Since its opening in 1998 the Etpison Museum and our Managing Director/ in-house photographer Mandy Etpison have donated Palau photographs to government agencies, schools, NGOs, and foreign magazines and organizations for environmental & educational causes and to highlight Palau as a tourist destination.
By Mandy Etpison:
There are so many different things to photograph in Palau. I seem to have a two-three year attention span for photo projects before moving on to something else that captures my interest. After opening the museum in 1999, I was photographing for the museum displays, and spent a lot of time on Palauan childbirth ceremonies, money, and customs, as well as caves and archeological sites. This resulted in the Palau- Culture and Nature books, which we published in 2004. After that I became fascinated with Palau’s endemic and sea birds, and spent the next two years hanging in trees and on uninhabited islands looking for birds. This taught me a lot of patience, but it was a rewarding challenge, since no one had ever photographed all of Palau’s endemic birds before, and we discovered a lot of new things about their behavior and nesting habits in the process. I also met ornithologist Doug Pratt, a great guy and one of the most knowledgeable people on Pacific and Micronesian birds, who agreed to write the text for our book “Birds and Bats of Palau”, published in 2008.
That same year we started seeing more manta rays in Palauan waters than ever before, and I bought a new underwater housing and camera gear, returning to diving and underwater photography again. In 2009 I got side-tracked by my first snorkel encounter with the endangered Mesekiu, the rarely encountered dugong sea cow. When the French Embassy in Manila was looking to sponsor a biodiversity project in Palau for 2010, I suggested the dugong, after finding out that Palauans still hunt them for their meat, although they are supposedly protected by law since 2002. There were no photographs available of Palauan dugongs, so there was a new challenge, but I quickly learned that these shy animals, used to being hunted, were even more difficult subjects than birds. Chasing them by boat or underwater will only get you a blurry tail shot if you are lucky, you have to find their daily route and resting spots. So my snorkel buddies and I spent many hours floating in murky water feeling like shark bait waiting for a dugong to pass by. Their natural curiosity and bad eye sight makes them come close to check out snorkelers if you’re lucky, but only if you stay calm without diving or splashing around. The best way to see and photograph dugongs in Palau is by helicopter. For the next year or so, I’ll be concentrating on photographing Palau’s manta rays and learning more about them. Check out our other website www.mantaIDpalau.org.