Volunteer scuba diving in Japan
Scuba divers cleaning up in Japan after 2011 Tsunami

Take a seat! - Photo: Hiroshi Sato

We all remember when the Tsunami washed across Japan.

Killing thousands and leaving even more people homeless.

Now what does this has to do with diving? Well, besides the huge effect the Tsunami had on our marine environment there’s something you can do as a diver.

Bonnie Waycott went on a voluntary dive in the Japan and here she'll show you the effects of nature and how you can help the divers of Japan:

Three and a half years since the March 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, and hardly a day goes by in Japan without some mention of the disaster. Ever since the devastating events, efforts have been continuing to restore affected areas.

Now you can now play a part in the recovery of Tohoku's underwater environment.

Scuba divers lifting debriefs to the boat

Lifting debriefs to the boat - Photo: Hiroshi Sato

Sanriku Volunteer Divers

After the disaster, and given the utter devastation caused by the tsunami, I wondered if there was anythingdiving or marine-related that I could do to help, this is when I came across Sanriku Volunteer Divers.

The group was established soon after March 11th by scuba diver Hiroshi Sato who comes from one of the worst-hit regions.

I first worked with his group in November 2011, pulling rubble out of the water and clearing up around the ports.

With the Rescue diver certification being the minimum requirement, divers are often underwater alone with a rope around their waists. They tie the rope to any debris, while people on land help bring that debris to shore.

The items, including fishing nets, chairs and car tires, are then sorted and things like handbags put aside and cleaned in case someone later claims them.

A diver taking pictures of the damaged area

Even taking pictures can help(click the picture for great UW photo tips) - Photo: Hiroshi Sato

Tohoku Today

About 3,000 volunteer divers are now on board and in addition to the cleanup work, the group visits primary and junior high schools to publicize its activities and tell the children about the condition of the sea. For adults, short talks or photo exhibitions are held in train stations or department stores.

In June this year, I returned to Tohoku for a travel program featuring Sanriku Volunteer Divers.

Divers planting clamp stations

Creating a Sustainable Environment - Photo: Hiroshi Sato

Hiroshi told me that many fishermen had lost boats and other equipment in the disaster and couldn't go back to work, leaving the seabed entirely untouched.

The lack of fishing is now allowing the marine life to thrive and now there are abalone, scallops and sea urchins growing naturally off the coast. Aquaculture initiatives have now begun in the affected areas with the cultivation of scallops and sea urchins.

Some of these are from nearby waters but others are being brought in from elsewhere to be cultivated in Tohoku as part of special programs to help fishermen get back into work.

One of the area's main attractions before the disaster was the Salmon Swim. Where visitors could observe the salmon return and run upstream after four years' migration through the open ocean. Hiroshi explained that the salmon are slowly returning and the group is helping repair salmon hatcheries along the river that release salmon fry into the water each spring.

Clamp farm in Japan

Clamp farms might make a Sustainable Environment - Photo: Hiroshi Sato

Future Initiatives

The group is hoping to widen the areas it's working in, organize charity dives and hold more exchanges and talks among fishing villages to expand the scope of its work.

It's also aiming to turn its activities into an eco-tourist attraction that would allow people to learn more about the affected areas through volunteer work.

Rubbish in the ocean after the 2011 Tsunami in Japan

Rubbish waiting for a Pick Up - Photo: Hiroshi Sato

The Role of Divers

So how can you play a part? As well as clearing the debris, you can participate in fun dives, underwater surveys or share any photos and footage taken during the dives.

Read my experiences as a volunteer diver.

Hiroshi says that the thriving marine life off Tohoku's coasts have given the fishermen hope and are a good example of recovery.

He explained that sharing photos or footage of the marine life online is perhaps the best way of showing people what condition the sea is in. And of course, having people come to the area is a joyous occasion for the group and those they work with.

Volunteer work isn't just limited to disasters. Today you can participate in a range of underwater conservation opportunities and make sure they minimize their impact while diving. Check out how you can volunteer in conservation diving.

Divers helping after Japans 2011 Tsunami

There are loads of options for helping around the world - Photo: Hiroshi Sato

Unfortunately Sanriku Volunteer Divers' website is only available in Japanese, but you can email [email protected] or myself at [email protected] for further info.

Do you volunteer as a diver? Either your are helping conservation projects overseas or it’s picking up trash at home or in disaster areas you are making a difference, and we would love to hear your story. Tell us your story in the comments below.