mandarinfish photographed in Palau by coral triangle adventures

 

aerial of turtle cove in Palau photographed by Coral triangle adventures

Aerial view of Turtle Cove.JPG

Palau is where it all started for Ethan and I and every time we return, it reminds us of just how much we love what we do! The reefs looked spectacular as ever and our group of 16 snorkelers enjoyed every minute of our time on sites from the outer barrier reef to the inner lagoon.

We began our 10-day snorkeling tour with a special CTA ‘Rock Island Tour’ in Nikko Bay. Having spent many years exploring this incredibly scenic bay, I took our guests to several of our special snorkeling sites – which looked fantastic – as well as to a few hidden gems including unusual caves, tunnels to all-but-hidden marine lakes, and relics from WWII. It was so nice to visit the ‘old stomping grounds’ and see that the reefs we’ve enjoyed so much are looking, in many cases, even better than they did 20 years ago. After a fun-filled day playing in Nikko Bay, we boarded the Rock Islands Aggressor to begin our seven-day exploration of Palau from the comfort of a truly superb liveaboard.

A purple dottybakc photographed in Palau by coral triangle adventures

Purple Dottyback…

We started at the southern end of the barrier reef with a visit to Ngedebus Coral Gardens and Turtle Cove. Both reefs offer an incredible diversity of fish and coral and we had good encounters with both black and white tip sharks, turtles, and a spotted eagle ray. The next day, we spent the morning snorkeling the magnificent reefs around Virgin Blue Hole. Our weather looked good and with the low tide in the afternoon, we snorkeled one of the most dynamic places in the world: The famous Blue Corner! We started at Blue Holes, a series of sink holes that can be accessed from atop of the reef and have huge exit chambers beginning at 30 feet deep. We hovered over the enormous openings and watched as the light bounced off of fish and coral below. With a slight drift to the corner, we made it there in time to see all of the usual suspects that make this site so incredible. Napoleon Wrasse, Black and white tip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, turtles, schools of barracuda, jacks, and, of course, the ever present schools of pyramid butterflyfish and red-tooth triggerfish out in the blue waiting for food to drift by. Was that enough to call it an amazing day? Nope! That night we snorkeled Big Drop-Off and saw octopus, squid, basket stars, and our special blue lights brought out the fluorescence in coral as if the coral was electrified!

Corals fluorescing in Palau photographed by Coral Triangle Adventures

Corals fluoresce…

The next morning, we went back to Big Drop-Off to snorkel above the 1000-ft wall during the day. Calm, clear blue skies and seas and a brisk current promised a fantastic snorkel. Upon entering the water, we immediately felt the energy of the reef! Turtles, sharks and thousands of colorful fish greeted us within our first few minutes and we even had a large “day” octopus hang out with us for over ten minutes. We drifted over lush hard and soft coral gardens along with the ever present schools of pyramid butterflyfish and red tooth triggerfish hovering just off from the reef to capture plankton as it passed by. It was indeed one of my best snorkel sessions in many years! In the afternoon we visited German Channel where shallow coral gardens gave way to expanses of sand where we found spotted eagle rays and white tip reef sharks.

Endemic jelly-eating anemones consume both golden and moon jellies in Jellyfish Lake Palau

A moon jelly…

The following day we planned our morning snorkel around Palau’s Jellyfish Lake. We planned for an early morning venture and it paid off with intimate experiences with hundreds of jellies in view at any given time. For me, I was interested more in the endemic anemones that prey upon the two species of jellies that reside in the lake (the endemic golden jelly (Mastigias papua etpisoni) and the moon jelly (Aurelia aurelia). I was hoping to see them actually capture one but only got as close as to see one that was already ensnared by the anemone’s tentacles. In the afternoon we visited Giant Clam City, and a couple of snorkeling sites near the Milky Way.

lobophyllia photographed in Palau

Large polyp corals…

With only a couple of days left on the Aggressor, we once again took advantage of the great weather and visited another part of the barrier reef near my favorite island group: Ulong Island. The coral in Ulong channel is simply amazing. Blue staghorn and massive table corals dominate the shallow areas while large grouper, grey reef sharks, and horse-eye jacks in seemingly never ending numbers hover effortlessly in the middle of the channel. After a ‘Rock Island Tour’ amongst the beautiful islands that make up Ulong, we snorkeled at Soft Coral Arch where, you can imagine, colorful soft corals adorn the walls along a partially submerged hole through the rock island. We also visited a shallow fringing reef that gave us great chances to spend time with a herd of young bumphead parrotfish as well as almost every species of butterfly fish that can be found in Palau.

A marbled nudibranch photographed in Palau by coral triangle adventures

A colorful nudibranch…

Our next couple days were all within the lagoon and around the area of Nikko, German Lighthouse, and Risong Bay. Risong Bay is the one place in the world where snorkelers can reliably see the colorful but ultra-shy mandarinfish. German Lighthouse was a required visit for the scenery (so nice back there!), and Nikko Bay for further snorkeling adventures around WWII wrecks and reefs with an amazing diversity of hard corals.

Butterflyfishes of Palau

The general census from the group was that this was one of their favorite snorkeling trips of all time and I am inclined to agree. We had great conditions for what we wanted to do and we were able to take full advantage of that and see as much of Palau as we could during our 10-day snorkeling tour.

Like last time, we made a poster of all of the butterflyfish species we saw and did pretty well with 24 out of 33 real possibilities (the other few are either too deep for snorkelers or rare). Given the amount of fun we had, you can bet that I am already looking forward to our visit again in 2021!

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