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Palauan Pioneer to be Inducted into the Scuba Diving Hall of Fame
Francis Toribiong was a true pioneer in the scuba diving industry, developing Palau into the coveted diving destination it is today.
By: Molly Blaisdell
Francis was a true pioneer in the industry, developing Palau into the coveted diving destination it is today.
- Growing up in Palau, right after World War II, Francis met the first divers that came to do salvage work. As a teenager in the early 1960’s, he helped Ronald Sakuma salvage metals both above and underwater. During that time, pioneer divers also came to Palau to make their own discoveries, including Jacques-Yves Cousteau. These encounters left such a great impact on Francis that he was determined to become a professional diver.
- From 1968‐1975, Francis attended Long Beach State University where he studied anthropology. During that time, he got a much-needed job as a lifeguard in Laguna Beach, a 50 mile commute on his bicycle. It was then that Francis met Dean Westgaard, who introduced him to a variety of extreme sports, including mountain climbing, sky diving, white water rafting and SCUBA diving, leading Francis to get his scuba license.
- Shortly after, in 1972 Dean came to Palau to inspect the reefs and evaluate the destination’
- Returning to Palau following his college education, Francis worked for VANCAMP fishing company and a copra/oil export company. But in 1976, Francis returned to the ocean where he began collecting tropical fish for export. During that same period, Francis started to provide diving services to visitors who were curious about exploring Palau’s underwater resources and shortly thereafter he founded Fish 'n Fins dive shop.
- During the 1980’s and 1990’s, Francis built the dive industry of Palau into what it is today. He and his wife Susan traveled the world to attend dive shows and conferences, promoting Palau as a world-class scuba diving destination.
- From 1980‐1992, Francis and his friend Klaus Lindeman were on a self-appointed mission to recover and document the remains of a WWII Japanese fleet, which sunk in Palau during operation “Desecrate 1.”
- In the mid 1980’s, along with Carl Roessler and Avi Klapfer, Francis laid the foundation that opened up liveaboard diving in Palau.
- When IMAX came to Palau in 1993 to document the underwater wonders of Palau into one of their feature films, the crew soon discovered that Francis was as interesting a story as was the destination’
- Francis retired from the diving industry in 1998 and sold Fish ‘n fins dive shop to Tova and Navot bornovski, he moved back to the United States to be with his kids during their education. However, Francis and Susan returned to Palau in 2004 to pursue new frontiers. Being an environmentalist at heart, Francis wanted to save and improve the environment. He knew from an early age that Palau was home to exotic trees such as mahogany and teak (his father planted mahogany trees in Palau more than 40 years ago). Francis flew to Thailand to learn tree plantation and started his own teak plantation in the state of Ngradmau, convincing others in Palau to plant trees as well.
Francis was a scuba instructor, employer and mentor to many of today’s leaders of the diving industry in Palau, such as Itaru Kishigawa from CARP, Sam Scott from Sam’s Tours, Shallum Etpison from NECO, Surangel Whipps (who also had a dive shop in the early 80’s before becoming one of Palau’s most successful businessmen)
Upon induction into the International Scuba Diving Hall of Fame on January 30, 2010 Francis will receive the ultimate recognition in the diving industry, an honor given to very few. Francis will be forever in the company of Jacques‐Yves Cousteau, Lloyd Bridges, Sylvia Earle, David Doubilet, Rodney Fox and other diving pioneers.
Located in the westernmost corner of Micronesia, Palau is an archipelago of more than 586 islands with about 20,000 inhabitants. Consistently ranked as one of the world's best dive destinations, Palau is the ultimate paradise for the adventurous traveler, boasting some of the most spectacular water features and beaches as well as the world famous Rock Islands and Jellyfish Lake. With more than 1,400 species of fish and 500 species of coral, some have called Palau the "8th Natural Wonder of the World", while others have identified Palau as "One of the Seven Underwater Wonders of the World." For more information about Palau, please visit www.visit-palau.com.
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