Did you know that there is a lake in this world where the jellyfish has lost its sting?

Gunter and I signed up for a snorkel-and-dive tour by Fish & Fins in Palau while attending the 9th Festival of Pacific Arts there. After a 45-minute ride, we were anchored in a shallow water spot called The New Drop-Off, near The Ngedbus Wall, widely considered to be the world’s best wall dive, dropping from knee-deep water to almost 1000 feet.

There are more than 1400 species of fish in Palau waters, and hundreds of species of corals. An underwater photographer friend once told me, “You can go to six different countries in the world to experience the greatest diversity of coral and fish, or just go to Palau.” He wasn’t kidding!

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As soon as Gunter and I snorkeled toward the drop-off, a white-tipped shark swam lazily by. Green turtles and a lone hawksbill paddled by, unfazed. Small schools of blue line snappers hovered effortlessly, while gold-striped fusiliers, damsel and butterfly fishes accented the extraordinary view. I recognized species I’d seen in French Polynesia, Fiji, and Vanuatu, but in Palau, they were all together in one place. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Our second stop was Clam City, home of the world’s largest mollusks, four feet wide and up to 500 pounds. They rested in a sandy bottom eight to ten feet below as I floated over them, elated and amazed. Their huge upholstered lips reminded me of a ‘70s-era furniture store filled with overstuffed sofas of lime-green, orange, brown and rust.

A once-in-a-lifetime experience, however, awaited us in Jellyfish Lake, a saltwater lake on Mecherchar Island, about 18 miles from Koror. This is one of 70 or so marine lakes scattered throughout the limestone Rock Islands of the Palau Archipelago.  There, we could swim with thousands of fragile jellyfish without getting stung.  The lake had been cut off from the main lagoon eons ago, so without natural predators, their trailing tentacles lost their sting.

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Golden Jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake. Photo Source: National Geographic. Click on photo to read more.

What Fish & Fins didn’t tell us was that our group of eight had to climb over a ridge through a tangled jungle to reach the lake in the interior of the island! Fortunately, Gunter and I were wearing sturdy reef shoes instead of flip-flops! Panting, we slowly picked our way up a steep coral-rock pathway grasping a handrail made of thick rope. At the top, our guide pointed down to a flat, green lake surrounded by jungle. “The jellyfish congregate in that spot of murky lime-green water you see at the middle of the lake.” We all rushed down to close the gap.

The swim-with-the-jellyfish adventure was worth every bit of that sweltering hike. We donned our masks and fins and set out toward the tantalizing middle of the lake. It seemed to take forever. Once there, I experienced the most unnerving, yet pleasant sensation of my entire life! I cautiously approached the school of jellyfish. Some of them gliding past my mask were the size of my hand; others were tiny as a snail. They were transparent…delicate… intricate, like butterfly wings. Soft, pliant tentacles brushed over my shoulders and down my arms. Then suddenly I was immersed in a strange, sensuous world of wonder. It felt like thousands of soft feathers stroking my entire body. I wanted to float there forever, still as can be. But the command of our guide to regroup broke into my reverie.

We enjoyed two more snorkel stops on the way back to Fish & Fins: through coral gardens of staghorn, sea fans, whip coral, and brain coral—in a kaleidoscope of colors ranging from blues and teals to red-orange, gold, and amber. None of it compared to my jellyfish encounter!

Note: Both golden jellies and moon jellies exist in the lake, but a sighting of a moon jelly is rare during the daylight hours because they generally only migrate to the surface in the evening to feed.  Although these species living in the lake have nematocysts (stinging cells), they are not powerful enough to harm humans. However, if you are known to have an allergic reaction to jellyfish stings, it is suggested you might consider wearing a skin for protection. Posted by Liz Tuttle

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