Nov 1, 2012

Palau Rocks On As A World Heritage Site!

UNESCO just declared the Rock Islands' southern lagoon a world heritage site in Palau, Micronesia. About time!
Soar high above the stunning Rock Islands with Palau Helicopter: Pilot Matt will remove the doors for avid photographers. You may even spot manta rays or dugong: Micronesia's "sea cows." Photo copyright www.amandacastleman.com


Some of these lumpen landmasses are upraised limestone, heaved high by tectonic fender-benders. But others grew from the earth’s crust floating over hotspots. The magma extruded one volcanic nubbin, then, as the surface layer rotated, another and another, until they daisy chained into an archipelago. Corals massed around the cones, eventually creating reefs that condensed into limestone. Mainly those rings remain today, as most volcanolets resubmerged under their own weight. Thus these islets are basically stone pedestals, each topped with a froth of jungle: Imagine Chia Pets balanced on cake stands.

As Paddling Palau’s founder, marine biologist Ron Leidich, explains: “Rainwater percolates through limestone, eroding it. When sea levels rose 50 feet after the last glaciation, low pockets became saltwater lakes.”

Jellyfish Lake is, of course, the most famous example. Safe inside its limestone citadel, the resident Mastigias jellies had no predators, hence no need to sting. In a swift evolutionary shrug, sometime during the last 12,000 years, they largely discarded the ability. Today snorkelers can float unscathed among their pulsing, bubblegummy bodies: One of Palau’s maybe the world’s more singular experiences.

Sport Diver sent me back to Palau for three weeks in 2009 for a cover story (three of the best weeks of my life, in fact). Check out the full article, Flow State, Tapping The Subconscious Grace of Palau, on Zino.

Only snorkeling's permitted in the iconic Jellyfish Lake, which cradles millions of non-stinging jellies unique to this brackish marine ecosystem. Photo copyright www.amandacastleman.com


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