Blue Corner of Palau provides premier underwater show

Well-fed sharks circle you and the blue

A Napoleon wrasse awaits his hard-boiled egg handout at Blue Corner, Palau.

By Lora Wray

Diving Palau in the Philippine Sea sent all of my senses staggering. Part of Micronesia, Palau dots the aquamarine sea with a chain of 300 islands, of which only eight are inhabited.

Above and below the water, you're immersed in the truest tropical paradise. My visit there took place in November '96. I relished my stay on the Palau Aggressor II live-aboard dive boat. (Quick review: A+ crew, meals, accommodations; 106-ft. catamaran)

This report covers a well known dive site in Palau, Blue Corner, a heady spot I swooned over twice on this one trip. Blue Corner is at the western tip of the reef off Ngemelis. With its steep drop-off and upwellings of plankton-filled water, the site is a magnet to every size and type of tropical fish, along with a 20-member clan of constantly circling grey reef sharks looking well fed.

To start the dive, we needed to dodge the cruising current, which meant a quick drop to 100 feet and a long swim along a 90-degree vertical wall to the island's western edge. Think of it , what's to stop the current out there, a bunch of teensy islands and vast ocean, which means virtually nothing. The Aggressor crew always carefully assessed the current before letting us jump in. If it was too strong, we'd simply go to another site.

As the smallest diver, I brought up the rear of the group of 18, kicking calmly but nonstop the whole way, watching those cruising sharks the whole way. Not once did I think of how predators like to take out the easy, weaker prey at the fringes of a pack. Not once ... but several times!

When the divemaster spotted our stopping point, we all rose gracefully to 30 feet to find ourselves atop of a marvelously sunlit reef, thriving with every color fish and coral imaginable. There's nothing like diving a shallow reef when the sun hits the white sand full on. The water color vanishes, and you are in a clear bubble, seeing everything with stunning clarity. I grab the opportunity to rest over the sand and watch the tiniest of life forms living their fragile lives. Do the same, and you'll be able to see miniature blennies, who live in coral heads, swivel their tiny eyes about to take you in, you big monster.

Since the current at Blue Corner can be strong, once atop the wall, we pulled out reef hooks and yard of connecting cord the crew had given each of us, and attached ourselves gently to this living surface to allow us to stay put for awhile. The challenge was to find even a small dead spot on the reef to latch onto (to avoid hurting any of the living coral, sponges, and other life.)

Once safely attached, we then peacefully swayed in the underwater breeze and watched the show swim by. Six sharks were always clearly in view and would regularly sweep by within 10 feet of us while another six were fading into the distance. Yet another half dozen or so were invisible, but out over the blue, making a slow repetitive circle of Blue Corner.

As a challenge to myself, when I saw the divemaster swimming freely and easily without his reef hook, I unhooked mine. Sharks everywhere, the threat of a cruising current, and me, a former bookworm who wouldn't put a toe in the ocean, thinks of doing this! But it was no big deal, as I could see from the ease in which the divemaster was maneuvering. (If you don't have finely tuned instincts, don't consider doing the same. People do drift away to Philippines on some of these dives in this area with less watchful dive boat crews!)

The final treat on this dive was feeding the big puppy, Junior, a grand Napolean wrasse. I'll guess he was four feet long, weighing in at 200 pounds. They can grow to virtually twice this size. What a sight! He's an out-of-proportion fish, with a huge bump of a forehead, big pillowy lips and tiny fluttering pectoral fins. "Humphead wrasses," as they're also called, are a rich blue-green and wear the most amazing detailed patterns. A friend has likened them to Celtic designs.

Junior shows up for the handouts, and you may find this hard to believe, but he likes hard-boiled eggs. Don't try to slip him a raw egg; he can sense it right through the shell. Several of us patiently waited as the divemaster held the yummy egg just out of Junior's reach (read, comfort range), so that we could draw close and study this regal fish. I took two turns, since he was so rare and special a creature to me. He would have preferred eating and scooting, but the divemaster knew how to tease him with the food and keep him near.

All of this is waiting there for you to explore, respect and enjoy.

Text Copyright 1998 Lora Wray, all rights reserved.

Photograph Copyright 1997, Mark Ruth, all rights reserved.