Colorful Artificial Reefs
Simply the best shipwreck diving in the world. That’s how the diving in parts of Micronesia is usually labeled by people who have been fortunate enough to go there. This underwater playground exists due to the United States Navy, which between February 17 and February 19, 1944, sunk more than 40 ships and destroyed hundreds of Japanese Imperial Navys airplanes in Truk (Chuuk) Lagoon. And, on March 30 and March 31, the Navy sank more than 60 ships and planes in and around Palau’s lagoon. Attacks continued for months, destroying more ships and planes. Declared grave sites are legally protected from salvage and the artifacts have been removed from most of the wrecks, which are now artificial reefs covered with multicolored corals and serve as home to countless numbers of fish. The beauty encountered during the dive to these historical relics itself will likely inspire awe. Coupled with thinking about the actions that led to these tremendous wrecks is even more heart-stopping.
Wreck Diving in Micronesia
While the waters of numerous islands in Micronesia contain wrecks, the best concentrations are around Truk and Palau. (The multi-island Federated States of Micronesia covers more than 2,500 sq. km/965 sq. miles in the Pacific Ocean nearly 5800km/3,600 miles from Hawaii.) Truk Lagoon, alone, is more than 64km (40 miles) long, so it’s not possible to dive all of the wrecks in either Truk or Palau during one or two trips. Many divers get hooked into coming back year after year.
Truk Lagoon is likened to a huge lake. Water temperatures hover around 83°F (28°C) and visibility is between 9 and 30m (30–100 ft.) depending upon algae blooms and runoff. Thirty-five shipwrecks have been charted with 20 dived on a regular basis. The most popular are the Frujikawa Maru, the Nippo Maru, and the Sankisan. Some of the wrecks are deep while others, particularly a number of the warplanes, lie in shallower water. Blue Lagoon Dive Shop (www.truk-lagoon-dive.com), located at the Blue Lagoon Dive Resort (see below), and Micronesia Aquatics are well known Truk dive operations, taking divers to and from wrecks and instructing them on wreck-diving. Live-aboards at Truk include the Truk Aggressor, the Big Blue Explorer, and the SS Thorfinn.
Palau encompasses 343 islands over 161 sq. km of ocean. While most of the wrecks are in comparatively shallow water, Palau divers often come for the manta, shark, and wall dives rather than the wrecks. The Iro Maru is a large tanker sunk by torpedo with the main deck of the bow at 21m (70 ft.). It’s a good penetration dive, with its holds containing oil drums and machinery, Plus, it’s beautifully covered with marine life. The freighter Chuyo that was also torpedoed is a bit deeper with a stern gun at 24m (80 ft.) and considerable debris surrounding the ship. The shallowest part of the Helmet wreck is in only 7.5m (25 ft.) of water. The wreck, named for the Japanese helmets the boat carried (which are now fused together) has many artifacts including ammunition, plane engines, and beer bottles. Dive operations in Palau include Fish ’n Fins/Dive Palau (www.fishfins.com) and Sam’s Dive Tours (www.samstours). Live-aboards include the Palau Aggressor and the Ocean Hunter II.
At Palau, don’t miss snorkeling in Jellyfish Lake. The lake has two different species of non-stinging jellyfish, which pulsate and reflect light with a unique eeriness. At Truk, be sure to visit the gun emplacements, caves, and fortifications during your gas-off day. —LF
Federated States of Micronesia ( 691/320-5122; www.visit-fsm.org). Diving Palau (www.skin-diver.com/palaudest/sites.html). Truk Lagoon.com (www.truk-lagoon.com). Rananim, dive information on Palau and Truk Lagoon (www.rananim.com).
When to Go: Jan–Mar are the coolest months with the lowest humidity. Best time to visit Truk: Dec–Apr is the dry season.
Chuuk International Airport and Palau International Airport.
Truk Blue Lagoon Resort ( 691/330-2727; www.bluelagoondiveresort.com). $$–$$$ Pacific Resort in Palau ( 680/488-2600; www.palauppr.com).