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by Casey Mahaney &
Astrid Witte Mahaney

Operating Blue Kirio Travel and Photography, this photographic team specializes in underwater photography and exotic dive travel and have co-authored 10 books on marine life identification and dive travel, along with a vast number of articles for periodicals. Through the years, they have developed a special interest in exploring marine life habitats and identifying and photographing unusual and uncommon species of fish and invertebrates. While spending several months every year traveling on various assignments, they also specialize in organizing and escorting a limited number of live-aboard dive tours to select remote and exotic destinations around the globe.

Day Four

Today's agenda calls for exploring Palau's lagoons. These environments range from turbid inner lagoons to those that are crystal clear, and we are hoping to encounter a whole new batch of marine life. Starting out with another perfect morning, the wind soon picks up, making the seas choppy. Luckily, we only have a short run to our first site, the Chuyo Maru. Inside Malakal Harbor, this artificial reef from WWII represents the typical inner lagoon environment. Heavily encrusted with sponges, comb oysters, tubastrea coral and whip coral, the wreckage is also covered with a thick layer of silt. Gobs of it drape even from the ceilings and the large black coral trees, while the water is filled with particulate matter. Lionfish thrive in this environment, along with cardinalfish, Coral Trout and Dusky Anemonefish.

I capture several unfamiliar gobies and an unusual type of wire coral shrimp on film. Casey is trying out a new lighting system on the digital. He has mounted a strong flashlight to the housing, which enables him to bring out the colors, but the light is still uneven. Nevertheless, he gets several good shots.

We make our second dive on a different kind of wreck. Resting inside a large bay on top of a hardcoral garden is a Jake Float Plane. It's one of Micronesia's most intact plane wrecks. We inspect the sponge-encrusted aluminum and an enormous black coral tree that drapes from one of the wings. Clustered with flute oysters, the coral tree is sheltering an array of juvenile damsels and cardinal fish. The surrounding reef supports species such as pipefish, and Eight-banded Butterflyfish and Dusky Angelfish, all species that are not normally seen on the seaward reef walls.

One of the most exciting discoveries awaits us on the last dive. This is kind of a funky dive, with a maximum depth of four feet. It's in the center of a large seagrass bed inside the Rock Islands. Just barely below the surface, in a patch of rubbly sand, we find a family of Black Seahorses, all of them well camouflaged by a covering of algae. I'm very excited, I have only seen seahorses once before, but Ethan confirms, that these are quite common in this type of environment. (Communication is pretty easy on this dive?all you do is stand up and talk.) Casey tries to capture the little creature with the macro adapter on the digital, but the depth of field is limited, so he returns once more to the boat to switch back to the regular lens, deciding to try and edit the images later on the computer. Minutes later, underneath a gathering of rocks, Ethan spots several scorpionfish that appear to be in the same genus, but their colorations vary from scarlet red with a white band to ! gray and pink. Unable to identify any of them, we figure they belong to the Parascorpaena genus.



We are on a natural high from our discoveries, but pull ourselves out of the water and rush back to the resort to download our images. We are hoping to make it back in time to watch (and, of course, photograph) one of Palau's dramatic sunsets, but also would like to take our hosts up on a dinner invitation. The event is top be held at Kraemers Cafe, owned and managed by Rene Menz, an Austrian Chef who is well-known in diving circles.

Hey, we have to keep our strength up.


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Webcast Sponsor

The Palau Pacific Resort

Considered one of Micronesia's most luxurious resorts, the Palau Pacific Resort features 160 guest rooms and suites nestled within a lush tropical landscape. Located along a beautiful white sand beach, just 25 minutes from the international airport it provides a vast selection of leisure and recreational activities. The 5 Star PADI Dive Center "Splash" offers instructional programs as well as guided scuba and snorkeling tours. "Photo Palau" provides a full-service photo and digital video center, while "The Poolside" is the center for watersports such as windsurfing, kayaking, sailing and snorkeling. The resort also offers a fitness center, outdoor tennis courts, nature trails as well as fine dining at the Meduu Ribtal Restaurant and the alfresco Coconut Terrace Restaurant.

Sam's Tours

Sam Scott has been exploring Palau's vast reef system, hidden waterways and forgotten jungles for more than 18 years and knows the best locations below and above the surface. An endless enthusiasm for showcasing Palau's diversified ecosystem for every visitor and a willingness to go the extra mile have earned Sam a reputation for unique and personalized service. With his first-class team of PADI instructors, marine biologists and trained naturalists, Sam's Tours offers an array of watersports, including diving, kayaking, snorkeling, overnight sailing and environmentally friendly sportfishing tours. In addition, Sam's offers thrilling land tours to towering waterfalls, ancient Palauan monoliths, prehistoric cave paintings and fascinating Yapese stone money disks.

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