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Diver Name

Haruka Ito

Occupation: Office Assistant / Instructor / Staff Naturalist
Location: Somewhere in nature
Hometown: Forests and under the sea

Nature is indescribably amazing. No matter how hard humans try to come out on top, nature's rules stay consistent within all living organisms. Even the spiraling pattern of our DNA is based on the same proportions that spiral sea shells and arrange the petals on a rose. No matter how hard we try to separate ourselves and try to "tame the wild", nature always wins. My passion is to show everyone this beauty and renew the wildness that's within all of us.  

I'll guide you underwater and open your eyes to the creatures often overlooked. I'll give you health and beauty tips using algae, and make you delicious seaweed cocktails. I'll lead you into the mountains to forage for wild foods and make seasonal drinks! Come out and explore with me!

"From birth, man carries the weight of gravity on his shoulders. He is bolted to the earth. But man has only to sink beneath the surface and he is free" - Jaques Cousteau

 

Trip Report: Baja Big 3 Eco Expedition 2019

February 25, 2019

February 14 ~ 18, 2019

Expedition Members: Terry Cheraz, Jeff Cheraz, Mary Cheraz, Ruby Cheraz, Tanner Cheraz, Libing "Uncle Bing" Gu, Gabriel Lu, Soomin Seo, Haruka Ito. 

 

I wanted to tell you how awesome this trip was, from the unique sights & views, intimate interactions with big marine life, and the amazing food! 

On Valentine's Day, the Ocean Safari members on this expedition set out the bottom tip of Baja California Peninsula. We arrived in the tropical band of the Earth, then proceeded to drive North to La Paz, passing the Tropic of Cancer on the way up, leaving our short stay within the tropical zone. The drive up is beautiful, seeing the unique vegetation of the Cape Lowlands, driving around the towering Sierra de la Laguna mountain range, and seeing the vast views of the subtropical Pacific Ocean. Since I am the staff naturalist, I made the road trip like a scavenger hunt - pointing out the giant cacti, elephant trees, flowers, and greenery that we don't encounter back home. I also explained how the geography of the peninsula changes as we drove, and how these changes affect the climate of the region which further affects the types of vegetation that grows. There's a high spot along the way where we could see both the Sea of Cortez to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. That really shows how narrow the Baja California Peninsula really is! Because the peninsula is surrounded by the cold waters of the Pacific and the warm waters of the Gulf of California with a narrow strip of high elevation mountain ranges in the middle, Baja California is made up of very distinct and closely-packed biogeographical regions. All these aspects make for varying sights and drastic differences in vegetation types. If we flew directly to our destination, we would've missed all of these geographical changes and we wouldn't be able to appreciate Baja California's special features as much. 

We spent a few nights in very authentic Mexican casitas. They had a rustic look and feel, but the inside features were also pretty fancy. It's a great mix of feeling like you're fully immersed in the culture, but having the luxury you'd expect in a fancy hotel. We ate at family-owned restaurants, interacted with the small town residents, and was able to take in the feeling of living amongst the locals. Here, we came to see "Big 3" Part One: gray whales. Went a few times to increase our chances of intimate interactions, and each time we had an amazing whale adventure. We saw hundreds of whales, some with such tiny newborn babies only a few weeks old. The mothers were teaching them how to dive, helping them come up to breath, and were some of the cutest giant babies I've ever seen in my life. We learned how to identify different life stages of whales, and what mating behaviors are like. There are also so many birds there since the bay is also a stopping ground for many migratory birds during the winter. Mexico is also one of the 100 or so countries that have vast mangrove forests, and this bay has one of the largest mangroves in Mexico. Mangrove ecology is also pretty interesting and unique, and we got to taste some freshly caught clams that live there! A couple of the days we had unusually high winds (locals said it was the strongest windstorm they've seen in 50 years), but that made our visit here feel even more exciting and adventurous!

In La Paz, we had a day to see "Big 3" Part 2 and 3. First, we swam with whale sharks in the bay. We spotted many, and we were able to jump in and swim with several of them. Each person had plenty of time to have personal encounters with these largest fish in the world. I was able to freedive down and swim alongside these gentle giants for what felt like minutes. Since they feed on plankton close to the surface, you can gaze into its eyes and really feel a connection and a sense of wonder at these giant sharks. For Part 3, we cruised over to a nearby island, to a sea lion rookery. We could get fairly close to the colony, and as soon as we got near, baby sea lions would surround us and check us out. They came face to face with us, and even touched us! I saw Gabe trying to circle around as quickly as these curious pups do, but they are much more agile than us! We ended this amazing day trip with lunch in a secluded, turquoise bay. Truly an adventurous day in paradise. 

Lastly, I have to mention how delicious the food was. We had authentic Mexican food for every single meal. Since we stayed in fishing towns, we had fresh seafood meals often. These included giant fish tacos (some of the best I've ever tasted), seafood soup, locally caught fish, fresh clams, and an enormous "half-order" plate of lobster tail, fried shrimp, and fish filet. We were never left hungry, and everyone always finished their large portions because the food was too good to stop eating! On our boat trip, we had amazing tamales for lunch "on-the-go". On the very last day, we had a taco and soup farewell party. The trip director's mom made us Michoacán style menudo & frijoles charros, and the staff grilled us carne asada, tripa, sausages, and steak. Yummy way to end our expedition. 

We had an amazing time, and though this wasn't like a typical dive trip, this expedition truly fit into Ocean Safari's motto: "Where Real Adventure Begins." Join us next year in March! 

Solomon Islands Expedition Portraits 2018

February 25, 2019

Portraitures and others from the Solomon Islands trip with Ocean Safari, November 2018

OSDT Alaska Trip 2013

May 10, 2018

People often ask where my favorite dive destination is.

Well... It's hard to pick, there's so many great places and they're all unique and amazing for their own reasons. You may go to a specific destination once and it might be just okay, but you might go again and its spectacular! Conditions and situations are different, my expectations and reality can also be mismatched. So I can't say a specific place is the best. 

But I do have a trip that is one of my top diving experiences ever. That trip was diving in Alaska in September 2013. 

Here's a video taken by a member of our trip, Alex Benedik. It was one of the most jawdropping and amazing experiences of my life. 

 

 

Alaska Underwaterworld 2013 from Global Dive Media on Vimeo.

Say No to Toxic Sunscreens

May 10, 2018

There's five common ingredients in most commercial sunscreen:

- Avobenzone, Homosalate, Octisalate, Octocrylene, Oxybenzone. 

Every single one of these ingredients are harmful for our heath and/or ecological toxins. 

One of these ingredients, Oxybenzone, is in almost every single sunscreen, even some of the ones labeled "reef safe." Oxybenzone gets absorbed into our skin, and its purpose is to absorb UV rays. However, it also bioaccumulates in our bodies, disrupts our endocrine/hormone functions, and can be passed off into breastmilk. This chemical is one of the top causes of coral bleaching -- it destroys the DNA of coral larvae and mature coral organisms (zooxanthellae). Fish exposed to chemical sunscreen become sluggish, and have altered swimming and feeding behavior. 

Divers Alert Network has written up a good article that talks more about the impact of sunscreen on our reef health. Like most articles, it talks mainly about coral, and we don't have much coral here in CA. BUT, all our oceans are connected - sunscreen use here affects the coral reefs in the tropics. PLUS, these toxins aren't just harming coral. It's harming you, your children, marine mammals, and other marine life. 

DAN's Article about Sunscreen and Marine Life

So what do we do instead? Ocean Safari carries Stream2Sea sunblock, the only sunblock on the market that is proven and tested to be safe for you, corals, marine life, and the environment. Find out more about it here

  • This isn't my picture. But notice the handprint of bleached coral? This diver likely had applied sunblock with oxybenzone and it was still on his hand.