About a month ago I travelled to the remote reaches of the tropical western pacific Ocean to visit the magical island of Palau. In addition to seeing how Biota Palau makes captive raised coral beauties, and a most excellent visit to the national clam farm, there was a respectable amount of diving with lots of coral spotting involved.
The reefs of Palau are amongst the healthiest I have ever seen with lush coral growth that varied by habitat, but afforded plenty of cool coral encounters. The semi-enclosed lagoons with very shallow water is where an unusual Montipora could be found.
Its large irregular nodules really look like Montipora meandrina, but in deeper water this coral grew into a plating shape that hasn’t been well documented for this coral, if it is in fact a Montipora. Also, it was super cool to see a huge grown out Pavona frondifera, not as green as the ORA Mint Pavona, but definitely much bigger, and living in direct bright sunlight.
On the first visit to Niko Bay, Biota Palau headman Tom Bowling showed me this fantastic spot where normally deeper water corals can be seen at snorkeling depth. This shaded shallow water reef ledge was a paradise of LPS corals including tons of Lobophyllia in many different colors, as well as some more seldom seen species.
Two colonies of spiny cup Pectinia definitely stood out, one for being solid green and another for having green mouths but a mostly ghostly grey body. Of course it was definitely cool to see Palau-astrea in Palau!
This unusual species is virtually absent in the marine aquarium hobby, looking very much like the lovechild of a Porites and a Stylophora coral, with grayish brown branches that have noticeable blueish grey polyps. On the other end of the spectrum, bubble corals are very common in the aquarium hobby, and it’s no surprise to come across them on certain reefs, but one colony with a halfway branching growth form was deserving of a spotlight photograph.
On a few other separate dives, non photosynthetic soft and stony corals abounded. One particularly stunning strain of solid orange Chironephthya grabbed my attention – these corals are not robust to stand up against gravity and so they are most often seen hanging down from ledges and caves, and this strain is interesting for its bright orange color, almost as bright as the colonies of large polyp Dendrophyllia.
The thin branching purple stony ‘thing’ is not a true coral but a hydrocoral, Stylaster sanguineus. This species was seen on a variety of dive sights across many environments, but it grows most dense and luscious in overhangs and shaded area with good water flow, often right alongside a pretty species of Dendronephthya which has dark red tips and brightly colored polyps.
Finally, all the way down the slope back at Niko Bay, the cryptic corals there were in abundance. Down deep the PAR value of the limited light available has to be approaching those of a sump, and every coral is flattened and stretched out to catch as much light as possible.
Freaky Leptoseris, rarely seen Paraclavarina and totally different disc corals are the oddball corals that populate the deeper parts of the sheltered reef. In this habitat the light is very dark despite only being 50 feet deep, but seeing corals that are not often grown in home aquariums makes diving to this dim dark habitat a worthwhile endeavor.