Diving Palau with Grasp Liveaboards

A diver explores one of many many caverns at Palau’s Virgin Blue Gap


It’s true, oceans do certainly join us. “Learn this pledge and signal,” stated the immigration officer, his pleasant, vivid eyes beaming as he stamped our passports. The stamp learn: Kids of Palau, I take this pledge, as your visitor, to protect and defend your lovely and distinctive island residence. I vow to tread calmly, act kindly and discover mindfully. I shall not take what shouldn’t be given. I shall not hurt what doesn’t hurt me. The one footprints I shall depart are these that may wash away.

Committing to this pledge allowed us to enter the Republic of Palau, a tiny cluster of 300 pristine limestone and volcanic islands that discover consolation within the shimmering sapphire waters of the Western Pacific – round 1,000 miles to the east of the Philippines.

Generations of Palauans firmly imagine within the saying: “We didn’t inherit the Earth from our mother and father, we borrow it from our kids.” Conservation is due to this fact a lifestyle, one which stems from a deep respect and dedication to guard their island residence and waters. The pledge we made signified we have been in for one thing very particular—and we had not even left the airport.


A manta ray glides by at Palau’s well-known German Channel


Peering out over the calm expanse of blue, we might instantly envision our subsequent 10 days diving right here. In any case, the whole lot we are going to encounter undersea on this journey is barely doable due to the dedication and resolve of Palauans to protect and defend what deservedly must be protected.

For 1000’s of years, Palauans have strived to take care of a steadiness with the ocean by working towards “bul,” a standard technique of marine ecosystem conservation the place they briefly shut areas to fishing so as to permit native marine life to regenerate. This accountability is handed down, imparting conservation values and behaviors onto future generations.

The age-old apply has grow to be the spine for a community of marine protected areas (MPAs). In 2009, then-President Johnson Toribiong declared the world’s first-ever shark sanctuary, defending over 135 Western Pacific shark species. In 2015, Palau’s congress adopted go well with by passing laws that may in the end safeguard a whopping 80 p.c of the waters right here, an space nearly the scale of France, and the biggest share of protected marine territory of any nation. This 183,000-square-mile space is a complete “no-go” to industrial fishing, mining and oil exploration. The remaining 20 p.c is designated for fishing by the local people to take care of their conventional methods of life.


An anemone on the verdant grassy garden of Dexter’s Wall


For the following 10 days, we will probably be on-board Master Liveaboards’ Palau Siren, underneath the knowledgeable steerage of Richard Barnden of Unique Ocean Expeditions. Launched in 2012, the 131-foot Palau Siren is a standard Indonesian phinisi constructed on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi. Welcoming a most of 16 friends in eight comfy cabins, it has the whole lot for an prolonged dive journey to Palau. Providing 4 dives every day with their crew of skilled guides, the vessel has a big dive deck with particular person setup stations, storage and an entry platform and skiffs on the port aspect. Friends take pleasure in a spacious outside eating space, solar deck and saloon to loosen up; and photographers are properly catered for with digicam stations full with quite a few charging factors and storage areas.

Not solely will we delve into the variety of Palau’s world-class dive websites, however we are going to witness one in every of nature’s most unbelievable occasions: the mass spawning aggregation of bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum). That is the largest-known aggregation of its sort on the earth, and an occasion solely doable as a result of strict protections Palau has in place for this species. However earlier than that, let’s introduce the very best of Palau diving.


Grasp Liveaboards’ beautiful conventional phinisi, Palau Siren


Palau’s Prime Dives

Blue Nook

As quickly as we enter the blue, it turns into plainly clearly that pelagics are in much more abundance right here than wherever else we’ve skilled. At Blue Nook, a big buttress that reaches out to the open ocean, quite a few turtles, fish, and shark species materialize from the cobalt expanse. Grey and whitetip reef sharks patrol the drop-off, whereas clouds of bigeye jacks, spanish mackerel, and clusters of yellowfin barracuda and midnight snapper transfer effortlessly via nutrient-dense waters.

A burly Napoleon wrasse insistently instructions our consideration. Like a protracted misplaced buddy, he approaches with confidence and a “Hey, have a look at me!” angle. It was as if he was trying right into a mirror and admiring how extremely lovely he was. We quickly notice that we’re not the one ones he’s courting. He begins to stake out his territory, fiercely chasing off intruding males as a close-by feminine makes herself identified. His face turns vivid blue—a shade she appears to finds enticing. They snuggle shut and synchronize the discharge of their eggs and sperm. In the present day, he’s the King in a Kingdom of Fishes.


Al, the alpha-male Napoleon wrasse that guidelines Blue Nook


A grey reef shark glides previous the drop-off at Blue Nook


Ulong Channel and German Channel

At close by Ulong Channel, love can be within the air, as as much as 1,000 camouflage grouper emerge from the reef displaying sturdy intentions to mate. Massive numbers of yellowmargin triggerfish are additionally right here, seeking to nest in the exact same space. There’s positively a celebration brewing, however we’re simply not fairly positive when it’s getting began. Possibly the spawning occasion will occur tonight, or perhaps tomorrow. We’ll by no means know.

Aptly named due to the German occupation of Palau from 1899 to 1914, at German Channel, the acrobats of the ocean seem proper on cue. Nothing fairly prepares you for the majesty of the manta ray, gracefully feeding on plankton on the floor. No matter what number of occasions we’ve seen them, each encounter with these extremely curious, sentient and social animals is all the time extra breathtaking than the final.


A pair of mantas feeding in sync at German Channel


Massive Blue Holes

Should you’re a photographer or simply like to discover, Palau’s many blue holes, caverns, caves and tunnels are extremely ethereal. These large geological buildings provide the right backdrop of ambient mild, mixed with an intense “blue flame” that silhouettes your fellow divers. Many caverns are additionally adorned with beautiful gorgonian followers and tender corals, offering the right picture body in your dive buddy. Don’t miss Blue Holes, Virgin Blue Gap and Siaes Tunnel for the very best picture alternatives. Ensure to not get seduced by the big faculty of jacks on the entrance to Siaes Tunnel who tend to lure you deeper than your dive restrict.


A silhouetted diver at Blue Holes


Hanging Chandeliers

At Chandelier Cave, we discover a system of 5 separate connecting cave chambers, 4 of that are full of seawater, permitting us to floor and witness a shocking cathedral of stalactites and stalagmite formations. The caves have been initially shaped tens of millions of years in the past as rain water dissolved the limestone island. It was solely as soon as the ocean degree rose after the final ice age that the cave entrance was submerged and the caves full of seawater to create an unbelievable dive expertise. Photograph alternatives listed below are in abundance, and the reflections are very alluring. Within the shallow coral backyard on the cave’s entrance, you possibly can even spot mandarinfish.


The beautiful stalactites of Chandelier Cave


Reefs of Marvel

There isn’t a doubt that Palau’s superheroes are its pelagics, however we can’t overlook the spectacular partitions and coral gardens that dominate the substrate right here. At Massive Drop-Off, we discover a spectacular deep wall coated in a labyrinth of sentimental corals and historic sea followers the scale of a small bus. In the meantime at Dexter’s Wall, placing anemones bloom from what seems to be an impeccable grassy garden.


Beautiful pink whip coral extends from the substrate at Massive Drop Off


A few of Blue Nook’s resident education fishes


The Darkish Arts

At night time, the ocean reveals its cosmic magnificence. Microscopic plankton fills the water column, as a plethora of otherworldly creatures assert their presence. Many are tiny and of their larval phases, luring us with their alien mild shows. The migration of those unusual critters from the twilight zone (mesopelagic layer) to shallower depths (epipelagic layer) is believed to be the biggest migration of species wherever on our planet, and extremely, it occurs right here each single night time of the 12 months.

First began commercially in Hawaii greater than 15 years in the past, blackwater diving is quick changing into standard in Palau. The waters right here supplied an amazing alternative for us to attempt our hand on the difficult darkish artwork of blackwater pictures. And we should say, capturing these cosmic critters on digicam is certainly a problem!


A hitchhiker clings to a tiny jelly throughout a blackwater dive at Turtle Cove


Now Let’s Speak About Intercourse

After seven days of diving the very best of Palau, it was time to witness the “better of the very best”—the biggest spawning aggregation of bumphead parrotfish identified to our planet. With over 20 years of expertise guiding divers in Palau, Richard Barnden of Distinctive Ocean Expeditions has an unmatched information of the very particular spawning occasions that happen right here, that are believed to be linked to the moon section, temperature, and tides. Richard says: “February is doubtless the very best time to see the world’s largest inhabitants of the world’s largest parrotfish as they spawn.”

We gear up in anticipation. The sunshine is low and we marvel how properly our cameras will carry out in such low-light circumstances. Richard checks the dive web site. Arising and down within the waves, he indicators the boat captain to manoeuver into place. We descend. Massive numbers of bumphead parrotfish start to look, arriving in from the shallows contained in the lagoon the place they’ve been sleeping. They faculty above the sandy backside, shifting about quickly as if passing invites to one another for the celebration that’s about to begin.

You possibly can see the thrill constructing. There are greater than 2,000 people now, and they’re right here for one factor: to bop the dance of affection. Then, like a New Yr’s Eve fireworks show, females rush upwards in the direction of the floor in a cheek-to-cheek embrace with a bunch of males. In an explosion of white, her eggs and the male’s sperm are concurrently launched—their timing is pure perfection. A big bull shark glides previous, inside touching distance, searching for a feast. Capturing this particular second on digicam is right down to pure luck. You have to be in the precise place at precisely the precise time.


A bunch of bumphead parrotfish cluster in anticipation to spawn


Females are outnumbered ten to 1, so the possibility of fertilization of her eggs is excessive—though the survival of her offspring is the other. This repeats again and again as lots of of females spontaneously sprint upwards in what is without doubt one of the most magical occasions we’ve ever witnessed. Inside minutes, the ocean is a cloud of white. The tide is now taking the fertilized eggs out on their journey to the open sea, the place—in the event that they’re fortunate—the currents will ship them again to the security of the reef nursery in two months’ time as little bumpheads.

Richard tells us that little was identified in regards to the replica cycle of the bumphead parrotfish, and in reality, up till the final decade, there have been few faculties seen in Palau. The species is, nonetheless, now completely protected in Palau, and underneath Richard’s knowledgeable steerage, it’s now doable to witness this spectacular occasion year-round.

As we depart Palau, we won’t assist however suppose that when conservation traditions of the previous mix with exemplar safety guidelines of the current, superb issues can occur. The well being and abundance of the marine ecosystem in Palau is a testomony to the dedication of the Palauan individuals to reside by a set of values and behaviors that put their pure atmosphere first. They’re really a job mannequin for us all to aspire to—and the explanation diving right here in Palau is so unbelievable.


A feminine bumphead parrotfish surrounded by males makes a fast ascent to spawn, making a cloud of white


Planning Your Journey to Palau

Learn how to Get There: The Republic of Palau lies within the Western Pacific Ocean, practically 1,000 miles east of the Philippines. Entry to diving right here is from the capital of Koror, a four-hour flight from Taiwan or a thee-hour flight from the Philippine capital of Manila. Koror’s Worldwide Airport is serviced by United Airways and China Airways.

Who to Dive with: Though there are land-based operators in Koror, as a result of distance to a lot of Palau’s standard dive websites, one of the simplest ways to dive Palau is by liveaboard. A best choice is the Palau Siren, a long-established a part of the Master Liveaboards fleet.

When to Go: Grasp Liveaboards operates the Palau Siren year-round with specialised journeys in collaboration with Richard Barnden of Unique Ocean Expeditions to witness the spawning of the bumphead parrotfish and the spawning of the purple snapper, each of which happen every month in Palau.

Diving: Water temperatures are heat, starting from 81–86°F (27–30°C) so a 3mm wetsuit is ample. Through the months of January and February, it’s doable to have chilly thermoclines, which may trigger sea temperatures to drop to 65–7°0F (23–26°C). Visibility is commonly limitless and may attain as much as 100 toes (30 meters) on good climate days. With the energetic currents of the Pacific Ocean sweeping via Palau, a lot of the dive websites are really useful for skilled divers solely. The usage of a reef hook may be needed on a number of dive websites on the outer partitions of the barrier reef, together with the world-famous Blue Nook.


The Palau Siren at residence in its sapphire waters



In regards to the Authors: Based mostly in Melbourne, Australia, Anita Verde and Peter Marshall have a ardour for the planet’s wild locations, and thru their photos and narratives hope to encourage higher appreciation and safety of the pure world. When they don’t seem to be underwater or within the mountains, in addition they work professionally as strategic consultants, advising governments and trade on sustainable vacation spot planning and growth, funding attraction, authorities relations, model technique and advertising. www.summitstoseasphotography.com