Micronesia Express: Green Dots on a Vast Blue Canvas

Pohnpei Coastline
50mm @ 1/400, f/5, ISO 100

Stretching nearly 1,700 miles around the equator between Palau and the Marshall Islands are a series of 607 islands and atolls that comprise the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM). The combined land area of all the FSM islands is less than one-fourth the size of Rhode Island, but its exclusive economic zone covers more than 1 million square miles. Separated by such vast stretches of Pacific Ocean, the four states (Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae) have developed distinct languages and cultures over the centuries.

A man buys a snack at one of Pohnpei’s ubiquitous street side convenience stores.

Kolonia Bodega
185mm @ 1/320, f/2.8, ISO 400

A fishmonger weighs a skipjack tuna for a customer in Kolonia.

Kolonia Fishmonger
24mm @ 1/320, f/2.8, ISO 400

A group of Pohnpeians gather in a village on the eastern coast for a cockfight, which is considered a cultural tradition on the islands.

Cock Fight
14mm @ 1/250, f/3.5, ISO 800

Pohnpeian men from the Kitti municipality strain the sticky syrup from mashed kava root into coconut shell cups during a sakow ceremony following a village gathering.

Sakow Ceremony
45mm @ 1/250, f/2.8, ISO 800

FSM is host to several premier diving sites, notably Chuuk Lagoon, where a ghost fleet of intact World War II-era Japanese warships sits undisturbed under 50 feet of clear, calm water. The sunken fleet is a major draw not only for its historic value, but also for the biodiversity it supports. Over the decades, the wrecks have transformed into artificial reefs, and have become havens for an array of coral species and other aquatic life.

Small fish hover above a coral reef off the coast of Pohnpei.

Pohnpei Reef
35mm @ 1/800, f/5, ISO 800

Another attraction that bids for tourist dollars is world-class surfing in Yap, Kosrae and Pohnpei. Palakir Pass, just off the northwest coast of Pohnpei is one of the most popular locations for thrill seekers looking to drop into the churning barrel of 10-foot breaker.

A scenic overlook provides a distant shore side view of waves breaking over the barrier reef near P-Pass.

Palikir Landscape
5-frame HDR @ 22mm, f/8, ISO 100

P-Pass, as it’s known in the surfing community, boasts consistent plunging waves from September through early May thanks to reliable swells that transition rapidly from the ocean’s depths to shallows around the island’s barrier reef. Unlike some other popular surf spots around the globe, where beginners often have to compete for riding time against hordes of locals and professionals, P-Pass has a laid back vibe, and plenty of waves to go around for surfers of all skill levels.

Scott Mcfarlane of Margaret River, Western Australia, shoots through the barrel of a wave at P-Pass.

Palikir Pass
400mm @ 1/1000, f/8, ISO 800

A surfer waits for her wave at P-Pass.

Below the Board
35mm @ 1/2500, f/5, ISO 800

While watersports are undeniably the FSM’s major highlight, landlubbers can also find interesting things to do. Pohnpei, the largest island and home to the capital, Kolonia, has a number of noteworthy sites to discover. Visitors can hike to idyllic waterfalls, sample Micronesian cuisine and explore a mysterious, ancient city known as Nan Madol.

Late afternoon sunlight filters through the forest canopy above the trail leading to Kepirohi Waterfall on Pohnpei.

Kepirohi Jungle Stream
5-frame HDR @ 66mm, f/4, ISO 400

The sun sets over Pohnpei near Sokehs Ridge, a large outcropping of volcanic rock often compared to Diamondhead on O’ahu, Hawaii.

Pohnpei Sunset
20mm @ 1/320, f/7.1, ISO 200

Located on Pohnpei’s southeastern coast, Nan Madol is a complex of nearly 100 architectural sites built during the 12th century atop a coral reef flat. Scientists and archeologists are still unsure exactly how islanders transported the massive basalt monoliths that make up the structures, but agree that the sites were built as homes for high-ranking religious and political leaders. Nan Madol and a similar ceremonial site on Kosrae are so important to the islands’ cultural history that UNESCO is considering them for inclusion in their list of World Heritage Sites.

Some of the basalt monoliths used to build the offshore structures that comprise Nan Madol are heavier than a school bus.

Nan Madol Ruins
24mm @ 1/60, f/4, ISO 100

A woman carries a colorful umbrella during a rainstorm as she walks through the forest path leading to Nan Madol.

Jungle Umbrella
24mm @ 1/80, f/2.8, ISO 1600

Nan Madol Lagoon from Isaac Pacheco on Vimeo.

Check out all the high-resolution shots from my trip to Micronesia in my Flickr album.

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