Palau—prior to a few years ago—was just a name that meant a distant dive destination on my list of places to go. I had seen the periodical article written with its crystal blue water emerald green rock islands and sea life and coral combinations like no other place diving. A dive site called Blue Corner, sounded like fantasy land, almost as if it were thought up by Walt Disney himself, if he were a diver. In the back of my mind I knew that I would get there one day. I just never thought it would make the impression it did and change my life.
I am not a diver first. I am an artist/photographer, but as I was fortunate enough to move to Florida in the United States as a teenager, diving has been a part of my life for 30 years. Most of my diving for well over 20 years was primarily in Florida and the Caribbean.
During that time in Florida, diving became second nature. I did it so often, sometimes while looking for lobster, I honestly forgot I was diving. I had grown a little complacent, which as we know as divers, is not a good idea; but Palau changed that, and it brings me to this question.
Love affair with diving
Have you ever lost that loving feeling for diving? Not that you don’t want to dive any more, nothing that extreme, but you remember when it was just new and exciting like a new relationship, burning red hot. Now diving has become a constant, reliable and reasonably predictable, safe, and still makes you happy, yet…
This is to all those divers who may have grown just a little complacent in their diving or have been diving the same dive spots so many times that you almost forget you’re diving as I had. As for the new divers out there, you may not know what I am talking about—your love affair with diving is still burning, red hot.
Your desire to be underwater never changes. You’re just happy to be underwater anywhere anytime. Well, when those flames die down a little, or to those who just need or want to bring back that spark, and spice it up a little, I have the place—Palau.
For most divers Palau is on the list of dream places to go, right up there with the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Islands, and Raja Ampat.
East of the Philippines
Palau, for those of you who don’t know, is located in the middle of the Pacific, east of the Philippines, south of Yap. Palau was for three decades part of the U.N. Trust Territory of the Pacific under U.S. administration, this western most group of the Caroline Islands went for independence in 1978 rather than join the Federated States of Micronesia.
A Compact of Free Association with the United States was approved in 1986 but not ratified until 1993. It came into effect the following year when the island nation gained independence.
The addiction starts
Palau has become of a bit of an addiction to me in the last few years. It all started with winning a photography contest to Yap. The plane flight was flying through Palau, so I stopped there first for a week. I was lucky enough to have met Sam Scott, the founder of Sam’s Dive Tours, at DEMA the previous year. He was very interested in my photography and made me feel welcome to come to Palau even before he knew I was coming.
Upon arriving, Dermot Keane, the general manager at Sam’s Tours—the person who started the shark sanctuary in Palau and was instrumental in getting the President to declare all of Palau a shark Sanctuary— greeted me and dialed me in for all my scheduled diving for the week.
From the first moment of my first dive in Palau, I have been in rapture—gliding past table corals in sizes and multitudes that cannot be described other than to say “you have to see it to believe it”; seeing countless species of fish in every direction looking for a place to hide but all the spots are taken already so they are on full display despite their stage fright; then, it is looking over the edge of a wall and me seeing sharks just going back and forth along the wall in anticipation of an easy meal either above or below. The larger reef fish made cameo appearances. The Napoleon wrasse, bumphead parrot, jacks, and giant trevallies, all take part in the show.
This was my first taste of Palau. I was reborn as a diver, at the very least, reinvigorated and reintroduced to diving with the same excitement as it had been on my first dive 30 years ago—unbelievable!
In Palau, I regained a wide-eyed wonderment that had been lost on some decompression stop a long time ago. After your first dive in Palau, you may be like a child and not have any patience in being able to wait for the boat to leave the dock and get going to your next dive just to see if it was all just an illusion. I assure you, it is not. From the moment you dive into the reefs of Palau, the water, the corals, the fish are incredible, not to mention the sharks.
On almost every dive
Almost every dive I have ever done in Palau has had sharks, mostly grey reef, with whitetips almost so plentiful you stop seeing them.
I went diving for a week, in Palau, before I went onto Yap. After Yap I was supposed to go to Manado, Indonesia, for ten days, but Palau had me under her spell. I barely remember being in Yap or changing reservations to stay in Palau. I just went back to Palau for as long as possible and have managed to spend over 180 days on several trips since.
Along with the sharks, barracudas, sea turtles, jacks, giant trevallies, bumphead parrots and the friendliest Napoleon wrasse are numerous. The countless species of fish and endless colors of fans and corals will put a diver into sensory overload. As for me, a photographer, I was often left with not knowing which direction to point my camera, as there were just too many things to photograph.
Three dive sites in particular keep me calling me back for more: Blue Corner, German Channel and Ulong Channel. Of course, there are many more dive sites—honestly, I have not made a dive in Palau at any spot that has not made me pause in amazement.
And a truly (...)