Palau

April 9th, 2004

palau012.jpgAfter a travel of 3 days we finally arrived at Palau. We left Monday at 7.30 AM and arrived at Wednesday at 5.30 PM at our hotel. We spent quite some hours at the airport of Kuala Lumpur and we had to stay overnight at Manila. When we approached Palau, you saw already from the air hundreds of small, dark green islands, several with small stripes of white sandy beaches, surrounded by all kind of blue, from light turquoise to dark blue. Palau is a group of islands in the Pacific, located about 1000 km east of the Philippines and is part of the Federation Micronesia. Palau has about 18.000 residents, 2/3 lives at the main island Koror. palau010.jpgPalau’s flora and fauna is one of the richest of Micronesia and knows over 1500 species of fish and 800 different corals. Palau is especially known for its ‘big game’, many sharks, manta and eagle rays. This was for us the reason to go scuba diving at Palau.
Yesterday we made our first dives and indeed, what a huge variety of fish and coral! We are quite spoiled qua scuba diving destinations, but such a large variety of coral we had never seen before. With a fast boat we passed tens of small, completely covered rock islands, some with beaches white as snow. We went to one of the outer reefs. palau008.jpgFor the ‘big game’ the outer reefs are THE spots. As it was clouded and the sea was quite rough at the outer reef, we did not go into the open sea, we stayed a little in the lee of one of the islands. But we still saw several sharks, great drop offs, steep walls completely covered with all kind of hard and soft corals, no bottom to see only deep blue. And what a fish, not hundreds but thousands, in all colours and sizes, you often swam through enormous schools of fish. Between the dives we visited an island to have lunch and to relax and of course for us to search lizards. At Palau you can find a large monitor lizard, which can get over 1½ meter. But we have not found one yet. Today we stayed at the inner reefs, as the weather had become quite bad, there is so much wind and really huge waves. Our first dive was a wreck dive. During the Second World War there was a large sea battle at Palau. palau011.jpgWithin 2 months over 15.000 people got killed and everywhere you find ship- and plane wrecks, which are covered now completely. We saw a big crocodile fish hiding at the wreck. The second dive today was again a drop off, we swam in the middle of enormous schools of barracuda’s, who circled beautifully around us. Hopefully tomorrow the weather will be better, we would love to go to the outer reefs, to ‘Blue Corner’, the ‘hot spot’ for diving at Palau.

April 12th, 2004

palau003.jpgToday the weather cleared up and could we finally go to the outer reefs. The typhoon turned luckily to the north. Saturday and yesterday we did not dive as the sky was dark grey and all night very heavy showers and waves as high as we had not seen before. The president of Palau had ordered Saturday a prohibition for the smaller boats to go to the outer reefs. At our diving base we saw at some satellite pictures that a typhoon was approaching neighbour island Yap. The boat would stay close to Koror, but we decided not to go diving. Han still has a cold and has to use nose drops when he goes diving and I get easily seasick with those waves. So we went to look for the sea crocodile and some lizards. First we wanted to rent a car to go to Babelthuap, the largest island of Palau, connected to Koror by some large bridges. Babelthuap mainly exists of tropical rainforests and mangrove forests. But as the most roads are not paved , they warned us that due to the heavy rain showers the roads probably would be impassable, so we took a cab and let us drop somewhere.
palau001.jpgFortunately it was dry in the afternoon. We have found some sea crocodiles, several smaller ones and 2 larger ones of almost 2 meters. We saw many green skinks. Unfortunately again no monitor lizard.
Yesterday there was a complete prohibition of going to sea. So we went again hunting lizards, but as there was no sun, and several rain showers it was hard to find lizards, except for the green skinks which you see everywhere..
When we arrived this morning at our diving base we heard that Yap was almost completely destroyed. 2 Dutch people had arrived last night from Yap, they told us what they had seen and got through. Their hotel should be ‘typhoon proof’, but also there several walls had been collapsed, water stood 1 meter high at the hotel, the diving base was completely destroyed, everywhere they saw pieces of boat, cars, roofs etc. palau002.jpgFortunately there were no deadly victims, but of the normal houses, almost none stood upright, there was no electricity, no running water anymore. So we were really lucky that the typhoon turned to the north and not to Palau. 2 Days ago it looked like the typhoon would approach Palau, at satellite pictures which were taken every 3 hours, you saw him coming closer and closer, but yesterday he turned north.
Today we finally have been diving again at the outer reef and here we came for. Sharks, sharks and again sharks, above, under and next to us, really great! Especially grey reef sharks, white tips and some black tips. We also saw enormous Napoleons, again many large schools of coloured fishes, barracuda’s and turtles. But our diving instructor told us, you can see that the fishes are off their stroke due to the weather, normally you see much more. palau006.jpgEven more as we saw today? Normally you should have seen there also manta’s and eagle rays. At our way back we have been snorkelling in jellyfish lake. At one of the islands you have a lake with sweet water which is completely full with jellyfish, they do not sting. There are only 3 places in the world where you have those jellyfish lakes. We had seen this once before at Sangalakki, thousands and thousands of small jellyfishes. But this lake was really stunning, hundreds of thousands jellyfishes, you hardly could see anything, just a thick cloud of light brown jellyfishes all around you, no blue of the water or the sky. Unbelievable!

April 19th, 2005

We really came at the right moment to Palau. Saturday started ‘shark week’ here. Every night there are lectures at our diving base by marine biologists. Very interesting lectures, with great slideshows and video presentations. Greg Marshall from National Geographic is also here, he has received twice an Emmy award for shark documentaries he participated in. He is the inventor of the crittercam, a video camera which they can place at sharks and other animals, after 2 hours it plops off and floats to the surface. palau004.jpgThrough an antenna at the camera, it can be found back. They received a lot of new information about many animal species and of course beautifully shootings. So we saw also some shootings of the emperor pinguin, one had a crittercam at his back. Of course it very funny to watch him waddling to the sea. Investigators always thought that those penguins foraged at the bottom of the sea. With help of depth meters they had seen that the penguins dove straight ahead to the bottom, some measurements showed a few very short peaks almost to the surface, just beneath the ice, but could not explain those short peaks. Now with the crittercam you saw the penguins almost the whole time peering at the surface, if they saw a fish swimming at the surface, they dove fast to the surface, grabbed the fish and went instantly down again. This happened several times, so this explained the short peaks to the surface, so they were not foraging at the bottom, but at the surface. Of course we also saw many shootings of sharks, these were really great! We also saw some shootings of some of the dive spots where we had been diving the last couple of days. There was every night only a small group of listeners, as it was properly speaking only for our diving base, we were mostly with 15-20 people, including diving staff. So there was always an opportunity to ask questions or to discuss. Another speaker was Phil Lobel, head of the Micronesian shark foundation. He was doing now with some others investigations at Palau, mainly around the Blue Corner, Palau’s most famous diving spot, where it is mostly black with sharks, enormous eagle rays, schools of barracuda’s and much more. This spot has to become a marine park. But how large must such a marine park be? Till how far do the sharks of Blue Corner go? palau007.jpgJapanese and Philippines boats catch thousands of sharks illegally around Palau. Tourism, especially scuba diving is the most important source of income for Palau, so the government wants to protect these places. We and some other divers, were also asked if we would like to help with their investigation, how many sharks, which species, male/female we saw, where, how deep, at what time etc. So writing boards with us.
You have here so many beautiful diving spots, German Channel with its manta cleaningstation, you just have to sit here for some minutes at the sandy bottom and a manta is passing by, sometimes several mantas. Some with a span of 4-5 meter floating for several minutes minutes above your head.
Also very impressive was a shark cleaningstation at Blue Corner, with 7 grey reef sharks queued up, waiting for their turn. They only can open shortly their mouth (standing still), 15-20 seconds, 3 or 4 cleaning fishes started to clean very fast their mouth, left exactly at the right time their mouth, and the shark swam further, some made even a turn and joined at the end of the queue again.
Another lucky shot was a silvertip shark. You saw straight ahead to its movements that he was much more aggressive as the other sharks. palau005.jpg
Also Ulong Channel was great, in front of this channel you saw tens of grey reef sharks patrolling, and the bottom was full with white tips. First we sat a while at the entrance on the sand, admiring all the patrolling sharks, than a streaming dive through the small channel, walls full with enormous corals and many Napoleons.
But Palau is not only known for its ‘big game’, but also for  the little beautifully many coloured Mandarinefishes. Really beauties. You only find them at Mandarine Lake, a small and undeep, almost enclosed bay, close to our diving base, is full with those fishes. I can write pages more with the beautiful diving spots where we have been.
But Palau is also known for its dark green limestone rock islands, paradisiacal islands with tropical rainforests and coral white sandy beaches. Between the dives we visit several of these islands, to lunch, to relax and to search for the monitor lizard. Until now we only found one, high in a palm tree. But the islands are full with several kinds of little skinks, today we even found a very beautiful sea snake at the beach, searching for food.

April 24th, 2004

palau009.jpgThe way back went a little faster, in 2 days we arrived home. Also the last few lectures and dives were great. The last 3 days we bought an underwater through-away camera. But it is hard to take nice pictures with such a camera, but a few pictures give a good impression of what we saw. But the next time we take for sure an underwater camera with us. We would have loved to record some of the beautiful things we saw, with a digital camera you can shot one picture after another, for sure you must have than some nice pictures.
The last day we used for another jungle trip, in the hope to find another monitor lizard. Again no monitor lizard, but we saw many frogs and toads, some snakes and of course many skinks.

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