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Geography of Palau

Learn Information about Oceania's Country of Palau


Palau Flag

The Palau flag is light blue with a large yellow disk (representing the moon) shifted slightly to the hoist side.

Source: CIA World Factbook, 2007
Updated June 24, 2011

Population: 20,956 (July 2011 estimate)
Capital: Melekeok
Area: 177 square miles (459 sq km)
Coastline: 944 miles (1,519 km)
Highest Point: Mount Ngerchelchuus at 794 feet (242 m)

Palau, officially called the Republic of Palau, is an island nation located in Oceania to the southeast of the Philippines. Its land consists of an island archipelago but its total area is just 177 square miles (459 sq km). As a result, Palau is one of the world's smallest independent nations. Palau is also one of the world's newest nations as it became independent in 1994.

Like many island nations, Palau has been in the news most recently because problems associated with rising sea levels and environmental degradation. Flooding of its low lying areas is becoming a major threat to Palau's coastal vegetation (which is in turn changing coastal erosion patterns) and its agriculture. In addition, it is causing problems to Palau's water supplies.

History of Palau

The islands of Palau have a long history of human inhabitation and it is believed that they were first settled over 4,000 years ago when people migrated from what is present-day Indonesia. Europeans landed on Palau beginning in the 18th century when British traders landed on the islands. By the 19th century however, Spain began to influence Palau.

Following the end of the Spanish-American War Spain sold Palau and other nearby islands to Germany in 1899. In 1914 Germany gave control of the islands to Japan and in 1947 that control was passed on to the United States when they became a part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.

By the late 1970s, several of the islands that were included in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands began to push for organization outside of the trust. In 1979 four of these islands joined together to form a Micronesian state. This state later dissolved however because each of the individual islands were too culturally separate from one another (U.S. Department of State). In 1981, Palau drafted and approved a new constitution and in 1982 it signed a Compact of Free Association with the U.S. This compact went into full effect on October 1, 1994, giving Palau its independence by law.

Government of Palau

Today Palau's government is considered a constitutional government that is in free association with the United States. It has an executive branch of government that is made up of a chief of state and a head of government, both of whom are the country's president, and a legislative branch made up of a bicameral National Congress. This National Congress consists of the Senate and House of Delegates. All members of both the Senate and House of Delegates are elected via popular vote. Palau's judicial branch of government is made up of the Supreme Court, the Court of Common Pleas and the Land Court. Palau is divided into 16 different states for local administration.

Economics and Land Use in Palau

Because of its tropical island landscape and location, Palau's economy consists mainly of tourism and the related service sector. However subsistence agriculture and fishing as well as several small industries are also common on the islands. Palau's government is also a main employer and it receives considerable foreign financial assistance from the United States. Other industries in Palau include craft items made from shell, wood and peals, as well as the construction and garment making industries. The main agricultural products of Palau are coconuts, copra, cassava, sweet potatoes and fish.

Geography and Climate of Palau

Palau is located in the North Pacific Ocean about 500 miles (804 km) southeast of the Philippines (map). It is an island archipelago within the Caroline Islands chain and consists of eight main islands and 250 small outlying islands. The majority (64%) of Palau's people live in its largest state/city, Koror.

Palau has a varying topography throughout its islands. For example, its main island, Babelthuap, has a topography consisting of high, rugged mountains, while other islands have very low elevations and most are fringed by large barrier coral reefs. The highest point in Palau is Mount Ngerchelchuus at 794 feet (242 m).

The climate of Palau is considered tropical and as such it is hot and humid for much of the year. In addition, the islands have a distinct wet season that lasts from May to November. The average high temperatures for Palau hover around about 88˚F (31˚C) year round, while the average yearly low temperature is 75˚F (24˚C). On average, July is Palau's wettest month with about 18 inches (458 mm) of rain.

To learn more about Palau, visit the Geography and Maps section on Palau on this website.


Central Intelligence Agency. (25 May 2011). CIA - The World Factbook - Palau. Retrieved from: https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ps.html

Infoplease.com. (n.d.). Palau: History, Geography, Government, and Culture- Infoplease.com. Retrieved from: http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0107866.html

United States Department of State. (12 May 2011). Palau. Retrieved from: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1840.htm

Wikipedia.org. (22 June 2011). Palau - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palau

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