From American Way Magazine

Off the Deep End

by Jordan Rane

You’ve skied on it, surfed over it and dived in it. Think you’ve enjoyed water in every possible way? Think again.

Image about Jellyfish Lake

Water. It’s everywhere. Covering 71 percent of the planet. Making up at least 60 percent of our bodies. Falling from the sky in Forks, Wash., in 121-inch annual buckets. Supporting an entire whale-watching industry. Chilling your beverages in frozen cubes. We could go on, but you already know the many wonders of water, right? Wrong.

What follows are four refreshingly unique ways to enjoy everyone’s favorite hydrogen-and-oxygen hybrid. These aquatic adventures are surreal and perhaps a little bizarre — but they’re also fantastically fun and cool on a scorching summer day. Best of all, they’re ready when you are. You don’t even need to add water.

Where: Jellyfish Lake, Rock Islands, Palau

Normally, wading into a colony of bobbing jellyfish would sound about as enticing as frolicking barefoot through fields of wasp-infested clover. But at Jellyfish Lake, which is locked inside a tiny isle in the heart of Palau’s otherworldly Rock Islands, it’s not such a daunting proposition.

For it is in this peaceful, secluded marine lake that millions of benign Mastigias papua etpisoni (aka golden jellyfish) and a smaller population of equally congenial Aurelia aurita (moon jellyfish) have been residing in relative isolation for millennia — and where thousands of visitors now come to swim with them in painless wonder. Jellyfish Lake, Palau’s famous lake full of “stingless” jellyfish, first reached a wider, international audience in the early 1980s when marine biologists discovered the place and National Geographic came knocking. Today, the site has become one of the most mythic — and slightly myth-fueled — marine wildlife attractions on either side of the Pacific.

The jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake aren’t technically stingless, as travel brochures and guidebooks are known to misstate. Nor did they lose their sting by being isolated in a landlocked lake with no natural predators — another widespread inaccuracy. That said, the difference between myth and reality is largely academic.

“The species of jellyfish in this marine lake feeds on very small prey, so they don’t need the volumes or types of venom nor the type of stinging cells that would cause a painful sting in humans,” explains Michael Dawson, Ph.D., assistant professor of evolutionary biology at the University of California, Merced, who heads a study at Jellyfish Lake. “Hundreds of thousands of people have swum with the jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake for almost two decades and there has never been any report of a problem.”

So, what exactly does it feel like to bask in a colony of millions of golden jellyfish?

“Absolutely surreal, in the most wonderfully indescribable sense of the word,” says Molly Blaisdell, a San Francisco–based spokesperson for the Palau Visitors Authority who has swum at Jellyfish Lake several times. “You feel like you’re being held afloat and carried along by this mass of soft, gentle creatures. If you’re really paying attention, you may feel a slight tingling sensation — about half the strength of a feather on your cheek — when rubbing against them. I’d say it’s about as close as one can come to floating on a cloud.”

Several outfitters from Palau’s main hub, Koror, which is about a two-hour flight from Guam, offer half- or full-day boat excursions to Jellyfish Lake. Most trips to the lake incorporate other Rock Islands attractions en route, including some world-class snorkeling stops and a visit to the Milky Way — a cove lined with a “natural spa” of white limestone mud.

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