WHS: Rock Islands Southern Lagoon, Palau

Last month we visited the island nation of Palau out east of the Philippines in the Pacific Ocean, and we can report to you that some of the best scuba diving in the world is to be found around — and under! — the 445 islands in today’s World Heritage Site visit:

Rock Islands Southern Lagoon

 

The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon consists of numerous large and small forested limestone islands, scattered within a marine lagoon protected by a barrier reef. The property lies within Koror State, immediately to the south of Palau’s main volcanic island Babeldaob in the western Pacific Ocean.

The marine site covers 100,200 ha and is characterized by coral reefs and a diversity of other marine habitats, as well as 445 coralline limestone islands uplifted due to volcanism and shaped over time by weather, wind and vegetation. This has created an extremely high habitat complexity, including the highest concentration of marine lakes in the world, which continue to yield new species discoveries. The terrestrial environment is lush and at the same time harsh, supporting numerous endemic and endangered species. Although presently uninhabited, the islands were once home to Palauan settlements, and Palauans continue to use the area and its resources for cultural and recreational purposes. This is regulated through a traditional governance system that remains an important part of national identity.

The islands contain a significant set of cultural remains relating to an occupation over some five thousand years that ended in abandonment. Archaeological remains and rock art sites are found in two island clusters – Ulong and Negmelis, and on three islands – Ngeruktabel, Ngeanges, and Chomedokl.

Remains of former human occupation in caves, including rock art and burials, testifies to seasonal human occupation and use of the marine ecosystem, dating back to 3,100 BP and extending over some 2,500 years.

Permanent stone villages on a few islands, some dating back to between 950 and 500 BP, were occupied for several centuries before being abandoned in the 17th-18th centuries, when the population moved to larger islands. The villages include the remains of defensive walls, terraces and house platforms. The settlements reflect distinctive responses to their local environment and their abandonment demonstrates the consequences of population growth and climate change impacting on subsistence in a marginal environment.

The descendants of the people who moved from the Rock Islands to the main islands of Palau identify with their ancestral islands through oral traditions that record in legends, myths, dances, and proverbs, and traditional place names the land- and seascape of their former homes…

The reason that you’ll go out to Palau is for the scuba diving, and we unconditionally recommend Dari Divers for that; not only was the diving excellent, as you can see in the YouTube video up there, but Annie took care of all our other travel arrangements as well … which is a vast convenience indeed in a place as off the beaten path as Palau!

Above water, the Rock Islands are a vast archipelago you wind your way through of tropical islands of all sizes,

Rock Islands

seriously, all sizes, down to “could jump across, pretty much:”

Rock Islands

with a large floating population tucked up to leeward side anchorages all about:

Rock Islands

This particular anchorage is one you’ll want to remember,

Rock Islands

as it’s the entry to Chandelier Cave, which is a cave dive with no less than four separate chambers for you to come up in…

Chandelier Cave

… and this would be a pretty impressive cave under any circumstances, but when you have to scuba dive through the dark to get to it, the place becomes downright ethereal.

Chandelier Cave

Outside, you have turtles, sharks, Napoleon fish, manta rays, and a veritable aquarium of reef fish to dive with along the reefs and walls,

Blue Holes

and schools of just about everything passing all around and over you whenever you look up!

Blue Corner

So yes, if you are a scuba diver, this is an AAA+++ World Heritage Site that you must put on your bucket list —

— and if you’re not a scuba diver yet, there is no better place to learn; we ticked off our PADI Deep Diver speciality with Dari while we were there, and the instructors on all of our task dives were topnotch; unconditionally recommend them for your Open Water course too!

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Alex Curylo

Alex

I go places.

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