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To dive Chuuk Lagoon is to enter, quite possibly, the greatest underwater museum on the planet.
Chuuk State (formerly known as Truk) lies in the Western Pacific, somewhere between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea. You have to zoom right in on Google-maps to realise that this clutch of coral islands even exists, but they actually form one of the biggest atolls in the Pacific.
Whilst the hoop-shaped outer barrier reef gives rise to necklace of islets, crowned in palm trees, the central lagoon is studded with mountainous land-masses, rich in vegetation and populated by fishing communities.
But the real appeal for divers is the wrecks. A victim of Operation Hailstone – a US surface bombing campaign conducted in 1944 – an entire Japanese fleet is awaits those who choose to dive Chuuk Lagoon, and is protected from deep sea currents by the extensive reef system.
Almost 70 WWII shipwrecks and aeroplanes, encased in corals, are dispersed across the shallow floor of the lagoon, not to mention stacks of smaller artefacts which range from gasmasks and sake-bottles to crockery and bicycles; this astounding museum of maritime history is, quite possibly, the world’s very best wreck-diving destination.
The shallow waters of the lagoon mean that the wrecks are accessible to most divers, without having to push the limits of safe diving. There are stacks of spectacular dives in Chuuk but the Fujikawa Maru is generally considered to be the jewel in the crown – this former aircraft ferry holds Mitshubishi parts which include wings, engines and tail assemblies.
Some of the best shallow sites, for first-time wreck divers include the Upside Down Zero – a Japanese fighter plane found at 18 metres, and the Betty Bomber – a Japanese bomber just 15 metres deep. Other highlights in the line-up include the Nippo Maru – a ship with a light tank on her deck; the Hoki Maru – a 1921 ship built in Scotland that was captured by the Japanese in the ‘40s; and the Shinkoku Maru – a fleet oiler that was in operation during the attack on Pearl Harbour.
It’s safe to say that, if you could only pick one wreck-diving destination to visit in the world, you’d be hard pushed to beat Chuuk Lagoon.