I had fallen behind the group, again, and as I caught up with them they were all gathered round a couple of rocks, looking intently at something. Ralf, our dive guide, was pointing out. As I approached them, they all let me through (they were a lovely group to dive with!) to have a look and here were two beautiful, bright orange nudibranchs, both about six inches long, and certainly not something I expected to see among the kelp whilst diving off a harbour breakwater!
Last year, when I was planning an overseas holiday, I realised that it had been ten years since I last visited my family in South Korea. However, I wasn’t about to go on holiday and not go diving! There wasn’t, and still isn’t, a huge amount of information about diving in South Korea (in English; there’s plenty in Korean, but I read Korean a lot slower than English), but where there’s a will, there’s a way – and through the magic of Google, I booked six days of shore diving; four days off Jejudo with Big Blue 33, and two days off Busan with Busan Seaworld Dive Center. Both had owners/staff who spoke excellent English, so communication wasn’t a problem.
After paying my respects to various members of my family, I was off to Jejudo at the first available opportunity. Jejudo is the biggest island off the coast of Korea and its second biggest city, Seogwipo, has the best diving South Korea has to offer. Situated on the south side of Jejudo, Seogwipo is located in a temperate climate and has a tropical current coming from the south. All the pictures, videos and dive centre information promised that it wasn’t going to be tropical diving, but there was going to be an interesting mix of warm and cold water diving.
We didn’t have the most auspicious start to the diving. A recent change in the interpretation of boat licensing laws by the local coastguard had put an end to all boat diving off Seogwipo and a typhoon in the Philippines (a thousand miles away!) was causing a lot of swell and poor visibility. This left us with a massive option of just one place to go diving, off the Seogwipo harbour breakwater. There was a lot of construction work happening in the harbour itself, but the workers had thoughtfully left a big enough gap among the massive concrete bollards for the local divers. The entry point was at the bottom of some concrete stairs, but with the larger than expected swell, getting in and out of the sea was at best, tricky!
However, once I put my head underwater, I knew immediately that I’d enjoy diving here! All the colours I would have expected to see in the Red Sea were swimming around and below me. The visibility wasn’t allegedly great due to the aforementioned typhoon but we still had at least 8 metres (after spending two years solely diving off the UK and Ireland, I rate that as good vis!), but being able to see masked butterfly fish swimming in among the kelp was a first for me and it got the photographer inside me very excited. The sea bed was mainly rocky, covered with boulders and massive concrete jacks from the breakwater, which were covered with kelp and anemones.
After we surfaced at the end of the dive, it turned out that I had apparently enjoyed the dive more than the two other divers in group who weren’t too keen to get back in for a second dive. To be fair, the conditions were, if anything, getting worse, so I agreed to call it a day too. The swell was worse the second day, cancelling that day’s diving, which gave me the chance to see some of Seogwipo’s other sights that mainly consisted of some beautiful waterfalls, one of which falls straight into the sea.
Day three was grey and gloomy, but paradoxically, the diving conditions had improved! The Seogwipo harbour breakwater was still the only available dive site, but the visibility had improved to 10 meters and there was a lot more sealife out and about. Also, from a highly personal and photography-obsessed perspective, there were plenty of gobies and scorpion fish around that were willing to pose for a picture! Then towards the end of the day’s second dive, Ralf, my dive guide, pointed out two of the biggest nudibranchs that I’ve ever seen. I’m not the greatest at identifying nudibranchs but I believe that they were a species of Chromodoris. They really made my day and to celebrate a successful day’s diving, the group decided to go and eat a local delicacy, barbecued pork, in vast quantities!
Day four in Seogwipo had also started promisingly. There were grey clouds and rain but the sea conditions had improved further and we were able to dive off another site, Weol Pyeong Beach. Weol Pyeong Beach is a cobblestone beach, which is also a popular fishing and picnic spot, a combination which led to occasional remnants of barbecued fish littering the beach, which gave some unwanted clues as to what to expect underwater. However, once we descended, it was brilliant! There was 15 metres visibility and an abundance of sealife. The cobblestones gave way to boulders that marked the edge of the rocky shore and the sandy seabed. There were numerous flounder chilling on the sand, shoals of mullet feeding and even a lionfish lurking in a crevice. There were more nudibranchs – two more of the massive Chormodoris – another similarly sized Phyllidia, a tiny Bouphonia, numerous gobies and scorpion fish. Ralf took us to an artificial reef where there was some beautiful pink soft coral growing among the kelp. This was to be, by far, the best day’s diving in Korea that I’d get to experience.
The water temperature off Seogwipo was 27 degrees, which made my 5mm wetsuit more than adequate! The deepest we reached off the harbour breakwater was 16 metres and 20 metres off Weol Pyeong Beach. And for those of us that don’t like filling our luggage with dive gear, Big Blue 33 will rent out what you need to go diving.
There was yet another far away typhoon starting to affect the sea conditions, so feeling lucky to have had two successful days of diving, I moved onto Busan, South Korea’s second city. After the relaxing atmosphere of Seogwipo, being back in a 24/7 metropolis was a bit of a shock! Also my planning for this leg of the trip left a lot to be desired as it turned out that my accommodation was an hour and a half away from the dive site, Taejungdae Beach. As I didn’t have a car, this was to be an hour and a half of on public transport! So having unexpectedly added to my life experiences the joys of lugging full dive gear and a camera through an underground rail network, I met up with my dive guide, Stacie, for another day’s diving. For the record, Busan Seaworld Dive Center do rent out dive gear – I just like to use my own!
Taejungdae Beach was another cobblestone beach, but this time crammed with tarpaulin restaurants offering every kind of barbecued local seafood. All had two blue hoses going in and out of the sea, which served to keep their live ingredients fresh and for my dive guide and I, it helped with our navigation!
Stacie had already advised me that Busan’s diving wouldn’t be a good as Jejudo’s, so my expectations had been suitably lowered; but with 4 metres visibility, I found it to be very enjoyable! Perhaps I’ve been diving exclusively in the UK and Ireland for too long, but 4 metres visibility is more than plenty for me to enjoy myself underwater, especially when it was a glorious sunny day and the water a lovely 24 degrees.
The deepest we went to was 12 metres. The seabed was mainly covered with boulders and the sealife was noticeably different to Jejudo – there were plenty of fish, although less of the tropical variety. What stood out for me here were the numerous feather stars growing in between the crevices. Among them were crabs, gobies, scorpion fish and on the second dive, I spotted another nudibranch, although it wasn’t of the gigantic variety, but a tiny Bouphonia. My dive guide was more surprised than I was by the Bouphonia, but just as excited.
In keeping with tradition, we celebrated by eating more delicious Korean cuisine, although we decided against a seaside barbecue. I love seafood, but having just enjoyed diving and photographing the local sealife, I wasn’t quite ready to eat it straight away. So we filled up this time on meelmyun (spicy cold noodles). Unfortunately for the final day’s diving Mother Nature intervened again with another typhoon off the Philippines (later I felt guilty about a complaining about a ruined day’s diving when in the Philippines the situation was probably a bit more serious). I was told that I had been unlucky with the weather as typhoons generally only affect South Korea much later in the year. To console myself, I finally brought myself round to eating some of the local catch in the form of hwedobbab, Korean sashimi served with rice, vegetables, dried seaweed and a generous dollop of chilli paste, before heading back to see more of my family in Seoul.
Overall, I had a great time. I loved the diving that Mother Nature allowed me to do and I had a lot of fun eating Korean food, drinking Korean soju (in moderation whilst diving of course), and meeting new people whilst enjoying the rich culture Korea has to offer. I think another ‘family’ visit is in store in the near future!
Scuba Diving in India: 5 Best Places to Visit Now
India doesn’t get the attention it deserves for its scuba diving. With its white-sand beaches and tropical islands, this stunning country is on a par with some of the world’s best-loved diving hotspots. There are isolated coral reefs, shipwrecks, pinnacles, remote atolls, and walls that host an eye-popping array of Indian Ocean marine life. With India recently opening its borders to fully vaccinated travelers, now is the time to explore this incredible destination before the rest of the world finds out.
- Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The Andaman Islands sit off the coast of India in the Bay of Bengal, surrounded by bright blue waters and fringed with isolated coral reefs. It is a tropical paradise destination with thriving mangroves that support diverse marine life and extraordinary birdlife.
Many of these beautiful islands are inhabited by the Andamanese, an indigenous group of people whose privacy is paramount, meaning you cannot visit all of the islands. Some of the Andamanese tribes, such as the Sentinelese, have had little to no contact with the outside world for many years.
Havelock Island and Neil Island are two of the most exceptional diving spots in the Andaman Islands and are regularly rated as two of the best places for scuba diving in India.
Havelock has excellent macro diving, whilst Neil Island offers pristine coral reefs and fewer divers. Together they host some of the best marine life that the northern Indian Ocean has to offer.
When to go: November to April.
Sitting on the west coast of India by the Arabian Sea, Goa is known for its long stretches of golden sands and lively nightlife. But if you step back from the bustling bars, you will find picturesque dive sites and a destination rich in culture and history.
Grande Island is a hotspot for water sports and is one of Goa’s best dive locations. There are dive sites for every level of diver at this must-visit island, plus some of Goa’s famous shipwrecks.
As an important trading port for centuries, Goa has around 100 shipwrecks off its shores, which have become thriving artificial reefs. As well as wrecks galore, Goa also has shallow coral gardens and striking pinnacles that attract tourists to Goa scuba diving every year.
When to go: October to May.
Puducherry’s crystal-clear waters are enough to attract any keen diver to explore this well-known French colonial settlement and the surrounding area.
Above water, Puducherry is a quaint destination with a French Quarter of bougainvillea-lined streets, colorful colonial villas, and sophisticated boutiques.
Below water is equally as eye-catching, with a huge range of diving opportunities along Puducherry’s vast coastline. There are unexplored coral reefs and shipwrecks, plus famous dive sites such as Coral Sharks Reef – a great novice dive site with plenty of reef sharks.
Go in search of sea snakes at Aravind Wall, one of the most famous dive sites in India, explore popular Four Corners, or head into the deep, dark depths at The Hole.
When to go: February to April, September to November.
- Netrani Island, Karnataka.
Netrani Island (Pigeon Island) is one of India’s best-known dive spots and sits off the famous temple town of Murdeshwar. Shaped like a heart, it is also known as ‘the heart of India’s diving’ and offers world-class diving with excellent conditions.
There are rarely any currents at Netrani’s dive sites, making it an ideal destination for Open Water Divers and novices who want to learn to dive.
Most of the diving is done from boats, taking you to explore diverse coral landscapes bursting with colorful marine life. Keep an eye on the blue when you dive there, as whales sometimes visit this special island.
When to go: October to May.
Lakshadweep, an archipelago off Kerala, has 36 atolls and coral reefs, with lagoons full of life and pristine reefs. Whilst you cannot visit all of the islands, those that you can visit make it a fantastic place to dive. And when you’ve had your fill of diving, you can explore Kerala’s famous tea plantations.
Whichever islands you choose, the clear blue waters of Lakshadweep have a seemingly endless list of marine life highlights, including sharks and sea turtles.
Bangaram Atoll is entirely surrounded by coral reefs and the continuous nature of the reef makes it one of the most interesting places to dive at Lakshadweep. As well as gorgeous corals, Bangaram hosts Princess Royal, a famous 200-year-old shipwreck.
Kadmat Island, or Cardamom Island, is all about turquoise waters, white sand beaches and encounters with numerous sea turtles. With healthy seagrass beds and coral reefs to dive, it is a mecca for marine life. Make sure you leave time to visit this impossibly idyllic island.
When to go: October to May.
Who is diving in India suitable for?
With over 8000 kilometers of coastline, India has a broad range of dive destinations to suit every dive experience level. There are plenty of easy-going dive sites for novices, plus adventurous dives for experienced divers.
What marine life will you see when diving in India?
Sitting in the Indian Ocean, India’s dive sites host a huge variety of life, including abundant tropical reef fish, lion fish, moray eels and prized critters. Sea turtles are regularly spotted cruising the reefs and nest at many of India’s islands. Manta rays, whales and dolphins are also seen in India’s waters.
Kathryn Curzon, a shark conservationist and dive travel writer for Scuba Schools International (SSI), wrote this article.
Critter Diving in Dumaguete
Words and Images by Marty Snyderman
While the term “muck diving” is one that would probably not pass a smell test with the marketing gurus on Madison Avenue, experienced muck divers know exploring the muck to be a featured attraction of diving in the water surrounding our resorts at both Atlantis Puerto Galera and Atlantis Dumaguete.
If you are new to diving or simply have not yet enjoyed the opportunity to muck dive, you might not be familiar with the term muck diving. Don’t let your lack of familiarity or the name turn you away. The term muck diving was first used to describe exploring areas where the bottom consists of black sand, mud and silt in sites that are often influenced by some current flow and a source of freshwater. Over the years the definition has expanded, and today the term muck diving is often used to describe dives over almost any area that has a soft bottom as well as dives around structures such as a pier or dock where the pilings along with discarded tires, bottles and other man-made objects combine to provide habitat and hiding places for all kinds of creatures.
But it is not just the nature of the sea floor or number of species that one might see that has made muck diving so popular. It is the fact that many of the encountered creatures are so bizarre, amazing, different, and well adapted for their life style and their chosen habitat that they routinely leave divers in awe of what Mother Nature has to share. Creatures such as ornate, robust, and halimeda ghostpipefishes, shrimpgobies and their partner shrimps, strange-looking scorpionfishes, sea moths, skeleton shrimp, decorator crabs, stargazers, gurnards, frogfishes, cuttlefishes, seahorses, octopuses, and snake eels are daily fare in muck sites.
In many muck diving areas, the bottom is not completely barren. Small patch reefs and anemones in the sand provide refuge for additional species of fishes, crabs, shrimps, lobsters, and squids etc. In short, muck diving can be crazy good!
The Muck Diving Experience
For many divers the first time they look around after entering the water at some highly acclaimed muck diving site, their heart sinks as the surroundings do not bring the term beauty to mind. Drab is usually more like it, and upon first consideration most muck diving sites look boring. But you’ll be selling muck diving short if you judge this book by its cover. Just trust those that brought you to the site and go see what there is to see. Odds are you’ll be absolutely amazed.
Muck Diving Technique
In many muck sites it is extremely easy to stir up the bottom and reduce the visibility with a single kick of a fin or the loss of buoyancy that causes a diver to crash into the sea floor. It is best to keep kicking and all other movements to an absolute minimum, and to achieve and maintain neutral buoyancy.
After that, it is “get low, go slow, be curious, and look closely” as you scour the bottom and any structure whether a soft coral, sponge, or debris such as a dead leaf or piece of driftwood on the sea floor. Take two looks at the slightest aberration. See something that looks just slightly different than its surroundings, and the odds are that you will be looking at some mind-blowing animal.
Be patient with yourself as you learn “how to look”. Divers that are new to muck diving almost always swim past subject after subject without spotting them during their first several muck dives. And they are almost universally amazed by the animals their dive guides spot. It is like the guides and new divers are diving in different oceans.
The key to the guides’ success is that they know where, how to look, and who they are looking for. Of course, gaining that expertise takes time. No doubt, their experience is a huge help. When you ask them how they do what they do, they are usually quick to tell you they “get low, go slow, remain curious, and look closely”. And I’ll throw in a “have fun and allow yourself to be amazed by Mother Nature”.
Visit www.atlantishotel.com to find out more!