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Diving in the Kelp of South Korea

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South Korea

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.

South Korea

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.

South Korea

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!

South Korea

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.

South Korea

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!

South Korea

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.

South Korea

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.

South Korea

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!

Yo-Han Cha is a member of the Northern Underwater Photography Group and started taking underwater photos with a Canon Ixus 980 IS before upgrading to an Olympus OM-D EM-5 two years ago. He has a BSc (Hons) in Biochemistry and works as a Network Engineer for a telecoms company, neither of which is relevant to his underwater photography. Well, the job pays for the kit and trips, so it’s kind of relevant! He learned to dive whilst backpacking in Australia as he thought it would be the best way to see the Great Barrier Reef, and when he got back, started diving in the UK as he wanted to dive with seals. He loves going diving and is usually at his happiest when either taking photographs of nudibranchs or of seals. He prefers scenic diving but concedes that wrecks make lovely artificial reefs.

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Scubaverse UWP Winners Gallery: Christian Horras

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Each month we give the winner of the Scubaverse Underwater Photography competition the opportunity to show off a little more of their work in a gallery. The March winner was Christian Horras and you can see their winning image at the top of this page.


What do you love about diving & underwater photography?

For me it is all about showing the beauty of our world underwater to people that don’t dive and thus can’t see it for themselves. I want to share my own passion for the amazing ecosystem that is so much older than everything we know living on land. As I am from Germany, there are only a few people in my surroundings that have ever seen a coral reef or a shark with their own eyes. It is a big privilege to be able to go diving all over the world and in return it should be our task to arise awareness of this fragile and endangered ecosystem.

What equipment do you use?

I use a Nikon D810 in a Isotta Housing and various lenses, depending on the subject: a Sigma 15mm F2.8 Fisheye, a Nikon 16-35 mm F4 and two Nikon Macro lenses (60mm and 105mm), as well as a WeeFine +13 Diopter. The Fisheye is my main lens, as it allows me to get really close and still cover a big field of view. For lighting I use two Retra Pro Strobes and a Retra Snoot.

Where can our readers see more of your work?

Website: www.christianhorras.com
Instagram: www.instagram.com/christian.horras/


To enter the latest Scubaverse Underwater Photography competition, with a chance to win some great prizes as well as have your own gallery published, head over to the competition page and upload up to 3 images.

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Emperor Divers reaches halfway in Covid Diver Heroes Initiative with fourth award

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Emperor Divers have reached the halfway point with their #coviddiverheroes initiative and are still receiving worthy nominations every day! Here, they recognise their 4th winner, another awesome hero from the diving community with an inspirational story of selflessness through the pandemic. Nominated by David White, Phuong Cao wins a free liveaboard trip in the Maldives when she can finally take some time off, and here is her story:

I, David White, would like to nominate Phuong Cao (36) for her tireless efforts fighting this pandemic. Not satisfied with being a frontline hospitalist in New York she took a second job on the COVID team in Guam to treat patients under even tougher conditions on her weeks off! She continues to commute 7750 miles each way and apply herself to both jobs for three months already and counting. Her energy level has no limits and she’s only happy when those in her care are on the mend. I think she definitely deserves a break! I guess the Maldives would be the best choice for her as I know she has dived with you in the Red Sea already.

Phuong Cao

We have been in touch with Phuong who had this to say: “Wow what a surprise! Thank you for the recognition. Holding my breath until I get back underwater!”

The halfway point is a good chance to remind people that the initiative is still running and the Emperor Divers team would love to hear about more heroes, as there are four more to award in the next 2 months!

Do you know a diver who has been heroic this past year? Emperor know that, worldwide, people have had to step up during this pandemic which has affected so many lives. They want to reward some real heroes with free liveaboard trips in the Red Sea or Maldives.

Luke Atkinson, Emperor’s Red Sea Manager, said: “This initiative is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to all those hundreds of people who have taken a selfless interest in looking after the vulnerable in their community. Examples could include healthworkers, carers or those who have come out of retirement to volunteer locally, but really we know there are many other ways people have been heroic.“

Emperor want to hear from people who know a heroic diver who would love to have a free liveaboard trip to look forward to in the future. People need to nominate a Covid Hero Diver and tell Emperor (in 100 – 200 words) why they deserve a free trip, and whether they would prefer the Red Sea or the Maldives. A multinational panel of Emperor’s most loyal and compassionate staff will judge the entries and pick a winner every 2 weeks for the next 2 months. There are two remaining Red Sea and two more Maldives liveaboards to be earned, so get nominating and give that hero a reward for their amazing work!

Winners will be announced by 14th (Maldives) and 28th (Red Sea) of each month. Final entries for Red Sea by 20th May ‘21 and Maldives 5th June ’21.

Entries, comments and questions should be sent to heroes@emperordivers.com.

Terms & Conditions apply: Please contact heroes@emperordivers.com for details.

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Explore the amazing triangle of Red Sea Reefs - The Brothers, Daedalus and Elphinstone on board the brand new liveaboard Big Blue.  With an option to add on a week at Roots Red Sea before or after. 

Strong currents and deep blue water are the catalysts that bring the pelagic species flocking to these reefs. The reefs themselves provide exquisite homes for a multitude of marine life.  The wafting soft corals are adorned with thousands of colourful fish. The gorgonian fans and hard corals provide magnificent back drops, all being patrolled by the reef’s predatory species.

£1475 per person based on double occupancy.  Soft all inclusive board basis, buffet meals with snacks, tea and coffee always available.  Add a week on at Roots Red Sea Resort before or after the liveaboard for just £725pp.  Flights and transfers are included.  See our brochure linked above for the full itinerary.

This trip will be hosted by The Scuba Place.  Come Dive with Us!

Call 020 3515 9955 or email john@thescubaplace.co.uk

www.thescubaplace.co.uk

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