A Slice of Per­fec­tion DIVE IN

From hec­tic spawn­ing events to mag­i­cal black- wa­ter encounters, Palau div­ing never dis­ap­points

Sport Diver - - Dive Travel - TEXT AND PHO­TOS BY SI­MON LORENZ

Pil­lars of ex­cited fish erupt all around us in an ex­plo­sion of new life as we’re sur­rounded by thou­sands of white-faced bump­head par­rot­fish in the solid-blue wa­ter of Palau. I can even see a bull shark at­tack­ing a group of dis­tracted bump­heads, al­beit with­out suc­cess. Twenty species come to Palau in mas­sive groups of up to 10,000, re­leas­ing sperm and eggs into the cur­rents and al­low­ing their off­spring to drift un­til they ma­ture enough to pop­u­late the reefs. In a week of div­ing on Palau Siren, this is one of many bizarre — and un­for­get­table — dives.

Twenty-five years of in­sight­ful govern­ment pro­tec­tion has helped Palau be­come one of the health­i­est reef sys­tems in Asia. A great way to en­joy the spoils is to dive cor­ner sites such as Blue Cor­ner, where the tidal cur­rents push over the reef and thou­sands of fish feed on in­com­ing nu­tri­ents. Up to 100 reef sharks surf these cur­rents, glid­ing by close to hooked-in divers.

The waters around Palau are deep — they plum­met down to 30,000 feet on the east­ern side, pro­vid­ing per­fect con­di­tions for black-wa­ter div­ing. We de­scend to­ward the sus­pended video lights po­si­tioned be­neath the boat; they set the stage for trans­par­ent ju­ve­nile fish, cephalopods, lar­val- stage crus­taceans and pelagic jel­ly­fish, and other gelati­nous an­i­mals.

Adding to the va­ri­ety of dives are the wrecks dat­ing back to World War II, when a Ja­panese fleet was sunk in­side the la­goon. Sev­eral of the wrecks — such as the freighter Chuyo Maru — sit up­right on the seafloor with guns and masts beau­ti­fully over­grown by col­or­ful soft and hard corals.

We trav­eled all around the la­goon in a seven-night cruise on the In­done­sian-style sail­ing boat. The chef sur­prises every day with a mouth-wa­ter­ing ar­ray of dishes. If ex­pe­ri­enc­ing mas­sive spawn­ing events, thrilling hook-and-hang dives and sunken his­tor­i­cal ar­ti­facts doesn’t im­press you, there’s al­ways a fresh smoothie and hot towel wait­ing on board.

Free­d­iv­ing Fins To cap­ture fast-paced spawn­ing events, one needs to swim hard. Free­d­iv­ing fins are use­ful. For photography, it pays off to ditch the fish­eye for a wide-an­gle lens to get closer to the ac­tion. Lights It’s chal­leng­ing to fo­cus on sub­jects while shoot­ing in black wa­ter. Use a for­giv­ing lens, and don’t use diopters. A wide-fo­cus light and a nar­row-spot­ting light are use­ful to find sub­jects.

On Land and Sea Af­ter ex­plor­ing Palau’s wrecks and cur­rent dives aboard Palau Siren, you can ex­tend your stay at Sam’s Tours for black-wa­ter div­ing, a Unique Dive Ex­pe­di­tion or top­side treks to his­toric WWII sites. sam­s­tours.com siren­fleet.com

TRIP HIGH­LIGHTS Clock­wise from left: Ja­panese WWII tanks rust away on Peleliu Is­land; bump­head par­rot­fish spawn en masse off the coast; pelagic jel­ly­fish paint the scene at night; the Palau Siren at an­chor. To­tal pas­sen­gers: Cab­ins: To­tal crew: Length: Be

Day 1 Our warm-up dive is Blue Holes, a cav­ern the size of a soc­cer field, mes­mer­iz­ingly lit up through the four sky­lights. Ad­ja­cent Blue Cor­ner is stage to troupes of reef sharks and fish swarms fill­ing each diver’s en­tire field of vi­sion. Day 3 The Pa­cific War left divers with an un­der­wa­ter mu­seum. We visit the Chuyo Maru, which sits up­right, com­plete with guns and masts. The more ex­pe­ri­enced of us en­ter the in­tact en­gine room, ex­plor­ing silt­cov­ered ma­chin­ery. Day 4 Af­ter a day of blue­wa­ter div­ing, we dive 50 feet be­neath the boat, where video lights at­tract ocean dwellers that rise at night to feed closer to the sur­face. We sharpen our macro photography skills while drift­ing above the black abyss. Day 6 The crew takes a chance in Ger­man Chan­nel, pass­ing the swarm of fusiliers and div­ing into the blue at this fa­mous cur­rent-swept site. Then, big shapes ap­pear and 10 manta rays bar­rel feed around us in big-fish heaven. THE BOAT Palau Siren

Reef Hook Rip­ping cur­rents bring fish and divers to Palau. Div­ing mul­ti­ple spots on one cor­ner means reg­u­lar hook­ing and un­hook­ing, so a coil-based reef hook is eas­i­est as it does not need to be rolled up. Fish-eye Lens It’s also help­ful to use a fish-eye lens shoot­ing wrecks. In­side the wrecks, strobes need to be used care­fully. Rais­ing them high helps to avoid over­ex­posed bot­toms.

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