Chuuk Lagoon, Micronesia

Photo: montereydiver via Flickr

It’s known as the shipwreck capital of the world. It’s considered a scuba diver’s paradise. It features visibility up to 100 feet. Plus its clear water rarely drops below a very comfortable 80 degrees. Where is this underwater utopia?

Welcome to Chuuk Lagoon. The massive lagoon—it spans about 40 miles in diameter—is littered with small islands and surrounded by a barrier reef. Abandoned lighthouses and ruined fortifications have been overrun by the jungle on the land. Seventy Japanese ships, sunk during World War II, lie underneath the shallow water. While everything from mounted guns and steering columns to gas masks and unopened beer bottles sits on the ocean floor. They’re all encrusted with coral by now.

Chuuk Lagoon is part of Chuuk, one of the four states in Micronesia. Chuuk was originally a territory of the also-remote Caroline Islands. It was ruled by the Spanish and the Germans before the Japanese arrived and established their main naval base in the Pacific Ocean. The Allied forces called it the Gibraltar of the Pacific due to the heavy fortifications surrounding the huge fleet. But the base wasn’t indestructible. The United States attacked in 1944. Operation Hailstone destroyed warships, merchant ships, and aircraft. The three-day attack became one of the most important naval battles of World War II.

In the process, the lagoon became the largest ship graveyard in the world. It’s considered Japan’s Pearl Harbor. Plus it’s become a mecca for scuba divers. Fujikawa Maru, a massive cargo ship that carried aircraft, is considered one of the top dive sites in the world. Oite, a destroyer, broke in half as it sunk into the water. Heian Maru, an ocean liner, is the largest wreck in the whole lagoon. While Rio de Janeiro Maru, another ocean liner, is so submerged that its guns, coal, and even those beer bottles remain undisturbed. Chuuk Lagoon just moved to the top of your long scuba-diving bucket list.

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