by Bridget McDonald
Situated in the Pacific Ocean, both Guam and Palau are known for their inclusion in World War II as allies of Japan and the United States. Guam, a U.S. territory, is considered the military hub of the Pacific and was the site of extreme military activity during WWII. Similarly, Palau endured heavy military traffic due to Japanese occupation. Both sites endured extreme bombing, coral dredging, and tanker-ship congestion, which would ultimately yield effects for years to come. After the war ended, both islands sought to recover their natural environments to the best of their abilities.
Upon entering the waters of Guam at one of our dive sites, we were greeted by a rusted American Tanker that was used during WWII. Due to the extreme depth at which it was situated (roughly 50-60 ft.), we were instructed to be extra cautious. As we descended into the depths, we began to vaguely make out the rusted silhouette of the old ship. As we got closer, the giant structure finally became visible. The tanker was overridden with coral and algae. We watched damselfish chase one another through what were once hallways and ladders. Parrotfish grazed through coral branches, pecking at anything that appeared tasty. We continued to slowly browse the sides of the tanker, observing its nooks and crannies, while making sure not to penetrate the wreck. With the help of our flashlights, we came across an American flag dangling from the bow of the ship. As though we were in a time warp, the flag seemed unharmed by the tolls of the sea as it swayed with the current of the ocean.
In Palau, we explored a similar wreck site. Once we submerged, we came across a sunken ship – decorated with coral and fish. Around the ship were several artifacts, including rusty bullets, coral-covered guns, bowls, and old shoes. We swam around the sight, enjoying the biodiversity and variety of tropical fish. Butterfly fish and parrotfish danced around coral heads, while Christmas tree worms quickly hid themselves at the first sense of movement. A giant brain coral situated itself comfortably in the middle of the wreck as damselfish picked at any algae dangling from its polyps. Giant clams laid motionless with their wide purple mouths open, but quickly snapped shut at the swift quick of a flipper. We explored the wreck – enjoying the life that took advantage of its presence.
It is interesting to compare the two wreck sites that we explored in Guam and Palau. Both sights are home to many coral species as well as the fish that consider a reef their home. While both sites had plenty of indicator species, we noticed a number of differences between the two sites. Due to the location of the American Tanker in Guam, we observed less life than one might expect. We inferred that, due to continued military activity in the harbor, coral reef and fish species have had a more difficult time populating. In Palau, however, it was evident that the site was home to more life than the site in Guam. Palau is widely respected for its strict laws that mandate coral protection and prevent further military destruction. Thus, it was evident that more life had the opportunity to populate and thrive, compared to the harsher conditions in Guam. Either way, it was fascinating to see sunken ships in both locations and their ability to become homes for coral reefs and various fish.