Friday, August 22, 2014

Close Encounters of a Finned Kind

Dolphins race our boat
Captured by P. Lohmann
Fishing is banned in Marine Protected Areas (MPAs), allowing fish populations to recover from previous exploits and providing a shelter in which populations outside of the protected area can be spared from pursuit. As a result fish diversity and abundance is usually greater within MPAs than outside them. During our stop in Kayangel, the northernmost of Palau's states we explored Kayangel's MPA - we only conducted surveys here as taking of coral samples is prohibited. The benefit of its protected area status was evident right away. 

Octopus tries to blend in with its
Spotted by M. Kaplan
On our boat ride through the MPA we were greeted by large pod of dolphins, with two groups dashing and jumping off the bow of both our boats. Once we were in the water, our first sight was a school of four white-tip reef sharks, who were slowly roaming the edge of the reef. Later on in our dive we saw two others sleeping under a large coral boulder.  Along with several moray eels, and vast diversity of angelfish, parrotfish, damselfish, groupers, snappers, the fish wildlife was spectacular. The invertebrate populations were likewise robust, we discovered an octopus and wide assortment of snails, hermit crabs, ovulids, sea cucumbers and the likes. 

White-tip shark explores the reef
Photo credit: M. Kaplan 
It was quite evident from our dives that even a region that is already as naturally rich and diverse in fish, coral, and invertebrate populations as Palau, can benefit tremendously from MPAs. Palau will soon be declaring its entire exclusive economic zone as a marine sanctuary, meaning it will issue no commercial fishing licenses and only local subsistence fishing will be allowed in designated areas. The result of this measure will undoubtedly be an even healthier and thriving marine habitat. I look forward to returning to Palau's waters severals years after the changes come into effect and seeing their impact. In the meantime, I'll leave with a few more gorgeous pictures that showcase our adventures.

-Hanny Rivera 

Curious squirrel-eye fish says hello
Photo credit: M. Kaplan
Variety of fish over the reef crest
Photo credit: M. Kaplan
Green moray eel wakes up from a nap
Photo credit: M. Kaplan

School of permit fish
Photo credit: M. Kaplan

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