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Three Perfect Days: Palau

Author Jacqueline Detwiler Photography Whitney Tressel

A WWII wreck awaits explorers in a cove south of Koror

A WWII wreck awaits explorers in a cove south of Koror


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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Population: 21,032

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

Jefferson Nestor

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.”

Loreen Sugiyama

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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3 Responses to “Three Perfect Days: Palau”

  1. oday Says:
    July 2nd, 2013 at 7:30 am

    missing you my brother there..
    can i copy the link … to put in some places for scuba diving and vacation …

  2. Laura Watilo Blake Says:
    September 11th, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    It doesn’t take much for an exotic destination to demand my attention, but seldom can I pinpoint the moment it starts to get under my skin enough to exacerbate my travel itch (an incurable chronic condition).

    Thanks to writer Jacqueline Detwiler, my bucket list has gotten even longer. The island of Palau started beckoning the moment I read the story “Three Perfect Days: Palau” in Hemispheres magazine’s July 2013 issue.

    About Jelly Fish Lake, where the namesake creatures don’t sting, she writes: “As you gingerly tread water, the jellyfish bouncing off your body like slippery little jacky sacks, the scene you take in through your googles is very much like something from outer space.”

    With that one sentence, I was hooked. And now I am trying to find the perfect time to scratch.

  3. Will Martin Says:
    September 25th, 2013 at 6:20 pm

    If the pitch here is to describe an antidote to a world which is an “echo chamber of car horns and email alerts” then the writer would have done well to describe sailboats rather than speedboats in her very first sentence. Speedboats are loud, dirty, and extremely disruptive to marine life and coral reefs. Sailing takes no power, makes no noise, and consumes no resources. Something to consider.

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