Thursday, January 24, 2008

Palau Islands

Republic of Palau - The Cradle of Biodiversity

Palau IslandsPalau Islands image courtsey:

The Republic of Palau known as the Palau Islands is an Archipelago located in the Pacific Ocean; about 800 kilometers off Philippines. It is a young nation with an area of 459 sq km and a population of 217,000. Palau gained its independence in 1994 (capital Melekeok). English, Palauan and Japanese are the frequently used languages in this island nation. The Palau Island is endowed with most diverse varieties of corals, aquatic plants and fish; hence The CEDAM has listed and ranked Palau Islands as the No.1 ‘Under Water Wonders of the World’ in 1994.

German, Spanish and Japanese rules

Palau had remained as an unknown part of the land even the Philippines the nearest people had little knowledge of these islands. Henry Wilson was the first English to report about the existence of Palau; as his ship wrecked near these islands. Since its discovery until 1898 Palau was under Spanish East Indies, Span ruled it through its regional head quarter at Philippines. Palau had a short spell or German rule also, the Germans outlawed the marriages and rituals as per other religions and they instructed the islanders to plant trees. Even now there are some coconut trees to tell the stories of the German rule.

Palau Island

Palau Islands image courtesy:

The Japanese also had a 30 year spell from 1914 to 1944. In the World War II Allied forces with American army had to engage in severe battle to end the Japanese occupation. Remnants of Japanese occupation and the forceful changes they have made in the civil laws are still visible even now along with the presence of Japanese language.

Umbrella islands

Palau Islands MapPalau Islands Map courtsey:

The Republic of Palau is an archipelago of numerous small islands; these are divided in to 16 States for administration. Its economy is mostly dependent upon tourism; other employments are agriculture and fishing. Altogether there are there are 300 islands (excluding small rock formations) most of them are not permanently inhabited. The island mass is made of soft calcium compounds and it gets corroded by sea waves giving them umbrella shapes.

Blue lagoons

Each of these islands has something to offer for explorers, researchers as well as sight seeing tourists. The Palau Islands have beautiful lagoons; marine as well as fresh water; all filled with diverse corals, fish and invertebrate populations. These lagoons are with sparkling bluish water beneath their waters they hide a beautiful living world not found any where else in the world.

Coral garden

Corals are invertebrates which live in colonies comprising of millions of animals; they lead a stationary life like plants, in ancient times people took them for plants. They secrete a calcium compound exoskeleton that covers its body. Even after the animal’s (the polyp’s) death these skeletons remain intact and act as foundation for the future polyps to live. Thus after several generations these skeletons accumulate and give birth to big mountain like structures called coral reef. The Great Barrier Reef off Australia, the Belize Barrier Reef are coral reefs which are well known ones; The Great Barrier Reef is thousands of kilometers long the longest in the world.

Ngameli Island

Though not as big as the Great Barrier Reef the corals of Palau are more diverse and beautiful than the big ones. Ngameli is an island of this group which has lagoons with ‘coral gardens’; far more beautiful than the gardens human beings can make, this has corals resembling plants, flowers, the soft body corals with enchanting colors like green, red and all possible combinations stands straight as if they are planted there! Scientists have so far identified more than 700 species of corals and 1500 species of fish from lagoons of these islands.

The water world

Palau IslandsPalau Islands image courtsey:

Fish like the blue-headed wrasses, the black masked emperor angel fish, yellow butterfly fish, the green-red brittle stacs that has spikes, the mango sized puffer that can take in water and expand like a balloon; if irritated. Trunk fish with body like a tough trunk offer protection from predators. Then there are the giant clams with body measuring two three feet. The brittle stars are colored blue or red are invertebrates which prefer to stay in crevices offered by the corals. In day times they prefer to stay ‘indoors’ as after sunset they have to be active, life is quite a happy thing for them just get out and eat planktons that is all! The crocodile fish is a look alike of the reptile is as smart as the crocodile, expert in hunting by stealth. Water melon cuttlefish changes not only shape but also color.

Rock Island

Of the many islands Rock Island (locally known as Chelbacheb) under the state of Koror is the most captivating site in Palau. It is a cluster of 250 to 300 islets believed to be formed by the uprising of coral from the sea bottom due to geological upheavals. It has a total area of 47 sq km. All these islands are umbrella shaped and connected by beautiful coral bay. These islands are famous for its beautiful beaches where scuba diving and snorkeling facilities are available.

Jelly-fish Lake

The Jelly-fish Lake is the main attraction of this island. It is a marine lake got isolated from the sea millions of years ago. It has got numerous fish stocks living in the lake for so many years and undergone evolutions making them very unique to this island lake. The Jelly-fish are strange fish who harbor some.

The Sting ray is one example which doesn’t know the art of stinging! The reason for such pleasant evolutions is said to be that as its predators (mainly turtles) got cut off from the lake they did not have to use these stings for so many generations; thus these stings got atrophied due to disuse. What a surprise for the swimmers in the lake they can swim free in the lake without the fear of getting stung!

Blue Corner

Blue Corner, is a part of the island system that is very famous for its visual appeal, here the stream is swift and fish move fast. The corals of this part are almost dead and remain as white patches devoid of their natural beauty and color. Manta and the Eagle Rays are large fish with big ‘wings’ they are common sights in the Blue Corner. Otherwise the currents will sweep him to the open ocean.

As this part is open to the ocean predators like jack fish and sharks occasionally pay a visit to these waters and get a taste of the plankton eaters of this locality; what to say about these fire ants of the paradise!

Ochaeo Legend

Palau IslandsPalau Islands image courtsey:

Each culture has its own legends to cherish; in fact these packs of legends add spice to the routine day today life that has nothing much to cheer about. Palau was cut off from the external world and its people had nothing but their legends to tell each other. Ochaeo was their hero-god, who could acquire the shapes of bird, fish or man at his will. While leading human life he fell in love with his neighbor a Palauan girl by name Mechi ra Omengul he married her. As a god he had other compulsions and one day the couple flew away as birds!

The Chieftain of the tribe recognized the fact that Ochaeo was a god and he built a shrine on the spot dedicated to Ochaeo and his wife from where they flew to the sky. After some days fishermen caught two Eagle spotted rays from the sea; while trying to cook it the whole site exploded and Ochaeo along with his wife flew to the sky. With this incident the people of the island began to worship Ochaeo as a god. Even now there is a platform at ‘Idub’ said to be the shrine of Ochaeo.

Along with corals

While visiting Palau visitors can see along with lagoons, corals, and exotic fish this shrine that has filled the Palauan minds for the past several generations.

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