught by one, you’ll have to get away with it,” Joyce said. “Once it dissipates, you swim perpendicular to it to get out. Then you return to the shore.

Before visiting a dive site in Okinawa, get as much information about the currents as possible, as this may better help you avoid these dangerous conditions.

“Dangerous” marine life

Beyond the risk of open seas on the surface, there is also a long list of marine life that can pose a potential hazard to swimmers and divers. Box jellyfish, lionfish, moray eels and sea snakes may be enough to deter some from testing the waters, but experienced dive instructors have a different view.

“The biggest problem with dangerous animals in the water is usually caused by the divers themselves – inadvertently or on purpose,” Joyce said. “Most sea creatures will avoid competition. Fight or flight syndrome. Most of them will take off. If they come to you, they’re basically there to check you out. If you just ignore it, it will be aware of (you) but ignore (you). It will go away.

Be careful

Many diving instructors refer to the “10 second rule” as a general rule.

“Before you get anything out of the car, look at the water. If it takes longer than 10 seconds to decide ‘Yes, now is a good time to dive’, you shouldn’t dive that day” , added a Tsunami Scuba instructor.

Sometimes being careful can mean listening to your instincts and going against all the time and effort you put into making the trip to the dive site.

Equipment is also an essential element to ensure safety. A Torii Scuba Locker employee reports that rental equipment is not always well maintained. “We tell our customers to make sure they check their gear as they have been taught. If your equipment is not good, it could get you killed.

The employee also noted that social media is a very useful tool when it comes to getting dive safety information.

“There are many communities of divers on social networks. If you go to Facebook and type in ‘Okinawa divers’, it will give you many communities of divers,” he said. “If you ask questions there, you will get many answers. Sometimes you find someone (with good experience and skills) planning to go to a dive site you want to go to.”

Monitoring sea conditions before and during a dive or swim is another element of safety. Some locations offer live webcams to show current conditions and there are also flags at some dive sites and beaches. At Maeda Point, blue means no problems, yellow means ‘OK to swim only with dive companies and instructors’ and red means ‘NO swimming’.

On-site dive shops

Tsunami Diving
DSN: 645-4206

Kadena Marina
DSN: 966-7345

Torii Beach Dive Locker
DSN: 644-4290/644-4263

Off-base dive shops

RAD Okinawa
Tel: 090-9572-6059, Email: [email protected] [email protected]
Address: 232T-3 Kanegusuku, Itoman, Okinawa

International Reef Meetings
Tel: 098-995-9414, Email: [email protected]
Address: 1-493 Miyagi, Chatancho, Okinawa

deep emotion
Tel: 098-921-9131
Address: 6-13-7 Mizugama, Kadena-cho, Okinawa

Okinawa 39ers
Tel: 080-2085-9138, Email: [email protected]
Address: 185-1 Hamagawa, Chatancho, Nakagamigun, Okinawa

Aloha Miscellaneous Okinawa
Tel: 080-9168-0902, Email: [email protected]
Address: 41-9 Toguchi, Yomitanson, Nakagamigun, Okinawa

Destiny Charters
Tel: 090-9569-4080, Email: [email protected]

Piranha divers
Tel: 098-967-8487
Address: 2288-243 Nakama, Onnason, Okinawa

English Empire Divers
Tel: 090-8777-1983, Email: [email protected]

Okinawa sun kissed divers
Tel: 098-800-2139, Email: [email protected]
Address: 527-3 Maeganeku (Uema Apart 301), Onnason, Kunigamigun, Okinawa

* Naui Okinawa Diving Instructor
Michael Ambrisco
Tel: 090-9780-9543, Email: [email protected]

Useful websites

Divers Alert Network

Sea Conditions by Shogun Weather

List of MCCS dive sites

Cape Maeda

Dangerous marine life discovered in Okinawa

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