Official name: Republic of Palau
Area: 458 square kilometers (177 square miles)
Highest point on mainland: Mount Ngerchelchauus (242 meters/794 feet)
Lowest point on land: Sea level
Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern
Time zone: 8 P.M. = noon GMT
Longest distances: Not available
Land boundaries: None
Coastline: 1,519 kilometers (944 miles)
Territorial sea limits: 6 kilometers (3 nautical miles)
Palau is the westernmost archipelago of the Caroline Island chain in the portion of the North Pacific Ocean that is often called Oceania. The country lies southeast of the Philippines and consists of six island groups totaling more than two hundred islands that are oriented roughly north to south. With a total area of about 458 square kilometers (177 square miles), the country is slightly more than twoand-one-half times the size of Washington, D.C. Palau is divided into eighteen states.
Palau has no outside territories or dependencies.
Located near the equator, Palau has a maritime tropical climate, characterized by very little seasonal or diurnal (day/night) variation. The yearly mean temperature is 28°C (82°F) in the coolest months.
Palau experiences relatively high humidity of 82 percent, with heavy rainfall from May to November. Short, torrential rainfall produces up to 381 centimeters (150 inches) of precipitation annually. Although outside of the main typhoon path, damaging storms can occur in the months from June through November.
The islands include four types of topo-graphical formations: volcanic, high limestone, low platform, and coral atoll. Palau's volcanic and limestone islands sustain distinctly different vegetation.
The Palau islands border the North Pacific Sea on the southeast and the Philippine Sea to the northwest.
The Pkurengel Komebail Lagoon stretches across an area of 1,267 square kilometers (489 square miles) on the western side of the islands. It is enclosed by the enormous barrier reef that encircles most of the islands.
Babelthuap is the largest island, with an area of 397 square kilometers (153 square miles). It is also the second-largest island in Micronesia after Guam. The second-largest island in Palau is Urukthapel. Koror Island, containing the capital and most of the country's population, has an area of 18 square kilometers (7.1 square miles). Other islands include Eil Malk; the islands of Peleliu and Angaur, which are low-platform reefs; and Sonsorol and Hatohobei, the two smallest islands. Kayangel is a coral atoll.
Palau is also home to the world-famous Rock Islands. The Rock Islands are a cluster of more than two hundred rounded knobs of forest-capped limestone that plunges steeply into the sea.
The Palau barrier reef encircles the Palau islands, except for Angaur Island and the Kayangel atoll. The dramatic marine environment of extensive coral rock formations, caves, and reefs, and the abundance of sea life surrounding Palau make it a prime spot for snorkeling as well as for scientific research. The waters are warm year-round, and many of the islands have beautiful white sandy beaches that attract tourists and scuba divers from around the world.
There are around eighty saltwater lakes in Palau, all of which are generally very small. The lakes were formed by erosion of the limestone terrain of the islands. Some of the lakes have simple, but unique marine life. Jellyfish Lake is located on Eil Malk. This marine lake has been cut off from the ocean for millions of years. Because of this isolation, and the lack of natural predators, the jellyfish that live in the lake have evolved without the venomous sting that is associated with jellyfish that live in the open ocean.
Ngardok Lake, located near the town of Melekeok on Babelthuap Island, is the largest freshwater lake on Palau. It is about 720 meters (2362 feet) long, 180 meters (591 feet) wide, and 2.7 meters (9 feet) deep. Besides receiving water from several small rivers, it is also the largest rainwater catchment area in the country.
There are no major rivers in Palau, but several smaller rivers and streams run throughout the islands. Ngermeskang River and Tabecheding River are both located on Babelthuap.
Mangrove forests exist in coastal areas and the lower portions of many of the country's rivers. Swamp forests are found in low-lying areas, just inland of mangroves and above tidal areas.
There are no desert regions in Palau.
Most of the islands are covered with rock or tropical forest; grasslands cover large areas of Babelthuap, however, where forests have been cleared.
The highest point in Palau, Mount Ngerchelchauus, is 242 meters (794 feet) above sea level. The peak is located on the main island of Babelthuap, which, compared to the rest of the islands comprising Palau, is high and mountainous. Many of the other islands are low coral atolls.
There are a great number of underwater caves and caverns throughout the reefs surrounding Palau. One of the most popular for divers is Chandelier Cave. Located underneath the island of Ngarol, this four-chamber cave has an opening that is 4.6 meters (15 feet) underwater. Divers can enter this opening, then surface into the cave's air-filled chambers to view its large stalactites.
On the eastern coast of Ngarchelong stands a series of thirty-seven stone monoliths known as Badrulchau. According to local legend, the gods placed the basalt monoliths here as columns for a bai , or meeting house. Archaeologists believe Portuguese or other native ancestors erected the stones some time between 90 and 1665 A.D.
Besides the monoliths described above, there are no other significant man-made features affecting the geography of Palau.
Oceania refers to the islands in the region that covers the central and southern Pacific Ocean and its adjacent seas. The boundaries for the region are the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the southern tip of New Zealand. Micronesia is a division of Oceania that includes the islands east of the Philippines and north of the equator. These include the Caroline Islands (of which Palau is a part), the Marshall Islands, the Mariana Islands, and the Gilbert Islands.
Brower, Kenneth. 1944-With Their Islands Around Them . New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.
Dahl, Arthur L. Review of the Protected Areas System in Oceania. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme, 1986.
Faulkner, Douglas. This Living Reef . New York: Quadrangle-New York Times Book Co., 1974.
"Palau: Paradise of the Pacific," Living Edens . http://www.pbs.org/edens/palau (accessed May 2, 2003).
United Nations Environmental Programme. http://www.unep-wcmc.org/sites/wetlands/ngradok.htm (accessed May 2, 2003).