Palau is internationally renown for its biological significance to the Earth's natural enviornment. In addition to numerous publications, the National Geographic Society chose Palau as the first "Underwater Wonder of the World." Palau's unique terrestrial and marine diversity gained additional international attention as one of the world's last living "Edens" by Discovery Channel/Reader's Digest. Although Palau may not be considered one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world in terms of sheer number of species, Palau is home to a substantial number of species in terms of exclusivity.
Palau's Biological Significance:
Three ocean currents converge in Palau's waters and bring a rich diversity of nutrients that attract a large variety of marine life. These currents also transport larvae of many marine species to the archipelago making Palau's underwater environment one of the most diverse places on Earth. With the exception of Kayangel, Angaur, and the Southwest islands, all of the Palau islands are located within one barrier reef. Numerous marine ecosystems exist in Palau. They include mangrove forests, seagrass beds, fringing reefs, barrier reefs, and marine lakes.
Due to the migratory nature of most cetaceans, there is no reliable estimate for the composition of populations in Palau. However, in the Micronesian region there has been documented evidence of many species regularly present. The species complement could include up to 11 species of dolphins, 15 species of whales year-round, and 4 species of whales seasonally.
Palau's landscape is dominated by highly weathered tropical soils of volcanic origin. These soils tend to be acidic, high in aluminum, low in nutrients and organic matter, and easily eroded. Palau's terrestrial habitats include nine types of primary forest totaling 77,248 acres, dominated by upland forest followed by Mangrove forest. There are 2,741 acres of agro-forests dominated by coconut stands and 21,068 acres of non-forested land, which include urban, grassland, and marsh areas. Only Babeldaob supports a complex watershed with a network of surface streams. All other landforms in Palau sustain a simple radial drainage pattern.
There are approximately 1,260 species and varieties of plants in Palau, of which 830 species are native. There are at least 194 species of endemic vegetation in Palau, the majority of which are located only in Babeldaob. Experts believe that the number of endemic species is greater then currently confirmed. There are 428 known alien plant species in Palau. For more detailed information on invasives in Palau and the Micronesian region, visit www.pier.org/hear/index.
Palau's terrestrial fauna includes:
By tradition, Palau's natural resources were under the protection of the chief of the local municipality. Certain rare or particlarly desirable foods, such as the Micronesian Megapode eggs or the Dugong, were said to be reserved for the chief and his clan only, or for particularly special occasions where the harvesting of the delicacies were sanctioned by the chief. Today, nearly all birds and the Dugong are protected by local, State, and/or national laws.