Encounter An Abundance of Colourful Underwater Life
Yakushima’s natural inner allure will immediately enchant travellers. The towering cedar forests with their verdant carpets of moss easily capture people’s minds. However, surrounding the island is a different kind of wonderful world – below the surface of the Pacific Ocean an abundance of underwater wildlife begs to be explored and sandy beaches beckon the traveller. With an equally, fascinating beauty, the coral reefs in the shallow waters off shore, should be explored on a snorkelling adventure as much as the towering green forests. Encounters with green turtles, clown fish “nemos” and other vibrant wildlife are frequent and even newbies to snorkelling can easily enjoy the sea world in Yakushima.
Swim With Turtles and Other Fascinating Creatures
Snorkelling and diving around Yakushima were definitely among the highlights of our recent trip to Japan. As it is further north in the island chain it took us somewhat by surprise to discover how plentiful and diverse the sea life around Yakushima is. We had explored the southernmost sub-tropical islands in Okinawa – Miyako and Ishigaki – before but would never have thought that it would be almost effortless to swim with turtles and discover exceptional creatures like Christmas tree worms (I had never even heard of them before!), an amazing carpet of coral covering the ocean bed like a giant jigsaw puzzle and many other weird and astonishing underwater animals and sea life so far to the north of the tropics.
Safety should always come first before setting out onto a snorkel tour. It is important to have the right equipment and to make sure the weather conditions are favourable for any outing. Especially if you are not a very confident swimmer do not enter the water unless the ocean is calm and clear, and never do so alone. Most of the best swim spots are in the sheltered bays but keep aware of any currents, especially if you venture further from the beach. Life vests or other buoyancy aids could be considered and are a common sight on Japanese swimmers and snorkelers anyway, but beware of using inflatables (despite the locals doing so) as the risk of off shore winds and drift maybe a risk.
Best Time to Snorkel
Water temperatures can reach up to a bathtub pleasant 30C during the summer months and we happily spent over an hour snorkelling during our recent trip without getting cold. At colder times of the year consider wearing a body or wet suit to keep you warmer. Due to high chances of sunburn in summer, also think about wearing a UV Vest or even a fuller body covering “rash” suit for snorkelling and beach activities.
Do not worry in case you did not bring any snorkel equipment, there are plenty of dive and snorkel centres around the island. They happily will rent all snorkel essentials and even offer snorkel courses and tours for anyone less experienced and interested in a guide.
Some Important Snorkel Rules to Bare in Mind at all Times During Snorkelling:
- do not touch any of the underwater wildlife including turtles!
- do not collect or break off any coral, mussels and shells.
- do not stand on the corals, only on sand or rocks.
- do not leave any rubbish on the beaches and in the water – better still do what we did and take time after your dip to collect some litter and leave the beach cleaner than before.
The Best Snorkel Spots and Beaches on Yakushima
Isso Beach was by far our favourite spot for snorkelling on the island, it can easily compete with the some of the Maldives, Mexico and other snorkel adventures we have had in the past. Off this beach we found and swam with turtles many times, to the point where Jerome even commented: “Oh it’s just another turtle!” However there was an abundance of other sea life, bight coloured starfish, sandy rays, Christmas tree worms, colourful coral and anemones. In fact we were sad when we moved to the South-West corner of the island, as none of the other sites matched Isso Beach quite in its variety and sheer number of underwater creatures. The snorkelling is best of the stony bay behind the car parking, but the main sandy beach also offers a make shift beach bar, toilet and showers, plus has lifeguards patrolling so is perhaps the best place for a family to have fun with younger ones on the sand.
Harutu Hama Beach near Anbo
This rocky beach, is popular with snorkelers during low tide when tidal pools appear and access is easy, even for younger ones. It might be advisable to wear water shoes or sandals to avoid cutting on the, at times, sharp rocks. There are public toilets and showers available. We did not snorkel or swim on this beach, therefore we cannot advise you on the sea life!
Enter the ocean off the small, pebbled beach in front of Yudomari Onsen und you will discover a ragged, coral reef. Its sheer underwater cliffs appear like a mountain range below the sea. There we encountered turtles, lionfish and many interesting shoals of silver darting fish between the rocks. Toilets and showers are available here too.
Kurio Beach and Tsukasaki Tide Pool
Kurio is famous for its large tidal pool in Kurio Port, the Tsukasaki Tide Pool. We found snorkelling through the calm waters of the shallow pool an absolute disappointment as there were only a few fish compared to Isso. However when the tide in it is a safe place for younger children to splash and try snorkelling, and they will see some interesting underwater life. For the more adventurous instead try the back side of the same peninsular, where you will find a part sandy, part stony but plastic littered beach (yes! Very sad!). On this side only visit at higher tide times to avoid a long walk out over the rocks and consider wearing water sandals or shoes to wade through the low, rocky pools, or face a long backwards walk in flippers! Where the shallow water merges into the depth off the ocean, lies a coral reef teeming with underwater creatures. This is a popular spot for spotting sea snakes but also moray eels, puffer fish, clams and other intriguing water animals.
A pristine, sandy beach, that also is a nesting ground for loggerhead and green turtles during May-August. Please be aware that you may access the beach during the day but at night time it is forbidden to enter the beach. We would recommend not using it as a play place for digging so as to keep it for the turtles.
This kilometre long stretch of sand is perfect for lazing and swimming for families. Turtles come ashore to lay their eggs during the hour of darkness. During this time, the beach is off limits for visitors as with Nagatahama.
The sandy cove, accessible along a short track from route 78, offers great snorkelling away from the crowds at Isso Beach. Turtle nest on this beach too, so please do not touch any nests! We sighted sea snakes, a squad of baby squids and triggerfish here.
Dangerous and poisonous sea creatures
Snorkelling is largely safe on the island, but anyone entering the sea should be careful of a few of the local critters. Most will be more scared of you than you are of them, but a little care will avoid anything unexpected happening. Keep an eye around you at all times.
We encountered several mostly in the rocky spots, they can easily be recognised by the bright blue stripes. However they seem to be used to snorkelers and divers and generally ignore humans. The local variant has very small jaws and so is unlikely to be able to bite you, but in case of something occurring immediately seek medical help or call an ambulance, their venom is deadly.
A few were spotted during our snorkel outings. They are usually hanging deeper in the water on the edge of the reef and will ignore you. Stay away from their beautiful, fan like spikes, although their venom must enter the blood stream to cause any serious injury to adults.
Their venomous spikes are not dangerous except when it provokes an allergic reaction or in case the injury becomes infected but they can lurk in the rocky shallows and are hard to see so be careful of going barefoot outside the sandy zones.
Do Not Stop Exploring!
Life is never without dangers and a few venomous sea creatures should not stop you from exploring the amazing underwater world surrounding Yakushima. Look, be aware, do not touch and you should be safe!
Find Your Own Secret Spot!
There may be other sandy beaches and rocky coves for snorkelling and swimming, maybe you will discover your own, secret spot. We even spotted a huge turtle gasping for air on our drive along the Seibu Forest Road from the Yakushima Lighthouse!
Where we stayed in Kyushu:
Sankara Resort treat yourself to a truly luxurious stay on the island.
Kirishima Kokusei for those wanting to stay in Kirishima Onsen
Ryokan Shinsen if you fancy a luxury ryokan experience
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