Haven for History | Sport Diver

Haven for History

Diving Truk Lagoon on the Truk Odyssey Live-aboard In February of 1944 the United States launched Operation Hailstone, a massive air attack on Truk Lagoon at Chuuk in Micronesia. Truk was a military base for the Japanese Combined Fleet consisting of mighty battleships, destroyers, submarine tenders, support vessels and aircraft. The two-day battle brought 48 ships and hundreds of aircraft to the sandy bottom, where they've sat silently for over half a century. The success of this attack crippled the Japanese combat ability, and some historians credit the victory at Chuuk as the turning point of the Pacific War. Today, Truk is home to some of the most exceptional wreck diving in the world. Diving in Truk Lagoon didn't become popular until the early 1970s, when the first dive operation opened its doors. Most of the wrecks are intact, offering a glimpse into the history of what actually went down on that fateful day. The battle-scarred remnant of this once mighty fleet is the world's largest artificial reef and a living memorial, holding the very best of the undersea world and maritime history at one destination. Although 57 years of ocean exposure has weakened the structural integrity of the ghost fleet, the wrecks are relatively intact and many artifacts lie in place as they did the day the vessels went down. Tanks, trucks, machine gun nests, telegraphs, artillery canons, and torpedo launchers scatter the decks, all decorated with a layer of colorful marine life. Over 300 varieties of hard and soft corals have attached themselves to these structures and are more healthy and abundant than coral I've seen on many of the natural coral reefs other dive destinations boast about. The massive cargo holds of some of these carriers still contain the tanks, airplane engines, tractors and trucks they carried when they went down, now covered with encrusting sponges that glow bright yellow-orange at the pass of a torch or the flash of a photographer's strobe. Mixed in with the Japanese sake bottles, china plates, lanterns and piles of ammunition is a kaleidoscope of colorful soft coral, sponges, and leather coral garnished with whip and fan coral. Carpet anemones wrap themselves around the masts and davits, giving home to clownfish, shrimp and damselfish. Huge branches of pink, purple and orange soft corals, and bright orange mollusks adorn the kingposts resembling a floral decoration one might see at a wedding ceremony. The government of Micronesia has declared Truk Lagoon a national monument and law protects it. Naturally, taking artifacts is strictly prohibited. Unfortunately, local treasure hunters who are usually looking for gunpowder have taken some artifacts. But many interesting artifacts remain, with a wide range of munitions and WW II armaments and war supplies yet to be discovered. Because many of the wrecks sit in several hundred feet of water, many divers just assume Truk is deep and dangerous. Considering the massive size of these ships' hulls and 100-foot masts, some of which pierce the surface, there is plenty of wreck to dive within conventional recreational diving limits. Those who don't want to dive deep have plenty to see growing on the tops of many wrecks. For those who choose to do guided, decompression diving, there are 30-foot and 20-foot marked stops on many of the wrecks. The best of the rest:Besides healthy marine life and the world's largest concentration of diveable wrecks at Truk Lagoon, Chuuk also offers countless islets and atolls with calm surface conditions, year-round warm water temperatures, 50- to 100-foot visibility and little current. Truk Lagoon is in Chuuk State near the center of Micronesia, about 617 miles southeast of Guam and 3,262 miles southwest of Hawaii. The "lagoon" consists of seven major island groups in a triangular-shaped atoll some 40 miles across. Most of these islands are undeveloped and inhabited by locals. Only the capital of Chuuk, on the island of Weno, has any accommodation for tourists. The outer reef of Chuuk Atoll is dotted by tropical islets, made up of nothing more than a white sandy beach and a couple of palm trees surrounded by crystal blue ocean and healthy coral reefs. With so much water and so little land, the best way to see Truk Lagoon is by boat. I chose Truk's newest live-aboard, the 132-foot Odyssey. Odyssey was refit as a scuba live-aboard in 1999 and now carries 12-16 divers and 6-8 crew.__ Although _Odyssey is new to Truk, the captain and crew have years of diving experience here. Captain Lenny Kolczynski has worked on live-aboards around the world and spent three years in Truk Lagoon as a captain for Aggressor. The crew and dive guides all come from the local dive shops. Once a week Odyssey makes a trip to the atoll's outer reef for a dive on the wall. Having seen the effects of coral bleaching in so many other places around the world, I was impressed with the healthy hard coral here. You'll find mountains of coral that stretches as far as the eye can see, and drops off into the abyss. In Truk Lagoon there are more than 60 wreck sites and within one week Odyssey visits the most popular ones. Some of the wrecks are too large to cover in just one dive so divers are offered the opportunity to do several dives in a particular area. Novice historians will benefit from doing a bit of reading before visiting to better get more out of their dives. There is a wide range of different types of vessels downed in the lagoon. Understanding its purpose makes diving each wreck all the more memorable and gives one an idea of what the Japanese were doing there before the attack. The Japanese had everything they needed there to conduct a war effort. An excellent and accurate resource for this information is the book WW II WRECKS OF THE TRUK LAGOON by Dan Bailey. The unique history, diverse marine life, and concentration of wrecks will have you planning a trip back to Truk for more. For reservations, trip prices, or more information about diving the wrecks and reefs of Truk Lagoon, click on the home page below. _