Diving in Taiwan
Since the early 1960s, Taiwan's diving enthusiasts have been heading to the island's shores to spend their weekends in an incredible world of beauty and mystery that only a lucky few have discovered.

Even though the sport has been around for many years, scuba diving in Taiwan has only become popular during the last couple of years. "Diving has always been considered a rich man's activity, and this has deterred many people from getting involved in the sport," said Tony Chang, proprietor of Tony's Divers Center in Taipei. 

People's ignorance of the number of diving schools offering qualified training around the island is another reason that diving hasn't caught on in Taiwan. The Chinese Association for Skin and Scuba Diving was established in 1967, and has a membership exceeding 80 clubs, with each club consisting of between 20 to 1,500 members.

Scuba diving for me was cloaked in mystery until the diving fanatic and environmentalist, Jacques Cousteau revealed this extraordinary underwater-scape to the world, through a series of incredible documentaries. "After our students complete their first dive, few can find words to express the incredible sensation of drifting weightlessly among the marine life," said Eric Lin, activities coordinator at Tony's Divers Center. 
Indeed, once freshman divers have experienced this sensation, most are hooked for life. Words to express the beauty of brain, fan and numerous other corals, inhabited by strange and wonderful marine creatures, elude description. Even master-dive instructor Tony Chiang, who has dived in all four corners of the world, can't wait to don his wetsuit and see what the next dive reveals.

Various diving schools across the island offer qualified instruction where students are awarded an international diving license upon completion of the course. One of the best diving centers in Taiwan is Tony's Divers Center, which is part of the Waishuanghsi center on Fulin Road, in Shilin.

Founded by Tony Chang, the center trains diving instructors and up to 300 open-water diving students every year. In addition to basic diving training, the center also offers rescue diver and underwater photography courses. Over 2,000 students have gained their international diving licenses since the school was opened in 1985. 

The center runs the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI) open-water diver course, which is the world's largest diver-training organization. PADI is an intensive open water diving course and students are required to attend classes every day for two weeks. Courses at Tony's run from NT$5,500 per student in a class of four students to NT$12,000 for individual tuition. While the group classes are conducted in Chinese, English instructors are available for individual classes, or group classes in English can be arranged if a minimum of four foreigners participate. For more information, call (02) 882-6730.

The course is divided into three segments: academic training, confined-water training and open-water training. The academic training teaches the basic principles and knowledge needed for safe and enjoyable diving. Upon completion of the academic training, students venture into the center's pool to complete their confined-water training to put theory into practice. 

For the third and final stage of their instruction, the freshman divers put all of their knowledge to the test during open-water training at a site on Taiwan's northern coast. 

The training is for the students' own safety, and if instructors feel that a student is incapable of handling a diving situation efficiently, then they won't be awarded a license until they can prove otherwise. On gaining their license, students are free to participate in diving activities around the world. 

Regulators and air tanks can be hired from the club for a small fee, but students are required to purchase a mask, snorkel, fins, boots, diving suit and weight-belt, which together cost around NT$12,000. 

Old students keep in close contact with the center through the diving activities it arranges. "We have over 20 outings to diving spots around Taiwan every year," said Eric Lin. Besides local diving trips, the center also arranges 10 diving holidays abroad annually. 

Three factors governing a good diving area are: clear water, little current and abundant marine life. South Taiwan has excellent diving holes around the Kenting area. Nearby Orchid Island and Penghu also provide superb diving, but Green Island offers the best diving holes in Taiwan.

The year-round diving season is another reason why the south is so popular. The diving season in the north lasts from May to September, after which the water temperature is considered too cold to swim safely. 

"The Northeast coast used to offer excellent diving," said dive master Cindy Ho. "Increasing tourism to the area is taking its toll on the marine life. Visitors throw their rubbish into the sea, thinking it disappears once it sinks," she said. "But for divers, it is sickening to have seen the gradual transformation of such a beautiful coastline into a garbage dump."

Unfortunately, their are no laws protecting the delicate marine life in Taiwan, and diving clubs on the island are privately-run establishments, free of government guidelines. Luckily, most clubs adhere to international diving regulations, which ensure the safety of divers and that the sport keeps its good name.

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