The quality and diversity of Palau diving opportunities make this island group a “must” for inclusion in our list of Best Pacific Diving Destinations for exploring coral reefs of the South Pacific.
The Republic of Palau is located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean, a bit over 500 miles to the east-southeast of the Philippines and about 4600 miles to the southwest of Hawaii (see map, right).
Of some 200 islands that make up the island chain, only eight are permanently inhabited.
The islands vary widely in structure, some being high and mountainous and many simply small, low coral islets.
Palau boasts a warm climate throughout the year, with the air temperature averaging about of 82 degrees F. (27 C.). Rainfall is plentiful, averaging about 150 inches annually with the heaviest precipitation between July and October.
Palau diving is rich and varied, for the island group is blessed with the full array of major coral reef types, including atolls, barrier reefs, and fringing reefs.
Far removed from rivers and runoff from any continental land mass, the island group is continually bathed by the clear warm oceanic waters of the mid South Pacific, with underwater visibility often exceeding 200 feet.
Palau diving provides reef explorers with access to the most diverse coral fauna to be found in all of Micronesia. In no small measure, this is due to the fact that Palau contains all major coral reef types and an abundance of diverse marine habitats often associated with the richest coral reef ecosystems, including extensive mangrove forests, and seagrass meadows.
Palau’s hard coral diversity is comparable to the highest found in any particular area of the Philippines, Indonesia or Australia, with an estimated 385-425 species belonging to 66-78 genera.
Reef fishes and major groups of invertebrate animals are likewise highly diverse in Palau. The number of fish species has been estimated at between about 1300-1450, while more than 300 species of sponges, 200 species of cnidarians (other than hard corals), and hundreds of mollusk species have also been documented.
Coral bleaching is considered the most serious threat to Palau’s coral reefs at present. During 1997-1998 (during a major El Nino event), Palau experienced massive coral bleaching damage. The effects were widespread, with as much as one-third of Palau’s hard corals destroyed. Since then however, Palau has not had a major bleaching event.
A number of marine protected areas (MPAs) have been established in Palau to help protect marine resources, particularly fisheries coral reef ecosystems.
Palau offers a wide range of accommodations, from high end full activity resorts to moderately-priced dive resorts and inexpensive cottages in the native style. Most of the larger hotels and resorts offer dive packages that are the best option for serious coral reef divers, as daily dive trips are included in the price at only a modest increase.
A bit of money can be saved by booking in the “low season” (most of the time between April and December), but the price differences between high and low season rates are in the order of only about 10% at most places.
Most visitors to Palau arrive on Continental Airlines flights from Guam (daily) or Manila, Philippines (twice a week). Daily connecting flights to Guam are available on other airlines from Tokyo, Hawaii, and other major international cities. Flying time from Guam is about 2 hrs. and from Honolulu about 8 hrs.
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