So many fantastic colors decorate snorkeler’s view

Published November 10, 2014 in the “Ocean Watch” column, Honolulu Star-Advertiser ©2014 Susan Scott

Razorfish bob at the Koror boat ramp in Palau. ©2014 Susan Scott

KOROR, PALAU » Soon after I started studying marine biology at the University of Hawaii, I arranged to take scuba lessons and set off to Waikiki to buy my gear.

“You came at good time,” the enthusiastic shop owner said. “My cousin is here. She is one lady from Palau!”

I didn’t get the significance of that statement at the time, but I do now. I am currently one lady in Palau.

Palau is an island nation in Micronesia about 400 miles north of the equator. The country of more than 500 islands, mostly enclosed in a barrier reef, has fewer than 20,000 residents, but the place is bustling. Like me, people from all over the world come here to dive and snorkel Palau’s spectacular Rock Islands.

The 70 or so islands are dollops of limestone surrounded by turquoise lagoon waters. The stunning result, famous in aerial photos, looks like a bunch of green-capped mushrooms floating in clear blue soup.

Among Palau’s islands grow about 600 species of rainbow-colored corals that host just about every kind of marine animal in the tropical Pacific. Researchers think this area may be the evolutionary cradle of Pacific marine life. For snorkelers and divers, Palau is heaven on Earth.

Because I flew here from Australia, I arrived two days before my seven snorkeling companions, all of us on a trip arranged by the San Francisco-based Oceanic Society. We would be snorkeling from a boat each day, and that left me on my own walking the town of Koror.

I ended up near a boat ramp where a boy, fishing, yanked up a squid. After that little excitement, I spotted in this body of clear water lining the city two blue trevallies, their iridescent blues sparkling in the morning sun. Below them, nestled among bright corals and darting fish, lay eight giant clams, each modeling its own unique algae outfit. (As with corals, the colors in giant clams’ tissues come from symbiotic algae.)

I practically ran to my nearby hotel to get my snorkeling gear.

“Watch out for the sharp oysters,” called a friendly local, when he saw me walking down the concrete ramp with swim fins and mask. “And check out the clams.”

Oh, I did, as well as a dozen other marine animals that I usually see only in my dreams. A school of razorfish bobbed vertically, as they do, looking like a school of buoyant carving knives. As you swim toward these fish, they don’t flee, but turn on edge, nearly succeeding in being invisible.

Pajama cardinalfish (so named because they look like they’re wearing polka-dot jammies), banded pipefish and so many other fantastic fish and invertebrates caused me to snorkel until my face ached.

And I’m still in town waiting for the excursion.

How wonderful it feels to be one lady in Palau.

Marine biologist Susan Scott writes the newspaper column, “Ocean
Watch”, for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser,

©2014 Susan Scott