Salarias segmentatus blenny at Lava Rocks
Whereas Palau is legendary for thrilling drift dives, beautiful reefs, and breathtaking massive animals at its outer atoll, there may be, actually, one other aspect to it, one much less apparent to the informal customer.
The seed of a macro-centric journey was planted greater than a 12 months in the past, when Tova Harel, proprietor of Palau’s Fish ‘n Fins dive store, advised my spouse MJ and I that she thought Palau might need nice macro images potential. MJ and I are avid macro/supermacro photographers, and the thought of an exploratory journey there intrigued us—even when it meant lacking the wonders of the outer reefs. We reside in Guam, and Palau is shut by, so if the experiment was a bust it’d be recoverable.
So, substituting the jaw-dropping great thing about the Rock Islands for a muck across the silt, we scheduled our journey. Earlier than we left Guam, we studied maps of areas in and across the diving base of Koror and conferred with native consultants, searching for potential websites. We checked tide tables and lunar phases to plan dives for the optimum time for macro images.
My preliminary ideas revolved round two focal factors. First, the realm beneath the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge, a 1,300-feet-plus cable-stay construction that spans the Toachel Inlet and connects the islands of Babeldaob and Koror. It changed an older bridge that catastrophically collapsed in 1996, and the sooner bridge’s wreckage stays within the water. And second, discovering areas with darker sand, hydroids, seagrass, algae, and remoted coral heads. The very best case final result could be if (i) the bridge in contrast nicely to Florida’s well-known Blue Heron Bridge, and (ii) we’d discover ample websites rivaling muck meccas like Lembeh or Anilao.
Coryphellina exoptata nudibranch at Friendship Bridge
Adhering to the legal guidelines of best-laid plans, the outcomes had been combined, with nice surprises outweighing disappointments. We dove the bridge’s western aspect twice, and whereas we didn’t see as wealthy an array of critters as Blue Heron Bridge, the positioning was terrific. The areas near shore had been wealthy with colourful sponges, hydroids, and corals of many varieties. We discovered some stunning aeolid nudibranchs, quite a few flatworms, and lots of blennies. One among our group members mentioned she noticed a saltwater crocodile in a reef crevice—they’re identified in Palau—however alas didn’t get any photographs. (Certain, “No photograph, no see,” however she is a dependable supply and battle/sea tales solely need to be 10% true to be thought of fully so!)
The bridge requires cautious planning. We dove it across the date of a full moon, so tide modifications had been giant, at greater than six ft. The channel itself is a bottleneck and this causes each circulation disruption and a rise in present depth akin to the Venturi impact. We made certain to splash barely earlier than slack tide, which gave us about 1.5 hours of diveable circumstances. We would have liked to plan entry and exit fastidiously as a result of the currents had been ripping proper as much as the slack. The outdated, collapsed bridge is a big underwater landmark and serves as a present break on the lee aspect, however the roadbed was powerful to discover even through the calmest circumstances. The positioning slopes rapidly to 100 ft or extra, and we confined our dives to 65 ft and shallower. On future journeys, I’d positively do the bridge once more, and likewise discover the jap aspect, in addition to a bit deeper.
Pseudoceros sp. flatworm at Friendship Bridge
Our hunt for websites like these in Indonesia and the Philippines wasn’t fairly as profitable. I selected just a few spots round Koror as a result of my expertise with the outer Rock Islands is they’re largely coral vs. muck. Whereas we didn’t uncover Lembeh-like sea life on these dives, we did discover some nudibranchs and different invertebrates within the non-mucky areas. Therefore, a wider search might yield higher outcomes. One disappointment was we didn’t discover any Avrainvillea leaves, the habitat for Costasiella sea slugs, aka “sheep nudis.” (I do know they don’t seem to be technically nudibranchs, however it’s a straightforward approach to clarify them to laypeople.) Transferring ahead, the native group will search for websites with giant quantities of seagrass and different algae, for follow-on exploration.
Glossodoris rufomarginata nudibranch at Lava Rocks
We did one foray to the outer Rock Islands to take a look at the macro habitat. I picked the Ngerchong (pronounced na-rong) Internal website for this, and we agreed on Whale Island for the second website. The latter was uneventful, however Ngerchong did produce an amazing discover, a black bearded goby in one of many spiky Acropora corals strewn in regards to the website’s shallow slopes. We noticed extra of those tiny and elusive fish in different corals. One motive why these outer websites are maybe not pretty much as good for macro is definitely an amazing attribute—they’re pristine and comparatively freed from detritus.
Paragobiodon melanosomus goby at Ngerchong Internal
Conversely, we obtained to be muck experts proper by house base—the docks on the present and former Fish ’n Fins websites. These websites manifest muck in all its gooey glory, with trash and different waste forming an natural matter stew. The websites are shallow and simply accessed from the dock or parked boat. We dove these greater than every other websites, and so they proved fruitful. Off their present dock, I discovered a juvenile harlequin sweetlips, a whirling demon of a fish. We additionally discovered filefish and—the coup de grâce—mandarinfish, at a number of areas. One late afternoon, because it neared nightfall, I noticed a number of of those beauties out and about. They had been clearly headed to their nightly hookups, a wonderful occasion the place women and men hyperlink collectively in a fleeting, vertical bomb burst. I obtained pictures of people however, sadly, couldn’t discover the social gathering.
Juvenile Plectorhinchus chaetodonoides sweetlips at Fish ‘n Fins dock
Synchiropus splendidus mandarinfish at Fish ‘n Fins dock
The dock on the store’s earlier website in Koror is a five-minute boat experience from the present location. Our boat driver recommended the positioning and advised us it bore the ironic title “Brown Nook.” I assumed he was joking till I learn within the Palau Diving and Snorkeling Information that “well-known Nationwide Geographic underwater photographer David Doubilet and his buddy James Watt” had so named it in 1996. Brown Nook didn’t disappoint, both in nomenclature or finds. It’s in all probability the only muckiest website I’ve ever dived, however had areas of surprisingly wholesome staghorn corals. In a single small patch, MJ discovered a few yellow Okinawa gobies. We additionally discovered a big crocodile flathead, juvenile harlequin sweetlips, and several other mandarinfish.
Gobiodon okinawae goby at Brown Nook
Our final set of goal websites had been two of Palau’s wrecks. Most of the wreck websites are a brief boat experience from Koror. We dove the Hafa Adai for a few night time dives and the Teshio Maru for a day dive. The Hafa Adai (the usual greeting in Guam’s Chamorro language, like “aloha” in Hawaii) is a straightforward wreck to entry and is loaded with sea followers, mushy corals, and coral whips. The underside across the wreck was additionally goal wealthy with crabs, shrimp, nudis, and different supermacro topics.
Bryaninops yongei whipcoral gobies on the Hafa Adai wreck
Xenocarcinus depressus spider crab on the Hafa Adai wreck
The Teshio Maru sits in an open space west of Babeldaob and Koror. It has many nudis, the attractive Caloria indica being significantly ubiquitous. Additionally of word, I discovered a small Acropora coral on one of many ship’s platforms and, inside, a tiny yellow determine with brown markings darting round, presumably a panda goby (Paragobiodon lacunicolus)—if that’s the case, an amazing discover. I confirmed our information so he can search for it on his subsequent dive there. As I used to be low on air and backside time, I needed to ascend earlier than I might wait to get a picture. I do know… “No photograph, no see”—once more.
Caloria indica nudibranch at Teshio Maru wreck
Hypselodoris tryoni (foreground) and Goniobranchus coi (background) nudibranchs at Teshio Maru wreck
So, backside line, we had a enjoyable and fruitful journey the place we noticed a aspect of Palau most divers miss. The Friendship Bridge, wrecks, and muck websites had been nicely definitely worth the funding. In case you’re not a macro madman like me, these websites provide straightforward dives to finish every day with a change of tempo from the outer atoll adrenaline rush. We definitely stay up for constructing on our basis on future visits. Many because of Tova, group chief Udi, ace information Ogie, boat captain Troy, and the Fish ‘n Fins household for his or her sort assist and efforts. Paraphrasing a sure giant man: “We’ll be again!”
In regards to the Creator: Steve Wolborsky has lived within the US territory of Guam since 2004. A retired member of each the US army and civil service, Steve discovered to dive shortly after arriving on the island. 1000’s of dives and 30-plus dive journeys later, he’s passionate in regards to the ocean, diving, and all issues underwater images. Steve and his spouse MJ each shoot with Nikon D850s and so they specialise in macro/supermacro. Their favourite areas for the small stuff are Lembeh in Indonesia in addition to Anilao, Dauin, and Puerto Galera within the Philippines—and, in fact, Guam.