Chuuk

Overview

Introduction

The enormous Chuuk Lagoon (sometimes called Truk Lagoon) is one of the largest in the world and holds a fleet of ships. During World War II, Chuuk was known as the Gibraltar of the Pacific. The lagoon, protected by a huge barrier reef, was one of the Imperial Japanese Navy's biggest anchorages, and the surrounding islands were heavily fortified. The well-defended lagoon turned into a prison on 17 February 1944, when U.S. submarines sealed off the exits from the lagoon and warplanes launched "Operation Hailstone," a three-day assault wiping out 60 vessels and the entire Japanese installation. Today, the ships—and scores of Japanese warplanes—lie on the ocean floor.

The wrecks are enormous: The passenger ship Heian Maru stretches 535 ft/165 m, the tanker Shinkoku Maru 500 ft/150 m. Even if divers are not interested in the historical significance of the wrecks, they will be delighted by the sea life that now resides in and on the sunken ships: soft coral, sponges and thousands of colorful fish. Some of the wrecks are close enough to the surface to be seen by snorkelers. Divers will also enjoy the steep walls outside Chuuk's lagoon where visibility can be up to 200 ft/60 m. A great variety of fish, both pelagic and reef dwelling, venture near the cascading coral walls of this outer reef. Chuuk is the ultimate scuba destination.

Nondivers may not find Chuuk as fascinating, as it is not well developed. The capital, Weno (formerly Moen), which has the area's only hotels, offers few comforts. The roads on the island are falling apart, and water and electricity may not always be consistently available. Further, there has been an alcohol problem there, with reports of run-ins between locals and tourists.

Chuuk does have a few attractions for history-oriented sightseers, including Mount Tonaachaw, numerous Japanese fortifications (pillboxes, bunkers and gun emplacements) and St. Xavier High School (a World War II communications center for the Japanese). We also recommend taking day trips to the smaller islands, including Tonoas (where the ghostly remains of a large World War II Japanese city can still be seen), Fefan (where divers can see the ship Yamagiri Maru at a depth of 110 ft/34 m) and Eten (a former Japanese air base with several sunken ships nearby). 145 mi/225 km west of Pohnpei.

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