Over two million years ago in Micronesia (a subregion within Oceania) significant volcanic activity – now known as the Pacific Ring of Fire – occurred. From this the 343 islands that make up the island state of Palau were formed and the limestone rock basis for the Palau Reefs was in place. At this time, homo habilis inhabited the earth, but not the island of Palau and all that lived there were the basic coral species that had begun to grow on the submerged limestone.
Palau remained uninhabited until homo floresiensis evolved around 18,000 years ago, yet the first humans to lay eyes on the 300 species of sponges, 1500 species of fish and 550 species of hard and soft corals that live here were from Indonesia in c.2000BC. Since then, the island state of Palau has also been under Spanish, German, British, Japanese and American rule. At present Palau is an independent region, gaining a lot of tourism and notoriety due to its beautiful reefs.
If the reefs in Palau today were to be destroyed and returned back to smooth, limestone rocks they could not simply begin regrowing over the next decade. What lies there today is the result of millions of years of development, where corals have formed skeleton bases which the next generation of coral builds upon again.
The Palau Reefs are believed to have formed around 2 million years ago, long before the more developed species of the homo genus had evolved (I.e. homo sapiens, Neanderthals and homo erectus). They started very basically at first and gradually developing into the rich and biodiverse environment they are now. Due to this time frame these islands are all-natural; having had no intervention from man.
Life began in the form of basic corals, on a Palau Island limestone surface during the Pleistocene geological age. From then these corals separated into hard and soft species over two million years, with sponges and reef fish joining them at a much later stage. Quality versus quantity certainly applies to this one of the seven wonders of the underwater world, as Palau’s reefs are quite small compared to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, but even still they are home to an incredibly diverse number of species; some critically endangered.
Why it Was Chosen:
It was the American Diver’s Association CEDAM International (CEDAM stands for conservation, education, diving, awareness and marine research) who nominated and chose the Palau Reefs for one of the seven wonders of the underwater world in 1989. CEDAM chose the wonders in accordance to their quality of marine life, and whether we should keep them well preserved as protected sites.
As the Palau Reefs in Micronesia are home to various endangered species (both plant and animal) and there has been a considerable level of coral bleaching over the past few decades, they have been identified as needing conservation. The fact that they also home thousands of different species of fish, 550 different species of hard and soft corals, plus 300 different species of sponges makes it the ideal candidate for one of CEDAM’s protected and very much revered seven wonders of the underwater world.
How Can it Be Seen?
One of Palau’s leading industries today is tourism, meaning that it’s incredibly easy to visit the region and many of the 343 islands that comprise it.
Getting to the Palau Islands usually means a bit of plane hopping, as there are daily flights from Guam’s airport and twice-weekly flights from Manilla, but also chartered flights from airports in Korea, Taipei, Taiwan, Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya and Japan. The nearest airport outside of Palau is Guam, where flights take approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes. For this reason you may wish to put together an itinerary, where you stay in one of these countries for a couple of days before traveling to Palau.
Once you arrive in Palau there are plenty of tour operators offering diving excursions (daily) from Koror and you can see other attractions such as the jellyfish lake and even swim with dolphins. If diving is not your thing, or you’re bringing small children with you then there are snorkeling tours available, as well as placid canoe tours that allow you to see the reefs from the surface of the water, sailing charters and day trips to the Palau Aquarium at the Palau International Coral Reef Center.