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.
It’s now the middle of the afternoon, time for the last dive of the day. My boat has moved only a mile from Chuyo — after a surface interval, I drop into one of my favorite sites in all of Micronesia: Lighthouse Channel. Strong currents make this a very different dive than the two previous. Whipping past oversize colonies of Tubastrea corals and a slope of sea whips while shooting toward the channel’s sandy floor, it feels as if I’m flying. In less than two minutes, the current has brought me to a wall, perpendicular to the channel. It’s not a natural reef — it’s the port side of another shipwreck sunk in 80 feet of water. The name of the 100-foot ship — a fishing vessel turned submarine chaser — remains a mystery; it’s dubbed the Buoy 6 wreck. Where current encounters the ship’s vertical structure, it creates a plankton-rich upwelling that provides a reliable feeding spot for small planktivorous anthias and chromis. Lying fairly upright, with plenty of holes, holds and wreckage, the ship offers plenty of protected dwellings where critters have taken up residence. In turn, that draws predators from small to large.
It might be less sizeable than many of the monstrous wrecks here, but it is without doubt the most colorful. Feasting on plankton swept in and out of Malakal Harbor on rising and falling tides, huge gorgonians and inflated, multihued soft corals decorate the deteriorating deck and hull from bow to stern. The flow of water sweeps me along the port side and around the bow into the lee of the wreck, where the current subsides. There I watch the chaotic feeding frenzy caused by the relation of the wreck to the current. Along the leeward hull — amid Tubastrea polyps, sponges and black corals — crawl numerous Blue Dragon nudibranchs, their elongate bodies designed to feed on hydroids. While edging around the stern and checking out the ship’s rudder, I’m caught by a pair of lionfish staring with haughty expressions, daring me to get close with my camera. Nearby, a semicircle angelfish pokes its head out of a hole in the hull then disappears into the twisted innards of the wreck. The ship has been submerged going on seven decades, yet it appears as if it grew naturally over eons, reef-producing organisms growing on its steel bones, colonizing invertebrates spreading through its rigging.
Drifting farther down the channel, I muse over what I’ve seen. The Buoy 6 wreck, like the others, seems a testament to the awesome power of the sea to claim almost any object, and cause it to blossom with energy and life.
Whether they are reminders of past violence or historic landmarks, Palau’s war wrecks are residences for fish and invertebrates now. The sunken Japanese fleet in Palau is one of the world’s most unique sets of ships due to its history, marine-life diversity and accessibility. Of course, the ships are deteriorating with time, as saltwater corrodes and continuously eats at the once-mighty vessels. As the years go by, these ships will be swallowed completely by the lagoon, fading away as if they were merely legend. With great respect and a feeling of having explored bits of living history, I surface, always remembering the past.