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Tomas Kotouc/My Shot

Joy of the Jellies

Lisa T.E. Sonne has chronicled the blinking lights of synchronous fireflies in Malaysia, flashing lures of fly fishing, and the stunning northern lights for Intelligent Travel. Now she shares a playful adventure in Palau.

First, one golden jellyfish emerged from the milky turquoise water and glided by. More appeared in the distance and then a dozen propeled themselves in graceful pulses all around me, their diaphanous bells contracting and releasing. Then hundreds appeared. Fleets of curious spaceships, some indifferent, others getting closer, seemingly curious to check out a giant visitor– me.

You would think being surrounded by jellyfish would prompt a huge, adrenalin-filled flight instinct– away from their renowned stinging toxins. What beachgoer doesn’t have a jellyfish story that casts a bad light on the creatures that look so enchanting in aquariums (behind glass walls)? Jellies can deliver toxins with little barbed harpoon-like “nematocysts” that are one of nature’s most clever and cruel weapons, a gadget that could make James Bond jealous.

The armada surrounding me though was relatively unarmed, and I wanted touching encounters. I was in “Jellyfish Lake” on Eil Malk Island in Palau; a saltwater lake where the jellyfish evolved with few predators to be almost “stingless.” When they brushed against my skin, I felt a soft, silky comfort.

For decades, curious snorkelers around the world have come here and replaced fear with fascination, to watch the jellyfish in their daily migrations in the lake. The golden Mastigias seem to follow the sun to help the photosynthesis needed for a food source they carry with them– a symbiotic algae in their tissues. They also avoid the shadows in the lake where anemones that like to dine on jellyfish may lurk.

Imagine a water sky below you and a huge festival of monochromatic hot-air balloons that can also move sideways and upside down in pulses of energy followed by a glide.

I deliberately separated from the other humans immersed in their own jelly joys and let my camera rest, and just floated with my eyes wide open. All around me, these dream-like, flowing rhythmic creatures formed a kind of multidimensional meditative metronome–pulse, pulse, pulse– a mantra in motion for the life force. I felt weightless and wonder-full, suspended in a peaceful realm.

Then a friendly human entered my scene. Who could resist wanting the experience to be on a tangible memory chip as well as the memory of heart? I snapped away and then let the snorkeler take a photo of me, too…. not that I would ever forget.

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Photo: Sharon Spence Lieb/Travel Journalist/Photographer.

Go: The Republic of Palau is an archipelago of islands in the northwest niche of Micronesia.

Getting There: The islands are reachable by air from eastern Asia or Continental’s daily island flights from Hawaii and Guam.

How to Visit: Palau has only 21,000 local inhabitants and perhaps just as many wonders to explore: beaches, snorkeling, caving, and jungle excursions. My Jellyfish Lake tour was thanks to Carp Island Resort & Palau Diving Center.