Diving Big Drop-Off with Fish ’n Fins Palau
Diving Palau is a must for any avid scuba diver. The Republic of Palau does not only offer sites such as the Rock Islands of Palau, UN World Heritage site since 2012, and the world famous Jellyfish Lake Palau. Palau also offers some of the most amazing dive sites on the planet - every scuba diver knows about Blue Corner or Siaes Corner for shark sights or German Channel for its Manta Rays. Big Drop-Off is one of the most amazing wall dives in Palau and a must for all divers who enjoy endless colorful corals dropping from the surface to depths way beyond a diver’s reach. In this blog we will give you a detailed look at the dive site Big Drop-Off, its location, formation and marine life …
Location & Distance from Koror
Big Drop-Off is at the southwest side of Ngemelis Island and Northwest of German Channel. It is 24 miles (39 km). 40 to 50 minutes by speedboat.
Visibility & Diving Depth Summary
Visibility is 50 to 100 feet (15 to 30meters) depending on the direction of the tides. Your Fish ’n Fins Dive master will take you between 3 to 120 feet (1 to 40 meters)
Big Drop-Off Palau is suitable for novice divers, currents are moderate to none.
Fascinating Facts about Big Drop-Off Palau
Big Drop-Off, just what the name implies is “really big”. About 30 feet (10 meters) from the mooring buoy to the east at 35 feet (12 meters) a large chain connected to a 6 foot (2 meter) steel sphere can be seen. This chain and ball was used during WWII to prevent the Japanese from entering the waterway leading to German Channel. Lieutenant Barnum from the US Navy conducted the Operation. The chain and ball on Big Drop Off was a mystery for 40 years until newly appointed Admiral Barnum returned to Palau in 1986 and told his story.
General Information about Big Drop-Off Palau
Big Drop Off is a popular lunch and snorkel location, take care when surfacing and listen for the sound of speedboats overhead. Use a safety sausage for your protection.
Reef Formation: Big drop off is a sheer vertical wall, which runs along the whole length of Ngemelis Island. At extreme low tide, the entire top of the reef will be exposed. The edge of the reef drops straight down to 900 feet (274 meters)!
Marine Life at Big Drop-Off Palau
Pyramid Butterflyfish, Square Anthias, Moorish Idols, Sargent Major's, Yellowtail Fusiliers are among the myriad of fish found all along the edge and top of the reef. Blue Face, Regal, and Emperor Angelfish are easily spotted. Dwarf angelfish, such as Coral Beauty, Keyhole, and Gray's dart in and around the coral heads at the top of the reef. Clarki, and Blue Stripped Clownfish with their host anemones are also scattered along the reef. Hawksbill Turtles like to feed and rest at the top of the reef. Turtles can be approach if you move slowly. White Tip and Nurse Sharks sleep on the sandy bottom.
Scuba Diving Big Drop-Off Palau
The dive will start from one of two buoys depending on which direction the current is flowing. This beautiful wall should be seen from both directions. Drop down in the clear water to about 40 to 60 feet (12 to 18 meters) and drift with the current. Should the current should change simply pick another depth and continue back in the direction you started. Sea fans of all sizes jut out from the wall and make excellent background for spectacular photo ops. Soft corals whose colors range from deep violet to hot pink are everywhere. Schools of Pyramid Butterfly fish and Square Anthias forage for plankton just a few feet from the wall. Keep an eye out for Gray Reef, White Tip, and solitary Leopard sharks that patrol back and forth along the drop off. Leather corals are very abundant in some areas they hide the underlying reef substrate. If you have a good eye for details you may be able to spot Leaf fish, Stonefish and the venomous Lionfish, so ornately camouflaged that they seem to melt into the rocks. As you do your 15-foot (3 meter) safety stop, drift along the top edge of the reef and marvel at all the colorful reef fish that dart in and out of the coral heads.
Booking your Dive Adventure at Big Drop-Off
Amongst the many fantastic dive sites in Palau there are three which are a must for every scuba diver. Blue Corner Palau as one of the single best dives in the world and famous for its sharks and described in our blog The magic of diving Blue Corner Palau - German Channel Palau known for manta madness and last but not least Ulong Channel Palau known for sharks, grouper mating and its beautiful corals.
When you dive Ulong Channel, you’ll have it all. Dropping at the mouth of the channel you’ll observe sometimes hundreds of reef sharks amongst other schooling fish. Drifting in to the channel is as exciting - fantastic soft and hard corals, beautiful sea fans and, depending on season and moon phase, mating groupers, sharks or triggers.
Following is a description of the dive sites and a collection of videos - enjoy your virtual dive with Fish ’n Fins' FNF MAG.
Diving Ulong Channel Palau
Ulong Island Palau - Location of the dive site
The dive site is located on the West side of Ulong Island
The following map is interactive ...
This channel is sometimes referred to as Ngerumekaol Pass. Due to the close proximity of Ulong Island it is commonly known as Ulong Channel. Ulong Island is a great place for a picnic because of its beautiful beaches and its historical significance. Ancient Palauans painted a series of petroglyphs on the high cliffs of the island. Be sure to have your Dive Guide point out the petroglyphs as you pass the western side of Ulong Island.
Ulong Channel runs west to east and cuts only partially through the western barrier reef. The barrier reef runs perpendicular to the channel. The sandy bottom of the channel is 10 to 40 feet (3 to 13 meters) deep and is decorated with numerous coral heads and coral formations. The sides of the channel start just below the surface and gradually slope toward the sandy bottom.
The Rich Marine Life at Ulong Channel Palau
Gray Reef Sharks, sting rays, schools of jacks, snappers, barracuda, and batfish are frequently seen at the entrance. When the moon is full, during the months of April, May, June and July, thousands of groupers gather here to spawn. Groupers are usually a solitary fish, but during this time they have been seen to school. Titan Triggerfish also use this area to nest. When Titan Triggerfish are nesting they become extremely territorial and protective of their nest sites. Titan Triggerfish will dig out large depressions in the sandy bottom to lay their eggs. To avoid being attacked and bitten by jealous triggerfish, divers should keep their distance.
Shark mating at Ulong Channel Palau
Diving the famous Ulong Channel Palau
The dive usually starts along the reef at the northern side of the channel by dropping down to 60 feet (20 m). Keep the reef on your left side. About 10 minutes into the dive you will approach a sandy run-off, this is the entrance tothe channel. Grey Reef and White Tip Sharks are always on patrol here and the current is usually strong. Hook on to one of the rocks and watch the action. Once you leave this area be prepared for one of the most exciting drift dives in Palau. Let the current carry you into the channel. One of the most impressive sights the diver will see is an enormous section of lettuce coral that has grown from the bottom of the channel to a height of 15-20 feet (5 to 7 m). The eastern end of the channel is deeper and the bottom is mostly sand.
Fascinating Facts about Ulong Channel
Titan Triggerfish nests may have as many as 430,000 eggs clustered together in a fist-sized ball. When Triggerfish are nesting they can become quite nasty. Keep your distance!
Baby Sharks at Ulong Channel Palau
Best Price Dive Packages
Diving Palau isn’t complete without diving the world famous dive site Blue Corner. A dive ranking amongst the best in the world.
But what makes this dive site so special?
Due to its location and formation Blue Corner very often gets strong currents - currents which attract lots of schooling fish feeding on smaller organisms traveling with the current. This attracts big predators which are looking for schooling fish. On most days you’ll jump in the water, go down, drift towards the corner and have hundreds of fish and sharks around you as you make your way to the plateau.
Once hooked in on the plateau taking cover from the current you can just “hang” and enjoy the scenery - the sheer richness of sea-life surrounding you.
Many divers just visit Palau, despite the many attractions, for this fantastic and unique dive site.
Dive Site Location
Southwest reefs of the Palau Islands. Blue Corner is at the northwest end of Ngemelis Island.
Distance from Koror is 25 miles (46 km). 50 to 70 minutes by speedboat.
Visibility - On Incoming tide: 90+ feet (30+ meters). Outgoing tide: 45 to 60 feet (15 to 20 meters). Note: Some guides believe best visibility is brought in by an incoming tide with a so-called "outgoing current", a current that moves from Blue Holes to the Corner.
Level of Diving Experience: Strong current - Experienced divers only. Moderate current - Intermediate divers. No current - All divers.
Important Notice: the currents at Blue Corner can change within seconds. Your dive guide is the best person to check with regarding the required level of experience.
Diving Depth Summary:
0 to 30 feet (0 to 10 meters): the eastern side of the reef wall starts at 25feet (8 meters) and is covered with soft corals
30 to 60 feet (10 to 20 meters): the top of the wall at the plateau, the best depth for seeing the action on Blue Corner
60 to 90 feet (20 to 30 meters): the eastern reef wall and cavern at 75 feet (25 meters)
80 to 90 feet (25 to 30 meters): large variety of smaller gorgonian and lush formation of purple soft corals.
Currents at Blue Corner Palau
The tides and currents around the world depend on the phase and position of the moon. Tides are at their highest and lowest points during full and new moon. In Palau the maximum tolerance between the tides is roughly 7 feet (2 meters).
Two major factors create and govern the currents around the dive sites
1. The Equatorial/Counter Equatorial currents control the flow of water across the western pacific that governs the tidal action that affects Palau.
2. The lagoon: The island complex is surrounded by barrier reef. There are only a few channels that allow for the flow of water in and out of the lagoon during the tidal changes. For nearly 6 hours the outgoing tide will flow continuously out of the lagoon taking sediment and debris out to sea. When the moon completes a quarter orbit around the earth the tidal flow will shift. For the next 6 hours incoming tidal water will rush into the lagoon bringing in clear water from the open ocean.
The tides move forward approximately one hour everyday, a 12:00PM high tide will be a 1:00PM high tide the next day. During the outgoing tide visibility (as a rule) in the lagoon will decrease, due to the fact that the outgoing tide carries away sand and particles to the open sea through the channels in the barrier reef. During the incoming tide, clear water coming from the open ocean brings increased visibility along the reefs, channels and inside the lagoon. The current that runs along the western reefs of Palau turns at Blue Corner, hits the reef wall, flowing up and over the plateau bringing with it an abundance of clean water, plankton and algae.
This phenomenon occasionally creates very strong currents. As a rule of thumb the incoming tide will flow from south to north and the outgoing tide from north to south. The current at Blue Corner is stronger, shorter and hardest to predict at the half-moon phase of the lunar month.
Most dive magazines rate Blue Corner as the single best dive in the world. The formation of the reef, sheer walls and the large number of schooling fish make it a truly unique experience. There are three mooring buoys located along the reef. The eastern buoy, the central buoy and the western buoy. You can dive this site from two different directions, depending on the current. Generally, divers will begin the dive while their boat is moored to either the eastern or western buoy. The central buoy is rarely used to start the dive.
Blue Corner Palau - Reef Formation
A vertical reef wall that runs south to north parallel to Ngemelis Island. The reef then turns toward the open sea and stretches out from East to West, creating a plateau at 45 to 60 feet (15 to 20 meters). Past Blue Corner the reef wall curves again and runs south to north. The wall drops from 30 to 1000 feet (10 to 330meters) or more and is covered with large variety of giant Gorgonian sea fans, hard corals and soft corals. The Eastern part of the plateau consists of large patches of sand. Massive coral heads and rocks are scattered throughout the sandy patches. The flat coral plateau on the west drops gently from 45 to 60 feet (15 to 20 meters) with colonies of cabbage corals as well as many varieties of hard and soft corals.
Marine Life at Blue Corner Palau
Blue Corner Palau is home to some of the largest schools of fish in the world, here you can see just about every kind of fish found in the tropical ocean. Sharks, Wahoo, Tuna, Hawks Bill and Green turtles, Eagle Rays, Giant Groupers, and Barracuda, to name but a few species. These denizens come in very close, in fact, closer than you can imagine.
You will experience encounters here that you will provide plenty of thrills and excitement as well as great stories to tellfriends. Blue Corner is said to offer the utmost photo opportunities in the world. According to the direction of the current, the pelagic fish will switch from one side of the corner to the other. Permanent residents at Blue corner are large schools of Jacks, Snappers, Chevron barracudas (usually on top of the plateau), Redtooth Triggerfish, Pyramid Butterflyfish, profuse numbers of small tropical fish and Palaus famous Napoleon Wrasse. Occasionally divers spot Great Hammerheads, Whale Sharks, Mantas, Marlin, Sailfish and whales.
We recommend to dive Blue Corner on Nitrox - Nitrox is FREE for all Nitrox certified divers booked with Fish 'n Fins Palau.
Diving Blue Corner
Eastern Buoy - The dive guides usually refer to this as the incoming dive. The dive starts at canyon /cut that leads westward along a reef wall. Look for sleeping White Tip sharks on the sandy bottom of the eastern cut. Swim along the lush soft coral wall for approximately 300 feet (100 meters), you will come to a cavern with giant Gorgonian sea fans, look up, you will most likely see many gray reef sharks patrolling the reef wall along with big schools of Black Snappers and Big Eyed Jacks. If the current is mild it will carry you further along the wall towards the corner.
If you encounter a strong current, let it lift you to the ledge, at the top, using your reef hook hook-onto one of the rocks or dead corals. Now you are free to face the current and watch the parade of sharks and fish. You can move sideways (westward) by changing positions along the ledge all the way to the corner. When your bottom time is over, unhook yourself and drift along with the current, it will take you to the top of the plateau. On the plateau you will find more swirling schools of barracuda, snappers, wrasses, triggerfish, etc. The current will diminish as you drift westward. While you are finishing your dive, with a safety stop, you will have a panoramic view of the action on the Corner and the plateau.
Center Buoy - The center buoy is located above the cavern. It is not recommended to start the dive here during strong currents, as you will find it difficult to reach the top of the plateau.
Western Buoy - A dive that begins here is called the Out-Going dive. The wall starts at the Blue Hole and curves around south to the Blue Corner. The formation of the reef wall on this side is steeper and plunges beyond a diving depth into the sea. Keep a watch on your depth gauge, it is easy to drift down as you are caught up in the spectacle of action along the reef and out to sea. Look for large schools of yellow and white Pyramid Butterflyfish, Moorish Idols and Redtooth Triggerfish.
The top of the reef is 10 to15 feet (3 to 5 meters). As you get closer to the Blue Corner the reef wall begins to gradually slope outward to form the edge of the Corner. On the outgoing tide, if the dive started at the Blue Hole, you will have to kick against the current until you reach the center buoy. From that point the current will carry you along the reef wall to Blue Corner. As you reach the edge of the reef, have your reef hook ready to hook-on. Once secure and settled, relax and watch the parade of sharks and schooling fish.
Special features - The Reef Hook is a truly a Palauan invention. The hook was designed to keep your hands free and to prevent damage to the reef, while facing strong currents. On one end of the hook is a large metal hook; on the other end is a safety clip that attaches to your BCD, with a 6-foot (2 meter) length of cord. If you are a photographer a reef hook is a must! It is highly recommended you use the reef hook any time you want to stop and the current is blowing you off your focus. Reef hooks are available at all dive shops in Palau. The Safety Sausage is an inflatable red cylinder of flexible plastic cloth that is used to mark your position on the surface. They come in many sizes and styles. The sausage is a very effective and inexpensive safety device. Use of the sausage is advised when surfacing in high boat traffic areas, when separated from your dive group and during rough weather. If you do not have one, a Safety Sausage is available at the Fish 'n Fins Dive Boutique.
Fascinating Facts about Blue Corner Palau
Most people believe Blue Corner acquired its name from the deep beautiful blue open ocean as seen at the Corner. The truth is, however, more interesting. Years ago the dive guides, though very familiar with the dive site at the Blue Holes, would exit the holes and continue the dive off to the right.
One day Francis Toribiong, known as Mr. Dive Palau and founder of Fish 'n Fins the pioneer dive shop in Palau, decided to go along the reef to the left. He could not believe his eyes, hundreds, maybe even thousands of fish of every color, size, and description! Francis discovered Blue Corner purely by chance. In describing how to get to the dive site, Francis told the other dive guides, Go to the Blue Holes, and then go to the left until you come to the corner. That is how this unique and beautiful dive site became known as the Blue Corner.