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Scientists Find Oil Leak Threatening Chuuk Lagoon; 'This Could Have A Devastating Effect'

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BOSTON, Massachusetts -- Scientists affiliated with Earthwatch have uncovered signs of an oil leak in Chuuk (formerly known as Truk) Lagoon*, a popular dive destination in Micronesia.

Earthwatch volunteers and scientists, who are conducting the first-ever comprehensive survey of the area, recently discovered a long oil slick coming from the sunken oil tanker Hoyo Maru and a smaller surface slick originating from the Rio de Janeiro Maru, a former passenger vessel that was converted to a submarine tender (support ship for submarines) by the Japanese navy during World War II.

There are 52 documented World War II shipwrecks and three oil tankers found in Chuuk Lagoon, with an estimated 32,000,000 litres of oil still secured inside. Dynamite fishing practices, storms and human activities (such as irresponsible anchoring) are destabilizing some of the wrecks, increasing the chances of an oil spill.

“This could have a devastating effect on the marine environment and negatively impact Chuuk’s tourist industry,” said Dr. Bill Jeffery from James Cook University, who leads the Earthwatch research project. “Some areas of mangroves that provide breeding grounds for many fish species could be completely decimated.”

“There is reason to believe that Hoyo Maru is leaking from her bunker, which means there could be a lot more oil left to spill. We’re hoping that Japanese historians can help us to determine if she went down with a full tank so we can estimate the full scale of the threat,” Jeffery said.

The coral encrusted wrecks attract a diverse array of marine life, including manta-rays, turtles, sharks and corals. In 2007, 266 species of reef fish were recorded by the Earthwatch teams and in 2006 the rare coral Acropora pichoni was identified. (It had never been found at this depth (18 metres) or on an artificial reef before.)

A report from Dr. Jeffery has been submitted to the Chuuk State Department of Marine Resources and the Chuuk Historic Preservation Office who will liaise with the South Pacific Regional Environmental Programme (SPREP) to investigate how the oil pollution can be addressed. Earthwatch dive teams will return in November to continue their assessment into the ecological values of the site. Read the report here:

*Chuuk, an island area formerly known as ‘Truk’, is part of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), found in the central Caroline Islands of the Western Pacific. During World War II, Chuuk Lagoon was bombed for over 18 months by the Allied forces and was considered a potential target for an atomic attack. The waters became a graveyard for the Japanese sailors and pilots killed in ships and aircraft.

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Reader Comments

5 people have commented so far. cloud add your comment

FSM Leaders should seek the cooperation of American and Japanese leaders to get rid of the oil in the shipwrecks on the floor of Chuuk lagoon, formerly known as truk lagoon. This is the result of world war 11 between these two nations. Most of these ships wre from the japanese imperial navy and were sunk by the us military. This is a disaster waiting to happen as these shipwreck get rusted on the sea bed of chuuk lagoon. I hope the american and japanese leadership understand that this is a mess they created, and they are responsible to clean it up.
   comment# 1   - PNSuzuki · Faichuk, Chuuk, FSM · Sep 14, 2008 @ 1:43pm

This is a very serious case. I wonder what our Dept. of Marine Resources and Historic Preservations office and EPA had done so far. I hope someone is concern enough and seek for assistance from abroad. I'm sure there is help out there but, we just need to reach out and ask for help. We are the victim of the World War II.
   comment# 2   - eihy · Udot, Chuuk, FSM · May 18, 2009 @ 6:47pm

Some one has to do something about it, and they have to do it now, there is no time to wait. Our leaders, please, if you do not want to do it for us, do it for our young ones. They are our future, and you do not want to spoil their future, right?
   comment# 3   - A. Pisek Tol, Chuuk, FSM Jan.08,2010@1:28pm. · Guam, USA · Jan 7, 2010 @ 7:35pm

ive dove in these waters and as pnsuzuki says. it is the responsibility of the two super powers to clean up the crap they did? nothing worse than oil in coral reef structure.
   comment# 4   - andycouri · tyler, usa · Jan 4, 2014 @ 1:20pm

March 19,20,21 2014, Fourth National Environment Conference in Tofol, Kosrae. Chuuk Presentation 1.World War ship wrecks are confirmed leaking 2.Promoting Agriculture,Fisheries,Tourism This is a reminder to my friends from Chuuk attended the conference in Kosrae from March 19,20,21 2014 to Walk the Talk and during our next conference something can move forward. I strongly support the Chuuk delegation work plan to move forward on the Environment Issues.We can find solutions.
   comment# 5   - Willie Williander · Palikir Pohnpei · Apr 3, 2014 @ 9:01pm
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