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The warm waters of Palau, a small archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, hold perhaps the richest and most biologically diverse coral reefs on the planet. Marine biologists have recorded 550 species of coral, 300 species of sponges and 1,500 species of fish around the island country that is comprised of more than 340 land masses spawned by volcanic activity in the world’s Ring of Fire.
Diving the coral gardens off the Rock Islands of Palau presents some incredible examples of nature’s artistry and creativity. The top of this reef gives the appearance of flowers swaying in a tidal breeze. Among the many unforgettable fish species found here are yellow butterflyfish, blue-headed wrasses and emperor angelfish along with pufferfish that display sharp spikes sticking out in every direction and the self-protected trunkfish whose tough, trunk-like body protects like armour. Nestled among the coral are found giant clams along with green and red brittle stars. Related to sea stars, these animals grow arms that break off easily if bitten by predators or touched by scuba divers. Brittle stars hide until sundown, but at night they crawl out, spread their arms while feeding on plankton. Strange looking cuttlefish hover in the water. Related to the octopus and squid, these cephalopods change their colors and shapes so that they sometimes look like inanimate seaweed or gliding octopuses. The crocodilefish, a steathy predator has an uncanny resemblance to its reptilian namesake.
Some of Palau’s greatest attractions are seen at Blue Corner named for the deep blue hue of the water found in this part of the island chain. Strong currents carry predictible supplies of plankton that serve to nourish unicornfish, tangs and other plankton-eaters that in turn attract huge schools of predators like sharks and jacks in schools so thick they can turn day to night. Manta Rays and Eagle Rays are also frequent visitors to the Blue Corner.
Palau also contains 80 marine lakes including Jellyfish Lake which is the most visited. Named for the jellyfish that slowly follow the sun’s path across the lake they have lost the ability to sting. Since the lake was sealed off from the open ocean eons ago and natural predators were locked out they haven’t needed to protect themselves. Underwater explorers can swim freely among the yellow polka-dotted jellyfish shimmering harmlessly in the sun without the threat of getting stung.
Getting to Palau means you’ll do some plane hopping. There are daily flights from Guam’s airport and twice-weekly flights from the Philippines. Chartered flights from airports in Korea, Taiwan and the Japanese cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya are also a possibility. In Palau there are plenty of operators offering diving excursions from Koror, the island chain’s most populated state and the site of the international airport is adjacent with access to Koror by way of a modern bridge.
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