After Okinawa and Iriomote, Ishigaki is the third largest island in Okinawa Prefecture. It is located 1220 miles (1952 kilometers) from Tokyo and 257 miles (411 km) from Okinawa. Ishigaki is the main island in the Yaeyama Island chain and lies southwest of Okinawa, which makes both the water and air temperatures warmer than the islands closer to Okinawa. There are just over 65 dive sites spread across nineteen islands that form the Yaeyama Island chain. The Yaeyama Island chain’s configuration provides for varied conditions and spectacular diving opportunities. Distances to dive sites vary anywhere from five minutes to forty-five minutes for points located at the outer islands.
Shallow, calm, aqua marine ocean surrounds most of Ishigaki, Taketomi and Kuroshima Islands in what is remarkably warm water. Clear, sunny skies and white sand enhance visibility that is usually at least 100 ft. Labyrinths of hard coral rise from the seabed floor up to the surface and a vivid explosion of bright colors pierce the surface at low tide. Ishigaki is home to the world’s richest colonies of blue coral. Canyons and caves are easily navigated with the help of our local guides who are able to spot rare inhabitants of the reef such as blue ribbon eel and the elusive mandarin fish. Schools of tiny colorful fish such as luminous cardinal fish dart in and out of corals providing picture postcard views.
Perhaps Ishigaki’s biggest attraction is the manta scramble that takes place every year in Spring and Fall. Located just off of Ishigaki’s west coast is ‘Manta Point’ where huge pacific mantas come to feed off the blooming plankton. A short distance from the entry point and you arrive at a cluster of coral heads that span approximately 25 meters (75 feet). Divers duck in between large coral heads in anticipation of what is to come next. Within moments a dark looming figure, about 15 feet across, glides towards the group. As it gets closer the silhouette is undeniably that of a giant manta ray. The first sight of the graceful figure comes as a real surprise. But when you notice the next two, three, four or even five and six following, you start wishing for eyes in the back of your head. The mantas swoop in from all sides, hover overhead and then glide past only to come back around and fly in from the opposite side. Our guides have dived all around the world and Ishigaki is one of the few places where we are comfortable saying the you’re practically guaranteed multiple, manta sightings. Over the last three years from July through November the manta dives have produced sightings 100% of the time.
Iriomote Island is often referred to as Japan’s last wilderness. The topography is dominated by jungle and winding rivers and the entire island has been designated as a national park. The ocean around Iriomote is considerably deeper and large areas of the coastline are exposed to the open ocean. The ocean takes on a subterranean blue that descends to great depths and with strong currents attracts large pelagics. These waters team with life and it is not uncommon to dive among schools of huge tuna and shark. During the winter months encounters with whale sharks are common.