Palau

Reveling in Palau

reveling-in-PalauEach dive in Palau was magnificent. It’s not every day you come eyeball to eyeball with creatures appearing to wonder; ‘just what are you doing with that funny contraption on your back?’ Such was the case when my dive instructor signaled me to turn around on our safety stop. To my surprise and glee, there was an enormous manta ray staring right at me. I could have touched him, but out of respect I held back as we gazed at one another. That is, after spinning my head around motioning and gurgling “HOLY MOLY!” My instructor proved that you can in fact laugh while scuba diving. I’m hooked.

The biodiversity above and underwater was captivating. Kayaking was a perfect way to catch both along the craggy limestone. Before departing on our carefully planned, 7 night kayaking, camping expedition, we took a day to paddle out for some snorkeling, and practice navigating with the waterproof expedition maps that Planet Blue provided. With countless, similar-looking, uninhabited islands you would too!

Putting our kayaks into the deep turquoise water, surrounded by jungly trees and mangroves, it occurred to me that if I were a salt water crocodile, this would be top notch. So I asked our friend who helped us launch, ‘just out of curiosity – should we keep an eye out for those wily reptiles?’ He grinned, “In Palau? Always Crocodile!”

Super!

Reveling-in-Palau-2Vines swooping to the water provided kayak parking as we snorkeled, and I looked behind, below, all around us for croc eyeballs – at which point it would be too late anyway, so why bother? The corals were a vast array of colors, shapes and textures appearing preserved since the dawn of time.

I’ll never forget though, the eerie feeling that also hung in the air that day. It was especially prominent, listening as our paddles interrupted the buzzing, ringing sounds of the birds and insects. I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like for soldiers surviving in hiding for years, or decades in the caves. What it must have been like not knowing if the war was over, if it was safe to come out at all. How explosions must have shattered the stillness that now hung in the air. You could feel it, you could just feel the suffering and fear that had once dominated this beautiful place.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, EPA New England, on detail, EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Palau’s Sharks – Plight to Protection

Most trek to Palau to behold beneath its sea. Become a certified diver? Check. My EPA dive team colleagues warned it would be hard to top, until I’m diving off Massachusetts this summer I can’t say, but I’ve likely been completely spoiled.

I started caring about animals far earlier than usual. Natural instincts were supplemented by growing up outside catching pollywogs, and when indoors, watching a 1980s, taped, National Geographic special on whales and sharks, incessantly… (Where scientists test which wetsuit colors attract Jaws the most, I think it was a tie, and divers caress sleeping Tiger sharks?!) While Palau didn’t have whales, it is the first country to create a shark sanctuary throughout its marine territory; and thank goodness.

We probably saw 50 sharks on the trip, I lost count. White tip, black tip, grey reef! I never felt threatened as they gently swam by. Diving Blue Corner, seeing these beautiful creatures, catching a glimpse into their behavior, just feet away took my breath away. I wanted to dive deeper and watch them for hours.

I heard of shark finning, seen atrocious images, but it really hit me there. How unnecessary to destroy these fascinating animals? Palau’s shark population and diversity had been devastated by foreign vessels, but heroic efforts in the community over the past decade helped the government enact some of the toughest shark protection legislation in the world.

Concerned Palauans had Ron Leidich’s help (told you he knows his stuff) along with Noah Idechong, Delegate to Palau’s National Congress and founding member of the Palau Conservation Society. Local efforts were aided by the help of Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week.” Both Ron and marine biologist Ethan Daniels helped the film crew capture the plight of Palau’s threatened shark population by surprising a foreign vessel with holds full of shark carcasses and fins. While it wasn’t yet illegal, the ship falsely declared the cargo as “tuna and other permitted catch” to Palau Customs officials. This captured for the world to see, caused international outcry and support to protect Palau’s top, living, attraction. Dermot Keane, another friendly face at Sam’s Tours, who we met after diving went on to launch the Palau Shark Sanctuary in November 2001, to continue the fight to end shark finning in Palau and around the world.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey, EPA New England, on detail, EPA’s Office of Web Communications.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Hell in the Pacific?

‘Old war movie’ gurus may recognize the reference. While more is yet to come on the war relics that still refuse to dissolve into the jungle and out of sight, this highlights another issue that one might not expect to find in paradise.

Hell in the pacificOur third full day in Palau we found ourselves out again with Ron Leidich, biologist and founder of Planet Blue. We wanted an opportunity to continue planning the possible kayaking routes we could take after a week of diving. We were graciously given the time as we explored Blue Devil’s Beach (a.k.a Lee Marvin Beach – named after the 60’s Hollywood heart throb). In addition to getting a chance to snorkel, we helped clean the beach for the arrival of some guests traveling through the World Wildlife Fund for a week long guided expedition with Ron.

I pick up trash anywhere out of habit, beaches, even parking lots. I can’t leave it! Palau’s shoreline was no exception. Despite the remoteness, Palau isn’t immune to the traces of human activity even oceans away. The currents carry debris from any number of sources. We grabbed flip flops, nylon rope, plastic scraps and cans. I had held out hope that we wouldn’t see litter but, pollution knows no bounds. Plastics never disappear; they just breakdown into smaller pieces. While you didn’t have to look as hard as I would’ve hoped to find garbage, it felt encouraging being among Palauans who work hard to leave no trace and pick up the traces of others.

We noticed more recycling bins around Koror than I see in Boston, and the dive operations promoted the same ideas. For a relatively new independent country, Palau appeared to be on the right path with environmental and conservation efforts. A friend of ours told us about a family picnic day where they came across a beach positioned at the receiving end of currents carrying forgotten and poorly disposed of trash, maybe from ships, or other continents. 7 full garbage bags later and there was even more.

That litter blowing down the street always ends up someplace – even if you don’t know where.

About the author: Jeanethe Falvery lives in Boston, working for EPA New England as a Public Affairs Specialist, doing Superfund  Community Involvement. Currently Jeanethe is also working on web and social media outreach for EPA’s Office of Web Communications in Washington D.C.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Good Morning Palau! Palau Part II

Paradise greeted us at 4 a.m. with the sound of roosters serenading outside our window. Friends we made later on told us we’d eventually just stop hearing them. We had no idea how true that was (amusing story… part IV).IMG_0785 Palau

Day 1 was spent walking Koror to get the lay of the land. Got breakfast – chicken stir fry, (we offered a nearby rooster) and a cheese/egg burger for me. It was indeed an egg on a burger. We started following the locals to dine shortly thereafter.

For the ‘main drag,’ Koror was quiet. The speed limit gave dogs and chickens ample time to go about their days crossing The road that went through town. We sought out the Palau Conservation Society (PCS) to meet a friend of a friend – missed him, so we snorkeled across the street. (Yep, it was clean enough.) Still blister-free, we continued onto what would become our second home there: Sam’s Tours to plan finishing up my diving certification!

Later that night at Kramer’s (go if you’re there!), we met up with our friend Scott (PCS), for the first time in person. As we came in he said; “I KNEW I drove by you guys three times today!” I guess we slightly stuck out… small place. Talking that night, it already began to feel like we were home away from home.

The next day we explored the island of Ulong (where contestants ‘roughed it’ on Survivor) with Scott’s family, and other new friends including Ron Leidich, a biologist and founder of Planet Blue Kayak Tours. Talking with Ron was like being back at camp, only way cooler. We were learning (alongside the actual kids there with us) how some of Palau’s plants were pollinated, and which ones wouldn’t kill you, should you ever get sick of coconuts. Helpful, since we were scheming to kayak and camp on the Rock Islands and beyond for a week on our own.

Watching a stunning sunset on the boat ride back that day it hit us: one trip, a few weeks, would never be enough.

Sunset Palau

About the author: Jeanethe lives in Boston, working for EPA’s New England Office as a Public Affairs Specialist, and a Superfund Community Involvement Coordinator. Currently Jeanethe is also working on web and social media outreach for EPA’s Office of Web Communications in Washington D.C.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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A Place I Knew Nothing About

We took off with hiking packs, a tent and fins, carrying even fewer plans and expectations; to a place I hardly knew about. The more we discovered that very little was written about our destination, it drew even more appeal. I just couldn’t wait.
Over 30 hours after leaving Boston, my adventure companion and I landed in the Republic of Palau. ‘New Time Zone’ is a misrepresentation. Zombie-like, I was nearly convinced we had flown beyond planet Earth. One long layover in Houston, and we continued across the Pacific, stopping in Honolulu, Guam, and the island nation of Yap. Once our passports were stamped, we were graciously picked up by Larry from the Tree D Hotel around 11:30 p.m. We had arranged two nights, planning to ‘wing’ the rest. The Tree D was perfect for hatching-out our adventure: affordable, air-conditioned, in one-blister-walking distance to town, and closer yet to a gas station that sold homemade donuts. This was more exciting than being able to buy bottled water! I realize I should probably get my priorities straight. Turns out, EPA tested the water in Koror, Palau a few years back and it’s fine! Region 9, we need to talk.

Outside the airport, as we piled our packs into his vehicle Larry exclaimed,

“Wow, it’s busy tonight!”

We groggily looked at each other, and then at the ‘crowd’ of passengers from the half-filled, lone, Boeing 737, exiting the desolate airport, grinning wildly.

It was a dark ride, but I already began to take in the mystique of Palau, watching the broad tropical leaves in the headlights, and catching the warm breeze in the backseat. I already felt the eerie shadows stubbornly lingering from WWII, contrasting with the sincerity and helpfulness of the people that live there and the communal simplicity of their lifestyle. It seemed no one is out to prove anything to anyone, or gain at another’s expense. I’ve never seen such contentment in so many faces, and it became clear that we didn’t just enter a new country; we came into a place where an individual, for good or for bad, isn’t easily forgotten.

Palau Part I

About the author: Jeanethe Falvey lives in Boston, working since 2007 for EPA’s New England Office as a Public Affairs Specialist, and a Superfund Community Involvement Coordinator. Currently Jeanethe is on detail to EPA’s Office of Web Communications in Washington D.C. working on web and social media outreach.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.