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First Time to Palau! 23 Mar to 6 Apr 2012

Happy New Year (2014)!!! It is embarrassing that it took so long to publish this blog entry (there were too many photos to process)… Just received the WordPress 2013 report, it says that I have only published 1 miserable post last year… :-( So,  here it is…

We had wanted to visit Palau, ever since she became a shark sanctuary in Sept 2009 – it was the FIRST nation to do so.  http://www.sharksavers.org/en/get-active/dive-to-help-sharks/ecotourism/ Such a small Micronesian country with about 23,000 people but all of them are equiped with wits & determination.  Shark & ray ecotourism brings in US$18 million to Palau, every year! http://www.sharksavers.org/en/education/the-value-of-sharks/sharks-and-ecotourism/  This scientific blog sums up our sentiments http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/expeditions/2013/06/12/an-interconnected-environment-and-economy-shark-tourism-in-palau/ & from looks of it, this amount would increase – there are new chartered flights from Korea, we saw high-school Korean “kids” in Palau everyday during our trip. Furthermore, we have watched so many of the Taiwanese travel shows featuring Palau (yes, there are quite many of them ;-) )… M & J were quite happy to hear that we had finally took the plunge to plan for a holiday in Palau, they have been there many times… It is high on their recommended list, especially as our dive skills improves…

We flew Cebu Pacific (CP) from Singapore to Manila, it was quite convenient, CP has several flights to MNL everyday… & it uses the new terminal – 3…

Singapore to Manila: 5J 800 Fri 23 Mar 2012, 1420H Singapore Budget Terminal -> Fri 23 Mar 2012, 1755H Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3
Manila to Singapore: 5J 805 Sat 07 Apr 2012, 1325H Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 -> Sat 07 Apr 2012, 1655H Singapore Budget Terminal

Base Fare: 396.00 Fuel Surcharge: 101.04 Passenger Security Service Charge: 16.00 Aviation Levy: 4.40 Passenger Service Charge: 15.60 Web Admin Fee – manual: 20.00
BAG25: 50.00 BAG20: 30.00
Total Amount: 633.04 (for 2 pax)

The airport staff at the boarding area of UA/Continental was very serious about their work, footwear had to be removed, carry-ons were thoroughly searched – every small pocket was searched. Guess it was the requirement of the US immigrations? That was the first time we had to go through it and it was not enjoyable.

FLIGHT INFORMATION
Day, Date Flight Class Departure City and Time Arrival City and Time Aircraft Meal
Fri, 23MAR12 CO1921 H MANILA, PHILIPPINES
(MNL) 9:55 PM
KOROR, PALAU
(ROR) 1:35 AM (24MAR)
737-800
Fri, 06APR12 CO1932 H KOROR, PALAU
(ROR) 8:50 PM
MANILA, PHILIPPINES
(MNL) 10:25 PM
737-800
1 Flight operated by UNITED AIRLINES FOR AIR MICRONESIA. If this is an originating flight on your itinerary, please check in at the CONTINENTAL ticket counter.
2 Flight operated by UNITED AIRLINES FOR AIR MICRONESIA. If this is an originating flight on your itinerary, please check in at the CONTINENTAL ticket counter.

FARE INFORMATION
Fare Breakdown
Airfare: 630 USD
Equivalent Airfare: 827 SGD
Fuel Surcharge: 87
Per Person Total: 914 SGD
eTicket Total: 1,827 SGD
The airfare you paid on this itinerary totals: 1,654 SGD SGD
The taxes, fees, and surcharges paid total: 173 SGD

It was quite an expensive short flight… :-P

Lunch Stop at Beautiful Palau

At Palau’s airport, we were greeted by a poster of a shark & it says “Welcome to Palau, the first shark sanctuary!” – Nice!!! Immigration at Palau was okay,  the staff was quite friendly. The terminal was quite nice, there was a nice ceiling mural depicting the underwater scene – beautiful reef, mantas, eagle rays, sharks etc. We got to see all of them during our stay.  Our dive operation was Fish n Fins (FnF) http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/welcome.html the scuba pioneer in Palau & M & J have always been diving with them. FnF sent their staff – Norman & van to meet us & some other divers & sent us to our accommodation West Plaza Desekal, about 30mins from the airport. It was within 15mins walk to FnF. West Plaza Desekal was basic, maybe 3 stars, rooms are of good size, clean and beds were comfortable, beach towels were provided for the day trip, we were happy with the choice. 1 of the front desk staff was a Chinese lady, who had came to work in Palau more than 10 years ago, she was happy to have us to speak Mandarin with and the other was a Filippina. :-)  So, we were always the earliest to reach FnF in the morning, before the morning peak hour started… ;-) It was nice to walk past the school & the policeman who policed at 1 of the busier junctions…

We signed up for 3 dives a day at FnF, for the 1st few days, they returned to “dock” to pick tanks after the 2nd dive, then we would go to 1 of the nearer sites for the 3rd dive. Gradually, there were more people who joined us for the 3rd dive, so we were able to skip the ride back and did those “better” dives  at the outer atolls. The staff did a good job and got us to most of the dive sites in those 11 days.

Cat meets cat

She doesn't love me... :(

Cats at FnF

Diving

The dives at Palau were all nice http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/dive-sites.html. My favourite was Blue Corner, having done that site, we were no longer virgin (reef) hookers! M gave us custom-made reef hooks, they were indeed handy and it was comfortable to use the reef hook.. With the aid of the rope connecting to the reef hook, our depth was only about 15m, so it felt quite safe.  It wasn’t very difficult, except to remember 1 rule – remember to deflate all air from the BCD before loosening the reef hook, or risk being blown away (or worse, up!) The guides were on hand to help move us to better vantage points for shark watching. Except on the day that there was exceedingly strong current blowing from the depth, when we felt like our masks were in the danger of being blown away and we struggled to keep our cameras in hand, we had a good experience with the reef hooks. Having said that, I wouldn’t recommend this site to new divers, or a high new divers to guide ratio and the experience of the guides to read the site was very important too, I could see myself freaking out if that day was the 1st time the whole group was deploying the reef hook. We didn’t have much luck with the manta at the German Channel. M had been trying to get Malsol to do the  Ulong Channel but the tide was always not right, until the last diving day. There were a few sharks at the mouth of the channel, I was so reluctant to leave and start the channel discovery… I felt like diving in a small drain – the sides were covered with hard corals, the bottom was sandy,  spotted a few small sharks along the way, the specular sight was the huge school of soldier fish “standing guard” at their cabbage coral fortress – they were actually resting.

Sentry at Ulong Channel

Sentry at Ulong Channel

I have a desire to do Blue Corner everyday. It was nice to enjoy the sight of so many grey reef sharks (resting – in the current), white tip reef sharks, big eye trevallies, moon snappers, red tooth triggerfish enjoying the current. Then, the cute Napoleon wrasse/s that are friends of the local guides and they sometimes play with our bubbles… :- ) I kept wondering how many sharks were there (that I missed), whenever I wasn’t there. I would also miss that Napoleon wrasse…

Blending in

Blending in at Blue Corner

Jellyfish Lake

The day that we did the Jellyfish Lake, we took the transport back to the hotel, we were too tired to walk back. To get to the Jellyfish Lake, we had to climb up a steep hill and then climb back down, it was like visiting a crater… We wished we had brought our fins with us, it was tiring to swim to the middle of the lake, where more jelly fish congregated. The sight of millions of jellyfish was surreal,  Kent mentioned that the amount of jellyfish had decreased over the years and the smell of ammonia at the Lake is overpowering and he had since stopped visiting the Lake. Although the permit to visit the Lake isn’t exactly cheap but most tourists wouldn’t miss it, having gone that far. M & J did their part by not participating, as they had been there, done that…

Pretty fragile

Jellyfish Lake – Pretty fragile

Food

We made sandwiches for breakfast and bento set lunch was included in the dive package. One of the benefits of staying at West Plaza Desekal was that we could walk out to get our dinners at a variety of places and also there was a minimart at the ground floor (but Desekal had no passenger lift, it only had a luggage lift). We have a list of favourites (based on taste and value-for-money) and they are:  1. Suriyothai (Thai food, of course! Pad Si Lew was yummilicious, tom yum was good too. Nice A/C restaurant), 2. Palm Bay Bistro (for the fresh Palau National Beer! & good pizzas & other western cuisines) 3. I Love Noodles (small stall near to the supermarket that sold Thai food prepared by Thai chef, Green Papaya Salad was nice! & prices were very reasonable but no A/C) 4. Emaimelei 2 (Filipino – large portions, milk fish soup was yummy) , 5. Flamingo (“next” to West Plaza Desekal, facing the main road. Nice Japanese inspired dishes – soba/udon & Filipino dishes – Adobo, ask for less salt for the Adobo dishes).  All these were within 20mins slow walk from Desekal, I Love Noodles was the furthest.  Although West Plaza wasn’t within walking distant, the food and beer was scrumptious and not too expensive, the service was good and the view of the harbour is very nice too and we got to know a cop who drives the “cab” part-time.

Thai food in Palau

I Love Noodles – Thai food in Palau

We also tried Little Beijing (non a/c) for the yuan-yang steamboat buffet, just for the heck of it, M & J hadn’t tried Chinese style steamboat but I don’t think they were particularly impressed by it… ;-) The Taj Indian Restaurant – food was quite delectable but the prices were on the high side… Little Italy Restaurant was quite nice too, quaint Italian countryside kitchen deco (with A/C), prices were on a high side… We had bad experience at the Drop-off Bar & Grill – very slow service and we waited 30mins for the 1st dish to be served, then another 10 – 15 mins for each of our order to stagger in, food was ok though.

ATV

For the last day/off-gassing day of our trip, T & I did a full day Polaris ATV (all terrain vehicle) 4WD tour! It was exhilarating! http://www.fishnfins.com/v2/en/off-road-jungle-tours.html We were glad to have Kent  as our guide for day, he was a very experience guide, who worked as a dive guide previously and he was from Peleliu. It was pouring for parts of the day which added to the sense of adventure. We had a nice time eating local snacks at a pavilion (try the banana glutinous rice cake) while waiting for the rain to mellow… One of the locals treated us to some clam sashimi – very nice and fresh!

Waterfall

waterfall

Kent asked ” do you want an eco-tourist who spend US$500 a night, or do you want a mass-market tourist who spend US$100? Which is better for the environment?”

More photos at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152070554043052&type=1&l=d4ecb01ed4

 

News: 28 Mar 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/palau-sharks-ban-commercial-fishing-tuna-industry

“banning commercial boats simply appears to be in Palau’s interests.

Even though the bulk of commercial fishing in the region focuses on tuna, sharks are frequently hauled in as bycatch. Yanking sharks out of the sea directly hits Palau’s biggest moneymaker: the $85m dive tourism industry.”

 

Dolphins Vs Sharks

Sigh, it is so sad to read news like this…

Dolphins butchered for shark bait in illegal hunt off the coast of Peru

by Lara Whyte, Digital Producer - last updated Thu 17 Oct 2013 http://www.itv.com/news/2013-10-17/dolphins-butchered-for-shark-bait-in-illegal-hunt-off-the-coast-of-peru/

I have first read about dolphins butchered for shark bait in ScubaDiver Australasia, similar to report from Paul Hilton… http://www.paulhiltonphotography.com/index.php/field-notes/41

Have loved dolphins since young (maybe because of Flippers?) Have learned to love sharks since becoming a diver, so this is doubly sad…

Edit:

22 Oct 2013: Add  http://www.scmp.com/news/world/article/1335395/peru-considers-shark-fishing-curbs-stop-dolphins-slaughter-bait

“Peru considers shark fishing curbs to stop dolphins’ slaughter for bait”

“Peru said it might restrict shark fishing to curb the illegal slaughter of up to 15,000 dolphins per year – used as bait by rogue fisherman – following a dramatic increase in sales of shark fins to Asia.

Most of Peru’s shark fin exports, which have jumped 10 per cent in recent years, go to Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and other Asian nations, the Production Ministry said.”

 

Link

Reblog “Manta Rays Under Attack – Will CITES Save the Manta”

Manta Rays Under Attack – Will CITES Save the Manta

美丽, 神秘的蝠鲼 fu2fen4(熟称“魔鬼鱼“)面临绝种的危机!!! 罪魁祸首:蝠鲼腮,也称”虫彭“鱼鳃 (peng2yu2sai1)!

请大家不要信那些没经科学考证的“疗方“,而破坏大自然!

Manta Rays are many scuba divers’ favourite, including myself. It pains me so much to see them butchered for their gills!!!

Edit:

Shawn’s inspirational talk has been subtitled in Chinese! 原来 manta 的中文名是前口蝠鲼!!!

TEDxBoulder 用艺术的灵感激发海洋保护行动

“Shawn Heinrichs用音乐和摄影向全世界的人们呈现了令人惊讶的海洋生物之美。我们们都会自发地爱护所爱之物,面对惊艳却又濒临灭绝的海洋动物们,你会加入停止海上杀戮的行列中吗?”

More links:

http://www.sportdiver.com/keywords/marine-life/manta-trust-fighting-to-protect-rays-gill-raker-trade
“A huge shadow engulfs us. Confused, we look toward the surface, wondering if the dinghy captain is growing impatient. The late-afternoon sun has been blocked by a massive oceanic manta ray — practically 15 feet across — gliding overhead. Stevens digs out of his pocket a small point-and-shoot camera, and grabs an ID shot. The spot pattern on a manta ray’s belly is unique to each animal and can be used to identify it, much like fingerprints. The manta banks back sharply, as if to watch our work, making three more passes before we’re done. Now that we’re up in the water column, he flies within inches of our heads, taking a moment to make direct eye contact each time.”
“Preliminary fisheries reports gathered by the Manta Trust in Sri Lanka estimated as many as 55,000 mobula rays — and more than 1,000 mantas — being hauled into the country’s fish markets every year.

While a few thousand mantas each year might not sound like much, these amounts might be hugely damaging to manta populations: Consider that over the past 30 years, Rubin has identified fewer than 400 individual mantas in Socorro. Manta populations do not appear to be large, and they’re very vulnerable to exploitation. A mature female manta gives birth to only one pup at a time after 13 months of pregnancy, and most likely only once every two to five years. This slow population growth causes a striking inability to quickly replace large numbers of mantas removed from the population.”

http://www.paulhiltonphotography.com/index.php/field-notes/50 Millions of Dollars lost for Manta Tourism

“Most of Tanjung Luar’s fishermen have always targeted sharks, rays and dolphins. Many of them have done time in Australian prisons and detention centers for illegal fishing and human trafficking. Now most local fisherman can’t afford to head down towards Australian waters, due to the recent fuel hike of forty percent across Indonesia. There, they could fill up their holds with sharks and mantas, within a couple of days. But now, they have been forced to fill up their holds closer to home. The fishermen confirmed that the reef manta that was caught on the 29th was found just off the coast of Sumbawa. They stated that the going rate for manta meat is 8,000 Indonesian Rupiah or US 73 cents per kilo. Then the gills are dried and sold for USD 130.00 per kg to supply the Chinese gill trade.”

Pulau Pef – Raja Ampat, 25 Nov to 10 Dec 2011

When we met Claudia & Leon at ADEX 2011 in April 11, they were promoting a new set-up location in Raja Ampat. T & I had heard so much about this premier dive destination & often spoke about saving enough money to afford this dream… The photos of the resort & the island Pulau Pef & most importantly, the diving looked wonderful & with a 20% discount for the quad share room, the price was quite reasonable (in comparison with other locations)… & to be stay & diving at a new location was very attractive to us, so we contacted our usual dive buddies – M & J who were quick to agree to let us join them on this adventure (because they could have jolly well afforded a twin share bungalow :-P). To make the airfare worthwhile, we decided to stay for 2 weeks. We paid the deposit while Claudia & Leon were still in Sg to save on the transfer fees. ;-) So we began our 8 months count-down to our trip.

M & J flew in from SFO through HK on Cathay on Thursday, then on Friday evening 25 Nov, we flew Garuda to Ujung Pandang (aka Makassar). The aircraft was a little jaded but at least 20kg of baggage each was included in airfare ($778 for 2) & air tickets were purchased online.

Departure: 19:10 Singapore, Singapore – Changi, terminal 3
Arrival: 22:20 Ujung Pandang, Indonesia – Hasanudin
Airline: Garuda Indonesia GA849, Duration: 3:10

Stayed a night at the airport hotel booked for us by the Raja4divers (R4D http://www.raja4divers.com/) team, if I am not wrong, the cost was 375,000Rp or 500,000Rp. It was ok, clean with shower stall but shared toilets outside, they have a “real” cuppacino machine which M highly recommended… But please be warned, ear plugs are a MUST here, unless you can sleep like a log! Our flight to Sorong was at 8:40am on Express Air, which was ok, baggage allowance was 15kg. Domestic flights were arranged by R4D, total cost for 2 US$740 (exchange rate 8,500 to 1 USD & 10% handling fees)

Express Air: IDR 2,518,000 (Makassar to Sorong), Lion Air: IDR 3,177,000 (Sorong to Makassar via Ambon) Total amount: IDR 5,695,000

We met Sabine, the dive intructor & the rest of the new guests at the small, dusty, Sorong airport, it reminded me of the small domestic airport at Maldives, only that it was more rundown than that… The team was very kind to bring us to use the toilet of the Je Meridien Hotel which stood opposite the Sorong Airport. We were then driven to the port for the 2hrs boat transfer on Pef I. Dolphins were spotted, the scenery was quite monotonous until we reached the Passage area, the cliffs & the rocky islets are those that frequently graced magazines…

The R4D Pef team threw us a welcome party, the coconut drink, their friendly faces, warm smiles, joyous singing & cheerful music refreshed the tired travellers. The bungalow was rustic & huge – 128sqm, about 50% bigger than our flat. No aircon, only the fan & the natural sea breeze. The patio had stairs to the sea, lizards, crabs, birds & frogs were visitors to the open air bathroom. The tide was a little low but I tried to snorkel among the seagrass, still searching for my 1st encounter with a dugong… Island time was 2 hours earlier than Sg. After watching the sunset, we proceeded to have dinner at the “restaurant” – more like the kitchen/dining – a longhouse on stilts… Dinners & lunches were casual sit-down meals at the long table, with several dishes (fish, poultry, vegetables) shared among 4 to 6 guests…

Next morning (27th Nov), we had the checkout dive at the house reef – Karang Sembilan at 10:30am, it was a wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat! School of batfish just at the jetty, pipefish, 3 species of nudibranchs, whip gobies & 2 wobbegong sharks!

Image

Image

The usual schedule was to meet at the jetty for dive briefing at 8am,  2 dives in the morning with snacks during the surface intervals, then return to Pef for lunch, plus the 3rd dive at 3pm. My dive buddies were quite lazy, so I only managed 2 night dives during our 2 weeks there… ;-)

This is the list of the dive sites that we had visited & some notes:

27/11 – Karang Sembilan (House Reef) & Yembraimuk Utara

28/11 – Wofoh Selatan, Manare & Tanjung Gam

29/11 – Day trip to Fam Island – Fam Slope, Melissa’s Garden & Climbing to the peak of Fam Island, then afternoon dive at Fam Wall.

30/11 – Manta Sandy, Arborek (Jetty) & Apibok Wall. Lovely manta cleaning station, up to 8 mantas! Arborek Jetty was also very beautiful, great place for photography.

01/12 – The Passage x 2 & Selat Yembraimuk. *The 1st dive at The Passage was quite easy & delightful, colourful soft corals, 3 cute cuttlefishes, flatworms, nudibranchs & even a electric scallop, then we drifted until the end. For the 2nd dive, we 1st visited a cave system, when we joined the “main traffic”, the current was quite strong, it was quite hairy “flying” through the “river”. However, there was not much danger, as the area was quite shallow…

02/12 – Mandy Sandy, Batu Dalam. Last dives for B & M, they had requested to revisit Mandy Sandy & who would say no? ;-) Another wonderful dive with the beautiful reef manta rays.

03/12 – Wasrer at 11:30am & Rep Pef at 3:30pm, then night dive at 6:30pm.

04/12 – Yes Bekar, Sop Ikan & Rep Yembraimuk

05/12 – We lost a dive day due to the bad weather… It was  a scary storm.

06/12 – Batu Meka, Rep Krupuk & Batu Deka East. The eye of the storm had passed but the sea was still very rough at the front, so we had to launch from the mangrove area.

07/12 – Nikson’s Garden, Rep Jembatan & Batu Kapal

08/12 – Tanjung Teening, Ref Pef & Nikson’s Garden. Night Dive at house reef. Last day of diving & it was wonderful to dive the beautiful Nikson’s Garden with the dive guide – Nikson, 1 of the 1st, if not the 1st Papuan dive guide.

Other guides we dived with laughing & singing Danci, serious Yoris & Yolda, all well trained by Sabine & Armin. Although the visibility ranged from 10 to max 20m & average at 15m, the beauty of the dive sites was unforgettable, the colours dazzling. Wobbegong sharks at most of the dives, as Armin said, just follow the glassfish. ;-) There was a school of juvenile black tip reef sharks at the shallow lagoon at Pef. We met schools of large barracudas, bumphead parrotfish, numerous large lobsters & some very large (but very shy) groupers & Napoleon wrasses [reminder to self: they were able to grow huge because they are smart & avoid humans]! Macro stuff like cute nudibranchs, pipefish, pygmy seahorses etc.

The resort & operations were well managed by Maya. Yanni & the rest of the staff from housekeeping & kitchen were always so friendly & warm. The other guests at the resort were mostly Europeans. It was a huge surprise that they hadn’t heard about the “Sound of Music”, a movie that was about Austria, the Alps, WWII (a little)… I was in the school choir & “Edelweiss” & all the songs from that show are my all-time favourite…

The staff gave us a warm send-off, most of them were also leaving for their holiday as the resort was closed for 1 week before their peak season. We stayed at the Je Meridien Hotel, Sorong for 1 night, which was quite nice… When we were boarding the very early morning flight, it was raining heavily, the work ethics of the Papuans was impressive, they tried to keep the passengers dry, although they were soaked…

Wonderful introduction to Raja Ampat, how we wish we could afford to join M & J’s 2nd trip to Pef in Nov 2012… Guess they would have another delightful fortnight at the magical island…

Cost of 2 weeks: USD 4175 (not inclusive of the 20% discount), Boat Transfer USD120, Raja Ampat Marine Park Fee  IDR 500, 000. Airfares as above…

Other photos here: Photos on FB  (FB account not req’d) https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150441214288052.372546.694213051&type=3

 

This is new! Virtual Tour of Raja4Divers Pulau Pef (22 Nov 12)

Watch Shark Eden!

Watch NatGeo’s Shark Eden to get the FACT: MORE Sharks = More of Other Fishes.

Shark Eden (ABC’s broadcast 6+mins)

Addition: 17th March 2014

Where the Shark and the Snapper Roam

http://ocean.si.edu/blog/where-shark-and-snapper-roam 

“two marine scientists compared the fish communities of the main Hawaiian Islands, where people live, with communities near the uninhabited northwestern Hawaiian Islands. To their surprise, they found that where there is no fishing, top predators ruled the waves; in the uninhabited areas, top predators made up more than 54 percent of total fish biomass compared to just three percent in areas near human settlement. Later, a series of expeditions to remote islands of the Pacific have confirmed that this pattern of seeing more top predators than prey can be found on other uninhabited reefs. On Kingman Atoll, for example, sharks and large snappers and jacks represent 85 percent of the total weight of fishes!”

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