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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 is a member of both Bolton Area Divers (PADI) and Manchester University Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) as he finds it difficult to turn down diving opportunities. 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.

News

Nauticam announce NA-A7C Housing for Sony a7C Camera

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Sony’s latest full frame mirrorless camera, the a7C offers the underwater image maker one of the most compact and travel friendly full frame systems available on the market today.  The a7C features Sony’s latest stellar autofocus and a much improved battery life thanks to its use of the larger Z series battery. The BIONZ X processor delivers superb low-light performance and faster image processing. For video shooters, the a7C features internal UHD 4K capture in the wide-dynamic range HLG image profile at up to 30p.

Nauticam has housed more mirrorless cameras, and more Sony E Mount cameras than any other housing manufacturer. This experience results in the most evolved housing line with broadest range of accessories available today.

Pioneering optical accessories elevate performance to a new level. Magnifying viewfinders, the sharpest super macro accessory lenses ever made, and now the highest quality water contact wide angle lenses (the WWL-1B and WACP-1) combine with the NA-A7C housing to form a complete imaging system.

Nauticam is known for ergonomics, and an unmatched experience. Key controls are placed at the photographer’s fingertips. The housing and accessories are light weight, and easy to assemble. The camera drops in without any control presetting, and lens port changes are effortless.

NA-A7C features an integrated handle system. This ergonomic style provides exceptional control access, even with thick gloves, with ideal placement of the shutter release and a thumb-lever to actuate the AF-ON button from the right handle.

Nauticam build quality is well known by underwater photographers around the globe. The housing is machined from a solid block of aluminum, then hard anodized making it impervious to salt water corrosion. Marine grade stainless and plastic parts complete the housing, and it is backed by a two year warranty against manufacturing defects.

For more information in the UK visit the Nauticam website by clicking here.

For more information in the USA visit the Nauticam website by clicking here.

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Blogs

BLUE EARTH – Future Frogmen Podcast Series – The Next Generation of Ocean Stewards: Lauren Brideau

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A series of conservation educational podcasts from Future Frogmen, introduced by Jeff Goodman.

The Next Generation of Ocean Stewards: Lauren Brideau

We have a new host, Dr. Colleen Bielitz, and today we’ll be interviewing a recent college graduate as part of our once-a-month episode that focuses on students: the next generation of conservationists, researchers, and activists.

What are the next generation of ocean stewards doing to protect our Blue Earth? Join us as we find out by speaking to Lauren Brideau, a recent graduate of Southern Connecticut State University. Lauren started as an undeclared major but soon found her calling, now she is part of a research team conserving life below water.  She is a prime example that if you want to defend our oceans and the creatures that depend on the sea to survive, now is the time to become part of the solution.


Richard E Hyman Bio

Richard is the Chairman and President of Future Frogmen.

Born from mentoring and love of the ocean, Richard is developing an impactful non-profit organization. His memoir, FROGMEN, details expeditions aboard Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s famed ship Calypso.

Future Frogmen, Inc. is a nonprofit organization and public charity that works to improve ocean health by deepening the connection between people and nature. They foster ocean ambassadors and future leaders to protect the ocean by accomplishing five objectives.


You can find more episodes and information at www.futurefrogmen.org and on most social platforms @futurefrogmen.

 

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