Report on a Classic Destination:

Palau aboard Ocean Hunter!

View more Palau Photography by Carl Roessler!

A Silvertip Smiles at You!For twenty-five years Palau has been among the premiere diving destinations in the entire Pacific. Gradually, it added facilities,including world-class live-aboards, to serve an ever-growing market.

Over the years, Palau has not been completely immune from the effects of periodic El Nino intrusions; it suffered heavy damage, for example, during both the 1982-83 and 1990 episodes.

Another of these cyclical warming periods recently extinguished wide swaths of hard and soft corals in the archipelago. My visit in December of 1998 aboard Navot Bornovsky's superb Ocean Hunter live-aboard illustrated both the perils of the phenomenon and how top dive operators can ameliorate the effects for their clients through creative actions.The pink of pinks!

Palau, for several months, was afflicted by Nature's vast climatic cycle; miles of brown coral reef were found where over the generations colorful hard and soft corals flourished. It was hard to dive those familiar reefs, I had known for twenty-five years, and see them in that condition.

It was always certain that this painful episode would end and that it would lead to a re-seeding and recovery of the reefs. I've seen such recoveries before, in famed dive areas such as Fiji and Australia's Coral Sea. This is how Nature renews and refreshes it's wonders--through creative destruction.

Latest news! in a recent e-mail, Navot said "Alot of the corals came back and the walls are covered with new 10" long soft corals. It is the season of the schooling Moorish idols and it is spectacular." The recovery is well underway!!

Click on the two fighting sharks for a larger view.

What was the good news on my December cruise? Why was I happy to dive Palau during the bleaching? First, there were sites which were unaffected, oases of world-class life that were sensational on repeated dives. I was offered dives there that were as thrilling as any in my long memory. I saw a natural shark attack at New Drop-off(with no artificial feeding) that outclassed most of the shark action I have ever witnessed. In a sudden maelstrom of current more than twenty sharks suddenly attacked some hapless creature that was hidden under a fan below me. Due to the current, I wasn't even able to move, only watch--it was over in a few seconds and I was left stunned at the ferocity I'd seen unleashed.

Secondly, intelligent operators like Navot and Tova and their employees are creating new attractions to orchestrate successful weeks for photographers. We did shark feeds by day and (almost) by night; we soared with mantas, we rode the wild currents of Peleliu with 28, count 'em, 28 sharks hunting in the current around us. We did deep corners and twisting caverns, we stalked Mandarin Fish and juvenile spadefish. We puffed puffers and filmed radiant bleached anemones in aurora colors. We visited marine lakes, rode the Ulong Channel Drift, filmed cuttlefish and drifted along serenely in a channel, accompanied by a cat shark.We danced above the reef with schools of big-eyed jacks and rainbow runners, swam with both banded and great barracuda. We met the luckiest scorpionfish in Palau, whose chosen perch just happened to be a mere inch below the rope which held our wildly-swinging shark bait.What a view the little fellow must have enjoyed during the mad, crazy passes the sharks whizzed around him!

We saw a brilliant parade of spectacular subjects, with plenty of help from our crew. Despite all that effort, we were of course disheartened by some parts of some dives where we simply could not avoid traversing fields of dead coral. All of us dream of expanses of rich, verdant coral alive with energy and effulgent with color.We are crushed when we see it (even temporarily) damaged.

Sophisticated divers will of course assess Palau's diving for themselves after hearing this and other reports.I am betting on people like Navot and Tova's operations with Ocean Hunter (for live-aboard enthusiasts) and Fish-n-Fins (for hotel-based diving) to deliver excellent diving with their imaginative response to Nature's challenge. This is where we discover the truth of the old adage that says "When the going gets tough, the tough get going."

I saw that kind of character going to work while I was there!...

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