The Mantas of Yap
If you are lucky, you may have seen a manta or two while diving, but in the waters off the island of Yap, it’s not uncommon to see a dozen or so 12-18ft wide mantas slowly going past you or hovering just above the nearby coral as wrasse and other small fish dart back and forth while cleaning parasites off the mantas. There are over 100 resident mantas in the waters of Yap, and nightly they go out into the deep waters to feed on plankton, and each morning they return to designated coral cleaning stations to remove microscopic parasitic hitch hikers. From December to April the mantas display courtship rituals, breach out of the water, somersault and form underwater multiple member conga lines. The word “manta” derives from the Spanish word for blanket, and when a manta gently moves though the waters a few feet above you, the cover is large, wide, and alive. This is just one of the scenarios that plays out daily when you dive Mi’l Channel (Manta Ray Bay or Manta Ridge) or at Goofnuw Channel (Valley of the Rays).
Now, to find Yap on a map, place the tip of your index finger on Hawaii, next place the tip of your middle finger on Guam. Now lift your index finger off Hawaii and rotate it southeast of Guam by about 500 miles and you just found Yap. In reality it is just “plane” easier to take United Airlines on this island hopping adventure.
Although the Indonesians on Yap proper and the Polynesians on the outer islands have been living on Yap for some 3,000 years, it took a European explorer from Portugal in 1525 to discover the Islands. The local Islanders called themselves Wa’ab and with great cultural sensitivity possessed only by Europeans in those days the Islands were promptly called Yap and the people Yapese. Yap by the way means, “canoe paddle” in Wa’ab.
To make history short, in 1886 Pope Leo XII gave Yap to Spain and three years later Spain sold Yap to Germany who had to give guardianship to the Japanese in accordance with the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. The Japanese built a lighthouse and later used Yap as a stationary aircraft carrier until the Americans in WWII bombed them heavily. Wrecks of Japanese Zero Fighters, Suisei dive-bombers, Gekko night fighters, Ginga bombers, L2D2 transport planes, American B-24’s, Hellcats, Helldivers, Corsairs, and Avengers can still be seen on shore as well as underwater.
Yap is nine degrees north of the equator and part of the Federated States of Micronesia, which also includes Truk, Pohnpei, and Kosrae. Yap is comprised of four volcanic islands, Yap Proper, Maap, Tomil-Gagil, and Rumung, which volcanically lifted up
from the Philippine Sea Plate. Yap also consists of some 130 other atolls and islets that extend some 600 miles. The State of Yap covers 118.9 sq miles total, with a landmass of 38.7 sq miles. One of the volcanic atolls Ulithi, for seven months during WWII was secretly home to the world’s fourth largest Naval base. The 553ft long USS Mississinewa was sunk here at a depth of 120ft by a Japanese Kaiten, manned suicide, torpedo. Ulithi is also the home of a hawksbill turtle sanctuary.