Please select your home edition
Edition
Fremantle to Bali Race 728x90

Helen Island, Palau -a beautiful and unique place

by Hanny Rivera - Cohen's Lab on 18 Aug 2014
Birds of Helen Island H. Rivera
During our stay at Helen Reef, about 70 km east of Tobi Island in Palau, we were able to make a quick pit stop on the Helen island the only land for miles and miles. The island is inhabited only by three park rangers who patrol the area against illegal fishing and poaching and monitor the reefs and protect wildlife. For instance, they gather new turtle hatchling and allow them to grow up under protection before re-releasing them into the wild due to otherwise high levels of mortality and dwindling turtle populations.

The island is small and absolutely beautiful, crystal clear turquoise waters surround the shallow sandy banks that surround it and white sandy beaches make up its entire coastline. A handful of coconut palms line the horizon, along with a several small trees and few shrubs and grasses. Its most noticeable feature are the thousands of birds flying overheard, circling and cawing, probably a bit agitated to see so many humans on the island. They come there to nest and rest, and nearly every branch on every available tree is overtaken by birds, with signs of nests visible anywhere the branches meet and create a secure enough surface.


The rangers live in a small house and keep their supplies, water, fuel, and other resources under sheltered cover. There is no electricity on the island, nor refrigeration. The rangers usually stay on the island for several months at a time, often years. Transit to and from the mainland is scarce, not many boats pass this way. It's certainly a different way of life, but without a doubt a beautiful and unique place.

Helen Reef is rather isolated from any large mainland, inside the atoll is a small island less than half a square kilometer in size, uninhabited, except for three rangers who patrol the reef's marine protected area. The closest other island is Tobi Island, which has a population of less than 100.


The coral reefs at Helen suffered greatly during the 1998 El Niño year, which led to bleaching events worldwide. El Niño years result in warmer waters and temperatures. Bleaching occurs when corals lose their endosymbiotic algae, Symbiodinium, due to stress, usually extremely hot temperatures. The colors of corals are actually a result of the pigmentation in this algae, so when corals lose their symbionts the colonies appear white, as the calcium carbonate skeleton becomes visible through the coral's naturally translucent tissue - hence the term bleaching. If temperatures return to normal and the stress ceases in time (at most a few weeks), corals can re-acquire their algal symbionts and return to a healthy state; however, if they remain bleached for too long, colonies can die as they starve without the input of carbohydrates that their algae typically provide.


Much of the monitoring efforts implemented in Palau were a response to the extensive coral bleaching that occurred during 1998. Thanks to these efforts we now have data following the recovery, or lack thereof, of reefs from that time period thru today. Helen's reefs suffered dramatically during this event, but made a quick and remarkable come back, making Helen Reef an important site to characterize and understand. During our time here we collected samples and conducted surveys at various different habitats including the outer reef crest, inner reef and the channel that leads into the lagoon of Helen's atoll (the channel is the squiggly line in the satellite view above).

During our dives we found colorful and diverse reefs, thriving with life. In our first dive on the outer reef, two small reef sharks greeted us as we swam from our boat over the drop off towards the reef, which was dominated by branching corals and small fish. On our way to the second dive site a pod of dolphins followed us into Helen's lagoon, jumping over the rough waves that are typical of Helen's NW side, where several wrecks in the distant attest to the dangers of running aground onto a coral reef. In our second dive site we found plenty of massive Porites, great for our coring and tissue sampling needs. Our second day of diving was likewise full of great dive sites, with good coral, a testament to Helen Reef's resilient recovery from previous bleaching events. Overall, our work here was a success and the diving spectacular. We even got to visit the ranger's island, but I'll tell you all about that in the next post. Next stop: Kayangel.


Merand is the Palauan word for coral. The Cohen's Lab current expedition to Palau seeks to understand why some
of Palau's coral can thrive in low pH conditions.

For more information, click here

Safety at Sea - Baltic - 2Barz Optics - Kids rangePantaenius - Worldwide Support

Related Articles

The X Factor starring X-Yachts
X-Yachts do indeed have plenty to sing about. X-Yachts do indeed have plenty to sing about. Testament to that is the three-year-old Xp38 on display at the recent Sydney International Boat Show still looked brand new. This was no mooring minder either, but rather a boat that had gone up to Hamilton Island Race Week for each of those years and campaigned hard.
Posted today at 3:11 am
The C Beetle Project
Every now and then something comes along your way and you just have to read it. Every now and then something comes along your way and you just have to read it. Such is Phil Smidmore’s tale of Mick Miller and if I could be so bold as to implore you to read, then I know your life will be the better for it!
Posted on 30 Aug
Zhik sailors win 17 sailing medals at 2016 Olympic Regatta
The 2016 Olympic games are over and what a Games they have been - Zhik sailors dominated Zhik sailors won almost 60% of the medals contested at Rio de Janeiro. It was a regatta which tested sailors and gear - with one day being the most severe conditions ever experienced at an Olympic regatta. For the Zhik team riders on the waters of Rio, four years and more of hard work and dedication have paid off for many.
Posted on 29 Aug
Zhik sailors win 17 sailing medals at 2016 Olympic Regatta
The 2016 Olympic games are over and what a Games they have been - Zhik sailors dominated Zhik sailors won almost 60% of the medals contested at Rio de Janeiro. It was a regatta which tested sailors and gear - with one day being the most severe conditions ever experienced at an Olympic regatta. For the Zhik team riders on the waters of Rio, four years and more of hard work and dedication have paid off for many.
Posted on 29 Aug
Kids Polarised Sunglasses from Barz Optics
Barz Optics have developed a quality range of junior polarised sunglasses ideal for sailing and fishing. Barz Optics have developed a quality range of junior polarised sunglasses ideal for sailing and fishing. Each pair are supplied with a neoprene case and sunglass retainer.
Posted on 4 Aug
Rio official murdered ten months before the Olympics
Rio de Janeiro is a troubled city and a reeling Olympic host, but it will always have beautiful Guanabara Bay. Does an unsolved murder of an official in Rio in charge of cleaning up Guanabara Bay say a lot about the state of platy in the magical city? Priscilla Pereira was murdered 10 months ago and the thinking is that she was murdered in relation to her work
Posted on 31 Jul
Reducing weight aloft with composite backstays
Reducing weight aloft is one of the most cost effective ways of increasing your boat speed and performance. Reducing weight aloft is one of the most cost effective ways of increasing your boat speed and performance. Every kilogram you take out of the rig is roughly equivalent to 4kg added to the bottom of your keel!
Posted on 26 Jul
Bavaria STYLE 46 Australian Premiere at Sydney International Boat Show
For everyone who appreciates luxury on the water, the STYLE package is now available for the Cruiser 46 and Cruiser 51?. For everyone who appreciates luxury on the water, the STYLE package is now available for the Cruiser 46 and Cruiser 51?. Making the most of your time on board, be it with family or friends, is becoming more important. Yacht owners want certain levels of comfort and an onboard living experience coupled with versatility.
Posted on 26 Jul
What to look for when buying a modern lifejacket
There is no doubt that modern lifejacket design has changed considerably. There is no doubt that modern lifejacket design has changed considerably and one of the biggest drivers of this change has been due to personal ownership. Rather than crew relying on lifejackets being on-board a boat, they want to own their own lifejacket as part of their kit bag.
Posted on 25 Jul
The New Bavaria Cruiser 34 - you won't believe this is a 34' yacht!
The Sydney International Boat Show sees the World Premiere of the Bavaria Cruiser 34 - 2 Cabin version. The Sydney International Boat Show sees the World and Australian Premiere of the Bavaria Cruiser 34 - 2 Cabin version. The new Cruiser 34 offers more space and more comfort than ever before with a bigger cockpit, dual helms and ergonomically designed seating. This is the first time the entry level Bavaria cruiser has been offered in twin helm!
Posted on 19 Jul