Marvellous reef world at Nikko Bay /Ngermid / Palau

Fantastic snorkel excursion at Ngermid / Nikko Bay, Palau.
Due to the very specific environmental conditions, the sheltered and nearly isolated location with only two small connections to the sea, it is obvious that Ngermid Bay is a particular unique habitat. From the mangroves and Rock Island vegetation there comes a large influx of organic material that is decomposed into inorganic nutrients by various invertebrates, microorganisms and finally bacteria.
This bacterio-and microzooplankton provides the basis of a thriving community of sponges and other filter feeders, like clams, tube worms, barnacles – and hard corals. These high nutrient levels, combined with an obviously very low exchange rate of water, makes this reef a sensitive and vulnerable environment that should be protected. The whole labyrinth of bays within the whole Nikko Bay resembles somehow like a huge aquarium and over millennia of time, this amazing reef community evolved here.

I got to this pristine place by bike (unfortunately, there´re nearly no bicycles at Palau, although the country is leading in marine conservation…), and riding aling the main road of Koror was the most dangerous part of this excursion…

There, starting from the jetty, I made three surveys to document the marine life, only interrupted by short breaks to change the battery and the camera lenses, all in all 260 min in the water until sunset.

Just shortly what to see on these pictures:

  • Transition from the mangroves, mudflat, seagrass bed to the reef.
  • In general, a strong competition for settlement space between hardcorals and various sponges, as well as a high reef erosion by sponges, too.
  • Until the eastern corner of that triangular bay in the reef (see map), nothing very unexpected – mainly Porites hardcorals with various growth forms from branching to massive, in competition for settlement space particularly with sponges, but also with clams and algae. All in effect of decomposing mangrove leaves and the resulting nutrients, bacterio- and microzooplankton.
  • But beyond the corner of that bay there was an increasing variety of different hard corals, mainly LPS (large polyp scleractinians) out of various genera: Lobophyllia, Favia, Favites, Acanthastrea, Montastrea, Goniastrea, Platygyra, Goniopora, Hydnophora, Fungia, Ctenactis, Heliofungia, Zoopilus and others for sure.
  • Besides these, still some SPS (small polyp scleractinians), predominantly Porites plus a few Pocillopora and Anacropora colonies, as well as two species of Acropora, which mainly occur under low nutrient conditions such at the outer reefs.
  • Beyond this diversity of hard corals it was also interesting to see the absence of any soft corals. Maybe this could result from the near absence of currents, as soft corals depend in their feeding behavior on water movement that carries their tiny diet of mainly phytoplankton right into their feathered tentacles?
  • Finally, at the edge of the Rock Island, I was completely stunned….. an absolutely mind-blowing wonderland of various LPS corals plus two different species of sea whips and black coral, which usually occur in the mesophotic reef zone or under extreme current conditions. Here, in only 3-5m depth.
  • So far this was all about corals… not to mention all the mainly juvenile fish out of various families, e.g. whiptail breams, snappers, emperors, parrotfish, wrasses, butterflyfish, rabbitfish, surgeonfish, and of course the omnipresent damselfish, cardinal fishes, blennies and gobies.
  • Especially remarkable were the abundant schools of juvenile bumphead parrotfish (Bolbometopon muricatum) of all size classes up to some subadult individuals, as well as several juvenile Napoleon wrasses (Cheilinus undulatus), among one subadult / already mature female. And that quite rare Eightband butterflyfish (Chaetodon octofasciatus). At the edge of the Rock Island an around 1,5m Whitetip Reefshark (Triaenodon obesus) passed by. I did not see the local saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) with an alleged size of 3m though, but it surely perceived me…

For documentation of the reef fishes, most of the time I had the “wrong” lens on, so I focused on the sessile and slow moving invertebrates. More species (makro photos) will follow…
When it was not raining, the water surface was so flat so that you can photograph the rock island vegetation through the surface. So the Fisheye lens made some really amazing photos possible.

Many thanks to Cliff for the support and providing his infrastructure and thanks to Pat for the advice to go this unique and amazing spot!