Palau Reefs & Walls

Palau has some fantastic reefs and walls. Below are some of the sites I visited during my Mar/Apr 2022 trip to Palau. One of the great aspects of Palau diving is that there is something for everyone, including wrecks, caves, shallow reefs, steep walls and a wide variety of sea life.

This is a long post with a lot of pictures so grab a cup of coffee and sit back and enjoy!

German Channel

German Channel has an interesting history. Pre-WW2, the Germans rulers of Palau were excavating phosphates on one of the remote islands. In order to expedite shipping to town and on to Europe, they needed to excavate a tunnel. So, they blasted and dredged the barrier reef between Ngemelis and Ngerchu at the narrowest point.

Below is a short low-res GoPro video I took going through the channel at low tide:

Cruising through German Channel near low tide

The bottom of the channel is sandy and people don’t dive there but the mouth of the opening in the south is what people refer to as “German Channel” when it comes to diving. The main attraction (when they are there) are large manta rays that are at a couple different cleaning stations. I did two dives at the location and saw manta rays on one of them.

Siaes Tunnel

Siae’s Tunnel is one of the deeper dives for “regular” open circuit scuba dives. The “normal” dive is to start down the sheer wall and enter the tunnel around 90-100 feet and then swim into the tunnel. There are a few exits from the tunnel that empty out on to the other side of the wall where you then ascend and finish by paralleling the wall. The tunnel has some beautiful fan coral with the blue ocean in the background which makes for a nice contrast and some great pictures. I did two dives at the site during my trip. Very enjoyable.

Siaes Corner

Siaes Corner is a vertical drop-off that starts about 10-15 feet deep and then drops down deep and then merges into a sandy slope. Once again, the fan coral was amazing and we saw large schools of fish off of the wall. The coolest thing we saw on this wall was an adult shark and about 10-12 smaller sharks cruising along the wall. I couldn’t get too close so unfortunately, the pictures aren’t great, but I’ve included them here. I had the flash firing which only added to backscatter and the sharks were too far away to be illuminated. The adult was corralling the youngsters along.

Ulong Channel

I had this site written down as “Ulong Wall” but I can’t find reference to it in the books about diving in Palau so I’m assuming it was Ulong Channel. So, it is a wall somewhere near Siaes Tunnel and Siaes corner because we were diving in that area. In any case, we saw more schools of fish and more sharks. There was also plenty of other fish, nudibranch, and some giant clams.

Blue Corner

Blue Corner is not only one of the most famous sites in Palau, but I’ve heard that Jacques Cousteau proclaimed it one of the best sites in the world. Many consider it the “signature” dive in Palau. I’d probably consider the wreck of the USS Perry the ultimate dive in Palau, but that is just me and most can’t dive it anyway due to the depth and conditions (I hope to dive it this year on my return trip).

The site is as the name suggests: two gently sloping reefs that meet at a corner (like an elbow) with a steep drop-off into the blue abyss and sometimes very unpredictable currents. In the picture below, note the four “holes” in the reef in the bottom left corer of the photo. That is the area for Blue Hole dives which is also the location of the Temple of Doom dive inside the cavern under those holes.

By Luka Peternel – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=90563891

I had a good dive on the site but was just learning to use my new strobes and it was my first real dive on the trip so the photos aren’t great.

Later in the trip, I got the chance to do a second dive on the site and saw, once again, just a huge variety of sea life.

Big Drop Off

This dive site is also on the outside edge of Ngemelis Island (similar to Blue Hole, Blue Corner, etc.). It was one of my favorite dives on the walls in Palau. The fan coral are simply amazing. We also had really good visibility on the day of our dive.

Turtle Wall

True to the name, we saw some turtles on the wall but, similar to Big Drop Off, there was also some amazing fan corals. I was practicing taking photos with the strobes and getting a shot looking upwards into the blue water and sun.

Ngemelis Wall

I really enjoyed this site. It runs along the side of Ngemelis Island and is formed by two reefs that start very shallow but then come together in a “V” and drop very steeply down. You can somewhat see the intersection of the walls in the top left picture below and then in the bottom right corner. The wall is covered with sea fans.

There is an interesting artifact from WW II. In the upper right picture is a large 6 foot steel sphere connected to a chain. This mechanism was used by the Germans to prevent the Japanese from entering the waterway that leads to German Channel. I believe it was connected to a net and when the ball was lowered the net would be raised.

Note that there is some confusion and some people call this site “Big Drop Off” and some call it Ngemelis Wall but I believe they are two different sites.

Virgin Blue Hole

Virgin Blue hole is a great dive for people who like natural geologic formations and cavern type dives. The dive starts at the mooring buoy and you swim to the obvious large opening in the reef and drop straight down to about 90 feet to the bottom. You can see the exit in the distance along a gently sloping bottom. The exit is back out onto the wall for some more beautiful sea fans. I also managed to find another vertical “chute” along the wall. Overall, a very highly recommended dive.

As you drop down into the site, you can look back up and get some good silhouette pictures of other divers descending. I also gave our Divemaster Ogie two Keldan lights and asked him to light up the tunnel as he swam through it with the hopes of getting some natural light shots of the exit in the distance with the diver lightning up the tunnel. I really had to boost up the exposure and/or ISO so some of the photos are a little “grainy.”

New Drop Off

The currents on this dive can be a bit unpredictable and strong. Our divemaster had warned us and we had our reef hooks at the ready. We dropped down the wall and rode the current along the profile of the wall. After a few minutes, we arrived at a “W” in the wall that the DM had described to us. When we got there, I saw him starting to inflate his BC and fight getting pushed down the wall — that could only mean one thing — a massive and potentially dangerous down current. I did the same and essentially “rock-hopped” across the W structure to avoid getting pulled down deep.

After that, we popped up onto the reef at about 35 feet and hooked in with our reef hooks. The current was very strong — which is generally an indication that there are going to be a bunch of fish and sharks sitting in the current. We weren’t disappointed. It is truly amazing how “easy” it is for a shark to sit in current when we were holding on for our lives. Also, having a full frame camera, housing, strobes, etc. doesn’t make the job any easier. It essentially acts as a sail in the current and pushes you around. You can see the direction of the bubbles from another diver in one of the pictures below and a picture of my broken strap!

After about 15-20 minutes sitting in the current, the strap on my reef hook actually tore! I think it had been rubbing against the rocks and just got frayed. I grabbed the nearest rock to avoid getting swept away in the current and signaled the divemaster who had a very confused look on his face! After a few minutes, we all departed and rode the current into a shallow but calm area.

What a ride!

Miscellaneous Pictures

Below are some other pictures taken throughout the trip that I thought I would include. One of the most interesting fish I saw on a few dives was the “crocodile fish.” True to the name, it has a mouth that looks a lot like a crocodile and it can blend in with the surroundings very well. I’ve included a couple photos of that fish below.

References

Wikipedia German Channel

Palau Diving & Snorkeling Guid by Tova Harel & Navot Bornovski

Saies Tunnel dive site description on OceanHunter

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