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Geography, Weather, & Wildlife of Palau


Palauan Geography - Ngerukewid

Palau consists of a couple island chains, which form a part of the larger Melanesian Islands. The country sits in or just off of the Philippines Sea, which is a part of the greater Pacific Ocean. Palau is made up of 25 larger islands and another 300 smaller, uninhabited islands.

The islands of Palau are quite varied as some islands are mountainous, while others are low-lying and made of coralline. Many of the mountainous islands are forested, but even these "mountainous" islands are fairly low-lying as the highest point in the country is just under 800 feet tall (250 meters). Most of the islands are surrounded by coral reefs.

The people arrived from nearly every direction, including Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Polynesia, and Melanesia. Most of the nearby ocean currents run from the east to the west though, which is likely how the Polynesian people arrived. However, these ocean currents aren't enough to attract regular visitors so over time the people on Palau became almost completely isolated and developed a unique culture.


Palauan Geography - Rocky islands
Rocky islands

It likes to rain in Palau. The islands are nearly always hot, humid, and rainy, which also makes them quite predictable. Temperatures remain fairly constant year round and rains never cease, but there are substantial differences in the amounts of (relative) rain and the humidity. The vast amounts of rain make the islands, at least the volcanic islands, ideal for crop growth and human settlement. These rains allow great vegetation and fresh water, even on islands that don't have any rivers.

Palauan Geography - Waterfall

The temperatures on the islands remain quite stable year round as daily lows hover around 75° F (24° C) and day time highs usually peak at about 88° F (31° C). Even the rains are fairly consistent as the islands average over 8 inches (200 mm) of rain every month of the year, including during the dry season.

Despite the consistency, there is still a "dry" and rainy season, although dry is only in relative terms to the wet season. The dry season, which technically runs from about October to April is just as hot as it is year round. More importantly, only the months of March and April get less than 10 inches (250 mm) of rain and only during these months is there any noticeably reprieve from the humidity (and that's only if you live there year round).

The wet season, which runs from about May to October regularly has over 10 inches (250 mm) of rain each month, but June and July tend to average over 18 inches (450 mm) of rain each. Although typhoons (cyclones) are well known throughout the Pacific, Palau falls out of the typhoon zone. Despite this, heavy storms and a typhoon off course can still hit the islands any time of year, but most commonly in June or July.


Palauan Wildlife - Flying foxes
"Flying foxes"

As an island nation, the number of native plants and animals in Palau are severely limited. The land animals were almost completely absent and the plant life was small; only the migrating birds and sea life had any significant presence on historic Palau. Most of what is found on the islands today was introduced in pre-historic times by the migrating people, birds, winds, and ocean currents.

Since nearly all mammals are land animals there were no native mammals to Palau, although a few bat species arrived thousands of years ago, including what is known as a "flying fox," which is a huge bat species. Other than this, no land mammals existed on Palau until the arrival of the earliest people, who likely came from the region of New Guinea and brought with them pigs, dogs, mice, and rats by the 1200s, if not earlier.

The other historic mammals connected with Palau are in the sea as dolphins and whales are present in the waters surrounding the islands. These waters are also filled with thousands of fish, shellfish, and other forms of sea life. In these waters you can find surgeonfish, clownfish, puffer fish, butterfly fish, grouper, barracuda, tuna, mackerel, shrimp, krill, crab, seahorses, rays, sharks, jellyfish, starfish, and sea urchins among many others.

Palauan Wildlife - Saltwater crocodile
Saltwater crocodile

The water and the land have attracted more than just fish though, they have also attracted numerous birds, including many that feed off the animals in the sea. The bird life in Palau includes doves, owls, passerines, scrub fowls, and heron among others.

Like the mammalian life in Palau, the reptilian and amphibious life is fairly limited as well. The most common of these animals are those adapted to the water and swimming as sea turtles can be found in the nearby waters. Land species have again made their way to the islands in numerous methods and today toads, frogs, lizards, snakes, and the saltwater crocodile are present in limited numbers.

The insect and other small animal life is fairly diverse as many insects can fly or float and have made their way to Palau. These animals include butterflies, bees, ants, flies, snails, spiders, and worms among others.

Like the animal life, the plant life is also very limited. It is doubtful any plants originated in Palau itself other than a very limited number of local plants. However the winds and water currents have taken seeds to the islands and in other cases birds have transported seeds to the islands. Because of this many of the most common plants in Palau today are native to the nearby islands of New Guinea and those further west. Plants from these nearby islands that now thrive in Palau include coconuts, taro, breadfruit, bananas, yams, lemons, and sugar among others.

There is also a substantial presence of other trees and plants, including orchids, ferns, mosses, hibiscus, eucalyptus, mahogany trees, mangrove trees, and pandanus trees.

This page was last updated: November, 2013