Manta and Snapper Madness

Unique Dive Expeditions Aboard The Palau Siren

Full Moon Expedition - Snapper Spawning and Manta Madness

It’s the 10th December, and the Unique Dive Expeditions team board the Palau Siren ready and eager to guide our last Full Moon Unique Dive Expedition trip of 2016. I remember sitting down two years ago with a tide chart, calendar and my data, looking at all the possible options when we were picking our unique trips for the following years. Our aim around November and December time was always to double up with the Bohar snapper spawning in the mornings and feeding Manta trains in the southern lagoon in the late afternoon. Some years this is early November and some years it can be mid December. The peak timing for anywhere between 10 and 15 mantas feeding and potentially mating is normally for a two week period so trying to work this out two years in advance can be a gamble at times and I guess you could say this trip we hit the jackpot.

Because of the tides we would only have one day to prepare for our first early morning snapper dive so it was a great relief to see everyone very comfortable in the water right from the start. The usual nice visibility, beautiful coral gardens and the regular patrolling sharks greeted us on our first few dives around the west coast of Palau in the Ulong area, before we finished the day with a dusk dive at Ulong channel mouth filled with schooling jacks and a manta cruising by. After Dinner it was the first presentation of the trip and I stepped up to talk about the Bohar snapper and the spawning dive we would be doing the following morning.

The sun had barely been up as we approached the site and I could see already that there was little current. As we entered the water and found the huge school probably close to ten thousand fish a nice sized bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) swam through the school and past all of us.

Bullshark Siloutte Snapper - Palaus.jpg

A little later the spawning which can only be described as erupted and brought with it more bull sharks and oceanic blacktips (Carcharhinus limbatus) looking for their morning breakfast. Three strikes were witnessed one resulting with a large bull shark nailing a big bohar snapper and somewhat smiling as he slipped back into the dark abyss where he came from. Loud shouts and high fives were exchanged on the surface and all of us returned back to the boat with very large grins which continued throughout the day.

The following morning I felt the pressure off me a little. Our first spawning dive was so good that I was not too concerned if the current was strong, in fact I even briefed it as though it would be as I couldn't remember the last time I had two spawning days with no current. The current gods must have been on our side, as again we entered the water and found the school with little effort making life much easier for us than expected. The timing was perfect and five minutes into the dive the school erupted again with more bull sharks and black tips rising from the deep and surrounding the school close to the surface. Breaking the surface it felt like we had won the jackpot two days in a row.

Twin Spot Snappers Spawn Towards.jpg

Once back on board the Siren we headed towards Ngemelis Island in the southern lagoon with still the big named dive sites to go. Building up to this trip I could see the mantas getting more frequentin German Channel and I was excited at the possibility of seeing more than ten feeding again since last year. Its not just getting the timing of the mantas these days its also trying to work out how to have them to yourselves as this late afternoon feeding timing has become well known with most of the dive shops over the last ten years.

Although the tide was coming to the end of its flow I could still see some nice feeding action from the surface. We jumped in to have seven mantas fly past as the bait ball of fusiliers and black snappers busily feed on the incoming plankton. Although we had the mantas to ourselves I had a strong feeling we could get better. 

The following morning we prepared to dive Peleliu Island. Again the current Gods was on our side as we drifted from Peleliu Cut all the way to the Corner with lots of sharks and schooling fish up close. The second dive we choose to dive the other side of the island which is technically in the Pacific Ocean, a site called Yellow Wall with lots and lots of turtles, grey reef sharks patrolling the drop off and a small school of barracuda cruising past us. 

Grey Reef Shark Mating Scar - Palau.jpg

We left Peleliu Island feeling rewarded with great visibility, nice schooling fish and plenty of classic turtle shots. After lunch it was time for our Black water presentation and everyone seemed keen to give it a try.

We have been doing a few kinds of black water diving recently, getting different results with different habitats. One of our favorite places to do this is at Turtle Cove, a magnificent deep wall with some nice ledges. Although full moon is not the best time for black water night diving we placed the lights on the edge of the drop off and jumped in . Instantly we were rewarded with some good pelagic squids, transparent juvenile surgeonfish, larval eel’s and theclassic jellyfish feeding around the lights. No extra ordinary creatures but for sure some great classic black water subjects. After dinner Matt put together a great presentation on Mantas to finish the day and we were all starting to think how could this trip get any better.

Blue Corner was the first dive of the following morning and although I was expecting it to be an incoming tide it had already switched to a steady flowing outgoing. Lots of sharks, grey reefs surfing the currents and the resident three baby eagle rays hanging out in the channel with the schooling barracuda’s all came to greet us before breakfast. Our final dive of the day was probably one of the best of the trip. A perfectly timed German Channel all to ourselves with eleven Manta rays feeding and barrel rolling in the nutrient rich water column for the entire sixty minutes, a true delight and perfect dive to end our stay in Ngemelis Island.

Our final day was German channel in the morning with more crazy manta madness, Blue Holes for our second dive with Iro Wreck and Chandelier cave to end the trip.

I always wanted to photograph free divers inside the Blue Holes and two gentlemen this trip Jordan and Oliver were able to not only free dive with Mantas in the morning but also free dive to the bottom of Blue holes around 100ft and swimming through the chimneys, making it look easy. Thanks for giving us a show, (and the rest of the dive shops that were inside the blue holes that morning). It was very cool.

A big thank you to all the guests that dived with us this week. You were all amazing and so was the trip.  Although Its normally always a great adventure, this week will certainly go down as having some of my most, consistently great dives. Your keen spirit to want to learn more of what we like to do was inspiring and it was a pleasure to share our knowledge with you.

Also a big thank you to the crew of the Siren. We could not pull off these crazy itineraries without your professional help and your always there to make the guests feel like their on their once in a lifetime dream diving holiday.

From Unique Dive Expeditions and Palau Siren Team, we hope to see you again in Palau or somewhere else amazing soon

……..Until then……

For more information on Unique Dive Expedition’s aboard the Palau Siren please visit

Written and Photographed by

Richard Barnden

Unique Dive Expeditions