One of the World War IIís most successful air strikes left a great legacy
for wreck divers.
The state of Chuuk (or Truk as it is more commonly known) consists of 11 mangrove-fringed volcanic islands in the Truk goon and a series of 14 outlying islands and atolls. The reef-locked islands of the lagoon are the heart of the state and home to 80 percent of its population. At the centre of the lagoon is Weno, the state's administrative centre. Electricity is scarce on islands other than Weno and many people live off the land and sea. It is not unusual to see women fishing at the mouth of a mangrove outlet or a boy canoeing out to sea with a fishing line.
The inner lagoon islands are worthy of exploration and a local guide is usually required. Many islands still bear the rem¨nants of the Japanese occupation of Truk which was the main Japanese naval base in the central Pacific during World War 11. The support facilities for this base were vast: everything from quaint lighthouses and temples to anti-aircraft guns can still be seen on land. Apart from war-time memorabilia, the islands also offer lush jun¨gles and scenic hills with vast populations of exotic birds that migrate from all over the region. As a diving destination, Truk is best known for its wrecks, but more and more exploration is being done on the reefs. The passes and dropoffs support a vast array of life. Drift diving is also done along the outer walls and in the passes.
Weno Island (formerly known as Moen) is Truk state's administrative centre and has electricity and hotel accommodation as well as car rentals. The Truk Stop Hotel (which has the dubious honour of being the only place in all of Micronesia to have a parking meter), and the Truk Continen¨tal Hotel are the two main businesses that cater to divers. For shorter stays, ask about the dive specials they offer in conjunction with the Blue Lagoon Dive Shop. The Kurassa and the Palm Garden hotels are vying for a piece of the tourist market, while the Christopher Inn downtown is known as a business hotel, but budget divers stay there as well.
There are two liveaboard ships oper¨ating within the lagoon, the SS Thorfinn and the Truk Aggressor. Both offer weekly packages. If there is room, divers can stay on the Thortinn on a day-by-day basis. Each offers an extensive dive programme for the hard core diver and both visit vari¨ous wrecks in the lagoon ó the Thorfinn is based near Tonoas Island and sends six person skiffs to the wrecks, while the Ag¨gressor moves from site to site over the course of a week. Both ships also offer E-6 film developing and video facilities.
Truk Lagoon,65km across at its widest point and circled by one of the world's long¨est barrier reefs, is famous for its grave¨yard of WW II Japanese ships. In 1944, "Operation Hailstorm", a US aerial attack that was to prove one of the most devas¨tating in history, downed more than 270 planes and sank 180,000 tonnes of Japanese warships in just two days. Little was salvaged when the Japanese navy with¨drew and it is this wreckage that now lies on the sea bed of Truk Lagoon. The coral growth that has sprung up on these ves¨sels over the past five decades has resulted in a collection of artificial reefs that are among the most beautiful in the world.
Blue Lagoon Dive Shop, founded by Kimiuo Aisek, did much of the pioneering work in finding the ships of Truk Lagoon, and is one of the leading dive shops in the area. Aisek's son, Gradvin, now runs the operation and has a fleet of small boats and veteran guides at his disposal. Clark Graham is another Truk diving veteran and runs Micronesia Aquatics. Sundance Dive Shop which has a new jet-powered boat, visits the reefs regularly. Divers should be certified to advanced level to dive on the wrecks, and no instruction is available.
The water temperature around Truk is about 27degee year-round so you'll only need a diveskin. It's also useful to ward off stings from nematocyst jellyfish, though the jellyfish around the wrecks are usually big enough to be easily avoided.
The most popular wrecks in the lagoon are those that still show the vestiges of war, but have been naturally transformed by nature with vibrant coral growth and marine life. The Shinkoku Maru is one of
From the air, Truk Lagoon stretches out into crystal water Below the surface the lagoon is peppered with coral-covered shipwrecks the most popular and beautiful wrecks in the lagoon and has everything the wreck diver is looking for: artifacts, great coral growth, excellent fish life and a manage¨able diving range. The pipe bridge extends all the way back and is covered with col¨ourful corals. A big hole on the port side of the engine room shows where the ship took the hit that sunk it.
The Fujikawa Maru is also a beautiful wreck to dive. It sits upright, its stack start¨ing at six metres below the surface. The holds contain everything from shells. ma¨chine guns and aeroplane wings in the first hold, to an entire Zero fuselage in the sec¨ond hold. The bow is loaded with soft co¨als, sea fans and some sea anemones night, these structures become a Kalaedo¨scope of colour and form.
Very little swimming is required on a Shinkoku or Fujikawa night dive as there is much to see in a small area. For the very experienced deep diver, try decompression dives on the artifact-laden wrecks of Hoki Maru and Nippo Maru. The Aikoko Maru is also impressive even though half of the once huge ship is all that remains.