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The Republic of Palau (Belau)

Geology and Natural Resources

Rain forest habitat in Palau
Rain forest habitat in Palau (Photo: Julian Sachs/Sachs Lab/University of Washington)

The Palauan islands have a varied and interesting geology, which includes volcanic islands, coral reefs and atolls, low platform islands, and high limestone islands.  Babeldaob, Meiuns, Malakal and the western part of Koror are volcanic in origin.  Reefs and atoll islands are located north and northeast of Peleliu, and the southwestern islands are a combination of low platform islands and atolls.  The central and southern regions of the archipelago feature over 300 limestone islands, the majority being the steep-sloped, mushroom-shaped Rock Islands.  Because of physical and chemical differences between volcanic and limestone islands, there are distinct differences in the terrestrial plant communities.  There also are a number of outlying atolls, including Kayangel in the North and Helen and Tobi in the South.

Palau is comprised of numerous types of forests (upland, swamp, limestone, atoll, and mangorve); savanna and grasslands (in Babeldaob and Ngarekebesang); freshwater habitats, including rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, and taro patches; brackish water habitats, such as the wetlands and coastal lagoons of Babeldaob, Peleliu, Angaur, and the Southwest Islands; marine lakes (in the Rock Islands); nearshore habitats, including mudflats, seagrass beds, and sandy beaches; and barrier, patch, and fringing coral reefs.

Palau's natural resources include one of the largest tropical rainforests in Micronesia, as well as minerals, natural gas deposits, marine products, and deep-seabed minerals.  Three major economic industries have been developed in the Republic: phosphate and bauxite mining in Anguar and Babeldaob, respectively, and copra production.  Main crops are pineapple, banana, taro, cassava, papaya, breadfruit, mango, betel-nut, and leguminous trees.

Freshwater is somewhat limited in Palau, although lenses of fresh water can be found on some of the atolls. The only sustained surface water stream flow is found on the large volcanic island of Babeldaob, which supports a complex network of surface streams and rivers with five major watersheds that supply the majority of public drinking water systems. The Ngerikiil watershed in Airai has an area of 13 square miles (33.7 km2) and is the primary source of water for the National water system, which serves 80% of Palau’s population. Of Babeldaob’s two freshwater lakes, Lake Ngardok, which is the largest freshwater lake in Micronesia, has been named a Wetland of International Significance under the Ramsar Convention. A secondary source of water is ground water, which has not been developed extensively for public use. Instead, many homes incorporate a private rainwater catchment system to obtain drinking water, while other areas rely solely on rainwater.