Swimming with the famous
golden jellyfish in Palau, an archipelago of over 500 islands in the western
Pacific Ocean, can be put back on the bucket list following a two-year ban, but
bathers may be stung with a hefty price increase for the pleasure.
of the JellyfishThe government ordered the
famed Ongeim’l Tketau Jellyfish Lake closed to swimmers in 2016 because of
dwindling numbers of the unique creature – blamed on warming waters although
with some suspicion sunscreen on bathers may also have contributed.
The conservation move
proved costly for tour operators with the loss of Palau’s most popular
attraction contributing to a slump in tourism numbers.
But authorities in Koror State, which owns the resource, say stocks are now recovering and tourists are again being welcomed at Jellyfish Lake.
Attraction“The jellyfish are
returning, tourists are visiting again,” Dora Benhart, the outreach officer of
Koror State’s conservation department said.
Swimming with the jellyfish on Mecherchar island, about a 45-minute boat ride from Koror, is “one of the most unique attractions” Palau has to offer, according to the Visitors Authority chairman Ngirai Tmetuchl. It is estimated to attract at least two-thirds of the annual visitors to the western Pacific archipelago which peaked at 1,60,000 in 2015.
The numbers slumped to 1,08,000 in 2018 which Tmetuchl said was caused by a combination of factors, including restrictions on Jellyfish Lake.
SpeciesThe rare species of golden
jellyfish, believed to exist only in this marine lake, does have a sting but it
is mild and often undetectable making swimming among them a popular experience.
The jellyfish population, which once swelled to around 20 million, slumped in 2016 because of El Nino, a climate pattern linked to warming waters in the central and eastern areas of the equatorial Pacific.
Palau President Tommy
Remenegsau called for the lake to be closed, and while it was never officially
shut down by Koror State, the dwindling jellyfish numbers saw a self-imposed
ban by tour operators who stopped taking visitors to the island rather than
charge them US$100 to see nothing.
RisingWith the waters cooling
over the past year the jellyfish have increased to numbers strong enough to
invite tourists back but Sharon Patris, a research biologist at the Coral Reef
Research Foundation, said it would take some time to reach “normal numbers” of
five to eight million.
A proposal to increase the
visiting fee to US$150 (Rs 10,000 approximately) is now before the Koror State
Authorities are also strictly enforcing rules about the use of sunscreen, saying it must be environmentally friendly and applied more than 30 minutes before entering the water.
Although a link between sunscreen and falling jellyfish numbers has been suggested and dismissed, authorities said they wanted to ensure the purity of the water.
Clothes worn by bathers
must be thoroughly rinsed before swimming to eliminate the risk of taking “invasive
species” into the lake.
Patris added there was a similar fall in jellyfish numbers in 1998 linked to an El Nino event and data showed “the jellyfish did not disappear because of the presence of sunscreen”.
There are more than 50 marine lakes in Palau, five of them containing jellyfish but only the one Jellyfish Lake is open to visitors.
The Visitor Authority’s Tmetuchl has called for a second lake containing the same golden species of jellyfish to be made available to the public. This is opposed by conservationists who say it would expose another lake to the same risks as the first.
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