‘Did you see the green flash?’ I hear these words while chest-deep in warm salty water, bobbing in the waves off Tumon Beach, Guam.
It’s sunset; the golden ball of the sun has just winked out, just dipped below the horizon. A paddle-boarder, a 60-year old woman with leathery skin and a North American accent, has just paddled up to chat with a friend of hers, who, by chance, is floating in the ocean near me.
‘Hyeah!’ her friend, a scruffy, middle-aged man, replies. ‘Best I’ve seen.’
Green flash? They saw the green flash?
I’ve wanted to see a green flash ever since I first read about its existence many, many years ago.
I’d read that you have an above-average chance of seeing the flash in Guam, which is why I’d been watching the setting sun tonight like a hawk.
I saw no green flash.
How, then, did the paddle-boarder and her friend, who were standing/swimming only metres from me, manage to do so?
The green flash
The green flash is an optical phenomenon wherein a small green spot appears above the orb of the sun, just for a second or two, as the sun begins to dip below the horizon.
To witness this phenomenon you need an unobstructed view of the horizon. An ocean view is perfect, such as that afforded at Tumon Beach, Guam, but you can also see it over clouds or mountains.
Is there really such a thing as a green flash?
Yes, the green flash is real. It isn’t an urban myth.
You can find plenty of documented evidence online if you feel like researching it further.
Guam – what’s its story?
Guam is a 50-kilometre long island in Micronesia in the northwest of the Pacific Ocean. It’s the largest island in the Mariana Island group, it has a population of 160,000, and it is officially a territory of the United States.
The indigenous people of Guam, the Chamorro, are thought to have settled in the region some 4,000 years ago.
There were up to 100,000 Chamorro living in the Mariana Islands prior to their colonisation by the Spanish at the end of the 16th Century. Within two hundred years the population had dropped to just 10,000 – executions, forced relocations, and the spread of communicable diseases to blame. Much of the Chamorro culture was also eliminated (deliberately and otherwise) during this period.
The first European to visit Guam was Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan. He landed on the island in 1521 during his much-lauded – and first-ever successfully completed – circumnavigation of the globe.
For the next 200 years the island was used as a port of call by Spanish galleons on their way between Manila in the Philippines and Acapulco in Mexico.
Guam was seized by the United States during the American-Spanish War of 1898. The island remained under control of the U.S. Navy until being captured by the Japanese in 1941 during WWII.
The Americans recovered the island in 1944 following a long and bloody battle that concluded with the deaths of 18,000 Japanese.
Guam has retained a United States military presence ever since (30% of the island is currently occupied by U.S. military bases).
Why didn’t I see the green flash that night on Tumon Beach?
If the green flash did in fact occur that night on Tumon Beach, as the paddle-boarder and her scruffy friend proclaimed, then there are a few reasons to explain why I might have missed it.
I might have blinked, or looked away, during the one to two seconds in which the green flash was present. Or it could be that my eyes were open and aimed in the correct direction at the time of the flash, and I missed it simply because the effect is subtle and I didn’t know what to look for.
Or it might have something to do with my being red-green colour-blind. If this is the case, then perhaps I am physiologically incapable of viewing the green flash under normal circumstances – I hope this isn’t the case!
I’ll never know the truth of the matter. In the meantime, my quest to see a green flash continues… 🙂
Practical information and how to reach Tumon Beach:
Guam can be accessed via flights from various ports in Japan, China, and the Philippines. Visitors from the United States need to transit through Honolulu.
Entry requirements for Guam are similar to those of the United States. Read more on Guam here.