Diving in Palau, an underwater paradise

During my seven months of travel around the world to study and write about climate change, coral reefs and community conservation, I was fortunate to do a liveaboard scuba trip in Palau on the Ocean Hunter III for seven days in May.  Palau is a remote island nation comprised of over 500 islands, mostly uninhabitable. From above it looks like simple mangrove islands. The real magic is below the surface. As the only liveaboard, we had the best reef dives all to ourselves before the day-trippers arrived. To this day I have never seen a higher abundance and diversity of corals, sponges, sharks, rays, and fish. I maybe never will. This video compilation is from two dives we did at the Blue Corner, which was one of my highlights of the trip.

Why is Palau’s marine environment so healthy while others are degraded? One contributing factor is the country’s commitment to protecting marine habitat and prioritizing local fishing. By 2020, 80% of Palau’s Exclusive Economic Zone (330km radius) will be one gigantic, no-take marine reserve, prohibiting extractive human uses. The other 20% will be only open to locally-owned commercial and recreational fishing businesses.  Recent studies suggest that Palau’s conservation experiment is paying off: a 2017 fish study found that marine reserves in Palau had twice the fish biomass and five times the number of predatory fish as that of unprotected areas. Assuming they can find adequate funding to enforce their rules and keep foreign commercial vessels at bay, Palau will become a long-term testament to the value of leaving nature alone if you want it to thrive.

Frederick Smith