some things don’t get old

The beach at Gardner Bay on Española Island is a stunning place with its white sand and turquoise water.

The beach at Gardner Bay on Española Island is a stunning place with its white sand and turquoise water.

This is one of my favorite times to be in the Galapagos Islands because the sea lions, in addition to being beautiful on the beaches, are particularly active in the water.

A sea lion jumping out of the water near Fernandina Island.

A sea lion jumping out of the water near Fernandina Island.

Two young sea lions play with each other near Champion Island.

Two young sea lions play with each other near Champion Island.

 

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wide awake and dreaming

rock islands rise up from a flat turquoise expanse like tree covered larger-than-life limestone mushrooms floating on a glistening bed of oceanPalau-JDavidson140428-01

isolated marine lakes are treasure chests full of magical bountyPalau-JDavidson140502-03

rainbows of corals in crystal clear water just inches deep, a playground for fishes that rival their flamboyant displayPalau-JDavidson140501-04

in another, jellyfish as numerous as stars on a clear moonless night pulsate, softly bouncing off my skin like gelatinous bumper cars in a liquid traffic jamPalau-JDavidson140430-02

moving between islands, kayak paddles slice through glassy waters after a passing rainstormPalau-JDavidson140501-05

the final sunrise…the fin of a blacktip reef shark cuts the surface of still water, traveling through the reflection of a rainbow that ends at our last island destination…this moment seared into my mind, a cherished parting gift from paradise

this is no dream…this is palauPalau-JDavidson140428-06

darkness. beauty. resiliency.

The Sankisan Maru's broken bow.

The Sankisan Maru’s broken bow.

Chuuk (Truk) Lagoon is a tranquil and beautiful place. The warm blue waters are inviting and the lush green landscape provides a beautiful island home for a lucky few. As we entered the lagoon, it was hard to picture this place as a backdrop for a major battle during World War II, but it was just that. It was here that US troops, in Operation Hailstone, took out one of Japan’s major naval support and supply centers in 1944. During those two days of fighting, 41 ships were sunk and 70+ planes were shot down. They now litter the bottom of this tropical lagoon, making it the wreck diving mecca for SCUBA divers the world over.

A staircase on the outer decks of the Fujikawa Maru.

A staircase on the outer decks of the Fujikawa Maru.

Looking up from a lower hold on the Fujikawa Maru.

Looking up from a lower hold on the Fujikawa Maru.

Not long after we arrived, the rains came, blanketing the landscape in a cold grey. As I entered the water on our first of three wreck dives, the grey from above transitioned into an eeriness below. I have been diving on wrecks before, but never ones on which people had died, and this weighed heavily on me. This lagoon is a mass grave for countless Japanese as well as an underwater museum for World War II history. It was equally dark and fascinating. Three wrecks frozen in time: the Fujikawa Maru, Sankisan Maru, and Shinkoku Maru. Broken bows, blasted hulls, and dark rooms greeted us. Medicine bottles, broken china, plane parts, truck frames, and countless bullets lay scattered through the holds and decks. Each played a significant part in Japan’s action against US forces. The Shinkoku Maru was actually one of eight tankers that served to refuel forces in the attack on Pearl Harbor.  Not far away, an upside down but intact Zero fighter aircraft lay on the sea floor.  Each of these has a story, whose final chapters are set under the clear waters of a Micronesian atoll.

A truck frame on an outer deck of the Sankisan Maru.

A truck frame on an outer deck of the Sankisan Maru.

WWII artifacts are frozen in time on the Sankisan Maru.

WWII artifacts are frozen in time on the Sankisan Maru.

A Japanese Zero aircraft at rest on the sea floor.

A Japanese Zero aircraft at rest on the sea floor.

But the stories of these ships and planes did not end as they settled into their permanent home under the sea. These implements of war are now the substrate of glorious underwater gardens. The bow gun of the Shinkoku Maru is encrusted with soft corals wafting back and forth with the current. The crevices of her hull are the homes of crabs and cardinal fish. Diverse corals have formed large colonies throughout the Sankisan Maru. Algae and sponges provide habitat for fishes and invertebrates on the Fujikawa Maru. The metal framework of each of these structures is now a Technicolor display of life and a living example of how nature will continue where our part of the story leaves the scene. This is evident on these magnificent artificial reefs and on the islands, once riddled with bombs and covered with airstrips. Coconut palms and breadfruit trees now cover the islands and provide once again a serene place for the people who call them home.

Brain corals established on the bow of the Sankisan Maru.

Brain corals established on the bow of the Sankisan Maru.

Coral colonies and marine life now make their home on the framework of the Sankisan Maru.

Coral colonies and marine life now make their home on the framework of the Sankisan Maru.