We sent our Pacific Specialist Sydney Dillon to test the waters on our Palau adventure. Here’s her report.
Nothing prepared me for Palau.
I have a M.S. in Marine Biology, and I’ve been fortunate enough to explore underwater environments from the Great Barrier Reef to the waters off Belize and the Seychelles, but the geology of the ancient uplifted coral that formed Palau’s Rock Islands is absolutely breathtaking. Beneath the water’s surface, a vast diversity of coral flourishes in enclosed marine lakes and postcard-perfect beaches seemingly secluded from the outside world.
I loved every bit of this trip: camping on the Rock Islands and setting out on kayak right from our “front door,” drinking sundowners on a private beach, and getting lulled to sleep by the sound of the waves. Each day held new delights, and our intrepid leader, Mastyl Sasao, brought such a depth of knowledge to the trip. Here are some of my favorite photos.
Formed from limestone, The Rock Islands provide a sheltered, idyllic setting for sea kayaking.
We were able to swim among Palau’s fascinating stingless jellyfish, the lagoon jelly (Mastigias papua) during a few of our outings. Palau is one of only two places in the world where stingless jellyfish exist.
The intricate colonies (Merulina sp.) at Lettuce Coral Wall. Myriad organisms live in the crevices of these corals for protection from predators, including juvenile reef fish; these reefs are vital for the survival of many other species!
Searching for baby black tip reef sharks in a seagrass nursery. Because the islands shelter much of the current, you’ll often find tranquil and crystal-clear lagoons.
Many of the calm bays and marine lakes that we visit are home to old growth Porites coral colonies. The growth rate of these species are very slow, and some can be hundreds (even a thousand!) years old! They form rings (similar to trees) in their carbonate skeletons as they age, which scientists can analyze to discern past oceanic conditions, including the sea surface temperature, sea level change, and storm events.
Kayaking through the mangroves above a tranquil aquamarine sea never got old! We typically spent about 4-5 hours on a kayak each day, interspersed with snorkeling, lunch, or exploration on foot.
These “tunnels” in the Rock Islands are exposed only at low tide, and were often the only oceanic access to the marine lakes. Our Trip Leader timed all our kayak outings perfectly so we could utilize these tunnels to access the marine lakes.
The vibrancy of the coral was stunning, and often found in just a few feet of water! The dominant species at Einstein’s Garden was the brain coral Lobophyllia hemprichi, found in various colors.
We often parked our kayaks on the shoreline and hiked into the jungle for lunch or a visit to an ancient village. Here, we were stopping to find abandoned Yap stone money in the jungle and learn about ancient Micronesians.
Palau’s Ngemelis Wall is where you come to understand Palau as the “Underwater Serengeti.” Here, you can see a vibrant gorgonian, sponges, butterflyfish, and countless other species of reef fish.
This journey was absolutely amazing. I had one moment mid-snorkel, surrounded by vibrant brain coral below and sheltered by the majestic Rock Islands above, where I realized that this was my definition of paradise. I hope one day it will be yours too!
—Text by WT’s Pacific Specialist, Sydney Dillon; photos by Sydney Dillon and Trip Leader, Macstyl Sasao; Palau Snorkeling and Sea Kayaking.