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Palau Trip Report, March 2015

Palau Trip Report, March 2015
For our group trip to Palau we were joined by an international mix of divers coming from the UK, Australia, US, Canada, Germany, Poland and Indonesia. We boarded Palau Siren from Malakal harbour during a beautiful sunset ready to set sail on our 10 night trip around Palau’s islands. The crew on the boat quickly served everyone a refreshing drink then without waiting any longer we unpacked and set up our dive gear for the first dive the next morning.

Our first dive was on the Iro Maru, a 143 meter Japanese Navy wreck which was a supply vessel torpedoed by a US submarine on its way from the Philippines to Palau. The bow displays a large crescent where the torpedo hit. The wreck is teaming with marine life and fully encrusted with a variety of hard corals, clams and oysters. Our next dive was Sandy Paradise, where we observed cleaner wrasse eagerly demonstrating what they like most – cleaning our hands and Diego’s bald head! Butterflyfish, Bigeye fish, Blue Dragon nudibranchs, Leopard Chromodoris nudibranchs, Barramundi Cod and Unicorn fish are just a few of the residents of Sandy Paradise. Not long into the dive we started to see some action! Two Grey Reef Sharks circling near the surface breaking through schools of Barracuda and Bigeye Jacks. This was just a taster of the shark action we would see in Palau over the coming days!

On our afternoon dive in Ulong Channel we saw more Sharks patrolling along the reef. There were lots of Grey Reef Sharks and Whitetip Reef Sharks with some have mating scars on their torso. Another interesting sighting was a Grey Reef Shark with a fishing line on its gills and another with a tag on its dorsal fin. Jon spotted a large Bull Shark among the patrolling sharks! At the end of our dive a few more sharks appeared from the blue and Caroline counted there were 14 juvenile Grey Reef Sharks! Of course Ulong Channel is not only about sharks, the dive site is full of healthy hard corals and smaller marine life too. We went back to Sandy Paradise for our night dive and encounters included Slipper lobsters, Decorator crabs, Marble shrimps, Pufferfish, Crinoid shrimps, Boxer shrimps, Flatworms, Nudibranchs and a Green Moray eel. What a first day! During dinner the two groups, yellow and blue, exchanged stories while filling their log books and everyone was super excited for the next day’s diving!

The next day we moved to Gnemelis Island to dive German Channel. We did not have to wait long to see some Mantas action! After a few circles one Manta decided to barrel roll in front of Yen, JB, Caroline, Stephen and Eric! We also saw lots of fish getting cleaned near the Manta cleaning station. The site was home to lots of Midnight snappers, Barramundi Cod, Silversides, Triggerfish, Fusiliers, Whitetip Reef Sharks and Grey Reef Sharks. After we had our second breakfast we dived Peleliu Cut and Blue Corner, two sites that gave our adrenaline a boost with the sight of more and more Grey Reef Sharks hanging out in the current. Eric and Russell also spotted a huge Bull Shark near Peleliu’s cut and we were now getting used to lots of very close shark encounters combined with massive schools of snappers hanging around on the reefs. We secured our position on the dive sites with reef hooks to watch the show of sharks chasing schools of fish, occasionally the sharks splintered and chased other sharks like they were playing – not slightly affected by the wild currents! When we ascended from the reefs we were entertained by huge schools of Barracuda and Bigeye Jacks making tornado formations.

For our next days diving we went back to Blue Corner. This time the current was very mild. The sharks were cruising and coming close to us and we used this opportunity to watch the sharks behaviour and we spotted one shark has a fishing line attached on its gills. We wished we could take it off! We also saw Wahoo, Mackerel, Filefish, Chevron Barracudas, Yellowtail Barracudas, Sturgeon fish, Pyramid Butterflyfish, Green Turtles, Redtooth Triggerfish, Moorish Idols, Parrotfish, and finally we met the resident Napoleon Wrasse who loves to greet divers at Blue Corner! This friendly Napoleon kept following us like a puppy and stayed until we finish our safety stop, we said goodbye but we knew we’d be coming back because the diving is always amazing here!

Of course Palau is not only about Sharks and Mantas it also has lots of wrecks, caves and its famous Rock Islands and Jellyfish Lake. Palau’s caves include Blue Holes, Virgin Blue Hole and Chandelier Cave. For our dives at the Blue Holes and Virgin Blue Hole our skiff driver dropped us carefully so we would not damage the healthy coral around the cave entrances. Both caves have interesting formations offering photographers lots of opportunities to play with sun rays and divers silhouettes illuminating their paths with torches. At the Virgin Blue Hole exit Bonnie saw a family of Bumphead Parrotfish eating. After a few seconds they realised they were being watched and swam off. There was also a Whitetip Reef Shark resting on the sand and after the Bumphead Parrotfish were gone, another Whitetip approached the resting one – they circled a few times and twisted for two seconds and we thought they were going to mate in front of us. Sadly they didn’t continue the act – one left and the other went back to resting on the sand. For our next dive we headed to New Drop Off to see more shark action and although the sharks were very deep Shannon saw a Grey Reef Shark getting cleaned – wow so much to learn about animal behaviour on this trip!

For the night dive we decided to do a ‘Black Water Dive’ at Turtle Cove. It was an amazing experience to see the weird critters that we never seen anywhere else, not in Lembeh, not in Ambon or Anilao or Kimbe Bay! An unidentified Octopus landed on Bonnie’s mask and decided to stay there for the rest of the dive – Bonnie showed her new friend to others – Shannon got the most awesome photo! Going back to the boat everyone was full of excitement about the Black Water night dive. After a few nights on the ocean we had a lovely picnic at Two Dog beach. Just a few hundreds meter from the picnic spot the crew showed us an abandoned plane wreck on the island. Of course everyone had their camera ready to capture this history.

During our trip we also did Palau’s iconic Nautilus dive (we had 9 Nautilus!) and snorkelled in the spectacular Jellyfish Lake. The Siren crew arranged the schedule carefully so we could have the Jellyfish Lake to ourselves. Over time the Golden Jellyfish in the lake have adapted and shed their stinging cells. The Jellyfish follow the sun each day using the sunlight to produce sugars from the algae that live in their tissues. The other residents in the lake are Cardinalfish and anemones that grow below the mangrove roots and eat the Jellyfish.

For our third night dive we went to Haf Adai Wreck in Malakal. The highlights of this dive were juvenile Pinnate Batfish, lots of Tozeuma shrimps, Twin Spotted Lionfish, Spider crabs, Flatworms, Blue Dragon nudibranchs and Decorator crabs. Returning to the Palau Siren boat everyone gathered on the port side to greet the night divers and sing Happy Birthday to Tina! The chef prepared a big birthday cake for Tina and we shared this for our desert!

Unusual for the season the weather picked up so we decided to go to Blue Corner, Sandy Paradise and German Channel again for more Shark and Manta action. The diving was different when the current was coming in, going out or slack but we always had good times on every dive! After the weather settled back we sailed to Ulong Island to dive Ulong Channel and Siaes Tunnel, then we moved to Malakal to dive Chuyo Wreck and the Jake Seaplane. A mix of macro and big fish were seen, including Giant Trevallies, Napoleon Wrasse, Bigeye Jacks, Fusiliers, Unicorn fish, Parrotfish, Whitetip Reef Sharks, Blue Snappers, Dog Tooth Tunas, Moorish Idols, Hawksbill and Green Turtles, Red Fire Goby, Spiny Lobster, Pyramid Butterflyfish, Grey Reef Sharks, Brown Marbled Groupers, Flatworms, Soldierfish, Yellowtail Barracudas, Titan Triggerfish, Clown Triggerfish, Red Snapper, Redtooth Triggerfish, Batfish, Cuttlefish and Octopus. The next day we dived the Ulong Coral Garden, Siaes Corner and for the night dive everyone requested the Black Water Dive again and this time Yen got lucky! It must have been a female Octopus as it jumped into his palm and was just happy to stay there posing for the photographers.

For the last dives we headed back to our favourite dive site, Blue Corner, and enjoyed it at its very best! We were greeted by Midnight Snappers, huge schools of Bigeye Jacks creating a wallpaper in the blue and then the Grey Reef Sharks and Whitetip Reef Sharks that would come in and break up the schools of fish. A dive we will never forget!! Our final dive was at Chandelier Cave. This cave is comprised of five chambers, four are water filled (each with an air pocket) and the fifth is completely above water. We were briefed to turn off all dive lights when entering the cave so we could feel the real meaning of black. After a while the light from the cave entrance became visible and we could see an eerie green glow. Certainly it was fun to surface and breathe the air in each chamber, take photographs of the stalactites and our reflections in crystal clear water. Coming out from the cave we spotted Mandarin fish and a Banded Sea Snake hunting. What a dive to wrap up our fantastic Palau trip!

We enjoyed the rest of the day relaxing in the glorious weather thanks to the crew who looked after our dive gear, washing and hanging it to make sure it would be dry ready for packing. Dinner was a big farewell party for us, everyone shared photos from the trip and couldn’t believe what an amazing 10 nights we’d spent together underwater and above the water. No one was a stranger anymore we all became a big family of Equator Divers! We chatted and planned the next trips to Raja Ampat, Papua New Guinea, Cocos, Galapagos… adventures to be continued!!!