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Meet the Underwater Creatures of Palau’s Incredible Coral Reef

Seeking a place that awakens your inner explorer?

Journey to Palau to scuba with sharks, snorkel with non-stinging jellyfish, and witness World War II tanks, planes, and shipwrecks being reclaimed by the ocean and jungle. Located approximately 950 miles (1,500 kilometers) east of the Philippines, 200 limestone karst islands surrounded by dazzling coral reefs comprise this lush tropical nation.

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Palau’s Rock Islands

Palau’s astounding beauty both above and beneath the surface is intoxicating. Gazing upon the perfectly sculpted mushroom-shaped islands, adorned with vibrant green trees, your whimsical side can imagine Super Mario bouncing around the atolls, collecting his coveted coins on the way to save Princess Peach.

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Grey Reef Sharks

Palau’s Blue Corner, a bustling oceanic superhighway, tops most scuba divers’ wish lists. Myriad sharks, including grey reef, whitetip, and blacktip, flock to the area, whizzing by as they surf the currents in search of their next meal (don’t worry–it’s probably not you). Reef hooks are your best friend here, allowing you to defy the relentless currents and float effortlessly. Enjoy the thrilling spectacle as baitfish balls shape-shift to avoid their mortal enemies. Since creating the world’s first shark sanctuary in 2009, Palau’s shark populations are thriving, making it one of the best places to see these apex predators.

INSIDER TIPOpt for a seven or 10-day liveaboard experience with the Palau Siren or Palau Aggressor to ensure early access to dive sites before the day boats arrive.

 

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Coral Gardens

Kaleidoscopic walls and reefs, layered with soft and hard corals, bombard your senses as you drift past. Teeming with table, whip and brain corals, friendly Napoleon wrasse, massive humphead parrotfish, soldierfish, and barracuda zip past, enlivening the idyllic scenery.Confirm with your dive operator that you’ll be exploring some of the most popular dive site-Ulong Channel, New Drop Off and Siaes Corner, ideally more than once. Sam’s Tours and Fish n’ Fins are two of the most well-respected dive shops.

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Reef Manta Rays

Admire alluring manta ray squadrons as they fly through German Channel, seeking out cleaner fish to remove pesky parasites before gracefully receding into the blue. Inquisitive and playful, the rays often swoop in for a closer look at scuba divers. You can have exhilarating encounters with these behemoths since they don’t have poisonous barbed tails like their stingray cousins. Interestingly, mantas’ belly markings are as distinct as human fingerprints. If you are interested in contributing to manta ray identification and conservation, photograph their patterns and submit to Manta Trust or Manta Matcher.

INSIDER TIPTo increase the likelihood of these sleek beauties invading your personal space and hovering over you, kneel in the sand and wait. You might even find yourself doing the limbo as they glide over you.

 

 

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Golden Jellyfish

If the thought of floating amongst millions of jellyfish elicits heart palpitations, prepare to be entranced as you witness these harmless, stingless beauties pirouette across Palau’s Jellyfish Lake. While drought conditions led to this famous site closing in 2016, the Golden jellyfish population has recovered and officials reopened the lake in early 2019.

INSIDER TIPTo preserve this UNESCO World Heritage site and avoid damaging these delicate creatures, apply reef safe sunscreen (titanium dioxide or zinc oxide), and swim gently and smoothly without fins. For a unique perspective, sink down and admire their hypnotic pulsing from below as sunlight envelops them.

 

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Hawksbill Sea Turtle

Knowing that only one in 1000 sea turtles survive to adulthood, hearing these prehistoric creatures chomp on sponges and algae is extraordinary.  Hawksbills, like the one above, and Green Sea Turtles are the most common in Palau. When intent on satiating their hunger, these beauties are often oblivious to nearby scuba divers.

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Gorgonian Sea Fan

Massive sea fans with radiant colors sway throughout Palau’s tropical waters. Intricate in design, they host unique sea life, including elusive and speedy Longnose Hawkfish, and sometimes, if you’re extremely lucky, a pygmy seahorse. Since red is not discernible after descending five feet, use a dive light or camera strobe to illuminate fans and appreciate the vivid hues.

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Map Puffer Fish

Solitary Map Pufferfish clumsily maneuver their rotund bodies across the reefs with tiny fins. Upon spotting divers, they often retreat beneath coral ledges, periodically inching forward and peeking out to determine if the perceived threat (you) has departed. Given their unique appearance, one never tires of their maze-like skin and bulbous, googly eyes.

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Jake Sea Plane Wreck

Step back in time and dive Palau’s incredibly well-preserved Jake Sea Plane wreck. Given its intact propeller blades, experts surmise the three-passenger floatplane crashed upon takeoff or landing due to engine failure. Since it’s located at a depth of 45 feet, it’s accessible to both snorkelers and scuba divers.

INSIDER TIPTo learn more about the fierce battles between American and Japanese forces that defined the Pacific chapter of World War II, book a half-day or full-day land tour to see Peleliu Island with Sam’s Tours. You’ll discover fascinating historic relics including tanks, planes and artillery.

 

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Blue Hole

Palau’s Blue Hole dive site is a voyage into the world below. While dropping into the dark cavern might conjure images of terrifying creatures lurking in the darkness, the ambient light from the “windows” above provides a shimmering glow that creates a soothing, otherworldly scene. Peer into the shadows to discover the fascinating residents-enigmatic electric clams and snoozing sharks.

INSIDER TIPFor a meditative experience, roll onto your back and gaze upwards at the light rays dancing above prior to sailing through the wormhole exit at the cavern’s bottom.