Diving in the Chuuk islands
David Cornall (Guest Contributor)
Truk Lagoon, a SCUBA Diver’s Paradise
Truk Lagoon, in the Chuuk islands, is where the Japanese combined naval fleets were sunk by the Americans in February 1944. As many as 50 ships were sunk, of which about 30 are within sports diving range, albeit that some are towards the maximum allowed depth of 50 metres and therefore require some experience.
The ships consist mainly of support vessels that were either too slow to get away or at anchor undergoing repair. There are also a few destroyers and several aircraft sunk in the lagoon. Over the intervening 74 years these vessels have become home to corals and a wide variety of marine life. Truk Lagoon promotes its tourism on being “The Home of Wreck Diving” and doesn’t fail to deliver on that front.
Having been a SCUBA diver for over 45 years, and an avid Wreck Diver, Truk was somewhere that had always eluded me but I finally got the opportunity when it came as a surprise 60th birthday present from my wife! The Chuuk islands stretch about 140 miles and are part of the Federated States of Micronesia, which are independent but still have some reliance on America. To start my adventure I flew into the island of Weon after a fairly gruelling series of flights from Heathrow to Manila, Manila to Guam and then Guam to Chuuk taking nearly twenty hours.
What struck me on getting off the aircraft was not only the 32 degree heat and humidity but the sheer simplicity of the surroundings; no fancy terminal just a small building where everything was handled at a sedate pace by friendly locals who seemed happy in their daily work. The short drive to the Blue Lagoon resort was on mainly unmade roads and it was immediately obvious, from the dilapidated tin roofed houses, abandoned vehicles in gardens and the groups of people watching others work that poverty was not far away. Because I spent my time diving and had little time to absorb the culture of Chuuk, perhaps I’ve got a distorted view but the impression I got was that, sadly, the Americans didn’t leave a positive legacy following their years of occupation.
At the Blue Lagoon resort I started diving within two hours of arrival, going out on a fast day boat from the dive centre. A local dive guide took me on my first dive which was the first of 24 in nine days covering 17 different sites. This first dive was a truly amazing experience from all perspectives. Firstly the water temperature was a staggering 30 degrees, the underwater visibility was easily in excess of 25 metres and the wreck was very well preserved. The marine life isn’t as diverse as some parts of the world but none the less it was impressive, as was the wonderfully colourful coral growth.
After two days at the resort I joined a “live aboard” boat for a further seven days of diving. The Truk Odyssey, a boat with great diving facilities and hospitality, enabled the diving party to reach some of the more inaccessible wrecks and the outer limits of the Atoll, where shark diving was the order of the day. This was a very intense period of diving with up to five dives per day offered. The wrecks encountered were some of the most remarkable I’ve seen and had to be treated with the utmost respect, because they are war graves. Extreme caution was required as we were sometimes descending many decks down into the heart of a wreck, only guided by torch light.
We saw many artefacts of war; guns, bombs, tanks, aircraft etc. which were remarkably well preserved given the passage of time. Occasionally a Grey Tip Reef Shark would swim around the wreck we were exploring and give us a cautionary glance as it passed by.
Truk Lagoon is a very worthwhile destination if you are a diver with an interest in wrecks. It was one of the most memorable experiences of my diving career.