Little Chuuk in a Big Ocean

The Federated States of Micronesia is a coalition of four small island states which are situated in the Western Pacific Ocean, just north of the Equator above the island of New Guinea.

One of those states is called Chuuk, which is in the middle of the group, and which also has the largest town, a place called Weno, in the Federated States. Weno is located in the Chuuk Lagoon, an enormous body of shallow water which covers an area of 2,130 square kilometres (820 sq mi).

Chuuk Lagoon is a scuba divers paradise because of the number of wrecks that are found there. Most of these wrecks are remnants of the War in the Pacific which occurred during World War II, and are of Japanese origin. There are still in reasonable condition, for vessels that have been underwater for about 70 years, easy to reach, and quite numerous. During the war, Chuuk Lagoon was the Japanese Navy’s main Pacific base. The site was chosen because it was easy to defend, and the allies referred to it as the `Gibraltar of the Pacific’.

Chuuk Lagoon may easy to defend, but it was also not impossible to attack, and during the three day Operation Hailstone mission by American forces in 1944 60 Japanese ships and 275 airplanes were sent to the bottom of the lagoon, making it the biggest ships’ graveyard in the entire world.

The wrecks of the ships and planes have also attracted corals, and so many reefs have grown around the detritus at the bottom of the lagoon which, in turn, has attracted marine plants, fish and other aquatic life to further enhance the lagoon’s reputation as an excellent dive site.

The population of Chuuk is about 54,000 people who are spread out over a number of islands and atolls, which are grouped as the inner islands, those that are grouped within the lagoon, and the outer islands, which are more distant, and hence more remote. Generally speaking, the further out you get from the lagoon the more traditional is the lifestyles of the residents. The most traditional of these are the Pattiw people who live on four islands at the far western edges of Chuuk State.

These people are particularly renowned for their navigational skills, as they still cross the seas in traditional ocean going outrigger canoes, and rather than depend on observing the heavens as a form of navigation, they depend more on the observation of wave behaviour in order to find their way.

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