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July 11, 2005


Last weekend I went snorkelling, partly to collect edible sazae shells (I got three!), and partly because with only a month left on my island, it’s about time I actually made some use of the underwater casing I bought for my camera the year before last. So for a couple of hours I swam around, happily collecting shells and taking pictures — of fish, reef, and sunken concrete tetrapods which unfortunately seem to be a feature of Japan’s coastline pretty much wherever you go, even places in Okinawa, like my island, which — if it weren’t for the horizon-obscuring concrete structures — would be places of great natural beauty. These things are nominally to protect the coastline from typhoons, but are so enormous and exist in such profusion compared to the coastline of any other country that I’ve ever been to, that I suspect there must be a political explanation — probably something along the lines of civil servants with vested interests siphoning public money into the concrete industry.

The reef still has plenty of brightly-coloured fish and interesting shells, but living coral is few and far between, and I can’t help wondering if the disturbance caused by years of sea-defence construction isn’t partly to blame.

Taking underwater pictures is pretty difficult, because everything (including you) is moving all the time. I have some ideas for how to take better pictures next time (using one hand to hold onto something while I take the picture, for one thing), but I don’t know when the next time will be, because in the couple of hours I was in the water (in a half-length wetsuit), I managed to burn my legs well beyond normal sunburn, and into the realms of radiation burn. For two days afterwards I couldn’t walk properly, and even now, nine days later, it’s still not entirely comfortable. And that was using SPF 50 sunscreen! It must have washed off, I suppose. I think next time I might play it safe and snorkel at night, with a torch. Mind you, that is when the sharks come out…

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