Living Paradise World Heritage Palau Rock Islands

The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon consists of numerous large and small forested limestone islands, scattered within a marine lagoon protected by a barrier reef. The property lies within Koror State, immediately to the south of Palau's main volcanic island Babeldaob in the western Pacific Ocean. The living paradise Palau rock islands inscribed as world heritage this year. Rock Islands Southern Lagoon covers 100,200 ha and includes 445 uninhabited limestone islands of volcanic origin. Many of them display unique mushroom-like shapes in turquoise lagoons surrounded by coral reefs. The aesthetic beauty of the site is heightened by a complex reef system featuring over 385 coral species and different types of habitat. They sustain a large diversity of plants, birds and marine life including dugong and at least thirteen shark species. The site harbours the highest concentration of marine lakes anywhere, isolated bodies of seawater separated from the ocean by land barriers.

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Palau Limestone Islands

The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon Palau
The marine site covers 100,200 ha and is characterized by coral reefs and a diversity of other marine habitats, as well as 445 coralline limestone islands uplifted due to volcanism and shaped over time by weather, wind and vegetation. This has created an extremely high habitat complexity, including the highest concentration of marine lakes in the world, which continue to yield new species discoveries.

The terrestrial environment is lush and at the same time harsh, supporting numerous endemic and endangered species. Although presently uninhabited, the islands were once home to Palauan settlements, and Palauans continue to use the area and its resources for cultural and recreational purposes. This is regulated through a traditional governance system that remains an important part of national identity.
The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon
The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon Palau

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Archaeological Remains of Palau

The islands contain a significant set of cultural remains relating to an occupation over some five thousand years that ended in abandonment. Archaeological remains and rock art sites are found in two island clusters - Ulong and Negmelis, and on three islands - Ngeruktabel, Ngeanges, and Chomedokl.

Remains of former human occupation in caves, including rock art and burials, testifies to seasonal human occupation and use of the marine ecosystem, dating back to 3,100 BP and extending over some 2,500 years.

The Rock Islands Southern Lagoon Palau

Permanent stone villages on a few islands, some dating back to between 950 and 500 BP, were occupied for several centuries before being abandoned in the 17th-18th centuries, when the population moved to larger islands. The villages include the remains of defensive walls, terraces and house platforms. The settlements reflect distinctive responses to their local environment and their abandonment demonstrates the consequences of population growth and climate change impacting on subsistence in a marginal environment.

The descendants of the people who moved from the Rock Islands to the main islands of Palau identify with their ancestral islands through oral traditions that record in legends, myths, dances, and proverbs, and traditional place names the land- and seascape of their former homes.

The abandoned islands now provide an exceptional illustration of the way of life of small island communities over more than three millennia and their dependence on marine resources. They also are seen as ancestral realms by the descendants of those who migrated to the main island of Palau and this link is kept alive through oral traditions.

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