Palau Expedition: Japanese Plane Down

In September 2013, Palau’s current President Tommy Remengesau announced his intention to protect 80 percent of Palau’s waters as a National Marine Sanctuary. For the month of September 2014, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala is leading key scientists and filmmakers to explore, survey, and document the diversity and abundance of the marine life that will be protected by the new offshore sanctuary. The team will also assess how well inshore marine protected areas have performed to date.

An old Japanese fighter is now home to corals and fishes. (Photo by Enric Sala)

Today while beginning our explorations of the pristine waters of Palau in the far western Pacific, we jumped in the warmest water I remember in a long time and there it was, 13 meters deep: a Japanese seaplane lying over a flat bottom covered with healthy corals, including some table corals that could seat 12 people for dinner.

The Japanese took control of Palau in 1914. In 1944, the United States attacked Japanese military installations across the Pacific. Only 25 miles from where we are anchored, and exactly 70 years ago this month, 2,000 Americans and 10,000 Japanese soldiers were killed in the bloody battle of Peleliu and Angaur. The seaplane resting peacefully below us is a ghost from a violent past that is being absorbed by the living reef.

It is a fitting tribute to the ocean’s ability to heal and regenerate itself when given the chance, that the Japanese are now back in Palau; but this time, they come as tourists, to dive and observe marine life.

Read All Pristine Seas: Palau Blog Posts

The Pristine Seas expedition to Palau is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.

Changing Planet


Meet the Author
Marine ecologist Dr. Enric Sala is a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence who combines science, exploration and media to help restore marine life. Sala’s scientific publications are used for conservation efforts such as the creation of marine protected areas. 2005 Aldo Leopold Leadership Fellow, 2006 Pew Fellow in Marine Conservation, 2008 Young Global Leader at the World Economic Forum.