Yap maybe most famous for its resident manta ray population, but Tim Rock explains how this tiny Micronesian group of islands has a gamut of other oceany delights plus a unique topside culture too.
Yap Sharks Photo courtesy and © Tim Rock
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Diving Yap – Dive Happy Episode 11 Show Notes
- Tim Rock and Simon Pridmore:
Diving and Snorkeling Guide to Palau and Yap
Buy online at Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Blurb.com
- Yapese Stone Money (Rai Stones)
- Bill Acre – Scuba Diving Hall Of Fame
- The Mnuw Ship’s Bar and Grill
- O’Keefe’s Island
- Dive Happy Truk Lagoon Podcast
Yap Resorts And Liveaboards Mentioned
Diving Yap – Dive Happy Episode 11 Summary
The Unique Culture of Yap Has Been Maintained Even To This Day
Yap is a state in The Federated States of Micronesia and basically it sits between Guam and Palau. Then the rest of the Yap state consists of really beautiful atolls where many of the celestial navigators live. So Yap state really has a lot of unique history where it’s people can sail by the stars and they can tell which direction they are travelling by the way the waves hit the sides of their boats. They have taken star navigation and crossing the ocean to levels that most people can only imagine.
Colonia, Yap is the capital of Yap state and it is where the main diving facilities are located. It has a very small population and most everything is natural and without heavy development in the area. Yap is one of the few places in the world where they have managed to pass down their traditions and a lot of their culture that has not been too distorted by the influx of modern life. It is the most traditional island in Micronesia, so visitors are sure to be in for a pleasant surprise.
The Manta Rays of Rumung Island Have Been Somewhat Hidden From Outsiders
Rumung is an island that has separated itself from Yap. In the 70’s all the four islands were given a choice if they wanted to participate in tourism and the chief of Rumung decided that they will remain traditional. On the island itself, the local people still use stone roads and live simply. Today you have to take a boat over to Rumung island to see the manta rays, since the bridge connecting Rumung to the other islands has now fallen in despair. They have also allowed visitors to come over and have a picnic on the beaches. However, you need a special invitation by a Rumung person to go over and even if you are a Yapese visitor there are certain areas you cannot go.
Manta Ray Bay Resort Is a Key Diving Destination
The Manta Ray Bay Resort is a key operation and houses the top notch diving facilities in Yap. It is owned and operated by Bill Acker, who is a member of the Scuba Diving Hall of Fame. The hotel even has it’s own brewery, offering the Manta Gold and Manta Dark, or you can mix the two for a Texas Two-step. The Mnuw Ship’s Bar and Grill is a unique restaurant built on a Phinisi schooner, a reclaimed ship from Indonesia that was built in 1898. It has a roof-top bar under the stars and in the evenings they put a movie screen on one of the masts of the ship to play movies and guests can also share their diving videos.
During the winter season, December to April, Manta Ray Bay Resort attracts a lot of divers from around the globe. The hotel itself is not very big, so it is boisterous during this time with a great social atmosphere. Yap typically receives 5,000 visitors a year, and although there may seem to be high traffic in the hotel, the 60 plus dive sights allows for plenty of dive time for every diver. There are enough boats to form small dive groups in order to stagger the amount of people visiting the manta spots, limiting the pressure on the reefs.
Sharks, Mantas and the Grand Canyon of the Pacific
In Yap, seeing manta rays and sharks is almost certainly a guarantee. On occasion they will do a controlled shark feed that draws the sharks close into the reefs creating excellent opportunities for photographer, especially for black tip sharks and grey reef sharks. At the Vertigo drop off the top of the reef is very shallow, so divers and photographers can stay for long periods of time, and capture great shark photographs for your portfolio.
The coral is the area has also been kept in pristine conditions since boats do not use anchors as there are mooring buoys located all around the reefs. Mill Channel is host to some incredible soft corals, and is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific. The majority of the reefs of Yap are outer barrier reef with a beautiful variety of hard corals of about 400 species.
The manta rays can be found in a new area is called Stammtisch, which means a kind of special meeting table that they have in Germany. This is a fitting name because of the really shallow, beautiful manta cleaning station of yellow finger corals. From December to April the trade winds have died down and manta ray mating season begins. Divers can just sit in the shallows, and mantas will swim overhead, and the males will do their acrobatics to impress the females. Although visibility may be limited due to the nearby mangroves, the mantas swim by so closely that visibility is not even a factor.
Goofnuw Channel, Home to Mobula Rays
Goofnuw is a really pretty dive too with a beautiful white sand floor and two or three cleaning stations and a lot of fantastic hard corals.. It is also home to parrot fish and it has a lot of different kind of sharks, with many more sightings of the white tip sharks. There have even been mobula ray sightings. These manta rays usually switch between the the two areas. This allows divers to take a drift dive with the tide, from one area to another, in which you are bound to see mantas during one of the dives.
Yap Provides Variety For Divers to Explore, Including Incredible Macro Life
For divers who are not particularly interested in manta rays, the Yap Cavern provide great macro life as well, such as leaf fish and eel holes that house scarlet lady shrimp. Another dive site close to the hotel called Slow and Easy is home to little sea moss and wire coral shrimp and many different kinds of nudibranchs.
There is also a rather famous manta shrimp who is really big and grouchy, who lives in the hole right by the boat mooring. Even the cleaning station itself provides a great variety of fish. Fish photographers can get beautiful angel fish shots, snappers, as well as a lot of different wrasses in the area. There are also huge arrays of anemones all along the same reef with their clown damsels in them.
Night Dives Bring Out the Exquisite and Bright Mandarin Fish
Slow and Easy is a popular night dive site as it is located close to the resort. Across the channel from Slow and Easy there is also a purpose sunk shipwreck that has things like long-nose hawkfish. At night divers can also sometimes see a small octopus come out amongst the wreck. The famous O’Keefe’s Island is another beautiful place for a night dive. O’Keefe received the island from the Yapese back in the 1800’s and it is now known as a local park.
Surrounding the island there is an area called Rainbow Reef, which has a lot of mandarin fish on it, and divers can experience the exquisite courtship that happens between these mandarin fish. The night dives are again incredible opportunities for photographers to capture unique images. The bright colours of the mandarin fish stand out with incredible vibrance against the dark of the night and the pitch black waters, creating stunning pictures.
Experience All of Yap’s Diving Variety by Extending Your Stay
When considering a trip to Yap, it is best to come for at least a week’s stay. The vast amount of dive sights creates an explorative atmosphere and in order to make it to all the must-see dive spots divers should stay for longer than just a two-day trip. Unfortunately many divers come just to see the manta rays and completely miss out on the experience of other sea life and the variety that Yap has to offer. So if you are considering a diving experience in Yap, make sure to carve out the full week to see all that Yap has to offer.
Diving Yap – Dive Happy Episode 11 Transcript
[0:00:06.0] CM: Hello and welcome to Dive Happy, the podcast about the best places to go scuba diving in Asia. I’m your host Chris Mitchell and my guest for this episode is Tim Rock, Veteran underwater photographer and the author of The Diving and Snorkeling Guide to Palau and Yap, recently updated and republished in 2016. Tim, welcome back once again to the podcast.
[0:00:29.5] TR: Chris, great to be back again.
[0:00:31.9] CM: So Tim, first off, where exactly is Yap?
[0:00:39.0] TR: That’s a good question because it’s not really that big.
[0:00:47.2] CM: Exactly yeah, it’s.
[0:00:50.7] TR: Yap is two things, it’s a state in The Federated States of Micronesia and basically it sits between Guam and Palau and then a Colonia, Yap, the main island also sits there and then the rest of the Yap state is a bunch of atolls, really beautiful atolls where many of the celestial navigators live. So Yap state really has a lot of unique history where this people can sail by the stars and they can tell where they’re going by the way the waves hit the side of their boat, they’ve taken star navigation and crossing the ocean to levels that most people can only imagine.
Where the diving is done, where it’s developed enough and there are some really nice hotels and diving facilities or is Colonia, Yap and it’s also the capital of Yap state and it’s maybe an hour and 30 minute, hour and 15 minute flight out of Guam. It’s just a really short flight and on there, you see some very — it’s a small population so everything’s pretty natural and not heavily developed and people are kind of in for a pleasant surprise.
[0:02:11.7] CM: Yeah, because the other thing, before we actually get in to the diving is that the culture of Yap is very much intact, it’s one of the few places in the world where they’ve managed to hang on to their traditions and a lot of their culture that hasn’t been too messed up by the influx of modern life.
[0:02:30.3] TR: Yeah, that’s true. They say it’s the most traditional island in Micronesia and that’s probably pretty accurate. Now it’s 2016 and even the people in the outer islands have solar powered computers and email and a little bit of internet but Yap, it’s leaders and its elders have always placed a lot of emphasis on their traditions and so you can still see the children learning how to do the traditional dances, which was the way that they used to pass stories down and pass history down thorough their different dances and you could still, they maintain some of their stone paths and then of course there’s the unique stone money, they call them stone money banks and they’re located around some of the village maybe in houses where these big discs of stone money were quarried down in Palau out of really nice shiny limestone, which to the Yapese was as beautiful as gold.
Then they would bring them up from Palau. Also even Guam to use as barter and it’s still there today and there’s still a traditional use for it and that even has a value on the world money market if I think about the $31 dollars a pound and since these are — yeah. It might be kind of hard to go to the grocery store and pay for something with it since they weigh 80, 90, 100 pounds. But it’s quite something to see where they have all this stored and they’re still used today if somebody gets married, one family might give the other family a piece of stone money or just to celebrate something like maybe a new house cut built or something like that, it’s still given and used and now you see it going back and forth every once in a while.
[0:04:36.2] CM: Yeah, the stone money is kind of, I would say the most visible sign of Yaps culture isn’t it? The symbol of how they managed to preserve their traditional ideas. There’s also — so Yap itself, like you said, it’s a cluster of islands. The islands are very close together aren’t they? There’s one island I think pronounced Rumung where the locals have essentially cut themselves off from the rest of Yap. Is that still the case?
[0:05:05.1] TR: A little bit, they’ve relented a little bit and you can go to a beach over there and then kind of spend the day and do kind of a mini tour, they still, they don’t have vehicles over there, they still use stone paths, there used to be a stone bridge that connected Rumung to the other islands. It’s kind of fallen in disrepair so it’s now a channel that you actually can take a boat through to go see some of the manta rays but the Rumung people you know were, everybody, all the four islands were given a choice if they wanted to participate in tourism back in the 70’s and the chief of Rumung said, “No, I think we’ll remain traditional.”
Even if you’re from someplace else in Yap, you have to have a special invitation by somebody who is actually from Rumung to go over there and there are some places that even as a Yapese person, as a visitor you can’t go. Only the people of Rumung really know their island well but they’ve relented a little bit and now you can go over and have a picnic on the beach and maybe take a short tour and use the stone paths that they still use to walk on and to go to the taro patch and that sort of thing.
[0:06:22.1] CM: Wow. So on the main island where the airport and the — I’ve seen the dive resort, the Manta Ray Bay Resort is located. Is that kind of like a lush tropical interior and fringed with beaches or is it mountainous, or what kind of topography is it?
[0:06:42.7] TR: Yes and no. Many of the islands including Chuuk and Pohnpei and Kosrae and Palau, Yap have extensive mangroves. So as far as beaches go, it’s not similar to Guam, which is a big limestone island that has a lot of really nice beaches. But there are some beaches, they would be on the northeast side that people can visit and there’s a traditional village that you and go visit up there.
Most of the interior is really pretty, it’s hilly, a lot of jungle, you see fruit bats flying overhead, there’s coconut crabs in some places and it’s not overly developed anywhere around Yap. Their town is paved and of course has all the amenities that you want a and a few little stores that you can buy things at. Most people in Yap live out in the villages and just come in to town to work. So you’ll see a whole bunch of public busses that are lining up about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and all the school kids and all the people that are in town working get on the bus about 4:30 and go back home.
So the town itself in the evening is really nice and quiet and also on the weekend it’s really nice and quiet. And then things, you know, when they come in in the morning to work it gets a little bit of a bustle again.But it’s kind of the unique place in that many of the residence still prefer to live out on their villages and kind of live a natural life. Most of them have outdoor kitchens and cook their fish and rice and whatever local vegetables that they can grow and live pretty much with nature.
So it’s not overly built up and there’s not any reason for it to be overly built up because most people are very — what do I say? They say the land is king in Yap. They’re very in touch with the land and land is very important to them so many families have some land that they can give to their offspring and their offspring can build a house and they pretty much, you know, stay in their own little communities and there’s not like a bunch of apartment buildings in downtown Yap or anything like that where all the youngsters live.
[0:09:19.5] CM: So I would assume the attachment to land is precisely what’s sort of blocking any large scale development because no one wants to actually sell their land, it’s too important to them.
[0:09:29.7] TR: For the most part, that’s true yeah. It’s something they want to pass on to generation after generation. There’s been a Chinese company that wanted to come in and build something very large and a few people saw this as a good opportunity. But for the most part, most of the people have held on to their land parcels and they’re keeping it to pass on to future generations.
[0:09:51.6] CM: Cool. So given that, how did Manta Ray Bay Resort come about then? I presume that’s a fairly large operation now as it’s like the key operator on the island. In fact, is it the only operation on the island?
[0:10:05.8] TR: No, there’s a couple of smaller ones that still operate dive shops but yeah, Manta Ray has grown over the years and is probably the key operation with the best facilities, most top notch facilities. So they get a lot of divers, especially in the winter months, a lot of divers come in from Europe when it’s snowing and cold and also from the US to soak up the sun and go see the mantas and the sharks and all that.
But Manta Ray is are fairly compact operation, what bill is managed to do there, Bill Acre is the owner and he is a member of the Scuba Diving Hall of Fame and he has managed to kind of build up a little bit and when he needed to expand a little bit more after a typhoon he was able to lease some land from the government on a facility that got destroyed by a typhoon and he rebuilt that and that’s become the dive shop and a few rooms of the hotel and then he expanded where his restaurant and kitchen used to be into some more rooms so he needed a restaurant.
So he went to Indonesia, bought an Indonesian, he’s the kind that people do live aboard diving from, sail that over to Yap after having it rebuilt in I believe in Sulawesi and had it made into a restaurant and a pub. Actually, his initial footprint and his initial land is still pretty much just a small area in downtown and then he’s been able to expand by putting this beautiful wooden ship called The Mnuw, which translated into Yapese means “sea eagle” and it’s got absolutely wonderful upstairs bar.
The hotel has its own brewery and you can get the Manta Gold and Manta Dark or you can mix the two for a Texas Two-step. And people can sit upstairs under the stars and eat snacks or go downstairs to the pub area and eat inside. He’s actually put a movie screen on one of the mast of the ship and they play movies every night and people show their diving videos. It’s a really fun social area with just a great atmosphere because the whole ship is made out of really nice wood and it’s a reclaimed ship that was built in 1898. So it has an original beam of the ship was all one tree, which you just don’t find anymore. It’s, I think 108 feet long or something like that.
[0:12:49.3] CM: Fantastic.
[0:12:51.5] TR: Yeah, it’s really a unique place to go eat, you know?
[0:12:58.3] CM: Yeah, a bit different from a normal canteen thing isn’t it?
[0:13:01.7] TR: Right, yeah. He had a real nice restaurant that sat on top of the hotel for a while that had a little patio and everything but he’s really upped his status with this ship so everybody even from around town, you get a of locals up there, some of the peace core people always show up and have dinner up there. It’s a nice, atmosphere where the guest get to mingle with the local folks.
[0:13:27.3] CM: Yeah, you just mentioned earlier, you talked about the Europeans and Americans coming to visit in winter. You said they come to see the sharks and the mantas and all that. It’s like anywhere else in the world that you would dive is you get to see manta rays or sharks, it’s like, it’s an event, it’s extremely exciting, there’s no guarantee it’s going to happen. Whereas in Yap, you can be almost blasé about seeing manta rays because it sounds like it’s basically guaranteed that you will see mantas and sharks as well?
[0:14:00.5] TR: Well usually, the sharks pretty much are guaranteed if you can get out to the west coast, if the swell isn’t too big on the western side of the island, they have a dive site there called vertigo and the sharks have been fed on and off and so they always show up just on the off chance that they might get fed.
[0:14:26.4] CM: They’re not feeding them anymore.
[0:14:27.4] TR: On occasion they’ll do a controlled shark feed yes, with a kind of a chumcicle of thing and also sometimes they’ll just take like a small basket with like a frozen tuna head or something and a little bit of few fish parts and there’s one coral head there where they can stash the basket and tie it underneath and then as the fish thaws out a little bit, the current takes the smell of the tuna and the blood down the reef and the sharks, just because of that, become curious and come in close. So they’re really excellent opportunity for photography especially for black tip sharks and grey reef sharks.
I think in Micronesia, it’s probably the best spot because if you go to Palau and blue corner, you see sharks but they don’t usually come that close that you can get a number of really nice shots, even portraits. If you go to Vertigo drop off in Yap and the top of the reef’s only about only be 12 meters, 40 feet, something like that, it’s very shallow at the top so you can stay there a long time and get plenty of shark shots and really up your portfolio.
[0:15:43.1] CM: Is it quite a current-y site or is it given the shots come in with or?
[0:15:48.1] TR: No, it’s actually not bad at all. They do get, like I said, western swells sometimes and so sometimes you’re rocking back and forth down there a little bit but that’s usually only during the trade wind season like December through about May when things calm down over on that side then even the swell disappears and you’re just sitting on the bottom with you and the sharks. They don’t always feed the sharks so they don’t always bring a basket with the sharks have been kind of conditioned to when they hear the boat motor, they’ll show up.
So the boat captain will go over to the morning buoy, almost all the Yap sites have mooring buoys on them, it’s really good for the reef and they don’t us anchors. All the reefs there, the hard corals there, they’re in very nice shape and the boat captain will circle the buoy a couple of times and revving the engines to make sure the sharks hear that the boat has shown up and by the time the divers get in the water, there’s usually quite a few grey reefs that have come in just to see what’s going on.
[0:16:54.9] CM: Wow that does sound fantastic.
[0:16:57.4] TR: And it’s beautiful clear water usually inside a really nice point away from the channel. The photography and the video can be very nice at that spot.
[0:17:06.6] CM: Yeah, you mentioned as well about the mooring buoys and the coral is in good condition. Is it mainly hard coral there or is it the mix of hard and soft?
[0:17:16.3] TR: They do have some nice soft corals in Mill Channel. Mill Channel’s kind of famous channel where the mantas come in and out of. It’s like the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, it’s really a nice big deep channel but where it rises up to an area called Manta Ridge, it’s only nine meters deep where it’s eight.
Where it rises up from the sea floor to form this ridge, there’s a lot of soft corals in there and also in a lot of the cracks and crevices in the mill channel as you swim in and then the majority of the reefs are yeah, outer barrier reef with really nice hard corals, good variety, I think they’re about 400 coral species. You really get a nice mix of different kinds of hard corals when you dive like over and Goofnuw channel. It’s full of really nice hard corals at the top of the channel.
[0:18:14.1] CM: Cool. So you just talked about Manta Ridge. The manta rays are obviously the star attraction, are they there all the time or are they seasonal as well?
[0:18:24.3] TR: Well, it’s kind of funny, you don’t see mantas at Manta Ridge anymore. The mantas have kind of moved their cleaning stations around over the years. They used to come in to the Manta Ridge quite a bit, but you’ll still on an outgoing current sometimes see them hovering over the ridge where the current runs over and brings nutrients out from the lagoon, out the channel and you’ll see them hovering there feeding sometimes.
They’ve moved further into the channel and so you’ll see if you’re at Manta Ridge, Manta Ridge is a good place to dive because there’s some nice anemones, there’s the school of jacks, there’s schools of snapper and bumphead parrot fish. Sometimes there’s the schools of baby black tips and there’s schools of baby black tips and there’s usually three or four resident grey reef sharks and occasionally some baby grey reef sharks, turtles swim in there.
It’s a very fishy place and because the current is rising up over this ridge, it all kind of funnels into one area and of course fish like current. So you can kind of duck down behind the coral head and just sit there and watch all the fish go by or swim down deeper and take some nice shots with the soft corals and the fish going by down there and the mantas will come past the ridge and then they go deeper into the channel and they’ve come into a shallow cleaning station that is just everybody’s dream, it’s only three meters deep in a couple of spots.
So basically you can sit there all day on the tank of air and usually you wind up getting cold or your jaw gets tired from holding the regulator in your mouth before you run out of air. This new area is called Stammtisch and it’s apparently a word that Bill learned from some of his German divers, which is kind of special meeting table that they have in Germany and he thought that this was a really good name for it because all the mantas come in here in a really shallow, beautiful cleaning station of yellow finger corals and the deepest part is maybe only 20 feet deep. Then shallowest rises up to about nine feet and you get four or five mantas at a time in this area cleaning, circling and especially from about December through April or so when it’s mating time, all kinds of things happened just off of the edge of this cleaning station.
Because it’s a little bit back close toward the mangroves of visibility to kind of vary but if you just hunker down and you’re not supposed to move. These mantas don’t like to be chased or anything like that so if you just sit there, normally you find a manta coming right over your head sooner or later and you don’t really have to have the world’s greatest visibility because the manta is only two feet away.
[0:21:21.9] CM: Yeah, that sounds like a photographer’s absolute dream place to be. You say December to April. I mean would you be able to turn up any time of year though, go to that site and see them? Or is it more hit and miss in that?
[0:21:38.3] TR: Well, it can be a little hit and miss after that, I mean they usually come in but they might not be as inclined to stay as long as they do during the mating season, the mantas, they’re really acrobats and they come and the males chase the females and the females tease the males and they can put on quite a show and then when they’re tired of swimming around the channel doing that they’ll come in and clean for a while and then go back out into the channel again and do a little more.
So you see more activity because there’s just a lot more mantas in the area because of all the mating that’s going on. But during the regular part of the year, you know, you might have to sit there and wait for a little bit longer but there’s some resident females that are really big beautiful mantas that will come in and you can work with them and get some shots too.
It’s also when the trade winds die, the mantas tend to also switch over to Goofnuw channel, which is on the east side, this Mill channel is on the west side. Goofnuw is a really pretty dive too with beautiful white sand floor and two or three cleaning stations and a lot of really nice hard corals and it also has parrot fish, it has a lot of different kind of sharks, you see a lot more white tips over there.
We’ve even seen mobula rays in this channel before so they tend to, from maybe May through September or so, go switch back and forth between the two areas and so you can go check either one and just have a nice drift dive out if you want to or drift dive in depending on what the tide’s doing, and you’ll usually see a manta somewhere during one of those dives.
[0:23:28.0] CM: Right. I was just looking at the dive site map for yap and it’s over 30 dive sites listed around the islands?
[0:23:38.4] TR: Presumably, I think if you look at the Manta Ray Hotel has a little book that Brad Holland has done too, I think he’s got about 60 listed. There’s plenty of diving to be done, you don’t have to worry about mantas. The southern tip of Yap is absolutely stunning, there’s a place called Yap cavern and then it’s right adjacent to the Lion Fish Wall, which goes out to the tip and they’ve seen Orcas and Molamola’s, ocean sun fish out there. There’s another one called Yellow Wall that has a lot of yellow soft corals and a lot of nice Tubastraeas there and it’s a really beautiful drift dive and further up, there’s Magic Kingdom and it’s got big huge coral bombings.
Really nice hard coral formations there and the Yap Cavern is actually a big cut into the wall with a whole bunch of huge coral heads and then you can swim through a maze and through tunnels with white sandy floor and you see a very large school of bumphead parrot fish in there in the morning and some really beautiful anemones and soft corals. It also has some really good macro spots and down deep there’s a shark cleaning station. So you can really kind of do all week in Yap and not worry about mantas. If you’re not a manta person, you’re not at any disadvantage in Yap because it has a really nice variety of dive sites. There’s even a couple of group of sunk shipwrecks there and there’s some remnants in one of the channels from World War II as well.
[0:25:18.6] CM: Yeah, it’s great to have that variety. Is there much macro life as well? Is there a critter kind of place?
[0:25:25.9] TR: Yeah, the Yap caverns has some very good macro critters, things like leaf fish and a couple of eel holes that have some really nice scarlet lady shrimp that crawl around the eels so you can get that sort of picture and then they have a site called Slow and Easy, which is what’s nice about it is it’s really close to the hotel.
You can go do a couple of your manta dives or your shark dives or deeper dives in the morning and come back to the hotel, have lunch and then maybe go out at three in the afternoon and just take the short boat ride over to Slow and Easy and that’s what they want you to do, just take it slow and easy and just look around and it’s a variety of slope and coral heads and a point that has things like, you know, a little sea moss and wire coral shrimp and lots of different kinds of nudibranchs in there.
There’s a rather famous manta shrimp who is really big and kind of grouchy that lives in the hole right by the boat mooring. You can go just about any depth there, there’s one coral head that usually has a couple of different colored leaf fish on it and about 90 to a hundred meters or you can just spend the whole dive in eight meters and just go along the sand banks and around the big coral heads looking for macro stuff and the guides there have been doing this for a long time so they know where a lot of things live and they know what to look for, for you. So you’re usually in good shape when you come away from a Slow and Easy dive.
[0:27:06.0] CM: Fantastic. Yeah, it’s quite incredible, the variety of stuff that seems to be available there because none of this seems to really get much attention beyond the manta rays and the sharks.
[0:27:18.3] TR: I know. Everybody’s into the mantas and you know, sometimes do the chagrin of the dive guides, who have to go back to the same place every day but.
[0:27:30.3] CM: How about night dives? Is there…
[0:27:33.1] TR: Even the, I was going to say, even the cleaning station itself, it’s a really beautiful cleaning station and it has a great variety of fish. So if you’re like a fish photographer, you can get beautiful angel fish shots, really nice snapper. There’s a lot of different wrasse that hang around that aren’t cleaner wrasses but just different kind of wrasse. There’s a lot of nice anemones all along the same reef and with their clown damsels in them and that sort of thing.
So your macro and your fish people or well accommodated so even if the mantas don’t show up for you right away, you can distract yourself a little bit with taking some nice fish shots.
[0:28:14.3] CM: Sure, how about night diving there, given as there’s this couple of very slow and easy sites? Is the night diving worthwhile?
[0:28:22.6] TR: Yeah, it is and different creatures come out at night and Slow and Easy is the popular one, across the channel from slow and easy, there’s also a purpose sunk shipwreck that has things like long-nose hawkfish on it and that sort of thing. At night we see sometimes a small octopus come out and of course nudibranchs and so night diving is quite simple there too because the main channel coming into the town, the hotel just sits a little ways off of this main channel. And then there’s a famous island that’s called O’Keefe’s Island and O’Keefe’s was a character from the late 1800’s that took advantage of the stone money and quarried some stone money using the Chinese junk of all things, and would trade for coconuts and became a big copra baron and the Yapese like them and gave him an island which is now kind of a local park.
So out at O’Keefe’s Island, they have an area called Rainbow Reef and a few years ago we discovered that rainbow reef has got a lot of mandarin fish on it. You can go out there every night at dusk and get settled in and wait for the mandarin fish are always kind of horny so you can watch the displays. The male goes around and courts the female and then comes up into the water column and the eggs and the sperm are dispersed and the mandarin fish of course have just such just beautiful colors that you usually come out with the pitch black of the water and the background and the mandarin fish with their bright colors usually come out with a pretty stunning photograph.
[0:30:13.0] CM: Awesome. You mentioned earlier about lots of Europeans, the Americans come to escape the winter and then the manta ray mating seasons, December to April. Does it get really busy during that sort of December to February period? You said before in another podcast like for example Chuuk Lagoon and it gets 5,000 visitors a year. What’s comparable for Yap?
[0:30:35.0] TR: Yap’s about the same really. They only get about 5,000 as well. Like I was saying, there’ so many different dive sites in Yap that the hotel may seem like it’s a little crowded because you see a lot of — the hotel really isn’t that big, I think it’s only got about 25 rooms to 30 rooms, so there’s not tons of people there.
But they have enough boats and they try to keep the dive groups to a small number so maybe there’s only six or maybe a maximum of eight people in a boat. So they will try to stagger the people visiting the manta spots so there’s not a lot of people and not a lot of pressure on the reef all at one time and then they’ll take people out to some of the really nice outer reef dive sites where the water is just gin clear, it’s really pretty.
So it may seem like there’s a lot of people on the hotel during the winter months but once you get in the boat and go out, most likely you won’t see another boat, you just go and do and just passing them to go to another dive site, you will have a dive site to yourself. And there’s, if you go to the north of the main channel, there’s some areas where cuttlefish like to come in and lay eggs, you get to see the cuttlefish mating and the cuttlefish egg laying and further up, there’s a nice area for dolphins where spinner dolphins will join the boat and just some really pretty hardcore areas that go out to some of the points near the hard corals and there’s big schools of pyramid butterflyfish, batfish schools, that kind of thing.
It may seem like there’s a lot of people around the restaurant at the time but once you get out in the ocean, it’s spread out enough and there’s enough dive sites and you don’t really feel the crowds.
[0:32:37.6] CM: Wow, yeah. So that’s kind of the best of both worlds is that it’s populous, there’s plenty of other divers to meet at the hotel but then you’re out on your own, you actually go to the dive sites, which is obviously what everyone wants. With the cuttlefish, is there a particular time of year that happens?
[0:32:57.8] TR: I’m not a total cuttlefish expert but I know they see them February, March where they do this. There may be another time of year that they do it too. I photographed them in February.
[0:33:10.7] CM: Okay, and you mentioned how clear the water is a couple of times. Is that a year round thing or is there a particular best time of the year to go and get that?
[0:33:19.9] TR: No, that’s pretty much a year round thing, there’s not a lot of development in Yap and it has a really large inner lagoon. In some areas it’s probably over a mile from the shore out to the outer edges of the lagoon. So there’s not a lot of run off that goes into the reef and the water stays pretty clear. So it’s quite nice for a photographers. You can do a lot of nice modelling shots and have the sea anemone in the foreground and your diver up with the light in the distance and then those kind of close focused wide angle shots are really quite doable in Yap because of the water clarity.
[0:34:01.1] CM: That’s great. So given that you’ve got….
[0:34:05.1] TR: But inside the lagoon, that’s not always the case because the outgoing tide does bring nutrients and things from the mangroves. Almost all of Yap, one of the reason it’s so rich and so diverse is it has a beautiful mangrove all the way around all of the islands and that’s actually one of the thrills of diving in Yap, is pretty much every day you take a tour through the mangroves. It’s kind of a jungle experience almost to get out to the western dive sites. So when the tide goes out, the lagoon does cloud up a little bit but on the whole, when the tide’s incoming or if you’re at any of the outer reef dive sites, the water’s super clear.
[0:34:54.0] CM: Right. Given that you’ve got manta ray sharks, all these other sites with great coral, critters, fish life and you’ve got the top side culture, the stone money, so on and so forth, it seems like a week could actually be quite a short time to spend there. You probably wouldn’t get to see everything.
[0:35:17.1] TR: Yeah, Yap only has two flights a week so some people just think, “Manta ray, manta ray.” and they’ll go in and just stay for a couple of days and then fly on to Palau or maybe fly over to Chuuk or something like that but yeah, I think you’re cheating yourself if you don’t spend a week in Yap. They’ve got some good week long packages at the manta ray and you’ll find that the fish variety and the coral variety is enough to really keep you busy for a week and the staff there, the people are really just friendly. And so after a few days there, everybody knows your name and you know their name and kind of feel right at home.
So unless there’s a real reason to rush somewhere, I always recommend staying for a week and I usually stay for a week or 10 days when I go down there and I’ve been going there since 1984 and usually go at least once a year and sometimes three times a year. So it’s never gotten old for mea and I’ve always enjoyed the experience because the people are just really nice folks.
[0:36:19.8] CM: Fantastic. Tim, thank you so much for telling us about Yap and it’s now another place I have to go. So I’m going to blame you for my empty bank account.
[0:36:29.9] TR: Okay. Well I hope we can go have a Manta Gold together after a good day of manta diving down there Chris.
[0:36:36.8] CM: Brilliant. Thanks a lot Tim, cheers.