Koror — There cannot be many places like Helen Reef left in this world — a place remote but accessible, inhabited but not spoiled, wild but not hostile. Memories and impressions compete.
There are the thousands of seabirds whose cries fill the air as you approach, wheeling and diving above you. There are the gentle waves lapping on the sandy shore of this low lying island with its scattering of huts and accommodations. And there is the bioluminescense sparkling in the boats wake as we return from fishing at night under a sky whose stars pierced the full moon shadows.
It’s taken a week to get my head around this fantastic trip. The journey on Palau Sport takes approximately 36 hours from Koror but on the way we went by the island of Merir, where one man lives by his own choice, with an entire island and reef from which to gather food. He came out to meet us in his boat and exchange goods.
By contrast, arriving at Tobi island reveals plentiful signs of civilization. There’s a population of around 30, a school, agriculture, happy children playing along the main road, merely a grass covered path running along the beach front. The houses are fed electricity via photovoltaic panels and clean water from catchment tanks.
The fish are fresh, the bananas sweet, coconuts large and plentiful. The chickens and pigs go about their business and the wind blows. It’s peaceful and serene.
A few hours away is Helen Reef, a huge atoll of nearly 100 square miles. Nestled within it like a tiny seed is Helen Island, a sliver of sand, sparsely vegetated but which a whole host of wildlife call home. Together with the nesting turtles and seabirds live five Rangers. They watch over the reef against illegal fishing and now, as the world gets to hear about this magical place, the occasional yacht or liveaboard. These tourists arrive not only to experience the island with its birdlife but also the huge atoll reef.