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III Marine Expeditionary Force

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Scuba diving, snorkeling inviting; caution critical

By Lance Cpl. Peter Sanders | | June 28, 2013

CAMP FOSTER, Japan - The waters of Okinawa invite thrill seekers with warm waters, vivid colors and an intriguing ecosystem below the surface. Scuba diving and snorkeling are among the common activities that many take advantage of during the hot Okinawa summer.

While both can be very rewarding hobbies, they can also present some serious dangers if safety precautions are not followed, according to Ryan E. Stahl, a scuba center manager at Tsunami Scuba located on Camp Foster.

Any time a person engages in open-water recreational activities, the buddy system must be used, according to the III Marine Expeditionary Force and Marine Corps Installations Pacific Order 5101.1, Change 1.

Going out with a partner ensures someone is there to provide assistance in case of an emergency, according to Erin M. Belden, the operations supervisor at Tsunami Scuba.

“Just before every dive, make sure your buddy checks your gear, and you check their gear to ensure the air tanks are working properly and filled with good air,” said Belden.

Some other dangers common to snorkeling and scuba diving are changing sea conditions, disorientation and dangerous sea life, according to Belden.

Anyone planning to take part in aquatic activities is advised to be aware of the sea condition prior to getting in the water, according to Belden. This can be done by accessing Kadena Air Base’s weather office via its website, http://kadenaforcesupport.com/weather.html, or by calling 634-4081. 

Calling or listening to American Forces Network stations will also provide interested persons with the current sea condition along with contacting an installation dive shop.

It is also important to maintain situational awareness while diving, according Belden. Between the ever-changing sea conditions of the region and the nature of aquatic movement, it is easy to become disoriented.

One way to reduce the risk of disorientation is to carry a compass and position yourself in relation to the shore before diving, according to Mark T. Kelley, the chief scuba instructor at Tsunami Scuba.

Another reason to maintain situational awareness is to reduce the chances of encounters with dangerous sea life, according to Kelley. Remaining aware of one’s surroundings can ensure poisonous sea life, such as lionfish and scorpion fish, are kept at a safe distance.

When diving, it is also recommended that the diver does not become impatient, especially during the ascent, according to Kelley.

“I always tell people ‘don’t rise faster than your bubbles,’” said Kelley. “(One of) the greatest mistakes a diver can make is rising too quickly, which can cause serious medical problems.”

If diving is not an option, snorkeling is an alternative, according to Stahl. However, snorkelers should still maintain situational awareness for the same reasons as a diver.

“If someone snorkeling is caught unaware, they can get swept up in a current and be taken farther out than they had planned,” said Stahl.

Despite the dangers and precautions, if done safely, diving and snorkeling have many positive attributes, according to Stahl.

“Take advantage of all the water recreation you can,” said Stahl. “Okinawa provides a great number of dive and snorkeling sites and is a rare experience for many U.S. citizens.”

For more information about diving, snorkeling and aquatic safety, visit a military installation dive shop.
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