PALAU LAGOON offers 100 different dive sites and 1,000 incredible diving adventures. The following are random field notes on seven of the better known locations, where I have always had good luck and great dives. I call them my lucky seven because they have always produced stunning photos and marine life discoveries.
This 3-sided drop-off juts out into the open ocean like a finger pushed out into the blue abyss. Top of the wall is 50 feet and the bottom is 3,000 feet. It is a great place to dive when the current is running. Shark packs of 10 to 20 animals cruise by every few minutes, coming close to the wall. You always see tons of fish schools. What I like best is the school of 80 Pacific barracuda that hang at the top of the wall, just back from the lip.
Definitely a very different wall dive, even for Palau. Three holes in the top of the reef lead to three vertical tunnels that go straight down to 135 feet. The walls of the caves are bathed in an eerie blue light coming from the sunlight above. Upon exiting the cave you are likely to encounter schools of fish and sometimes a leopard shark sleeping on a sand ledge.
A comparatively new dive site and one of Sam's favorites. The upper zone is loaded with large anemones and very colorful clownfish. Several schools of bluelined snapper cruise along the top of the wall and every now and then a school of yellowbacked fuseliers sweep past the divers. This wall is home to a pair of clown triggerfish that display a wild color pattern. There is also a pair of rare blueface angelfish, one of the most elegant members of the angelfish family. There is one place on this wall called ''The Well'' where divers can experience an upwelling current. A semi circular vertical shaft drops straight down from 15 to 130 feet and is filled with huge schools of black snapper and bigeye trevally.
One of Palau's classic drop-offs, this site begins at the incredibly shallow depth of 3 feet and drops straight away to 3,000 feet. The top of the wall is a garden of hard corals tightly packed together. Marine life includes tridacna clams with electric blue colored mantles. There are huge mats of rubbery brown soft coral and small hard corals in pastel blue and pink hues. The face of the vertical wall is covered with sea fans, soft corals and black coral trees. It is an explosion of colors so vivid that it boggles the mind. Every crevice and ledge is occupied with resident tropical reef fish that are both inquisitive and coy.
This is one of the wildest dive sites along Palau's western barrier reef. It juts far out into the currents of the Philippine Sea and requires good diving skills for safe exploration. Originally named for its abundance of gray reef sharks, this is the spot for encountering unusual pelagics. Divers have seen gigantic bumphead wrasse weighing 200 pounds. Other exciting visitors include manta rays, wahoo, yellowfin tuna and blue marlin.
A right angle turn in the wall line forms a sharp vertical corner in the reef at a depth of approximately 90 feet, a huge tunnel passes horizontal through a corner of the reef. It is about 30 feet in diameter and more than 100 feet long. Several small windows on the ocean side of the tunnel wall allow sunlight to stream in. The interior of the walls of the tunnel are lined with huge black coral trees, some measuring 10 feet in length. Giant gorgonian fans of brilliant yellow or reddish orange hues punctuate this forest of marine life. The fish action is lively, with schools of jacks, large dogtooth tuna, turtles and manta rays.
CORAL GARDENS OUTSIDE:
This is a double dive site (outside and inside) and while both are fantastic, I have a personal preference for outside. The reef profile begins at 35 feet and cascades down to a vertical drop-off that plummets to 900 feet. It is my favorite spot for photographing giant tridacna clams that measure 3 feet across and weigh more than 500 pounds. One is located at a depth of 35 feet and the other at 70 feet. The reef terrain is a magnificent garden of tightly packed hard corals that include huge table corals, sharp pointed staghorn corals that are pastel blue and huge dome like formations of knobbed coral. Schools of tropical reef fish cruise over the top of the corals in slow moving formations. It is a great spot for photographing blue streaked fusiliers, yellowtail fusiliers and the big nose unicorn fish.
Whether you are diving with one of Palau's land based dive operators or from a live-aboard, Palau Lagoon and surrounding drop-offs is an experience of a lifetime.