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Chuuk is one of the four island states that comprise the Federated States of Micronesia, the other three being Pohnpei, Kosrae and Yap. Chuuk, in the Caroline Islands, encompasses fifteen large islands, 192 outer islands and 80 islets and has one of the largest lagoons in the world. It measures 85 kilometers at its widest point and encloses an area of 822 square miles. What lies beneath the blue waters is a submerged museum of World War 2 wrecks, for there are more than 60 ships of the Japanese wartime fleet encrusted with corals lying at various depths. On them are fighter planes still in transport, trucks still lashed to the decks of freighters and officer's china and utensils with brand names still recognizable.

The lagoon has been declared a monument, and salvage and souvenir taking of relics is prohibited by law. Divers must obtain a permit before diving around the ships. One of the two top scuba diving locations in the world Chuuk's water temperatures are 29 degrees C and incredibly calm between December and May. Average temperature above water is 30 degrees C. The main island of Weno (formerly Moen) is the capital and commercial centre and has a population of about 16,121 of Chuuk's population of 53,319. This is where the fathers of a Jesuit-run school lived and were summoned daily by a large bell. It's also from Weno that you can get your best views of the lagoon and its sheltered waters.

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Chuuk's State Centre on Weno is where visitors can experience a taste of island life by visiting the local stores jammed with everything from kerosene stoves to ladies wear and handicraft. For an outstanding view of Weno and the lagoon, climb into the old light house built during the Japanese occupation and visit the Blue Lagoon Resort for a stroll in the coconut palm grounds with splendid views across the water to Dublon Island formerly the Japanese Military Headquarters.

On Sapoli, overgrown vegetation partly conceals the remains of what was once a city, while at Fefan, craftsman carve Chuukese lovesticks - slender, dagger-shaped wooden rods carved on each side, which are sold in handfuls to tourists with an eye for exotic souvenirs. In past years, an Island man would carve his personal notches on the lovestick and let his would-be sweetheart feel it. At night, lovestick in hand he would kneel beside the thatched wall opposite where a girl lay sleeping, poke the stick through the wall and entangle her hair, hopefully awakening her without arousing her family. The silent language of the lovestick began when the girl put her fingers around the shaft's notches and identified its owner.

Most restaurants in Chuuk provide a selection of American, Japanese and local foods as regular menu items. U.S. dollars are used while travellers cheques and currency can be changed at banks and some hotels. When visiting traditional areas, respect local customs and note that mini skirts and short shorts are frowned upon by the locals.   

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Chuuk is renowned as having the best shipwreck diving in the world because of what is today known as the Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon. It consists of 50-60 ships and Japanese planes that were sent to the bottom after two days and a night of continuous bombing.

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The water temperature has served as a great incubator and the ships are now excellent artificial reefs, home to a variety of spectacular marine life. Underwater photography is a must here with the prolific coral growths that line the wrecks. The diving is year round with visibility on the wrecks varying from 15-30 metres and average depths between 12-40 metres.

Micronesia Music Anthology

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The anthology can be accessed by clicking on the 'Broadcast Schedule' after logging in to Micronesia Music Radio. This should allow you to determine when the anthology is available in your part of the world. For example, in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, Australia, the anthology is available at 12 noon each Saturday. In Kiribati, the anthology is available each Saturday afternoon at 2 pm; California at 7 pm each Friday evening; New York at 10 pm each Friday evening, along with Florida and Boston, Massachusetts, USA, etc.

The anthology runs for 90 minutes in which the traditional chants are introduced, including many from the Federated States of Micronesia (Pohnpei, Chuuk, Kosrae and Yap), followed by the beautiful songs of Micronesia. Thank you!

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Micronesia and the Crown of Thorns Starfish
 by Dr. Raymond McAllister
Truk (Chuuk)

Soon it was time to head for our destination, Truk, the island where the Japanese fleet was struck a shattering blow, during WW II, by American airpower. Most of the fleet is still in the lagoon, on the bottom! We traveled to Truk, landing at the airport on the big island of Moen. We were met by a local conservation officer named Tawn Paul. He was a Trukese native in the employ of the Marianas government. He had some sturdy fisheries research vessels at his disposal and for part of our time these served as mother vessels for us. We loaded our dive gear and Zodiac chase boats and were off. The main operation was to look for the places where the Crown of Thorns had bleached out the coral and to access the extent of the damage. We did this by sending out two personnel in a Zodiac, one to drive and the other to tow behind, looking for Crown of Thorns damage. My team alternated twenty minute tows so that both parties got to do both jobs.

 Rod Struck was my assistant. After counting whitened areas for a couple of hours one morning he come aboard and said, “I’ve counted 90 sharks so far this morning. What should I do?” I replied, “Quit counting!” Another time I rolled over and right back into the Zodiac. Rod asked what the matter was. I said my faceplate was not fitted right and in a few hundred feet farther down the reef I rolled over and again right back into the boat. Rod then told me that it wasn’t my mask at all. What was the problem? The problem was that I had jumped in almost straddling a 7 foot shark. The second time I had figured that we had moved away from the nice big fish and landed on its back again, both times in 10 or 12 feet of water. It did not bother the shark but it DID bother me.

 Later we went outside the lagoon along the live outer reef flat and saw great Crown of Thorns damage there too. While doing this I got so mad that I started beating the central disc of each Crown of Thorns to pulp with the safe end of my bang stick. I literally beat off several inches of fiberglass doing this. It did no good to cut one in half for each half would then regenerate a whole new starfish. Pulping the central disc seemed like the only way to go. The rest of the team was not too happy with me. I was wasting time and destroying a perfectly good bang stick.

 On the outside we used a 14 ft Jonboat, all aluminum. We would get a few hundred yards off the reef and ride up and down with the huge trade wind swells. In the trough we could not see the reef. On the crests we could almost look down on the nearby reef.

Much of our work was done from a 35 foot workboat, one of several in the Trust Territories at the time, purposebuilt for the Fisheries Group. Town Paul was our captain. He was Trukese native and a great guy. I well remember that he ate just about anything that came from the sea. One day he asked me to dive down in the gin clear water and bring up a large sea cucumber that was lying on the bottom. I did so and he started carving off bite sized pieces of the critter which he called “ocean chewing gum”. We tried it and after a few minutes the salt taste was gone and we chewed for hours with no apparent result. The muscle was so dense and tough that our teeth did not dent it. I put mine on one of the stringers when I hit the sack and chewed it all the next day with no result

Another day he wet a line as soon as we stopped for the night. He soon pulled up a doctorfish (surgeonfish or tang, too) which he held flat on his hand and started carving pieces of flesh off for sashimi (raw fish). Bob Jones, our fearless leader, knocked it out of Town’s hand. Town was flabbergasted. He asked why Bob had done this and Jones explained that he had done his doctoral dissertation on this species of doctorfish (acanthurid) in Hawaii and that it was often ciguateric there. Tosh calmed him down and said it was never ciguateric in Truk and we could go ahead and eat it. As you can imagine, we were slow to do so but eventually everyone but Bob ate some raw fish.

We returned to the big island, Moen, from time to time and stayed at the hotel there. One day Bob and I had an audience with the District Administrator, a Yankee appointed to take care of the details of the Trust Territories. We waited for our appointment and were ushered into the Distad’s office. We were standing about 5 feet apart exchanging small talk when there was a banging on the door. The secretary told whoever was there that the Distad was busy but would see him as soon as possible. The next thing we knew there was Phillipe Cousteau, who pushed past the secretary and planted himself directly between Bob and me and the Distad. He was not going to wait on mere mortals. I started to reach out and grab him and Bob caught my arm and said “No, no!” It did not endear Phillipe to me.

Some time later we heard that the Cousteau team was doing movies of the sunken Japanese fleet in the Truk Lagoon, and that they were having trouble locating them. Well, I had conversed with an English speaking Trukese native who had worked with the US Army Corps of Engineers after the war, sighting in the various wrecks and plotting their positions, I suppose that we were considering using the superb natural anchorage for a naval base. Anyhow, I was sitting in the Truk hotel having a cool drink when the captain of the tug, that the Cousteau’s had hired, came in with a blond lady and sat at another table. I decided to help him with locations and went over and said, basically, “Captain, I have no use for Phillipe Cousteau, but I will give you a lead that should enable you to quickly locate most of the sunken Japanese warships!” Then I told him about the Truckese surveyor. Without any wasted time on small talk, I returned to our table. Our guys asked me what I had said, that the blonde lady was glaring at me the whole time. When I told them they informed me that she was Phillipe’s American (I believe) wife. Foot in mouth!!!!

 We saw at least one of the Jap ships between Fefan and Dublon Islands, because the kingpost was sticking out of the water, ever 20 years after the war. Unfortunately we were so busy tracking Acanthaster planci that we never got to dive any of the wrecks.

There was a huge Quonset hut on Moen which was the Truk Supermarket! Apparently they had bought out some country store in the States and brought all the goods to Moen. I remember seeing cherry pitting machines on the shelf, up high where they were not needed. There are no cherries on Moen! Anyway after work on Friday they allowed the locals to buy booze and they took advantage of it. At that time I suspected that Truk was short for truculent, because I watched, from a safe distance, several altercations between drunken natives and Truk police. One night it was two Trukese fighting with sharp machetes. They would take full swings at each other and if both had not been thoroughly snokkered, one or the other would have been dead. Finally a policeman knocked one out with his nightstick and threw him in the back seat of the police car. As the cops got in, the other guy grabbed a big rock and proceeded to smash the back window of the police car to get at the guy inside. This ended when the police hit him with a nightstick, making a sound like hitting a watermelon with a baseball bat. I thought they must have split his skull. It was bad news to be around when they were drinking.  On the contrary, when sober they were very nice and hospitable. The kids and many adults wore frangipani and other flowers in little headdresses around the brow. The kids were cute.  We were never in fear or concern except around the drunks.

Continental Airlines flew 737's (I think) to Moen, where there was a runway, just long enough for a safe landing. It was hard to believe that such a big bird could land on that short runway, the end of which had some big rocks and beyond that, the lagoon. It was standard practice for a bunch of natives (and sometimes the Crown of Thorns party) to line the runway and wait for the splash as the 737 ran off the end of the runway. It never had and did not while we were there but it sure seemed like it should. Landing with full thrust reversal every time, whew!

We swam the lagoon from our inflatables, and at the far end  of the huge, 30+ mile lagoon, we swam the islands of Udot and Tol,  inside the lagoon. There were some beautiful, as yet untouched stands of the Pacific version of Acropora cervicornis, species unknown. We also made a short trip across the deep water to a small atoll just off one of the passes through the barrier reef.  Here we dived a sheer wall on the pass entering the atoll. The Crown of Thorns had pretty well destroyed all coral on this atoll and we wondered if the Lithothamnion was going to be able to hold it together, against typhoons, until new coral grew there. We saw blocks of coral as big as a single story house up high and dry on top of the reef, put there by typhoon waves.  At perhaps 90 feet in the pass there was a ledge. All the divers got on the ledge and I took my Nikonos and swam out about 25 feet to get a picture of them. They were pretty funny, flattened against the reef. When we got to the surface they told me that a big gray reef shark, a known man-eater, had been hovering just over my shoulder while I took the picture. Good buddies- they did not even try to warn me!

And the water was so clear and the wall so steep that a small Trukese boy standing on the edge of the reef, was clearly visible from 90 feet. More than that, we had given him a box of large scratch matches, old time, and he tucked it into the front of his jockey shorts where it was also clearly visible from 90 feet.

On one of our ventures to the far reaches of Truk we went to the low sand island of Pis-moen. It was all coral sand and only about 6 or 8 feet above sealevel. The natives were very hospitable and invited us to sleep in one of the longhouses, built of cane and bamboo, I'd say. The sleeping benches were raised up a couple of feet and had nice woven mats on them. We spent several nights there. In the morning the chief would rouse us all by blasts on a triton shell. Then he would assign the others the necessary work for the day. The women would go foraging on the reef flat and  bring back almost anything that grew there; limpets, anemones, sea  cucumbers, various mollusks, small fish trapped in tide pools,  crabs, shrimp and so on.

 My favorite was the old man who was carving a dugout canoe from a huge breadfruit (I think) log. We talked a good bit about navigation; he was a navigator, a proud remnant of days gone by and bemoaned the fact that his son and grandson were not interested in learning the tricks of sailing without compass or radar or GPS,  from one island to another 300 miles away, using only the wind,  stars, wave refraction, and other natural clues to steer by. What  a shame to lose this capability, which had been amply demonstrated when a fleet of several dugout  outrigger canoes came into Pis-moen from Pulawat and Sadowal,  islands way out of sight over the horizon. Aboard was a young Peace Corps guy who decided that the experience of sailing the old fashioned way between two islands far apart was something he did not want to miss. When the outriggers got close to shore he jumped over the side and raced to the beach where he knelt down and kissed the sand. I did not point out to him that the "benjos", open toilets on stilts, were dropping feces and urine right next to where he was kissing the beach. He said he would never do it again, the trip, that is, because the navigator/captain had no instruments. He would look at the stars, gaze across the water and change course in the middle of nowhere. "Not for me", he said.

 I took it upon myself to interview one of the old chiefs, Chief Paulis (note that Paul in various forms seems to recur in the names quite frequently) about past infestations. He said that it had occurred when he was a young man, 40-50 years before. They had tried to get rid of the starfish by feeding them to the pigs but they killed the pigs, so they ended up throwing them up on the land where they dried out and died. He also informed us that if someone stepped on the thorns, the best way to treat it was by placing a Crown of Thorns, stomach side down, on the wound and that the starfish would suck out the poison. It does not sound too smart but I would sure try it if I stepped on one for often native medicine works and they have had eons to learn.

After I returned to the States I did a little research on the Crown of Thorns infestation. By pure luck I found a novel written about pearl diving in the Central Pacific. The novel recounted an infestation of Crown of Thorns, migrating across the bottom of a lagoon where the native pearl diver was seeking pearl oysters. It described starfish 12 to 18 inches across, in green, red and brown, with 16 arms, and with poisonous spines. It was unlikely  the author made it up and the book had been published in the early  50's as I recall, making the date of the infestation reported well  before that, allowing for his having seen or heard about it and  allowing for one to three years from authorship to publishing of  the novel. It may well be that every 50 years or so we get a  population explosion of Acanthaster planci and that we were just  seeing the latest one.

Everyone had their own theory why the explosion occurred. The less well thought out were the atom tests in the Pacific, leaded gas, the World War, etc. The slightly more reasonable was that the commercial trade in Tritonia caronis, the trumpet shell much prized for display on a mantelpiece, had reduced the numbers of  this predator on the Crown of Thorns. I am not convinced but it is  a reasonable theory. I understand that the Australians require  that you register trumpet shells with the government and take no  more from the ocean! They have a severe infestation on the Ribbon Reefs of the Great Barrier Reef.  We tried an experiment in which we starved a trumpet for a week or more and put it in a wire cage with a full grown Crown of Thorns starfish. It ate about half of the starfish before being sated. Trumpets would not be any use against thousands of starfish but might keep populations down by eating a half dozen quarter or half dollar sized juveniles. The jury is still out on this one. 

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