The Secret of Green Island: Spectacular Diving
Photos by John Lane and Eddie Viljoen, Story by Trista di Genova, The China Post Thursday, August 9, 2007, 12:00 am TWN
"Guests from all over the world are always pleasantly surprised by the excellent diving at Green Island(綠島)," said Eddie Viljoen by cellphone interview last week. He's lent a personal touch to very affordable package tours for the past five years, marketing Green Island getaway adventures to foreigners.
He and his partner, Jacky, do seem to take care of everything: mailing rail tickets, picking up guests at Taitung(台東) station and taking them to the harbor for the 45-minute ferry trip. They also provide scooters, arrange accommodation and guided tours of the island, which cover many historical features of interest, such as the original settlement village of the first Taiwanese Chinese who inhabited the island, and the prison museum.
But the secret of Green Island is that among divers it's known as the best — if not one of the best — spots in the world for diving, whether scuba or "free diving" — snorkeling.
Eddie says diving on the island "beats Thailand by a factor of 1000. The coral is in pristine condition, the diversity of sea-life is phenomenal, and four new fish species have just been discovered. In fact, according to National Geographic, Green Island has the oldest coral formations in the world."
Green Island also has saltwater hot springs, one of only three places in the world, he added.
"It's a volcanic island, and pushes up off the sea, so it has its own unique coral. For many years, it served as a political prison, so no one could really go there. There is only a small, very hospitable local population."
The best diving spots in Taiwan are Green Island, Orchid Island, and Kenting — in that order. Orchid Island is a bit harder to get to; ferries from Taitung run less frequently than they do to Green Island. Orchid island's diving "industry," and therefore English-language service, is even less developed, a concern for those with limited Mandarin skills. Penghu's strong currents make it better suited for the experienced diver. And Penghu and Orchid Island are more difficult to visit in peak season; a flight is required to Penghu.
Learning to dive in southernmost Kenting is a very attractive option because there are many certification programs to get started, and shops to get equipped. Rumor has it, however, that Kenting's coral reefs have been dying off in recent years, apparently due to industrial pollution.
But coral reefs abound around Green Island and are very easy to access, with over 205 different kinds of hard and soft coral to be found, including Mountain coral, which is only found in the warm Japanese current. To protect the coral from the harmful side effects of humans, "diving booties" are used.
Divers often remark how the tropical fish and coral reefs create a spectacular underwater display, even at shallow depths, and the clear, calm waters offer great visibility. Experienced divers or first-timers can enjoy guided, supervised snorkeling with life jackets and life buoys, and optical diving masks for those who wear glasses. For those who would rather not go snorkeling, a glass bottom boat cruise can easily be arranged instead.
Eddie feels that the weather and water conditions make Green Island "always diveable," although visibility can be less than 30 meters during the typhoon season (July to October). He highly recommends visiting the island off-season, in wintertime. During the hot months from June to August it's probably better not going out in 37-degree heat, 95 humidity, he points out.
"From January to March, the weather's usually perfect — 28-29 degrees Celsius during the day and 22 at night, with the best visibility," he said. The island's economy is "totally dependent on tourism" and off-season is the time when tourism dollars are most needed.
Recommended things to bring: sea sickness tablets, beach towels, sunblock, a sunhat. For divers, take your favorite mask or fins if you can. Optical masks can be rented at a dive shop, and remember to bring your SCUBA certification card if you have one.
Scuba and fun trips to Green Island can be arranged by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org; or check out the website at: www.greenislanddiving.com