Diving Kosrae, A Hidden Treasure

Woman diver floats over pillars of "castle coral" off Hiroshi Point, Kosrae, FSM. Photo courtesy Kosrae Village Ecolodge

Woman diver floats over pillars of “castle coral” off Hiroshi Point, Kosrae, FSM. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Okay, you won’t be able to do this in many other places, if any:

From arrival of your jet in Kosrae, Micronesia, to scuba dive site: 30 minutes.

Customs took 20 seconds and a guy from Kosrae Village Ecolodge (KVR) was waiting for me. We grabbed my hand luggage (only carry-on with mask and minimal gear; someone else picked up my suitcase) and took off for the dock.

Half an hour later, dive gear on, I watched the jet that brought me take off for the next island.

And I have the photos to prove it.

Jet on runway at Kosrae, Micronesia, taking off after passengers disembarked. View is from dive boat with author Cardozo getting ready for first dive on Kosrae. That's my fin in the foreground with the departing jet in the background. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

Jet on runway at Kosrae, Micronesia, taking off after passengers disembarked. View is from dive boat with author Cardozo getting ready for first dive on Kosrae. That’s my fin in the foreground with the departing jet in the background. Photo by Yvette Cardozo

With the jet climbing into the sky, we hit the water, sinking to 35 feet for a tour of Kosrae’s six-foot-tall finger coral.

Purple queen anthias wove through the fingers by the hundreds. A school of triggerfish wandered by. And it was all so healthy. Each finger of coral was topped by a glowing dome of vibrant new growth.

Nearby, sprays of spiky elkhorn coral spread unbroken. A five foot bowl of convoluted, green lettuce coral shimmered and mounds of boulder coral sat unblemished, speckled with Christmas tree worms.

I floated in water so clear, you could see a boat 150 feet away. In crystal shallows, I skimmed blankets of anemones with clownfish the size of my hand (largest in this part of the Pacific).

In Your Bucket Because…

  • You REALLY want to see someplace before it’s spoiled and you missed all that good stuff 30 years ago.
  • You don’t mind a bit a roughing it.
  • You like the tropics.
  • You like meeting local people and scuba diving new places.

It looks here like the Caribbean did back in the 1970s, with so much life, so packed with myriad kinds of coral, that it’s hard to find a bare spot for a fingerhold if you want to steady yourself to take a photo.

Kosrae (pronounced ko-shrye) has an active eco-conservation campaign. There are marine parks, 55 mooring buoys so boats don’t have to anchor on the coral, and marine life monitoring and education programs.

“We’re trying to not be one of those places that has been destroyed and is being rebuilt. We’re trying to preserve it now, before that happens,” said Katrina Adams, part owner of KVR and one of the founders of the local ecology movement.

A Place You May Not Know

In case you’ve never heard of Kosrae (and you probably haven’t), it is the easternmost island of the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). It truly is in the middle of nowhere — 2,800 miles southwest of Hawaii, 1,500 miles east of Guam and a scant five degrees north of the Equator.

Though many islands in this part of the world are flat atolls, Kosrae has tall serrated mountains and looks like a mini Hawaii or Tahiti. It’s tiny, shaped like a triangle and barely 15 miles across at its widest.

And you have probably overlooked it because its better known neighbors include Guam, Palau, Yap and Chuuk (Truk). And that fact is what makes it special. It’s unspoiled, untouched, its reefs undamaged.

Photo by Tim Rock/Kosrae Nautilus Resort. Diver inspects one of the many coral heads at Hiroshi Point. Kosrae, Micronesia.

Photo by Tim Rock/Kosrae Nautilus Resort. Diver inspects one of the many coral heads at Hiroshi Point. Kosrae, Micronesia.

Over the next day or so, I made several more dives but a few really stood out. We headed for one Katrina calls just “21” for its marker buoy number. It’s near the island’s bioreserve and is best known for its anemone and resident bright orange anemone fish with their iridescent blue-white stripes. They live in a vast forest of hard corals — plates, brains and tables thick with vibrant life.

The bioreserve, known as Utwe Biosphere Reserve, is a huge chunk of mangrove swamp and ocean on Kosrae’s south side that has been preserved as a park. There’s an outrigger canoe tour that folks shouldn’t miss, led by a local guy named Tadao who has a marine biologist’s knowledge of medicinal plants.

An Unexpected Find

It was on that tour that I spotted huge plates of coral growing among the mangrove roots. I grew up in south Florida swimming and diving mangroves and never saw coral entwined in their roots. I had to go back.

I absolutely had to go find it to dive, or at least snorkel.

Orange Fin Anemone Fish peeks out from large Carpet Anemone. Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Photo by Katrina Adams

Orange Fin Anemone Fish peeks out from large Carpet Anemone. Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Photo by Katrina Adams

So on my last dive of the trip, we went with the KVR scuba catamaran to search. Up and down we went, but no plates of coral.

However, by the mouth of a channel where tides bring swift currents and nutrients, we found a coral garden — finger, castle and boulder coral, all in miniature and swarming with hundreds, maybe thousands of fish of every imaginable type. There were chromis in three colors, squirrel fish, pipefish, batfish and giant oysters the size of softballs.

I haven’t seen a snorkel spread like this since Irian Jaya, the other half of Papua New Guinea. And all in barely three to five feet of water. It’s a snorkeler’s paradise.

Honestly, I often think snorkelers get the short end of the stick, not being able to dive down to the really good stuff.

Local boy plays on palm trees on beach of Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Photo by Yvette Cardozo.

Local boy plays on palm trees on beach of Kosrae, Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). Photo by Yvette Cardozo.

But here, in shallow water, is a chance for non-divers to see what all the fuss is about.

We never did find those plates. But we stumbled on so much more.

And that pretty much says it for all of Kosrae. I’ve now been there twice. And I’m sure I will go again.

PRACTICALITIES

  • There are three hotels used by tourists on Kosrae. All three have dive shops that offer dive packages, scuba equipment and nitrox:
    Kosrae Village Ecolodge & Dive Resort (KVR), with its nine traditional style bamboo and palm thatch bungalows just feet from the crashing surf, that have electricity and hot water but no air conditioning (except for one cottage) or telephones.
    Pacific Treelodge Resort, with six rooms that have air conditioning. This sits at the edge of one of the most picturesque mangrove swamps of Kosrae with a boardwalk through the mangrove and an open air restaurant over a river.
    Kosrae Nautilus Resort, with 18 rooms that have air conditioning, TV and telephone plus internet access. It also has a swimming pool and is across the street from a beach.
  • Car rentals are available and there is an internet cafe on island. The island uses US currency and US electrical outlets.
  • Average air temperature is 85 degrees but with extremely high humidity.
  • Average water temperature is in the low 80s year round. The trade winds blow November to mid June, bringing cool breezes but limiting scuba diving. Summer (July – Sept.) brings calm water, little wind and the best conditions for diving.
  • United is the only airline serving Kosrae, via an island hopper from Guam or Hawaii, two days a week each way.
  • For general information, contact Kosrae Office of Tourism.

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