1 In December 2013, I went to Palau and Yap in Micronesia. 15 years had passed since my first trip to the region and five years since I lived in Yap for a year.
2 After 3 flights and 30 hours I arrived in Koror, Palau at 4 in the morning.
3 The Penthouse Hotel, my home for the next 3 weeks. Unlike my previous trips, I would spend most of my time in Palau rather than Yap.
4 Palau is famous for its lush limestone islands - The Rock Islands - as well as for the diving. We where here to see both.
5 My dive buddies for the first part of the trip - Paul, Serene, Tony and Jenny.
6 This part was focused on diving with spawning Bumphead Parrotfish (Bolometopon muricatum). This one is not spawning - you can tell as their faces turn white when spawning.
7 Before we could join the Bumpheads, we had to prove that we are good enough divers though. So we started out in German Channel.
8 Where we encountered some friendly manta rays.
9 Then we dropped into the water outside Ulong Channel, where we found a huge school of Jacks.
10 I am quite sure they are Bigeye Jacks (Caranx sexfasciatus). At least they look as if they SHOULD be called Big Eye Jacks.
11 For lunch we went to "Survivor Beach" on Ulong Island where the Palau season of Survivor was filmed.
12 The beach was full of Hermit crabs.
13 As well as these creatures - sand fleas (Talitridae). They are the reason why all those nice-looking beaches are so devoid of people.
14 We usually had bento for lunch.
15 For dinner, we usually went to the local Thai place.
16 In addition to excellent thai food, they also had great Tuna Poke.
17 Next morning at five we headed out to Grasslands and our first dive with the Bumpheads.
18 For four days, we did our early morning dive here. It was great! Hard to get good photage though... Hopefully this video shows a bit of what it was like.
19 Jenny with our excellent dive guide "Rainbow Boy" Clayton.
20 After the daily Bumphead wakeup dive we continued to classic Palau dive sites such as Blue Corner, German Channel, Siaes Corner and New Drop-off.
21 As we where up early, we usually managed to avoid the schools of divers that sometimes crowd those sites.
22 Some times we hit rush hour though...
23 Serene with one of many turtles at New Drop-off.
24 Jacks swimming up to a Grey reef shark, getting ready to rub themselves against its rough skin to get rid of parasites.
25 Jenny and Serene on the sandy bottom at Grasslands.
26 On the last dive before going kayaking, we returned to German channel and the mantas.
27 For the next part of the trip we went kayaking and snorkeling in the Rock islands. Paul and Serene had left us and May had joined.
28 May listening to our excellent guide Ron Leidich describing the giant man-eating Nepenthes mirabilis that is only found in the Rock islands...
29 The typical mushroom shape of the islands is the result of bioerosion.
30 One of the main bioeroders is the Chiton. Chitons have an abrasive tongue with radular teeth made of magnetite which they use to scrape algea from the rocks. Or, to put it differently - they lick the rock away with tongues of steel!
31 Those lush Rock islands sure look soft and comfy.
32 I soon found out that they are not though. They are hard, slippery and full of sharp rocks. I slipped while exploring an island and cut my arm quite badly.
33 In the evenings we returned to base camp where solar-heated showers, change of bandages and superb dinners waited.
34 We slept in tents on the beach. The small foot bath is a clever way to keep sand out of the tents.
35 The view from the tents was OK...
36 Ron on top of the remains of a Japanese vessel. Palau was the scene of a major battle during World War II.
37 A visit to Jellyfish lake is usually a must if you go to Palau. As we had all been there already we skipped it. We did see jellyfish in other marine lakes though.
38 Tony catching a ride.
39 The protected waters in the marine lakes has resulted in some spectacular coral growth.
40 Different colored version of the same coral species grows next to each other.
41 Many of them are bioluminescent.
42 Corals that usually grow upward instead grow horizontally in shallow water.
43 After two days we moved to a new base camp. This is a short video shot there with a DJI quadcopter. (It is a bit foggy at first, but soon clears up.)
44 Juvenile Teira batfish. Cute as can be.
45 Study of the photographer at work... The red thing top right is a life west. I brought it while snorkeling to rest my hurt arm on - to keep the wound and bandage dry. As you can see, I ended up putting the wrong arm on the life west... Also note the clever strap on the camera, supposed to make it hard to loose it. That only works if the strap is worn around something like an arm though - if not, it just gets in the way. Photo: Ron Leidich
46 Milky Way lagoon is another "must" if you visit Palau. The bottom of the lagoon is a white mud that people rub on their skin as a natural spa treatment.
47 Jenny demonstrating the Milky Way spa treatment. What she knows and most visitors don't though, is that the mud is actually fish poo.
48 One of the highlights of the kayaking trip was visiting Long Lake - a marine lake full of mangroves.
49 We drifted in on an incoming tide and out on an outgoing one. Very tranquil.
50 Flowering Large-Leafed Mangrove (Bruguiera gymnorhiza), with pollinating ants.
51 Ngkesill island. The snorkeling we did around this beautiful island was spectacular. Probably because all of us left our cameras on land.
52 I did get some nice shots of hermit crabs though.
53 Last night of kayaking Ron and Tony showed off their best Kung Fu Panda moves.
54 We had a few days before the next major spawning event, so we did some "regular" dives. Humphead Napoleon Wrasse (Cheilinus undulatus) at Blue Corner.
55 Juvenile African pompano/Threadfin trevally (Alectis ciliaris) at Turtle Wall.
56 Yellowtail Barracuda (Sphyraena flavicauda) at Siaes Corner
57 Jenny at Grasslands.
58 What Jenny was shooting - Garden eels.
59 Sometimes it rained. A lot.
60 Grey reef shark with Remora.
61 Julian joined us for the next spawning event. Here he is in the jacuzzi also known as German channel at rush hour...
62 Spawning Twinspot Red Snappers (Lutjanus bohar) aggregate in even greater numbers than the Bumbheads.
63 Every month, during a few days leading up to the full moon, up to ten thousand of them aggregate early in the morning to spawn at Shark City in Palau. Each day they get more active, culminating in a spawning firework on the last day.
The activity attracts other fishes, especially Midnight Snappers (Macolor macularis), that feed on the eggs released during the spawning.
64 Moorish idols (Zanclus cornutus) also spawn at full moon.
65 And so does the Humphead Wrasse. You can tell it is time by the color of the "hump" changing to brown.
66 I did my 300:th dive with the Whitetip reef sharks at Blue corner.
67 Green Turtle at Blue Corner.
68 One of my favorite activities was hanging with these - Blackfin Barracuda (Sphyraena qenie).
69 Unfortunately, we also saw this grey reef shark at New Drop-off and Blue Corner, dragging a fishing line and lacking its dorsal fin. From the looks of it, the fin had been cut off by a sharp tool, rather than being the result of an accident or bites from other sharks. Amazingly, this shark has been seen for quite some time, so it seems to be surviving despite all.
70 Our time in Palau was coming to an end. Having a day off diving before Tony and Jenny left, we decided to take a helicopter ride over the Rock islands.
71 Malakal, where most of the dive operations in Palau are located.
72 Did you notice that there are no doors on the helicopter?
73 The Arch, one of the most iconic Rock islands.
74 Do you remember Ngkesill Island? With the great snorkeling? This is the reef surrounding it.
75 Cemetery Reef, another great snorkeling site.
76 The famous Jellyfish Lake from above. All those brown dots are jellyfish.
77 In case you wonder, this is what the snorkelers see. (Photo from one of my previous trips to Palau.)
78 After Tony and Jenny left, I had a few days before flying to Yap. I went looking for dragonflies and found this - possibly a female Neurothemis Terminata.
79 The flight to Yap only took an hour, but it was delayed for five hours.
80 I stayed at Manta Ray Bay Hotel, run by my friends Bill Acker and family. I worked here from May 2007 to May 2008.
81 Not much had changed since then. For a while it seemed the island would be turned into a big chinese resort, but that crazy plan seems to have been stopped for now.
82 The mantas are still found in Miil Channel at this time of the year.
83 The arrival of the bi-weekly cargo ship is still a major event.
84 And you still find beautiful Swamp Dragons if you go for a walk in the hills.
85 As well as Green Tree Skinks.
86 But there is now an ATM in Yap! Or even two.
87 As well as a small electronics store.
88 And you can now get fresh locally grown sallads.
89 My stay in Yap this time was short, but I had time to go kayaking in the beatiful mangroves.
90 White Tern (Gygis alba), encountered while kayaking.
91 Traditional stone money, rai, and men's house, faluw, in Maa village, Tamil.
92 I had a great dive at the new shallow cleaning station in Miil Channel. At least 10 mantas in total, 7 at the same time.
93 Most fantastic though, was that the manta Patrik payed a visit. This manta was named after me 15 years ago after my first visit in 1998.
94 When I came back in 2000 Patrik showed up on my first dive. As did he in 2002.
95 And in 2007. The thing is, he is not seen that often, so him showing up when I visit is special.
96 In the morning on New Years Eve United decided to cancel my flight from Yap to Guam that was supposed to leave at half past one in the night. Meaning I would not be able to connect to my flight back to Sweden in Manila. It put a bit of a dampener on New Years celebrations...
97 After a sprint through the transit area in Guam I made the connection after all, leaving the trip with a happy ending.