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Jellyfish Lake. Where Darwin Has Never Been

The amazing Jellyfish Lake, teeming with millions of softly pulsating, stingless jellyfish, is to be found on one of Palau's islands, in South Pacific, about 800 km east of the Philippines. The lake features some outright miracles of evolution, like giant clams that weigh a quarter of a ton, and of course, the incredible jellyfish.

Jellyfish Lake in Palau
Jellyfish Lake, Republic of Palau by Olivier Blaise

The Republic of Palau (also spelled Belau or Pelew) is one of world's most spectacular diving and snorkelling destinations. Though most tourists who come here like to spend their time underwater exploring coral reefs, blue holes and hidden caves and tunnels, there's lots of Micronesian flora and fauna to be enjoyed too, from the exotic birds and fruit bats the size of hawks to the orchids that sprout in the backyards. Due to it's proximity to the Philippines, Manilla is one of four locations with direct flights in and out of Palau. These flights are relatively quick and inexpensive, making it easy to add at day or two of diving at the Palau islands to the trip for anyone staying in a Manila hotel. Other destinations with direct flights to and from Palau include Guam, Seoul, and Taipei.

The Jellyfish Lake is one of Palau's most famous snorkelling sites. Situated on Eil Malk Island, approximately 45 minute boat ride from Koror, the lake is accessed by a short trail from the beach. The Jellyfish Lake is of marine origins and got famous for the hordes of golden jellyfish that migrate across it everyday. The turquoise-blue waters of the lake are home to some millions stingless jellyfish, some the size of melons, others the size of oranges and a few no bigger than cranberries.

Jellyfish Lake, Palau
Jellyfish Lake, aerial view by Anaxibia
If you were to snorkel just before dawn or dusk, you will witness a two-step jelly ballet, a simple rhythm as soothing and vital as a heartbeat. The jellies spend their days in privileged leisure, pulsating gently from one side of the lake to the other while rotating counterclockwise to catch the sun's rays and farming their own food supply of algae. While most of the jellyfish in the world sting, this is an unusual phenomena that allows you to actually go swimming safely with them.

Jellyfish Lake is some 12,000 years old, a remnant of the last ice age. As the sea level rose, the water began to fill the Jellyfish Lake basin. When the glaciers receded, the jellyfish remained imprisoned in this tiny sea. This isolation allowed the species in the lake to develop on their own and become a unique species. If only Darwin would have known! Though the golden jellyfish haven't completely lost their stingers, they became so week that they cannot penetrate the human skin, although stings around the mouth and other sensible areas can be felt. 

In spite the fact that the lake remains connected to the ocean through fissures and tunnels in the islands' porous limestone, this pocket of seawater is sufficiently isolated for the jellies to be substantially different from their close relatives living in the nearby lagoons. The lake is surrounded by high ridges covered in exuberant foliage and the sounds of the sea are muted by the music of the jungle: buzzing insects, chattering fairy terns, the singing of the Micronesian pigeon.

Tourists need a pass to access the Jellyfish Lake. The Rock Islands/Jellyfish Lake pass is $35 and is good for 10 days. Scuba diving in the lake is not allowed, part because the bubbles from scuba tanks can harm the jellyfish if they collect beneath their bell and part because the anoxic layer that begins at about 15 meters contains high concentrations of hydrogen sulphide which can be absorbed through the skin of a diver and can be fatal.

Jellyfish Lake, Palau
Jellyfish Lake by Lukas

On the morning of December 27, 1831, H.M.S. Beagle, with a young Charles Darwin aboard, sailed out of Plymouth harbour under a calm easterly wind and drizzly rain. Nobody new by then the end result of this voyage, but it seems that a divine force out there wanted to bring fame to the finches of Galapagos instead of the jellyfishes of Palau. Beagle never made it anywhere close to the Jellyfish Lake's island.

Photos via Flickr Creative Commons 

22 comments:

  1. Interesting, and too bad there is no diving. Sounds like snorkeling would be reward enough. I'll have to get myself there one of these days. Another check on the to-go list.

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  2. Jellyfish Lake... even the name sounds like from a fairytale. And swimming with millions of pretty looking stingless jellyfish like this, I mean, wow! I hope I will make it there someday!

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  3. Love this jellyfish photos! Palau has always been pretty hard to get to. Even so, the Jellyfish Lake is a great place to have a family adventure. A friend of mine went swimming with this cute jellyfish last year and came back very pleased with the whole experience.

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  4. Wow! Cute colorful jellyfish! But I would rather not encounter them. :)

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  5. You shall not be affraid dear Princess, 'cause this jellyfish won't sting nor harm any human being. Unless, of course, one is allergic to jellyfish and than it's better to stay away from them indeed :)

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  6. The Jellyfish Lake in Palau is one of the most incredible places I’ve ever been. It's a fairly big salt lake and we had to swim quite a way till we met out fist jellyfish, but it was a great experience and well worth the effort. I recommend this place to all snorkelers out there!

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  7. Wow! Really nice pictures. Would love to dive there! One more place to my bucket list… lol

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  8. Lovely pics here! Palau is one of the places I have to visit as well.

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  9. Swimming in the Jellyfish Lake has been on my to do list for a couple of years now. Hopefully my dream will come true soon.

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  10. What an amazing world we live in! I'm sure snorkelling in Palau’s Jellyfish Lake is an exhilarating experience.

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  11. Wow this is incredible! I didn't know there was such a thing as a non-stinging jellyfish. Your photos are beautiful. Definitely adding this to my list of places to go.

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  12. Lovely pics! How nice of this jellyfish not to sting you! Swimming with them must be an amazing experience. I have to check out this lake next time I'm in the area.

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  13. The Jellyfish Lake sounds like the ultimate adventure travel!

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  14. I'm sure Darwin would have enjoyed the Jellyfish Lake (was he a good swimmer?), but probably he would have drawn the same conclusion as he did in Galapagos.

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  15. I would love to go swimming in the Jellyfish Lake and see all of the squishy little guys floating around me. Jellyfish are some of the coolest animals on the planet in my opinion.

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  16. I think jellyfish are awesome but I wouldn't swim with any type of them because it feels so weird whenever you hit one. I would prefer hiking in the forests surrounding the lake.

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  17. Many thanks for bringing back fond memories of the Jellyfish Lake and Palau. We were there a few weeks ago and had the whole place to ourselves. It was surreal. I also snorkeled down to enjoy the stingless jellies with the sun and the sky behind them.

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  18. I'd heard about these beauties before, but I didn't realize they were so otherwordly. Wow! Thanks for sharing them, and submitting this article to the Byteful Travel Blog Carnival. Congrats for being accepted to this month's edition! : http://bit.ly/btbc003

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  19. Jelly fish lake sounds terrifying. I would say the best snorkeling spot I have ever been to is the red sea in Eilat. I was working on a charter boat and every morning would take a huge swan dive off the top of the boat. A friendly lone dolphin would always be waiting for me. All around were the strangest most exotic fish I have ever seen. Definitely head to the red sea if you like snorkeling.
    Safe travels,
    Leif

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  20. That jelly fish lake looks so beautiful and fascinating, but just like what everyone here said, it's terrifying! I would not risk to get near them, even if they are stingless. I'm just really scared! But they are really beautiful and very nice to look at.

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  21. Swimming with hundreds of harmless jellyfish sounds so neat and adventurous! I'm in love with the Jellyfish Lake now and I want to go.

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  22. Wow, swimming with beautiful jellyfish would be a fantastic experience. Palau Island here I come.

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