A SOUTH PACIFIC WAR JUNKYARD BECOMES A DIVER'S PARADISE
By ZOLTAN ISTVAN
National Geographic Channel
c.2003 National Geographic Channel
(Distributed by New York Times Special Features)
Under the aqua-blue waters of Million Dollar Point, on the South
island of Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu, the view is of countless schools of
exotic species of fish -- swimming in multicolored splendor among the
of tons of rusting, coral-encrusted military equipment.
The mile-long graveyard of wreckage is the namesake for one of the
Pacific's most unusual, and most renowned, dive destinations -- and an
example of how nature can transform even the castoffs of war into a
Only a mile away from Million Dollar Point is another celebrated
site -- the S.S. President Coolidge, which sank in 1942 after
colliding with Allied mines. More than 600 feet long, it is reputedly
largest amateur divable shipwreck in the world."
The archipelago of Vanuatu formerly was New Hebrides. During World
II, the islands served as a staging area for some of the most
battle campaigns in the Pacific Theater.
Up to September 1945, more than a half-million allied troops moved
through New Hebrides. A major Allied naval base, designed to hold
troops, fed, housed and supplied them in the town of Luganville on
Vanuatu's largest island.
After V-J Day, however, as a farewell to the war, American forces
assembled the military equipment on the island -- millions of dollars'
worth -- and drove or pushed it off a jetty into the water off the
point of Segond Channel, on Santo's southern coast.
"I reckon that 99 percent of the junk was earthmoving equipment,"
Allan Power, a dive tour operator who has lived on the island since
"There are bulldozers, cranes, trailers, forklifts and trucks -- also
electrical equipment, building materials, tires, generators, bags of
and even crates of Coke."
In 1983 the government of Vanuatu designated Million Dollar Point as
protected historical reserve -- the better to preserve it for marine
that swims among the ghosts and the tourists who want to pocket World
At low tide the shore is a litter of rusty wreckage -- crane
engine parts and axles. Underwater, though, the junk becomes a jungle
time, corrosion and coral encrustation soften and disguise the original
There swim the denizens: angelfish, eels, groupers, triggerfish and
myriad other species above the hard and soft corals and sea cucumbers.
At 75 feet, divers congregate near an upright fork lift and take
"driving" it. A half-minute's swim away is a bulldozer that hasn't
anything except memories for nearly 60 years.
In Santo's dive bars a lively debate goes on about why all the
The most common opinion is that it was too costly to ship everything
home to the states. Transport vessels were reserved for the thousands
soldiers on Santo, eager to get home.
Some island residents, though, grouse that when their forebears
to buy the equipment at the going rate of eight cents on the dollar,
military drove it all into the drink, for spite.
The irony is that the waste has turned into an undersea treasure
"At the time it seemed like junking all the equipment was the worst
thing possible for a country that was developing," says Barry Holland,
dive guide at Million Dollar Point. "But what people see now is that
impact on tourism has been significant.
"Hundreds of people travel every year to Santo to dive on the
Coolidge and Million Dollar Point. It's really been a boost to the
economy and tourism is one of those businesses that just keep on
"Yes, at the time the locals were angry with the Americans for
such valuable equipment," says Ian Mahit, a Vanuatu motel manager. "But
because of their actions Santo now has a steady business of tourism."