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JELLYFISH LAKE

April 20 - Snorkeling

I cannot believe I actually made it to Jellyfish Lake, after six years of wondering whether I'd ever see it.

20010419-1655-11-eric-kenny-jellyfish-lake.jpgEvolution is cool. A long time ago, this body of water was sealed off from the ocean, its inhabitants left to evolve by themselves. Having no predators except for anemones along the lake's perimeter, the jellyfish in the lake (virtually) lost their ability to sting. They developed their symbiosis with photosynthetic algae, and now live by basking in the sunlight. During the day, the school of hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of jellyfish migrate around the lake, following the sun. They bob up to the surface and expose themselves for nourishment.

We arrived at Jellyfish Lake in the afternoon. A short hike through a forest containining many poisonous trees led us to a wooden dock with cardinal fish hanging out below. We didn't have to swim far to find them. Most of the jellyfish we saw initially were small -- I couldn't believe how many of them there were. I had to fight off my hard-learned instinct to avoid touching them (especially after witnessing the stinging of my friend Pat, in Corsica a few years ago), but eventually, I couldn't help myself. You're actually not supposed to touch them, but we were gentle. They were smooth and silky, their bells just taught enough to feel perfect against our soft touch. I read some reporter's account about lifting them out of the water into the air, which is clearly marked as forbidden. He also stated that he had heard that the jellyfish were "boiled to death" by climate change. I guess "The Earth Times" doesn't have fact checkers, because they are clearly still there.*

After swimming a short distance further, the jellyfish became larger. I couldn't help but think of that scene in "Sphere" where the woman is killed by marauding sea nettles. They break through her mask and swim down her throat, suffocating and stinging her. What a stupid movie. Anyway, if you pushed on the bells of the larger ones lightly, little baby jellyfish would come shooting out, which I thought was really cute! I was impressed by their fragility -- we were told not use our fins while swimming because the turbulence caused could rip them in half. I doubt other visitors are as careful. Scuba diving in the lake is not allowed because the bottom contains a poisonous layer high in sulfur content (either H2S or SO2 -- can't remember). Oh yeah, the jellyfish do sting. You just can't feel it on your hands. Jellyfish brushed by my face a few times, and it tingled, with a slight pinch. You have been forewarned... :)

Amazing, amazing, amazing. We were sad when we were told that we had to go. Poor us.

After returning to the States, Kenny told me that the local name for the lake is "onkeim'l tketau." Very impressive! His powers of memorization are sharp after suffering through medical school for so long.

*May 9, 2001 - I've been receiving emails saying things like, "you must have gone to Palau years ago, because the jellyfish are gone." After some web research, I discovered some interesting information, posted by Planet Blue Sea Kayak Tours and Sam's Tours:

"It may surprise you to know, that this site is one of three jellyfish lakes found in the Republic of Palau. The fact that an ancestral Mastigias jellyfish responded evolutionarily in exactly the way in three separate lakes with similar environments is a classic example of convergent evolution. Most visitors to Palau have, in the past, visited the jellyfish lake on the island of Mecherchar. Unfortunately, the Mastigias in that lake suffered a huge population decline as a result of the 1998-99 el nino. As water temperatures rose in the lake, the zooxanthelae began to increase their photosynthetic output. This resulted in more food production, but also an increase in oxygen output. The higher levels of O2 actually poisons the jellyfish. Mastigias had no choice but to expel their mutualistic partners. Unfortunately, they've come to rely 100% on the zooxanthelae, and after expelling the algae they starved to death.

"In time the lake's population of Mastigias will recover. They are fortunate in having an asexual phase to their reproductive cycle, which will result in new medusa formation in a short amount of time."

- Source: Planet Blue Sea Kayak Tours/Sam's Tours

In the last two years the jellyfish seem to have returned en masse. I hope the long-term effects of human contact will not threaten their existence, as visiting to see their beauty is a breathtaking experience.

[next - rebreather]

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this defies the imagination
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kenny with jellyfish
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teresa and juan

 
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