Sunday, November 27, 2011

Truk

Front of 1930s era truck sunk in the waters around Truk since 1944
I actually knew about Truk (only now it's called Chuuk), knew that it was a battleground in World War II in the Pacific. But that's about all. I didn't know exactly where it was--somewhere down there in the southwest Pacific. I wasn't even clear on when the battle took place.

I found out: The island's lagoon was main base for Japan's South Pacific fleet and had a 45,000-man garrison. The island was heavily fortified and known to the Allies as the "Gibraltar of the Pacific." Operation Hailstone, launched by the United States with carrier aircraft in mid-February 1944 was one of the most important naval airstrikes of the war. Twelve Japanese warships, thirty-two merchant ships and 249 aircraft were destroyed, although the larger warships had moved to Palau a week earlier.

Japanese freighter struck by U.S. torpedo at Truk, 17 Feb 1944

This was long time ago--I would have been about six months old at the time. But I learn via HDNet World Reports that the idyllic lagoon, long a lure for divers who flock in there in their hundreds to enjoy the beautiful setting and the greatest shipwreck dive in the world, that a looming ecological catastrophe looms. Sunken tankers, not to mention all the other vessels, are reaching the point where they will break up* releasing millions of gallons of oil into the lagoon. This catastrophe would be worse than the Exxon Valdez Alaska spill. It would kill the lagoon and destroy the fragile, bare-existence economy of the island. There's a very expensive procedure by which the oil can be sucked out of the tankers, but the dirt-poor islanders cannot even afford to fix the potholes in their roads. Somebody else will have to pay. I nominate Japan. All in favor say "Aye!"

One of the things I most dread for my children and grandchildren is whatever the physical state of the planet will be in 40-50 years. How many other potential disasters like this loom that we don't know about? And will the world ever wake up to what humankind is doing to the planet? It's fast approaching the time when it will be too late.

*I didn't know this happened to metal ships, but it does. Apparently, this happens eventually to all submerged vessels. Note to self: need to find out more about this.
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