Putting Kosrae on the Map
Putting Kosrae on the Map
World-Class Diving Away from the Crowds
Text and Photos By Jeff Milisen
By definition, “popular” places like Palau, Kona and Lembeh see thousands of visitors every year. The Blue Hole may have as many as 30 boats per day! To find the hidden gems of diving, you have to be willing to travel off the map. That’s why when I placed in the Ocean Art Photo Contest in 2013, I ranked the dive vacations according to unpopularity. If I had never heard of the spot, it went straight to the top of the list. That’s how I found Kosrae. In an ocean full of rarely visited islands, Kosrae is the poster child for remote, off-the-beaten-path places.
Kosrae is a beautiful island just a smidge north of the equator and on the exotic side of the International Date Line. Its culture teeters just on the edge of current civilization with a population dominated by subsistence farming and internet speeds harkening back to the age of dial-up. This disconnect from the modern world keeps Kosrae off the radar and makes for a much quieter, more laid back atmosphere. That makes Kosrae the perfect place to unplug for a week. And while you are sitting back unwinding, you may as well get underwater and enjoy the ocean scenery, because it is staggering.
Kosrae Underwater Marine Life
When researching my trip, I found very little about the underwater environment of Kosrae. The most popular dive resort on the island, the Kosrae Nautilus, is a laid back, 18-room slice of heaven where the owner, Doug, prides himself on personally attending to the guests. His staff has been around for years, meaning that his many repeat visitors get to see familiar, friendly faces every time they come back. However, small island resorts don’t have the budget to market in big-name magazines, which has left Kosrae off of most dive travel maps. A quick look at its nearest neighbors of Palau, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kwajalein infers that Kosrae should have some of the best diving on the planet. And in fact, its location has allowed a diverse array of species to settle on its shores while heavy ocean currents keep the water blue and clear.
Nearly every inch of the sloping benthic environment is draped in an abundant and diverse layer of coral growth. Brain corals the size of Volkswagens are separated by staghorn entanglements, rice coral fingers, plate coral fields and some species I couldn’t even put a name on. A healthy sprinkling of coral’s close cousin, anemones, provides Kosrae’s most reliable attraction.
Clownfish and their host anemones can be seen on every dive. The three species most commonly found here include the tomato clownfish (Amphiprion melanopus), Clark’s clownfish (Amphiprion clarkii) and pink clownfish (Amphiprion peridaraion). Small reef fish are usually best shot with a macro lens, but the clownfish here are so friendly they make for stunning wide-angle reefscape subjects as well. And if you manage to tire of the clownfish, wander a bit to find a lionfish (Pterois volitans), giant Pacific grouper (Epinephalus lanceolatus) or venture a bit deeper to play with the current-swept crinoids. The reefs here will keep delivering well beyond your no decompression limits.
Much of Micronesia is known for bigger animals, and in this aspect, Kosrae is similar. The shallows are patrolled by a vigilant regiment of blacktip reef sharks (Carcharhinus melanopterus) that keep just to the edge of visibility. Sites such as Hiroshi have a high probability of encounters with circling gray reef sharks (Carcharhinus amblyrhynchos) playing in the current. Three species of stingrays and regular turtle sightings round out the larger reef animals. Keep your eyes to the blue, as encounters with larger pelagics like dogtooth tuna (Gymnosarda unicolor) can steal the show.
Kosrae Underwater History
Today’s Disney world portrayal of whimsical pirates couldn’t be further from reality. Considered to be the Pacific’s last privateer, Bully Hayes was known for being a terrible person. His legacy across the Pacific was one of slave trading, pillaging, stealing and scamming people out of ships. He met his end in 1877 at the hands of his cook, whom he had bullied one too many times. His ship, the Leonora, now rests in 60 feet of water in the Utwe harbor at Kosrae. While the remains of the ship consist mostly of bits of metal sticking up from the silt, the rest of the site is a lovely muck dive.
More recent history has contributed more substantial wrecks to the area. While the rest of the Pacific was on fire in the middle of the Second World War, Kosrae was mostly ignored and under Japanese control. The wreck of the Sansun Maru is the exception, having been the only Kosraen wreck resulting from American attacks during the world war. It is roughly 100 feet long, sits in 60 feet of water and is covered in an assortment of marine life. The final relic is a PBM airplane that was beyond repair when it landed in the lagoon. The soldiers removed the valuable electronics, pushed it into the channel and sank it in place. I am told it is the only PBM aircraft in the world within diving depths.
Let the masses go to Chuuk and flood the Maldives. Kosrae has a speed all its own, and while it deserves a spot on your dive bucket list, its character is defined by a lack of tourist traffic. Come here for the peace and quiet, but prepare to be wowed.
Know Before You Go
- Sundays are for worship. As a visitor, you won’t be expected to go to church, but diving and alcohol consumption are forbidden.
- Bring your surface marker buoy because most of the dives are drift dives.
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About the Author
Jeff Milisen is a relatively new content writer for the Underwater Photography Guide who specializes in black water and big animals. When not behind a camera, Jeff is a marine biologist working to reduce overfishing by improving methods for farming fish. Milisenphotography.yolasite.com
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