I work as a photo journalist for an advertising company in Florida. My company decided to send me to the Marshall Islands to make a video documentary about how the people and the country survive the image of being the nuclear testing sites for America and other countries. Almost five decades after it, I was curious to find out if the after effects of the 1954 testing are still evident to this day. My father was totally indifferent, he warned me not to swim on its waters, drink coconuts or else I risk myself to the effects of radiation. I was able to prove him wrong when I got back from this island of small atolls in the South pacific.
I boarded a 5 hour Air Marshall Islands flight via Guam to get to the Amata Kabua International Airport in Majuro Atoll, the capital city. My boss pre-arranged and contacted an American family who owns a yacht and sails the Marshall Islands that summer. I met the owner Mr. Wright, and he welcomed me to his big yacht named Cassandra. He has complete equipments for diving. As a certified diver, I have not experienced drift diving yet he assured me I have nothing to worry, because the waters are shallow and most reefs are closer to the shore. First we made a tour of Majuro, nothing much to see around here except the Majuro Bridge. We visited its Government Center which is located along the main road and learned basic information about each atolls and lagoons. We also passed by Laura Village, a simple community of friendly locals. After here, we passed by the local market to buy my basic necessities and simple provisions that would make my 5 day stay comfortable.
We head to the Maloelap Atoll, where his yacht is moored. This atoll is so small but it has modern facilities like a hospital, solar system panel booths, and radio communication centers which the assigned marine guards use to contact the capital and other neighboring atolls. When we reached his yacht, I was welcomed by his wife and two teen aged boys. After lunch we got all geared up and suited to take a dive and snorkeling adventure on its shores. I brought my underwater camera and took lots of pictures of a Japanese freighter shipwreck, a relic of World War Two. It felt a bit creepy exploring this sunken ship; its masts were still sticking out the water after all this years. It is covered in red rust and thick algae; it has become an artificial reef for the tropical fishes, clams, and mollusks. We entered the shipwreck up to its bottom. It felt eerie when I found anti submarine mines lying on its bottom part, I find it unsafe, the mines are still whole and covered in green algae, but I know it still has a capability to detonate. I swam further and saw the railings where the anti submarine mines are dropped off are still visible amidst being heavily clustered with corals. They signaled me to follow them around they lead me to the end side of the boat where I saw the propeller and rudder is still there and covered in thick brown rust. Lots of marine life can be found on its shore reefs, the waters were so clear and beautiful especially when the sunshine peers thru its waters and lights the ocean floor even at 20 feet deep. It provided good visibility and a great snorkeling dive for us.
When we reached land, they gave me a tour along with the locals as guide to explore what can be seen around. They took me to the other side of the atoll to see World War Two artifacts and relics. On its waterfront I saw ruins of Japanese coastal defenses, old tanks, and small forts with cannons. A wreckage of an old warplane can be found around the area. We entered an excavated Japanese war bunkers. It was dark, small and humid inside, its one small room leading to another with small windows as the only ventilation. I can imagine how they manage to live in such cramped bunkers. This sandy atoll has so much war memories left behind; I saw empty fuel tanks between the lines of coconut trees. We also passed by an empty Japanese storage facility, ruins of Japanese command post, their own generator and fuel depot.
They lead me to another bunker which is hidden behind thick forest, and other underground bunkers where the bullet holes are clearly seen and serves as grim reminders of war. All the relics are unkempt and not developed to become a historical site. This atoll is rich with WWII relics, in land and under water. On our way back I saw kids playing with marbles and women feeding their babies with grated pandanus. It’s a native fruit that they grate until it becomes juicy and provides good nutrition for the baby. At night we head back to our yacht where we had big dinner of fresh lobster, young coconut crabs and fresh fruits. A local family brought us a meal of breadfruit cooked in coconut cream, yummy!
The next day we enjoyed sport fishing along the waters of Majuro. Mr. Wright is good at tag and release. He would catch a big fish, take a picture and return it to the sea. I caught a 3 feet blue fin mackerel and after taking a picture I released its hook and set it free. Then we sailed on to visit the next island, the Utrik Atoll. This island is so clean and quiet; there are more concrete houses around here. There is a small chapel and a cemetery facing the sea. I saw locals fetching water from a well that is situated on every block. I also saw an open airport and its empty runway. There are government facilities inside like the New Island Council Building, an elementary school, and a small Health Center. Within here we saw the Research and Development Agriculture Department, it is a greenhouse farming method initialized and funded by the government. Each island has its own greenhouse farming but this one has the largest farming facility. The islanders are encouraged to grow their own farm under proper government training, they are provided with seedlings to make them self sufficient.
Inside this atoll I also saw a Water Desalination Plant using reverse osmosis, 2 huge fresh water tanks are supplied to its pipelines connected to the villages who pays for clean water processed on this plant. A man picked us some fresh coconuts, cracked it and handed to us fresh coconut juice and meat, he even fashioned out a spoon from its husk so we could easily carve its meat. On our way back we saw women collecting sea cucumbers on the shore which they process and sell to Asian traders. I watched how they clean it, boil and then left to dry out in the sun. The sea cucumbers on this atoll are more sought after than any other islands.
The next day we sail to another island, the Taka Atoll. It is one of the unpopulated atolls. As we sail we saw lots of sea birds on its coast, they were very tame. When I open my arms they swoop down like they are excited to see me, they fly so low and flutter over our heads sometimes. Its shores are rocky, but the waters were as clear as glass. We snorkeled on its shallow lagoon, where I saw moss covered clam shells, red crabs, spotted moray eel, mussels, sea mounts and we swam along with the giant turtles. Later that night, we followed through turtle tracks on the sand which leads us to a huge green turtle nestling her eggs. After this she covers it with the sand and heads back to the sea.
It is not touristy but the relic site could help bring revenue for its people. Marshall Islands has beautiful atolls with exotic lagoons, unexplored reefs, and villages. This was a special place.