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September 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Ocean Hunter III, Palau, Micronesia

a rival to Raja Ampat for marine wonders

from the September, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

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Dear Fellow Diver:

If you've never used a reef hook, you will quickly learn how to in the sixknot current in Palau's Ulong Channel. As I finned down the anchor line, I found the current manageable, but once over the wall, I could only relax and go with it until I was able to snag the reef with my hook to steady myself and watch the action. About a dozen seven-foot-long white-tip and gray reef sharks circled, several making close passes, even within touching distance. Schools of tropical fish teased them, and a couple of fish suffered the consequences. When it was time to go, I deflated my BCD, unhooked and careened into rocks before I could balance myself and join the six other divers for the wild ride through the channel. I bounced with down drafts and skirted mini sand tornadoes, soon losing sight of the divers ahead. Then at the end of the channel, the current normalized, the blizzard of sand settled and we quickly regrouped. Surfacing, I spat out my regulator and whooped. "Let's do it again!"

Ocean Hunter III, Palau, MicronesiaA few days before, I worried I might not be on this trip at all. Because of a flight departure delay, I missed my connection in Honolulu, thereby getting to Koror a day late, nine hours after the noon departure time. However, a rep from the Palau dive shop Fish 'n Fins met me at the airport, whisked me to the office to fill out forms, and then took me by chase boat five minutes out to the Ocean Hunter III, which had remained close in. After being greeted by Captain Kenneth Jolly, Chef Arlee sat me down for a full dinner, including fresh tuna sashimi. I then retired to my air-conditioned deluxe cabin, with a firm king bed and an upper bunk, ample storage space, a desk, chair, private head and fluffy white robes (some divers wore them to breakfast the next day). I was ready to undertake my second voyage on the Ocean Hunter since 2008, again with the same captain and chef.

When it comes to diving, Palau's Blue Corner gets the most hype. The day after I arrived, I hooked in at 75 feet, near the corner that cascades into the deep, to be entertained by white-tip and gray reef sharks, schools of midsized colorful tropicals and five-foot Napoleon wrasse. The slow-moving, bluish- green wrasses, each weighing approximately 300 pounds, cut an impressive picture. Two seemed eager to be stroked by divers, and made passes within six inches, leaning toward divers' hands. Six-foot-long dogtooth and yellow-fin tuna, large mackerel, and schools of bigeye trevally added to the big fish census. While I saw fewer sharks than in 2008, Navot Bornovski, who owns both Fish 'n Fins' and the Ocean Hunter liveaboards, told me by email that shark mating season runs from February to April, during which many nonresident sharks join the party. During my July trip, apparently only local sharks were parading. Novot's wife, Tova, has been conducting research for more than a decade with the Micronesian Shark Foundation, which they founded, and she has not found a significant decline in overall shark population. Since making Palau their home in 1993, the Bornovskis have been leaders in conservation efforts, including establishing a protected shark nursery in the Rock Islands. One of my favorite sightings was at nearby Clarence's -- an 11-foot zebra shark, with its telltale leopard spots and unusually long tail....


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