Day 12: Rock Island Hoppin’

Paddling Palau picked us up today at 8:00 am to take us to their shop. Once we got there, we made sure that all of our permits were good to go for the Rock Islands, and then we boarded the boat. Once we arrived at our destination of Risong Bay, we split up into three groups on kayaks with our snorkel gear and rotated locations. The first group was dropped off at the site of a shipwreck, which was a Japanese cargo ship from World War II. The second group was dropped off at Mandarin Fish Lake, where they were on the search for the skittish mandarin fish. This group got lucky and had the chance to see one!

Image: Mandarin Fish photographed by Reid Endress

The third group was dropped off at what was called the fish pond, which is basically a lagoon that has been closed off with rocks which were put in place by the Japanese during WWII; it is where people would hold and rear the fish until they reached a harvestable size.

Image: Remnants of a fish pond photographed by Scott

While out on our kayaks, we heard the most ethereal bird calls. It was so peaceful to be able to sit out there and just listen to the sounds and live in the moment. Some of the species that we heard included the Palauan Bush Warbler, which almost sounds like a human whistle. We also heard the Imperial Dove, which has a growl-like call. We saw lots of Fruit Doves, which are the national bird of Palau, and are an endemic species to Palau. We also saw lots of fruit bats!

Our tour guides Mac, Finn, and Adam were brimming with knowledge about all the different birds, plants, history, and basically just everything that we saw. They could answer any questions that we had about the area, and really made the tour extra special. Mac told us all about the formation of the Rock Islands as well as the erosion which causes the undercut. These islands are essentially just pushed up coral reefs made out of limestone, that have been slowly eroding away at the waterline. Mac pointed out on a rock face in one area that had a distinct line which is an indicator of the sea level once being much higher than its current level.

Image: Erosion of the Rock Islands photographed by Anna

Once everyone had a full rotation on the kayaks in Risong Bay, we hopped back on the boat to eat some much needed tasty bento boxes. When everyone was finished eating, the shenanigans commenced! We had people belly-flopping off of the bow of the boat, jumping, and swimming around the reef that we were anchored above.

Image: Haley with her bento box

Our next stop was to try and spot some Mesekie (dugongs) near a sanctuary area they are known to frequent. The water was a little rough (okay maybe a lot for some), so it wasn’t easy to spot them at first. However, after a few minutes, someone spotted several and we were able to watch them for a little bit. While waiting for them to surface again, we also saw many sea turtles in the area.

After seeing the dugongs, we headed out to a channel in which our guides knew some manta rays had been using recently as a feeding zone. Almost right away we saw several from the boat at the surface feeding. We spent some time snapping some photos from the boat, but the real excitement came when Mac asked us if we wanted to get in the water with the mantas. Of course, the answer was yes. The current was really strong in this area because of the rising tide carrying water and nutrients from the deep blue nearby. This is primarily the reason the mantas show up in this spot. Almost immediately we had mantas swimming directly below us! One cool thing that Mac mentioned about the mantas is that they tend to get white spots on their top side when they’re feeding. This is a sign that they’re eating well and happy. We had so much fun on our first drift-snorkel through the channel that the boat captain, Jeff, took us to the beginning so we could do it all over again. 10/10 recommend!

Video: Manta Ray swimming directly beneath Haley

After a successful day of kayaking, listening to the birds, seeing the lush flora and fauna of the rock islands, and swimming with manta rays we headed back to Paddling Palau and called it a day.

Image: kayak raft photographed by Alanna

Written by Anna and Rebecca

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