Sunday, August 24, 2014

Rock Island Paradise

Mushroom-shaped rock due to erosion
Photo credit: H. Rivera
I've mentioned Palau's Rock Islands quite a few times now - how unique they are in that they harbor amazing reefs despite having low pH conditions and hotter water temperatures than Palau's outer reefs, both conditions that corals usually stay away from. I'd like to give you a better sense now of just what it's like to visit these Rock Island bays and spend the day diving or sampling, surrounded by the lush vegetation as we drop Niskin after Niskin over the side of the boat to take our water samples.

Hannah peaks up from
a swim
Photo credit: H. Rivera
Taoch Bay, Palau
Photo credit: H. Rivera
The Rock Islands are undeniably the most beautiful place I've been to so far. Driving through the meandering channels, making our ways through the plethora of mushroom-shaped islands, each a vivid, deep green from the trees, shrubs, and palm fronds that overwhelm its sheer limestone cliffs. We can see flocks of Tropics birds and Knots that fly overhead finding shelter in the vegetation as they roam the waters for fresh catch. The sounds of monkeys echo through the bays, along with the screeches of fruit bats. The waters are usually a bright turquoise near the shallows, clear and bright during our recently sunny dives. Most of our dives sites are smalls bays in which the corals grow mainly around the walls of the enclosure where the water is shallowest and they can get the most light, although the proximity to the surface is somewhat offset by the shading they receive from the islands. The depth drops off rather quickly toward the center of the embayments, sometimes reaching 50 or 60 feet (15-18 meters). The coral community is bright and colorful, harboring plenty fish that come to grow up closer to shore, where they are better protected.  

The work our lab has conducted in these islands over the last several years has helped us better understand their importance. We hope to uncover more of their secrets when we return to analyze all the samples collected on our current expedition.

-Hanny Rivera

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