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Ocean Hunter I – Palau – Environment & Biodiversity
The excitement of diving a Palau site is as amazing as the boat ride to get there. On our speedboats you will glide over glassy water, wind in your hair, through the labyrinth of our Rock Islands--jungled islands sprinkled over the cobalt sea like emeralds. The Rock Islands are composed of porous limestone, jagged and primal as they cut out of the water and towards the sky, yet overgrown in rich vegetation due to the collection of minerals in the limestone crevices. The water and bacteria have undercut the islands to form a precarious, skinny base rising out of the water, giving the islands their mushroom-shape or green muffin-top look. The limestone, once the structure of an ancient coral reef, raised out of the water, leaving a skeleton of what this ancient underwater landscape might look like, with caves, marine lakes and waterways enfolded in the islands like a complex circulatory system. No buildings are allowed on the Rock Islands by law, to keep them so purely startling to both Palauans and visitors. Further strict conservation laws are in place around this oasis, restricting fishing, travel over the reef, and travel to certain Rock Islands in order to leave undisturbed sites for birds and turtles. The most famous conservation area, no humans allowed, is the 70 Islands Wildlife Preserve--the part of Palau you see in all the aerial photographs.
A large barrier reef encloses the Rock Islands as well as most islands of Palau. Koror is the capital region, composed of four small islands connected together by bridge. To the south of Koror lies Peleliu and Anguar, two other limestone islands, with mid-height profiles like Koror. All islands are strewn with WWII artifacts such as a rusting tank covered with the tropical grasses and flowers so robust they spring from any crack in the sidewalk.
North of Koror, Babeldaob is the largest island, totaling 153 square miles while the others together total a mere 37. The oldest island as well, Babeldaob is volcanic and holds the highest peaks and waterfalls, with the tall Mt. Ngerchelchuus at 713 feet above sea level. Babeldaob holds trails for hiking and mountain biking, with hints of Palau's rich history nestled into the hillside in the form of a Yapese stone money quarry, sculpted terraces possibly used for agriculture in the BC era, and the oldest standing traditional Bai or Palauan meeting house used by the chiefs. Plans to move the current capital to Melekeok State on Babeldaob instigated construction of a new, all-island paved road, locally known as the Compact Road, which has made travel on the island much easier.
Kayangel island, the farthest north, is a raised coral atoll, surrounding a marine lagoon with its low sloping beaches. From Kayangel to Peleliu, the Palauan islands sprawl about 125 miles. However, 300 miles southwest lie more members of the Palau nation: 6 sparsely inhabited islands called the Southwest Islands.
Named one of the last "Living Edens" by PBS, and number one of seven "Underwater Wonders of the World," by CEDAM International, Palau is etching its consciousness onto the world for its spectacular physical offerings, above and below the sea.
With over 1500 species of fish and 700 corals and anemones, Palau acts as a heart of biodiversity, pumping life outwards from the blood-warm waters of the Pacific, to farther regions like Hawaii which only has 1/3 rd as many underwater species as Palau. It is impossible to get bored on dives here, when everywhere you look you see something new and different.
On almost every dive you see sharks (gray reef, black tip, white tip, and the occasional bull shark, leopard shark and hammerhead) and turtles (hawksbill, green, olive ridley, leatherback, and loggerhead), often so many sightings that you lose count. We have bumphead parrotfish and huge resident Napoleon wrasses that swim extremely close to divers. Experience close encounters with Palau's abundant population of manta rays, lionfish and the usually rare, shy and wildly colored mandarin fish. Other underwater highlights include cuttlefish, moray eels, lobsters, eagle rays, and dolphins, plus schools of barracudas, big-eye trevally (jacks), neon fusiliers, black snapper, and colorful anthias. Brightly colored clown fish in pulsating anemones, and large fish such as big-eye tuna and marlins are also common on dives. Palau is one of the last places in the world to spot a legendary and nearly extinct dugong (sea cow), a sea mammal, and seven of the nine species of endangered tridacna giant clams--larger than yourself and up to 100 years old! You can also find here saltwater crocodiles and sea snakes (non-aggressive). And of course, the biological wonder of Palau is Jellyfish Lake - take me there - filled with millions of Mastigias species of jellyfish that have no sting, pulsing in a cloud like hearts reflecting the sun's rays through their pink bodies. The dives are truly a sensual feast.
As for life above the water, there are 142 bird species. The Palau Owl, endangered Palau Ground Dove, and beautiful Palau Fantail are some of the 16 endemic bird species in Palau. 1260 plant species include 109 endemic plants, with such highlights as the rare wild orchid and ancient cicada palm. There are 2 endemic bat species including the Palauan Fruit Bat.
The biodiversity of Palau is reflected in Palauan legends, which show a close relationship between the Palauans and the many creatures that inhabit their land. In the legends, often humans transform into animals, such as when a Palauan mother clutching her child turned into a dugong to explain the start of this marine mammal, and the theme of transformation is very strong. Visitors here will see how in Palau, the close relationship with such a thriving natural world opens up the interconnectedness of life and will not leave you untransformed.
-statistics taken from sources on Palau Resources Page as well as the World Bird Database in Palau:
To explore Ocean Hunter I, see the menus at top and left. Our newest ship, Ocean Hunter III can be found here. Or to explore Palau see the links below.