The spectacular diving in Palau first came to my attention when a dive buddy moved there for work in 2008, but it would be almost 5 years before I had the opportunity to dive there for myself…and yes it was worth the wait!
Palau -where’s that?
Palau is an island nation made up of around 250 islands in the Pacific Ocean, to the east of the Philippines and north of Indonesia. The remote position and being on the edge of the Coral Triangle makes the country an ideal location for a wide variety of marine life. Many shark species are known to frequent the waters of Palau, so much so that in 2009 the country was declared a shark sanctuary with all shark fishing activities banned.
Marine Life of Palau
Palau is a veritable dream for big fish lovers. There are numerous dive sites where grey reef sharks and white tip reef sharks are commonly seen – and in good numbers. Other shark species seen are black tips, hammerhead, tiger, whale and bull – though these are not on the day to day dives the possibility is thrilling. Add to that the huge schools of snapper, barracuda and trevally jack and you’re on to a winner. Hawksbill turtles, though considered rare, are found on almost every dive in Palau, whilst huge Napoleon wrasse get up closes to divers, unperturbed by our presence and schools of bumphead parrotfish congregate in their thousands during mating time. During my liveaboard trip I had the pleasure of diving with 8 manta rays for 60 minutes! Though I’d seen a few mantas before in Egypt, Komodo and Raja Ampat, this had to go down as one of the best manta dives ever due to the way these graceful creatures looped and twisted, open mouthed feeding hungrily on the plankton.
Now I’m a small critter lover and some of the dive guides found it entertaining that I should be photographing nudibranchs when there were sharks to watch, but if you love a mix of big and small then Palau is a fabulous option for a dive holiday. During my 10-day trip we not only saw nudibranchs but pipefish, leaf fish, mandarin fish and dart gobies. I’ve read reports of frogfish and seahorses too.
Palau’s Best Dive Sites
The topography of dive sites in Palau is varied from reef walls and coral shelves, to caverns and shallow reefs as well as several wrecks.
Unarguably the most popular dive site in Palau is Blue Corner. Famed for its shark action and big schools of fish, divers approach the reef edge and, if the current is running, use a reef hook to secure themselves to watch the impressive shark displays. Blue Corner can be combined with Blue Holes – an open cavern where fire clams are found spectacular for atmospheric photography. We dived here 4 times during our trip as the site was so superb and the shark activity fascinating.
New Drop Off is another dive site known for shark action, but a great place for watching turtles munching on the soft corals. This quickly became one of my favourites due to the variety of marine life, one minute we were watching sharks cruising about on the reef edge, the next turtles, then a large trigger fish buzzed by followed by more sharks in the shallows. Awesome!
Chandelier Cave provides an excellent experience. The entrance is at about 10m and very open so there is plenty of natural light. As you dive deeper into the cavern it opens very wide, however the water does not reach all the way to the cave ceiling creating air pockets and a place to chat mid-dive.
German Channel, a deep cut in the reef has two coral bommies at 25m and 15m where manta rays come to be cleaned. With plankton bloom the mantas stick around for feeding. Best manta dive EVER!!!
Jake’s Sea Plane – is likely one of the most photographed wrecks of all time –save the Thistlegorm or Kittiwake. The dive site is compact but the plane itself is of interest to photographers – especially when the viz is great and sunbursts can be seen.
Siaes Corner/ Tunnel lies on the outer edge of the reef surrounding Ulong Island. Getting there can be a little tricky as the reef shelf is very shallow. On our liveaboard trip the wind was up so our cruise director changed the dive plan to an alternative site – except no one told the dinghy driver and we ended up there anyway. Descending down the steep coral covered wall, we entered the large cavern and came out on the other side of the reef at 25m.Continuing on to the corner with reef sharks cruising around us we hooked in and just enjoyed the snappers and jacks bustling about, chasing fusiliers. Our dive group was thrilled by this turn of events as the dive was excellent (the other group not so much!)
If you want to see schooling snappers spawning then Peleliu Cut is the place to go around new moon. Whilst for spawning bumphead parrotfish diving at Ulong’s Sand Bank around the full moon produces results. For guaranteed action join the team from Unique Expeditions who run special spawning trips each year aboard the S/Y Palau Siren liveaboard.
These were just a few of the dives we made during the 10-night safari, others included Dexter’s Wall, Virgin Blue Holes, Iro Maru wreck, Ulong Corner / Channel, Heian wreck, Peleliu Express, Big Drop Off and Sam’s Wall.
We also found time for snorkeling in Jelly Fish Lake and for a boat cruise through the Rock Islands.
Palau gets better and better…
Plans are currently underway for Palau to become a full marine sanctuary with strengthened surveillance and enforcement of their Marine Sanctuary and Fishing zone by 2017.
Want to Dive Palau?
I spent my time in Palau diving with Sam’s Tours Palau and S/Y Palau Siren. Whilst the hospitality and experience of the guides at STP was fabulous and I’d definitely choose them again for a land-based trip, I felt the ease and comfort of the Palau Siren, less time to dive sites, plus avoiding the crowds tips the balance in favour of taking a liveaboard. There are several dive liveaboards operating in Palau from which to choose – S/Y Palau Siren, Palau Aggressor II, Ocean Hunter I, Ocean Hunter III and Solitude One.