Every time I visit Palau is like the first time, and I become enchanted anew by the islands’ mystique, especially once my lens is focused on seascapes that shelter vibrant jumbles of chaotic marine life. As a biologist and photographer, the fusion of Palau’s limestone and volcanic islands has always presented a paradox — seascapes of ethereal beauty, bursting with marine life, that at the same time reflect the harsh realities of natural selection and the ravages of war.
Palau was formed from dark volcanic rock and the uplifted bones of ancient coral reefs. Much like other island nations in Micronesia, Palau above the waterline is swathed in luxuriant green vegetation, but below the surface, it really stands apart. Perched at the edge of the Coral Triangle, the islands shelter more than 1,500 species of fish, 700 species of corals and anemones, and countless other invertebrates. The archipelago’s extensive mangroves, sea-grass beds, marine lakes and coral reefs constitute a diving utopia. From giant, charismatic megafauna to micro invertebrates, there is always something new to discover in Palau’s waters.
Understandably, nearly all divers are most energized by the big shark dives and vertical walls of Palau’s barrier reef, but I also love investigating the secrets offered by the lagoon. In the end, I’ve found there is only one answer that solves the quandary of where and how to spend precious underwater time in Palau: Keep coming back. — Ethan Daniels
DIVER'S GUIDE TO PALAU
Average water temp: 83 degrees F
What to wear: 3 mm full wetsuit or shorty
Average viz: 60 to 100 feet
When to go: Year-round; high seaon is November to May
CAN'T MISS DIVES
Virgin Blue Hole
A wide, horizontal tunnel beginning at 90 feet leads to a wall riddled with winding canyons and swim-throughs. This beautiful but often-forgotten site sits just off Ngemelis Island.
A vibrant vertical wall adorned with soft corals and gorgonians drops precipitously into the abyss. Drift along the wall to a terraced corner where reef sharks and schooling fish aggregate.
One of the prettiest of Palau’s many shipwrecks, the 285-foot Japanese freighter sits upright in 35 to 90 feet of water, covered in bushy black corals, oysters and small clumps of coral.