Scuba Diving Photos
The Ghost Fleet of Operation Desecrate One
Operation Desecrate One
The well-defined, coral-caked bow of the massive Iro is covered with life.
During the surface interval, I marvel at the surrounding peaceful panorama. The mazelike topside scenery is incongruous with the broken skeletons hidden beneath Palau’s inner lagoon. Tough they might not be as aesthetic as Palau’s dramatic barrier- reef drop-offs, the long-lost war wrecks — forgotten about since salvage attempts in the 1940s and ’50s — have gained a following as some of the world’s most alluring underwater vessels. Diving among ruins opens a door to another world, one where sailors once lived, laughed, worked and played. The ships also offer a distinct experience from close-by sites where strong currents, bottomless walls and sharks are the mainstay.
Sixty minutes later, in the middle of Malakal Harbor, I am falling downward again. A sloped anchor line leads me toward the 285-foot Chuyo Maru, rediscovered by Francis Toribiong and Klaus Lindemann in 1989. Possibly the most aesthetic of all Palau wrecks, Chuyo sits upright, much like Iro, so it’s easy to orient myself as I begin to explore. Chuyo’s graceful profile emerges from the aqua-blue lagoon; I view the port side as I head for the deepest part of the wreck, the engine room.
Entering through an open skylight, I find myself surrounded by algae- and silt-covered catwalks, ladders and massive boilers. This is where the vague ghosts of long-gone sailors come alive as I envision engineers scrambling around this three-story room, trying to keep the heart of the ship alive, knowing theirs was a hopeless task.
After a few minutes, I exit and take a spin around the stern, where a gun mounted on the deck — enveloped in oysters, sponges and corals — points into oblivion. I’m here to see as much of the ship as possible, so I have to keep moving, this time along the starboard side past two cavernous holds and up to the freighter’s superstructure. Winding between girders that formed the spacious main structure, I hover over a spot where the captain must have stood before his ship’s life came to an abrupt end. But that ship, now changed, exists still. Where crew and officers lived and worked now thrive invertebrates of all major marine phyla and hundreds of fish species.
Like its sunken counterparts, Chuyo Maru isn’t just a historic recreational dive site. Over decades it has transformed into an artificial reef, providing shelter for prey, food sources for predators, and settlement space for all sorts of marine organisms that, elsewhere in the world, have decreasing natural habitat in which to flourish. Due to optimal depth, warm water temperatures and lack of noticeable currents, the ship’s steel carcass provides ample area for calcareous algae, which in turn provides a surface for corals to begin life. Researchers from other parts of the world have found shipwrecks are often thriving coral communities; over time they become part of the natural environment. Populations of rare corals, corallimorphs, zoanthids and other invertebrates can be enhanced on wrecks, compared with natural reefs. But perhaps the most unexpected advantage of having a host of World War II wrecks on Palau’s lagoon floor is that they can ease human pressure and stresses on overused dive sites such as world-famous Blue Corner, New Dropoff and Ulong Channel.