Not many people know that a tiny island nation called Palau even exists; those that are aware of this beautiful place likely only know it as “The Jellyfish Lake Place”. If you have heard of Palau, your knowledge likely has come from travel blogs, television, or social media. These outlets describe Palau as a beautiful paradise with exquisite diving and pristine beaches. However, Palau is so much more than meets the eye.
For a long time, Palau has been an advocate for sustainable tourism. Sustaining the environment has a strong bond with the native islander’s tradition. A “Bul” or official ban, has persistently protected our environment even after the installation of a contemporary government. When the high chiefs notice a pattern to overfishing they will then decide putting a ban on fishing at that particular area or type of fish. This ensures a balance in our resources and protection of species from extinction. The “Bul” wasn’t only applied on fishing but had applied to other aspects as well such as; trees, birds, etc. Besides the “Bul”, there was also a way of thinking which was deeply rooted in our way of life. As the natives would say, “Sel obora chei e ke di mo ngmai a sebchem”, which translates to only getting what need. This saying was commonly used to put emphasis on overfishing. Both the “Bul” and the phrase have nurtured the future leaders of Palau which have extended this thought of sustainability into the creation of conservancy laws.
Palau has made huge progress with sustainable tourism and environmental protection. The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon is the second largest protected area after the marine sanctuary with approximately 1002 sq. km. It has also been internationally recognized as a World Heritage site by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). This lagoon consists of wildlife preserves, marine lakes, and conservation areas all while ranging from IUCN categories Ib, IV, and V(Ib: Strict Nature Reserve; IV: Habitat/Species Management Area; V: Protected Landscape/Seascape)
Below is a map of the Rock Islands Southern Lagoon.
Here’s an overview of the conservation areas within the Lagoon.
1. Long Island Park and Conservation Area
Long Island Park is located in Malakal, Koror. The park is the only conservation area within the World Heritage site that is able to travel by car, bicycle, kayak etc.. It is a very popular tourist site and I would definitely recommend travelers to go since it is free and accessible.
2. Ngeruktabel Islands
The Ngeruktabel Islands contains the most popular tourist sites. The first picture is the very famous Milky way which is famous for its limestone mud. The second picture is located at Soft Coral. It boasts an extensive list of soft coral species in which many researchers have found the area to have one of the most healthy coral reefs in the world. The third picture consists of the Cemetery Reef Conservation site which is along the southern part of Ngeruktabel island. This spot has been deemed the best snorkeling site due to the abundance and variety of fish species. The last picture is the natural arch which is situated near Soft Coral. The arch is a tourist favorite for photography portraits. All four sites take approximately 20-30 minutes by boat from the main city.
3. Jellyfish Lake; Kemur Beab(Long beach)
“Jellyfish Lake is one of the most unique places on Earth where you can swim with Jellyfishes sting-free!” says the tour guide companies. Due to the jellyfishes isolation from predators, it has weakened its’ sting, therefore, making it safe to swim. It is located just underneath Ngeruktabel Islands and is also accessible by boat just like the other sites. Kemur Beab or Long Beach is a rock island south of Jellyfish Lake. This rock island is famous for wedding and honeymoon photographies due to it’s long, white, sandy beaches. All four places would take around 30-45 minutes by boat.
4. Ngerukewid Islands Wildlife Preserve
The Ngerukewid Islands Wildlife Preserve or more known as 70 islands is a category Ib in the IUCN located at the southwest of the lagoon. It is off limits to any visitors aside from rangers and researchers. The endemic Rock islands are home to various native plants and nesting turtles. Here you can also find all seven species of giant clams. The only way to see the islands is by airplane or helicopter.
5. Ngemelis Island Conservation Zone
Ngemelis Island Conservation Zone is a category Ib of the IUCN. The island is just south from the Ngerukewid Islands(70 islands) and north of Peleliu State( one of the 16 states of Palau). This island complex is the largest conservation area within the lagoon with 40.1 sq. km. Ngemelis Island permits right of entry to indigenous people due to a deep connection with the legend story, Ngemelis lovers.
While Palau has made big leaps into sustainable tourism some might say, “Besides Long Island Park, how is using a boat as a means of transportation to these sites sustainable tourism?” Well, boats do not consume as much fuel as cars unless the boat used is a two-stroke engine. Two-stroke engines burn more fuel which leads to more pollution. With this is mind, you should consider a tour company that uses four-stroke engines. You should also consider what kind of gasoline they are using. For example, the Shell V-Power gasoline has ethanol free gas which means less pollution for the environment. You should also consider how “clean” they are. “Clean” as in how do they maintain their boats? Are they using eco-friendly products to clean? Asking the company questions can help you determine if they are eco-friendly. Another question you might ask is “How about the boats disrupting the marine life?” Licensed boat operators are very familiar with the ocean. They can maneuver around the ecosystems without affecting it too much. The routes they take to these sites are also regular routes that other tour boats take which would make it easier as to travel without disturbing the marine life.
Based on this article, you might have reached an understanding that Palau has more to offer than what is advertised on television or on social media. Hopefully it can also encourage you to come to Palau and experience it firsthand and see the many unique places we have to offer.
Koror State Government Fact sheet (2012). http://www.kororstategov.com/pdf/Fact%20Sheet_2.15.13.pdf