In September 2013, Palau’s current President Tommy Remengesau announced his intention to protect 80 percent of Palau’s waters as a National Marine Sanctuary. For the month of September 2014, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Dr. Enric Sala is leading key scientists and filmmakers to explore, survey, and document the diversity and abundance of the marine life that will be protected by the new offshore sanctuary. The team will also assess how well inshore marine protected areas have performed to date.
This morning we moved near the southern tip of Palau, to dive where everyone who comes here wants to dive: the Blue Corner. It is an underwater promontory sticking out of the reef like a triangular terrace twenty meters deep. Precipitous walls surround the terrace, and thousands of fish are supposed to congregate there, including barracuda, jacks and sharks. The ocean currents are typically strong, which fish schools appreciate.
When we arrived there were already two diving boats with mostly Japanese tourists. We jumped in the water and immediately saw a school of hundreds of bigeye trevally.
A Napoleon wrasse (also called bumphead wrasse) the size of a car windshield swam straight to us. It touched the dome of my camera. Quickly realizing that we did not have any food to offer (fish feeding is prohibited in Palau), the Napoleon wrasse swam straight to another group of divers, only to feel equally disappointed. It turned around and saw us again, swimming back to us. Maybe the wrasse forgot that we did not have any food.“Sacre bleu!” cried the Napoleon wrasse, disappointed at the lack of free food from divers, or perhaps merely describing his heavenly surroundings. (Photo by Enric Sala)
We also saw a handful of whitetip reef sharks and grey reef sharks, a couple of hawksbill turtles, and a school of barracuda. But the most unique thing we saw was a school of about 30 divers, building a curtain of bubbles. It felt like diving inside a champagne glass.
Tourism is the major industry of Palau. The fact that a hundred thousand people come to this small island nation every year—mostly to dive and observe its underwater life—clearly indicates that there is demand for wild nature. President Remengesau recognized this and announced at the United Nations a year ago his intention to create a large marine reserve in Palau’s waters, aware that ecotourism—and not industrial fishing—is the future of this wonderful country.
The Pristine Seas expedition to Palau is sponsored by Blancpain and Davidoff Cool Water.