Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Whitney Tressel
For history aficionados, there’s deeper meaning to be found in Palau’s waters
Among World War II buffs, Palau is famous not for its aquatic life but for its role in the Pacific battles between the Allied forces and Japan. Particularly notable is the Battle of Peleliu, one of the most devastating amphibian conflicts in U.S. military history and a key focus of the 2010 HBO miniseries “The Pacific.”
Though the soldiers are long gone, Peleliu and other spots in southernmost Palau are still littered with abandoned war machines. Many of the underwater artifacts are sunken Japanese warships that are open to intermediate and advanced divers, while a few that languish in shallower water are appropriate for beginners.
Non-divers will find rusting tanks and concrete bunkers hidden amid Peleliu’s greenery, and they might want to visit the Peleliu World War II Memorial Museum, which opened in 2004 on the 60th anniversary of the Battle of Peleliu. Though small, it holds a treasure trove of artifacts, including helmets and weapons, plus the found personal effects of soldiers.
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Palau bites back against shark finning—with a little help from TV
By the time the Discovery Channel showed up in Palau to film a 2001 “Shark Week” episode on the danger that shark finning poses to local reefs, there was already a group of divers and marine biologists lobbying the government on behalf of the much maligned predators. Shark finning, the removal of shark fins for use in soup, is largely responsible for the decline of shark populations around the world.
In 2009, with a support base rallied in part by the “Shark Week” coverage, the preservationists finally achieved their goal. Palau designated its entire 240,000 square miles of ocean as a shark sanctuary, the first of its kind in the world.
The Palauan coast guard can’t catch everyone, however, so divers sometimes take matters into their own hands. On more than one occasion, crews of divers have struck a blow on the sharks’ behalf, raiding the offending fishing boats and tossing the fins overboard.
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Number of main islands: 8
Number of islets: 300+
Number of tourist visitors in 2001: 45,866
Number of tourist visitors in 2012: 118,754
Number of jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake: 5 million+
Number of times Palau has been used as a location for “Survivor”: 2
Number of sponges, giant clams or hard corals that can be exported under Palauan law: 0
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The inside scoop from those in the know
Boat Captain, Sam’s Tours
“For diving, I go to Blue Corner and German Channel. In German Channel, what’s great is that you see tons of big stuff and small stuff all in one place. At Blue Corner, it’s riding the current that’s cool. You feel like a kite.”
Dive Instructor, Fish ’n Fins
“If you’re into corals, you have to dive Ulong Channel. It’s a wall dive, and we use reef hooks. There’s tabletop coral, lattice coral, brain coral. And if the current is right, you have sharks and the ‘bait ball.’ It’s like the Beverly Hills of fish.”
Scott Weers Erungel
Owner, Belau Tribe T-Shirts
“My mom was born on Babeldaob, and I used to go there a lot when I was a kid. It’s best to drive there so you can see the waterfalls, white beaches and mangroves. It’s very beautiful and different from the rest of Palau.”
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