The Republic of Belau (the traditional name) is the most southwesterly part of Micronesia, lying 800 km east of the Philippines and is made up of an archipelago of over 340 tiny islands. It gained independence from the US in 1994 and also decided to remain autonomous from The Federated States of Micronesia. It is part of the Caroline Islands chain.
The islands run roughly north to south over a length of some 200km. They can be split into the following main areas - Babeldoab, Koror, Peleliu, Anguar , the low coral atolls of Kayangel and Ngeruangel and the limestone Rock Islands.
This group of islands is regarded as having some of the best diving and snorkelling in the world. Three nutrient-rich ocean currents merge here putting it in an area that has the most diverse marine life in the world. There are over 1,500 species of tropical fish and 700 different types of coral and anemones. In addition, there are large palagics - sharks and rays - and other life including giant clams, dolphins, whales and the almost extinct dugong, or sea cow.
Dives drop to over 350m and visibility is excellent, quite often exceeding 60m. There are land locked marine lakes, accessable through tunnels from the sea, which house rare species of jellyfish, anemones and soft corals. Following WW2 naval engagements between the US and Japan, wreck diving is superb in certain areas. In total, there are over 100 dive sites around the islands and it has been named the Number One Underwater Wonder of the World in the past.
There are, however, some serious environmental issues that affect the area, including dynamiting, sand and coral dredging and sewage treatment. Nevertheless, most of the islands remain in pristine condition.