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Helen Reef is an atoll located in the Southwest Islands. It is a largely submerged coral reef and contains a small island in its northern section. Helen is a sandy, atoll island and therefore is flat and rises only a few feet above sea level. It is inhabited by two to four individuals at a time who man a small marine research and ranger outpost. Helen Atoll and Tobi Island (which is about 80 km to the northwest) comprise the state of Hatohobei. Hatohobei is Palau’s southernmost state, and is closer to Indonesia than it is to the main islands of Palau. Access to this IBA is extremely limited with a single state boat providing service to the six islands of the Southwest as weather and sea conditions allow. Helen is owned and managed by the state of Hatohobei.
This island is one of only two IBAs in Palau that qualifies under the A4 criteria for significant congregations of seabirds. Helen Island qualifies as an IBA because of the A4 (iii) congregations of nesting Black Noddies. Recent studies have estimated 20,000-24,000 nesting birds (Helen Reef 2004; Knecht 2005). The island also has nesting populations of Sooty Terns (16,000-80,000 birds) and Great Crested Terns (5,000-7,000). Thousands of Red-footed Boobies and Brown Boobies used to nest on the island, but have moved to an abandoned barge on the nearby reef because of past human disturbance.
Non-bird biodiversity: Helen Island and the surrounding lagoon is one of Palau’s most outstanding atoll complexes. The lagoon and surrounding reef have about 270 species of hard coral. Significant marine species include trochus, large numbers of humphead wrasse, bumphead parrotfish, green and hawksbill turtles, groupers, and many others. Helen is one of Palau’s most significant green turtle nesting sites. Vegetation on the island is characteristic of beach strand, and consists mostly of velvet-leaf soldier bush (riirs) and grasses. There are a few coconut palms and Casuarina trees.
BirdLife International (2019) Important Bird Areas factsheet: Helen Island, Hatohobei. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 26/06/2019.