Day 15: Full Hearts and Full Suitcases!

In the blink of an eye, the last day here in Palau has arrived! We had a thoughtful last reflection this morning and enjoyed a great traditional Palauan lunch here at PCC for our final group event.

We would like to take the time to offer sincere gratitude to everybody who has helped make this trip truly unforgettable. The Ebiil Society, Paddling Palau, and PCC have once again graciously opened their arms to Oregon State students and given us experiences that will last in our memories for a lifetime. Most of us never pictured ourselves weaving baskets from palm leaves, swimming with jellies, wading through thigh-deep mud in a mangrove forest, preparing taro for dinner, or counting out sea cucumbers, but these opportunities filled us with brand new knowledge and perspectives on the world around us.

During our first week in Ebiil, we learned to slow down and appreciate the natural world around us. We also got to recognize how food strengthens relationships and reinforces cultural heritage. Many of us got to experience our first hands-on field work through sea cucumber monitoring and conducting surveys in a mangrove plot, which gave us skills that we could utilize in a broad array of future outdoor careers.

In our second week in Koror/the Rock Islands, we were able to experience the impact of ecotourism, learn about modern scientific methods of achieving agriculture sustainability, and looking at the challenges and benefits of island self-sufficiency.

We arrived to this island as a group of complete strangers, and we are leaving as a family. These two weeks have created incredibly tight bonds and brought together people from all over the world. The Ridge to Reef family grows each year, and we feel so lucky to be the 2024 additions!

The 2024 Class Getting Muddy at the Milky Way!

We’d like to personally thank the entire PCC staff, the Ebiil Society, Paddling Palau, and every other organization that made this trip a success. At PCC, Lik opened the dorms to us and helped organize transportation to and from events. Gurney, Chermang, Sean, Didil, and Lee kept our stomachs full with the most delicious meals in the dining hall! At the Ebiil Society, Ann, Ann-Marie, Joyce, Patty, Cindy, Sharon, Aki, Margie, Omar, Brekke, Red, Daniel, and the rest of the staff taught us traditional Palauan knowledge, cooked us more amazing food, and provided wonderful hands-on opportunities. At Paddling Palau, guides Mac, Jeff, Olilai, and Cobi helped us navigate the pretty blue waters in the Rock Islands and Chef Alina provided a wonderful first dinner. Thank you also to Belau National Museum, our guide to the Melekeok Bai Demei, Ngardmau Rangers, our mangrove instructor Rich, Des with Peleliu Adventures, high school STEP-UP program students, Airai 680 Night Market, Dr. Chris Kitalong, Elchung, Hideyos, Nikka, and Emengal, Christine and our other friends with CRE, Bruno and Cinzia with Palau National Aquarium, and LeAnn and Mr. Fuji with his staff at Palau’s Waste Treatment Plant and Glass Arts Center.

Thank you to KB for joining us on this trip and adding a Palauan voice to every important conversation, thank you also to Garrett for your willingness to be an honorary TA for the course, and thank you Reid for joining us and getting some great underwater pictures!

Finally, thank you endlessly to our instructors Bryan and Scott for giving us such a memorable, amazing experience in Palau. Your efforts to ensure a smooth, unforgettable course does not go unnoticed and is greatly appreciated.

Farewell, from the Ridge to Reef class of 2024! <3

Ridge to Reef Class of 2024
The sun is setting on this year’s course, but the memories are here to stay.

This post comes from the heart of all students, and is authored by Iris Ford, Jacob Colvin, and Donika Mitev.

Day 14: The Final Adventure

Today was the last full day of the course! We started the day off at the Palau Aquarium, where we looked around at various exhibits, which had information about mangroves, reefs, invasive species, and more. We also saw even more sea creatures in the tanks.

At the touch tank.
Myles helping with identification.
Everyone chilling at the aquarium.

Then Bruno, who works at the aquarium, taught us about giant clam propagation. Afterward, Cinzia discussed with us her experiments with coral propagation, density, and resilience. 

Learning about coral experiments.
Cinzia explaining her research to the class

Next stop was the waste treatment plant, where recycling and repurposing is in full swing. The plastics collected around the state of Koror are used to produce biodiesel. This fuel is used to produce part of the electricity needed to run the rest of the facility. The plant also repurposes glass bottles by using them for glass blowing to create creating beautiful jewelry, dishes, sculptures, and, more. Mr. Fuji, the manager of the Solid Waste Management Office/Belau Eco-Glass Center, explained to us the processes of turning the things we throw away into something new. 

Different types of plastic used at the facility.
Glass blowers at work.

We headed back to PCC for lunch and a presentation by Jason Johnson about a fungus that is killing one of the local tree species. He explained the process he has gone through in figuring out what the fungus might be and how it is being spread around.

Next, some of us headed to the beach for one last dip. Meanwhile, Mica and Reid worked with those at the PCC dining hall (Gurney, Chermang, Sean, Didil, and Lee) to prepare the tapioca that they harvested on Monday.

The tapioca crew!

We finished off the day with a group dinner at Drop Off Bar and Grill. Everyone had a fun time and ate great food!

Our final dinner!

Today’s blog post was written by Gary Esvelt and Emma Schnabel

Day 13: Me When I Extract DNA

Today was all about dna extraction and GMO’s. The dna extracted today came from the taro samples cultured from yesterday. Later we set up mosquito traps to catch potential vector born illnesses, where they will count identify and test different species. High schoolers in the STEP-UP program taught us about a new breed of passion fruit that was sent from Jerusalem from one of their local universities. These passion fruits are much larger than other varieties and we had the opportunity to help them repot their propagations. We ended the day being invited by the president of the university to an assembly on land grant institutions and how their efforts in the US affect small pacific islands like Palau.

Repotting Passion fruit
Us When We Vlog
Mosquito trap

This blog post was done by Megan, Jacob, and Katie

Day 12: Return of the Taro

This morning, we headed to Palau Community College’s Cooperative Research and Extension Center (CRE), dedicated to completing the College’s land grant mission (just like OSU!). This includes sustainable agricultural and resource management efforts that can benefit Palau. For example, we were taught about different Taro cultivars, and how they are being studied to create more saltwater resistant species. This would enhance food security by preventing crops from dying due to saltwater intrusion, which has recently worsened because of climate change.

Introduction to CRE projects

To achieve so, CRE’s staff, Dr. Chris Kitalong, Elchung Hideyos, Nikka Ngirkelau, and Emengel Ida Singich (who is a fellow OSU student!) are harvesting three different taro species. After that, they isolate the samples, extract the genes of interest (salt resistance) from the plant’s DNA, and insert them into new taro plants. Lastly, the new samples are tasted by traditional women taro farmers for approval! We contributed to their research by harvesting wild taro (one of the three species being investigated).

Tasty taro snack

After that, Em removed the roots and stems, leaving enough of the taro to be replanted later (a method we previously learned with Ms. Ann Marie in the Mesei – look at day 4 for referral 😊). Nikka taught us how to prepare taro cuttings for DNA extraction by getting down to the core of the tuber.

Nikka cutting taro
Emengel preparing taro

CRE has been monitoring salinity levels and climate indicators since last November, a collaborative effort to provide accessible empirical data to Palauan farmers, researchers, and any interested individuals. Currently, they have multiple sampling stations in Palau and one in Yap (a neighboring island) to connect the scientific Micronesian region. We are excited to see how this project will continue to grow!

Emengel and Elchung explaining salinity sensor

Later in the day, we headed to CRE’s aquaculture facilities, where Christine Rengiil introduced us to their algae, crabs, rabbit fish, sea cucumbers, clams, and an adorable, rehabilitated sea turtle named Susanne. Besides research, the hatchery’s goals are to support local farms with stock and re-integrate species into the ocean.

Aquaculture tour
Susanne the rehabilitated sea turtle

After a day well spent with our friend’s at CRE, we headed back to our dorms at PCC. Some of us couldn’t resist the temptation of taking a nap in the air-conditioned bus.


Today’s blog was written by Emily Dye and Micaela Muñoz

Day 11: Yak Attack

Today was day two of adventuring with our Paddling Palau pals! Our lovely guides–Mac, Jeff, and Cobi–took us out once more on their boat towards the kayaks that we would be paddling for the remainder of the day. But first, we made a quick stop to search the surrounding incoming tides for the famous dugongs of Palau. For those who have never heard of a dugong, they are related to the endangered manatees, but are much more athletic. Our patience was rewarded with the presence of a large male dugong, which was accompanied by its friend, the green sea turtle. 

Some unlikely pals

The boat dropped us off just outside of Risong Bay to pack us in the kayaks and head to Blacktip Bay to see some baby black tip reef sharks (if we are lucky). Although we weren’t able to see any sharks here, we saw so much incredible surrounding scenery by getting up close and personal with the limestone rock islands. Some folks with a keen eye even spotted the nest of a fairy tern (a distinguished tropical white bird). We paddled around the beautiful area for around two hours before striking out and giving in to our hunger and chowing down on scrumptious bento boxes from King’s Palace. 

Coves and caverns along the route
Bryan hoping we will share

After stuffing our tummies, we hopped back on our kayaks and entered Risong Bay. We paddled around for a while, and Mac decided we weren’t fast enough, so he encouraged a race across the bay. Katie and Garrett were the champions of this event, beating everyone else (even the locals) by a mile, while others *ahem Gary* decided there were better uses for the paddle such as scratching his back. 

“Tell everybody I’m on my way, new friends and new places to see!” – Phil Collins
Yakin’ & Scratchin’

Finally we made it around the bend and came across some mangroves hoping to try our luck once again spotting some baby black tip sharks. This time was a total success; we saw at least three shark pups no longer than one foot, which were too cute!

Baby black tips sharing their safe space with us

To wrap up our final day out on the water, we stopped for a snorkel session in Mandarin Fish Lake hoping to see the infamous, and tiny, mandarin fish. Amazingly enough, we found several of them, but unfortunately we were not able to get many pictures of them due to their small stature. Here are some other fish to satisfy the readers: 

These are definitely fish

At the end of another long, tiring day we headed back to Koror on a rainy and bumpy ride, sad to say goodbye to the lovely staff of Paddling Palau. Then we will be off to Ngaremlengui State tomorrow to take a look at taro DNA and species diversity.


Written by Lydia Dapkus and Donika Mitev

Day 10: Jelly and… Mud Sandwich?

After a wonderful day off yesterday, we were ready to jump back into action today by visiting the Rock Islands/Jellyfish Lake! Today’s fantastic hosts were our friends at Paddling Palau. We started our day at 8:30 by all piling into a boat with our wonderful guides Jeff, Mac, and Olilai. We had a rainy hour-long boat ride to the German Channel, where most of the class was able to get some prime snorkeling time in. We saw black-tip and white-tip sharks, manta rays, turtles, and tons of fish (barracudas, surgeonfish, groupers, unicorn fish…).

A sea of snorkels and fins at the German Channel
When u go to ur friends house for a sleepover and they don’t give u a blanket

After getting tired out and hungry, we set out to a perfect, beachy island for lunch-time! Lunch was a delicious assortment of bento boxes curtesy of King’s Palace. Once we were well-rested and fed, we set out for a long-awaited part of the trip: Jellyfish Lake. This is a saltwater marine lake nestled in the valley of one of the Rock Islands that is home to multiple species of jellies (primarily Moon and Golden). It was completely unlike anything most of us had ever seen with colorful jellies floating all around us! We spent about an hour snorkeling around and making friends with these lovely gelatinous invertebrates.

Mac and Mica making a Golden Jelly friend
Lydia cosplaying as a fire-bender

Next, we went to a place called the Milky Way for some spa-time. The beautiful turquoise water runs over milky limestone mud that visitors have traditionally spread all over themselves (we were no exception to this). While here, we had a first-time sighting: a crocodile! Garrett grabbed some great footage using his drone that you can check out in the compilation video linked at the end of this post.

Megan, Iris, and Katie gaining levitation powers after covering themselves in Milky Way mud
“The Dock is Lava”

Once we washed off the silky-smooth mud, we loaded on the boat, returned to the Paddling Palau facility, said our goodbyes to our incredible hosts, and headed back to the dorms at PCC. Most of us journaled or rested during the quick break before we departed for the final adventure of the day. Every other Saturday evening, the state of Airai hosts a Night Market with live music and dancers, artisan craft vendors, and lots of yummy food. Some of the class danced to the music while others enjoyed some snacks like calamari, coconut rolls, BBQ, and boba tea. This night out was a great way for us to experience the close-knit Palau community first-hand.

Palau Night-Life
Katie-Kat and Gare-Bear share a snack

We are quite exhausted from such a long, exciting day, but we will leave you with one more treat. Below is a great compilation of clips from today compiled by co-author Alaina!

Thanks again to Paddling Palau and the Airai 680 Night Market for giving us another unforgettable day :^).

This post was written by: Iris Ford and Alaina Houser

Day 9: Pathway to the Past

Today marked the halfway point of the trip, and we had a day off to do with as we pleased. The majority of us decided to charter a boat to Peleliu, one of the southern islands of the Palauan archipelago and the site of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II. In an island-hopping campaign across the Pacific, American forces set their sites on the Japanese-controlled Peleliu and its valuable airfield. What was expected to be a short, 2 to 3 day campaign turned into a 2.5-month siege. It has earned the nickname “Museum Island” because of the sheer number of well-preserved artifacts and buildings, with more being unearthed even today.

A destroyed Japanese Type 95 Ha Go light tank

Our tour guide, Des, led us around the island, recounting stories from the war and the horrors that faced the people there. More than 11,000 Japanese soldiers were entrenched in positions they’d spent months fortifying, and of these forces, only 19 survived. Over 2000 Americans died there as well, marking it one of the costliest battles in the Pacific.

Some of the numerous relics left over from the battle

With that somber reminder fresh in our minds, we returned to the boat and headed to our last artifact of the day, a sunken Japanese fuel freighter. Here, we enjoyed the cool water after a hot day in the sun, floating over the shallow wreck and watching the life that calls this wreck home.

Our boat next to the sunken fuel freighter
The islands where the freighter sank, visible at the bottom left
The stunning sunset over the rock islands

Scott and Reid spent the day doing much the same, diving on some of the incredible sites scattered all over Palau. Iris, Lydia, and Bryan spent the day around Koror, shopping, visiting a local park, and enjoying the local Palauan cuisine.

The highlight of the dive trip, an Ornate Ghost Pipefish
A leaf scorpionfish hiding amongst the coral
Iris and Lydia in front of the Japan-Palau Friendship Bridge

We’d like to thank Garrett and Omar for getting us the boat, KB for connecting us with the tour company, Peleliu Adventures, and especially our tour guide, Des, for taking the time out of his busy day to lead us on an incredible experience around the island he calls home.  

Today’s blog post was written by: Myles Tallmadge, Micaela Muñoz, and Megan Haner

Day 8: Beng and Byes

A group of us woke up early this morning to paddle board and watch the sunrise from the dock. As it was our last morning at Ebiil Society, we wanted to make sure we got every last drop out of our time left. 

Sunrise from the paddleboards

Most of our morning was spent cleaning the grounds of our gracious hosts. The fish we caught yesterday was smoked late at night and ready for lunch today. We enjoyed a delicious last lunch at Ebiil Society of the smoked fish, bbq chicken, coleslaw, rice, and potato salad. 

Omar and Red BBQing

Next, we had a final group reflection of our time in Ollei. We each shared our takeaways from the week, such as the sense of community we felt and the knowledge that was shared with us. We are all very grateful to Ebiil Society for welcoming us into their space. This week has been impactful for us all as we learned about Palauan culture, native ecosystems, and the relationship between the two.

Hanging out by the fans before group reflection

After we sadly said our goodbyes, we hopped on a bus with some long-awaited air conditioning. In the state of Ngaraard and town of Ngekeklau, we waded out to a traditional beng. A beng is a fish trap made from coral rubble, usually in the shape of an arrow, that lures fish in through a small opening and leads them to be trapped at low tide. Around 60 years ago, this technique was almost lost in their oral history, but recent efforts have begun to restore the traps and method. 

The group on the way to the beng

We safely made it back to Palau Community College and settled back in. A couple of groups headed out to local restaurants and had a lovely evening to finish off the day!

Today’s blog was written by: Emily Dye and Emma Schnabel

Day 7: Splashes n’ Fishes

After our muddy mangrove experience yesterday it was time to go back for another adventure in the deep saltwater. Following a 15-minute boat ride, we reached our snorkeling site – the Ebiil Channel Marine Protected Area in the state of Ngarchelong. This conservation site was established in 2000 with the goal of protecting the fishery resources of the area so that future generations would be able to continue utilizing them.

(Mostly) smiley faces on the boat just before our ride to the Channel began

Upon arriving at the Channel, we donned our snorkeling gear and we went on to explore the incredible biodiversity below the waterline. Everyone got to experience something different – some of us saw small sharks, while others saw passages of colorful reef fish that seemed mostly unbothered by our presence. Although the reef was negatively impacted by a typhoon that passed through the area in April 2022, it continues to be an important spawning as well as primary habitat for a countless number of marine organisms.

Stony coral landscape at the Ebiil Channel reef.
Just Myles a.k.a The Aquaman doing his usual thing

Our next stop of the day was on Ngerkeklau island for lunch. The island is cooperatively managed by the Ebiil Society and the State of Ngarchelong as a nature as well as a cultural preserve. Sea turtles and the nearly endangered Micronesian megapode nest on its beaches side by side, unbothered by human presence and other stressors. Sea crates can also be found in the shallow water near the shore. The ancient tool (donguu) and pottery (bekai) parts scattered throughout the island are remnants of an old village that is no longer standing. On one end of the island, we spotted a curious looking tree standing alone. Ms. Ann shared with us that the existence of this tree called the dmedmekur is embedded into the culture of Palauans through oral stories the legacy of which continues to be passed down from one generation to the next. We then enjoyed a well deserved lunch break. We could not say the same about the megapode which went on and on with its restless bird business.

Enjoying our delicious tuna and rice lunch served on coconut leaves
Our charismatic constantly-on-the-go friend – the Micronesian megapode

Our next activity was in stark contrast with the turbulent t snorkeling in the Ebiil Channel. We stopped at a couple of different spots in the ocean where we got to experience the simplicity of handline fishing – an uncomplicated but efficient method that puts food on the table as we found out later! We caught a variety of different species of fish amongst which Titan triggerfish, red snapper, trevally, and emperor fish.

A very happy Emily with her first not-so-happy red snapper

After making sure that we had enough fish for everyone at dinner, we all got back in the water for a swimming break before heading back to the dock where we had to process our catch in order for it to be ready to be cooked. Omar showed us a couple of processing techniques that are commonly used by traditional Palauan fishermen. While observing and practicing these methods, we got to reflect on how engaging in every step of food harvesting – from catching our fish to cooking it helped us feel appreciative of the collective efforts we put into it.

Our bountiful harvest
From the ocean to the dinner table – freshly caught fried red snapper

Upon reflecting on our salty-fishy adventures, we all went on to make the most of our last remaining hours at the Ebiil Society camp before our trip back to Koror – some of us headed to bed early so that we could hop on paddle boards and catch the amazing tropical sunrise the next morning, while others stayed late to gaze at the stars. We are excited what the second week of our incredible Palauan experience has to offer.

Marveling at the Palauan night sky

Today’s blog post was written by Donika Mitev and Gary Esvelt.

Day 6: Getting Messy at the Mangroves!


Before we begin, don’t forget to check out the video blog from today linked at the bottom of this post!

The theme of today was… mangroves! We started off here at Ebiil with another 8 a.m. wake up. First up on the agenda today was a lovely talk with Ms. Ann about the importance of mangroves to the community. The plant serves as a critical part of indigenous Palauan culture. It has medicinal uses, provides building materials in local towns, and offers coastal protection during extreme weather events.

Once we had learned about the benefits of healthy mangroves in Palau, we set off to do some hands-on exploring. We paired up, hopped on some paddle boards, and travelled to the nearby mangroves. Upon arrival, we tied off our paddle boards, strapped on our snorkel gear, and split into two groups. With Omar leading one group and Aki leading the other, we swam on in. While there weren’t any sharks, crocodiles, or sting rays to be seen, we still saw some great species. Some top spots include a juvenile batfish, lots of crabs, baby barracudas, rabbitfish, and cardinalfish.

Donika and Micaela snorkeling around the mangroves
Katie, Lydia, and Alaina heading into the ‘groves
Alaina and Myles prepping to enter the forest

After getting to experience the mangroves during high tide, we hiked on out to a summerhouse to enjoy lunch, learn more about the ecology of mangroves, and wait for the tide to go out. Here, we met Rich and his team. Rich is a climate fellow for the U.S. Department of Agriculture conducting research here in Palau. Amazingly, he is the only climate fellow specializing in blue carbon! Blue carbon refers to all the carbon stored in the ocean and marine environments (mangroves, seagrass beds, and salt marshes). Rich taught us some more about mangroves. Through him, we learned that mangrove forests store three-to-five times more carbon than other forest types and their canopy cover has increased by 5% in the last few years because of sediments washed down from wastelands like the bauxite mines.

Rich enriching us in mangrove facts!

Rich was then kind enough to let us join in on a day of surveying the mangroves! It was time to get messy: we trudged through thigh-high mud and sharp pneumatophores to the middle of the mangroves. Here, we set up a circle survey plot measuring 10 meters in diameter, then tagged and measured the DBH and species of each tree in the plot. The DBH measurements will help in estimating biomass of the mangroves. Additionally, we took soil core samples that will return to a lab and be analyzed for carbon content!

Emily and Donika getting ready to take some measurements
A job well done: happy faces and muddy legs

Once each tree had been tagged and measured and soil cores were collected, we hiked back to Ebiil. Ms. Cindy was waiting for us with a fun craft. Many of us joined her in weaving bowls made from palm fronds. We didn’t quite get to finish– hopefully tomorrow! We had a yummy dinner of napa cabbage/chicken soup, rice, kimchi, fruit salad, and tapioca. The last activity of the night was joining Omar in preparing hand reels and fishing lines for tomorrow’s adventure in the Ebiil Channel.

Weaving some baskets!
Preparing hand reels for tomorrow!

Finally, check out our vlog below! We had so much fun making it and hope that you all enjoy :^).

Big thanks to everyone involved in today’s adventures. This blog post was written by Katie Matsuoka and Iris Ford.

Day 5: Plotting and Potting

This morning we hopped on the bus, experiencing our first AC in almost a week, heading to Ngardmau for a reforestation project. In the 1920s, the Japanese began to mine bauxite, a mineral containing aluminum. These regions were stripped of the topsoil, leaving no vegetation or nutrients to facilitate regrowth, further hindered by the heightened aluminum toxicity.  As a result, these areas have remained barren for over 90 years until the Ebiil Society began work on reforestation.

Gary and Myles busting backs and breaking ground

Using the women’s traditional agriculture knowledge from the taro patches, they developed techniques that allowed seedlings to survive the harsh conditions. Through these efforts and the continual monitoring of the patches, they pioneered the most successful reforestation project in Palau!

The homies be posin’

Today, we helped plant 192 seedlings of 6 different native trees, 3 of which were nitrogen fixers and the others provide fruit for birds. Birds are important agents of reforestation, as they help disperse the seeds, encouraging future growth.

After all the work, we took a break for lunch—fish burgers and banana fries—before heading down to a local river to cool off. Waiting for us was a series of stunning waterfalls and relaxing swimming pools, which we were all too happy to enjoy.

The pathway to paradise
Unbothered. Moisturized. Happy. In my lane. Focused. Flourishing
On the edge of glory

After returning from our day’s adventures, Auntie Margie and Auntie Patty show us how to prepare the next generation of seedlings, using their ingenious methods to accelerate germination. These creative techniques included pod popping, giving the seeds a manicure, and beating them with a rock. The rocks proved particularly popular.

Propagation Station

After dinner, Ms. Joyce, Ann’s sister, gave a presentation about PAN, the Palau Protected Area Network Fund, and the work they’ve done to protect the island’s watersheds. Because these watersheds cross state lines, interstate cooperation was paramount to the project’s success. Through their tireless efforts, 11% of Babeldaob—Palau’s largest island—is now designated as a protected area.

Ms. Joyce doing us a learn

We’d like to thank the Ngardmau Rangers and the Ebiil Society for the time and knowledge they shared with us today. Their dedication and persistence in rebuilding what was destroyed is inspirational, and we hope our efforts help them get one step closer to their goal.

Today’s blog post was written by: Myles Tallmadge, Micaela Muñoz, and Lydia Dapkus

Day 4: From Patch to Plate

We started today off by heading to the Mesei, or the taro patch. Ms. Ann and Ms. Ann Marie shared their knowledge about farming in the taro patch, how to plant and pull taro, and the medicinal herbs they keep in the patch. Ms. Ann spoke about how the medicinal plants they grow are good for both plants and people to keep everyone healthy! She also spoke about how food is an important part of community. It is expected to share food with guests who come into your home. 

Ms. Cindy showing Megan how to clean taro

Ms. Ann Marie and Ms. Ann shared how the taro patch is not only a place for women to farm, but also to congregate and talk freely, building strong relationships between women. 

After pulling taro, we rinsed them and cut them to bring back to Camp Ebiil for processing. After boiling the taro for 2 hours, we peeled them and mashed them up with coconut oil. While we waited for the taro to boil, Omar and KB taught us how to break open coconuts to make coconut oil. We finished off the day with a meal made from the taro we helped to harvest.

Through today’s activities, we learned the cultural significance of localized food systems and got to experience the work and care that goes into bringing each piece of food from patch to plate.

Today’s blog post was written by: Emma Schnabel and Alaina Houser

Day 3: Poo of the Sea Cucumber

Today we talked about sea cucumbers and how they are important to our oceans. There are over 1200 different species in the world and 31 of them call Palau home. If you want a snack, eight species can be eaten. An important ecological aspect about sea cucumbers is their poop. When sea cucumbers eat they take in organic matter within the sediment and poop out oxygenated nutrient-rich sand. This is really good for maintaining healthy sea grass habitats. In the past the sea cucumber were suddenly over harvested in Palau by foreign entities, with 84% depleted in one year, leading to Ebiil Society’s effort to protect and aid in their spawning.

We had an early morning to get out on the water around 8am in order to set up our surveying plot. In groups of two we paddle boarded out and measured the surveying field. Using measuring tapes we plotted out a large rectangle with 12 parallel lines, which were marked with stakes. Within this field we would later count the sea cucumbers along each line.

Morning Trials and Tribulations

We had the privilege of talking to Ms. Margie, a traditional fisherwoman, about the history of the Palauan fishing community, and the role of women in caring for and managing sea cucumber, clam and other nearshore resources. Traditionally women were the ones who knew the way to care for and manage this culturally significant resources . This process has allowed Palauans, particularly Palauan women to lead restoration efforts of the local sea cucumber population.

Ms. Ann (left) & Ms. Margie (right) discussing the history of local women fisheries.

Afterwards we had to wait for the tide to go out and come back in. Between the tides the entire area we were surveying became completely above water. During low tide some of us spent some time on the pier and had some cool drinks to help combat the heat. Then we had lunch and a longer delay than expected because the tides didn’t come back in for about an hour and a half longer than anticipated.

Big difference at low tide

Around 4:30 we were finally able to head back out to our plot in teams of 3 to survey the sea cucumber population. This delay ended up being really enjoyable because the temperature had been dropping steadily throughout the day and we were eventually able to see the sunset.

Timelapse drone imagery of sea cucumber monitoring. Imagery by Garrett Roberts

We had to snorkel along out parallel lines counting and identifying the sea cucumbers we’d come across such as the Molech and Ngimes, Palauan names for the Sandfish and Brown Curry sea cucumbers.

It was much more difficult than it looked, and the sun was setting fast. After breaking out the flashlights we were instantly humbled by the efforts the Palauan women would have gone to in order to harvest these vital poo-ers. Learning how to monitor the population of sea cucumber from Ebiil Society was an incredible experience and we all look forward to what tomorrow will bring.

Sunset Yoga

Today blog post written by: Emily Dye, Jacob Colvin, and Megan Haner

Day 2: Bus rides, Bais, and Basins

In today’s adventures in Palau we found ourselves on a journey to the northern tip of the island, a small town called Ollei, which is home to our next gracious hosts, the Ebiil Society. Before our day truly began, we were met with more downpouring rain, but made a quick escape to our first destination of the day in Melekeok. 

Hiking on the hand-placed stone path (created hundreds of years ago) towards the Bai Melekeong.
A friendly snake, found on our hike up to the Bai. 

On the eastern coast of the island, our phenomenal and knowledgeable guide named Demei Elechuus told us the incredible stories of the people, chiefs, and histories that they experienced throughout years of colonization. After several stops accompanied by Demei’s formidable storytelling, we arrived at our final destination–at least for this introductory hike–the Bai Melekeong. Here we were fortunate enough to be granted permission to enter the impressively old and sacred traditional house of the Palauan men, and even received a detailed tour of the Bai’s art and its deeper meanings. 

OSU students admire the artistic representations of historical Palauan stories.
Ridge to Reef class of 2024 outside of the Bai Melekeong, featuring Demei.

Our second stop on the way to our new home for the week was the Ngardmau Waterfall, which would require a 1.5 mile hike in, covering over 400 stairs, abandoned Japanese railroad tracks, and flowing water over slick rocks. This was a feat in and of itself, but was entirely worth the mud soaked sandals and sweat, for the waterfall was nothing short of awe-inspiring. Amidst roaring blasts of mist and wind evoked by the 712 foot waterfall, students swam, waded, splashed, and laughed throughout the incredible break from the heat. 

The hike to the Ngardmau Waterfall that is seen in the distance.
OSU student’s unleash their inner-child while playing in the waterfall.

To conclude today’s activities, we completed our bus travels to the Ebiil Society in Ollei, exhausting the northernmost roads of Palau. Here we were greeted and welcomed by the staff of the Ebiil Society, who were so kind as to cook us an incredible meal of fried fish, taro, and mango salsa. After an exhausting day, we are ready for bed, and looking forward to whatever tomorrow brings!

Today’s post written by Lydia Dapkus and Gary Esvelt

Day 0 and 1: Arrivals and Orientation

Today we have officially kicked off the Oregon State University 2024 Ridge to Reef course! But before class started, some of our students have already had adventures in Palau. 

Myles arrived a few days early and thus had some extra time to go diving. Booking two days with Sam’s Tours, a diving company recommended by Scott, he dove the Sandbar, Ulong Channel, and the Hafa Adei wreck the first day, then met up with Scott the second day to dive Blue Holes, Blue Corner, and German Channel. Blue Corner in particular was stunning, with enormous schools of Red-Tooth Triggerfish, various fusilier, and three different kinds of reef shark. 

Grey reef shark surrounded by red toothed triggerfish at Blue Corner
School of black barred barracudas at Blue Corner

Iris, Megan and Katie hitched a ride with Bryan and Garrett around Palau where they saw the capitol building. They also stopped at Kuabes park, a beach in Ulimang, where they went hunting for shells. There were so many Hermit crabs and Ghost crabs! 

Palau Capitol Building
Kuabes Park Beachcombing with Iris, Megan and Katie

Finally, Alaina and Donika started their trip with a snorkeling and kayaking trip through Nikko Bay with Paddling Palau, visiting amazing coral reefs, cathedral cave, and a marine lake!

Nikko Bay Kayaking with Paddling Palau

After all our preclass adventures, it was time for the course to start. Our first outing was to the Belau National Museum. The museum gave an extensive history of Palau from first settlement, through years of colonization, to Palau today as an sovereign country.  

Bai at Belau National Museum
Close up of the Art on the Bai

We finished off the day with a lovely dinner from Chef Alina and presentation from Senior Naturalist Guide Mac with Paddling Palau, learning all about the ecotourism, conservation and research that Paddling Palau facilitates in the Rock Islands and beyond. 

Dinner with Paddling Palau at their amazing shop in Koror
Scott picking out food made by Chef Alina and Paddling Palau

Today’s blog post was written by: Katie Matsuoka, Myles Tallmadge and Alaina Houser

Iris enjoying the sunny weather in Palau during rainy season

Day 14: Sulong e mechekung! Farewell to Palau.

As we draw closer to the end of our trip, we want to take a moment to reflect on how amazing our experience has been. From wading in knee-deep mud in the taro patch, to the skin-crispening sun on the ocean, to singing in a monsoon, we’ve made the most out of every single day. We’ve been especially aware of the dedication shown to us by every person we’ve interacted with. Each of us has developed on this trip in so many ways.

Image: Watching the sunset as we headed back to the dock after an awesome day of kayaking


We learned about each other and more importantly, about ourselves. We discovered new ways to communicate with people of different backgrounds and cultures. Additionally, we learned to work and live together as a close-knit group.

Image: Getting cozy in the girls dorms at Ebiil


We learned to observe the world differently and at a greater depth. Our experiences taught us to take a broader view of conservation and culture.  Through the programs we participated in, we learned to focus more on long term solutions, rather than becoming discouraged by immediate challenges.

Image: Noah Popping Up For Some Air

Expanding Our Comfort Zone

From trying new foods to learning how to swim in the ocean, we all pushed ourselves to our limits and then some. We each learned that we are capable of more than we originally thought. Each day was a challenge but by the end of our trip, we took change in stride and are grateful for all of our experiences.

Image: Trying new foods, prepared in new ways


This class has given us a better understanding of how complicated natural resource management is, and how important it is to encompass the needs of all those who may be impacted. We were blown away by the people we met who had identified issues in their community and then constructed long-term solutions to those problems. They emphasized the importance of involving all the stakeholders and that none of this work can be done alone.

Additionally we learned how difficult balancing the intricacies of biodiverse ecosystems and societal needs can be. For example, the issues surrounding land use management, food security, and development within the bounds of a space-restricted nation. Every decision no matter how well informed has a tradeoff.

Image: Converting bauxite mine to native forest for new land uses

We are so grateful to all that made this amazing trip possible. 

We’d like to thank…

The staff at PCC (Lik, Clarence, and the kitchen staff), Ebiil Society (Ann Singeo, Cindy Fitzpatrick, Sharon, Aot, and the rest of the staff), Paddling Palau, Chris and Ann Kitalong, Dr. Nwe, PCC Multispecies Hatchery, Koror Solid Waste Facility, Cooperative Research Extension Program, Koror and Ngarchelong State Rangers, Belau National Museum, Palau Aquarium, Mechas Anne-Marie from the taro patch, Tino the fisherman, the staff at the Melekeok Bai and Stone Paths, OSU’s Departments of Fisheries, Wildlife, and Conservation Sciences, and Rangeland Resources.

We’d like to personally thank Drs. Scott Heppell and Bryan Endress.

And finally, we’d like to thank the rooster, without whom we would not have known it was 4:00 am every single morning.

Palau OSU crew 2023 signing off.

Authored by Dustin Audirsch and Melissa McMullen

Day 13: Rain or Shine

Today we started our day with Paddling Palau picking us up for round two. The weather was very rainy but that didn’t stop us from going out to learn and explore new places in the Rock Islands. We got on our boat and we headed off in the rain which was a chilly ride.

Hilary, Melissa, and Veronica enjoying the boat ride

We arrived to our first destination of the day, the Milky Way. The Milky Way is a nice little cove that is full of limestone sediment that is muddy and very white in color. The limestone mud is good for your skin and some local stores even sell the mud for skincare. We also had a great time playing with the mud and diving through a pool doughnut.

Students enjoying their mud bath
Noah, Midner, and Alanna having fun

Our next destination was the famous Jellyfish Lake. It is a small hike going up and over the island to get to this marine lake. Jellyfish Lake is comprised of two stingless jellyfish, the moon jellyfish and the golden jellyfish which look amazing. The lake is also comprised of cardinal fish, silversides, little pied cormorants, and the Entacmaea medusivora which is an endemic species that preys on the jellyfish. The jellyfish population has been low over the past two years, but they are starting to bounce back. On good years, there can be up to 5 million golden jellyfish! The lake is comprised of several layers, the mixed layer with oxygen where the species in the lake hang out, the pink bacterial layer, which is 13 meters deep, and the poisonous layer which is 15 meters deep. Our guide Mac strongly advised not diving to those more dangerous layers.

The beautiful Golden Jellyfish
Rebecca admiring the jellyfish

We went and visited a spot that has a large piece of traditional Palau money . The traditional money piece is called a yap, or they are also commonly called a rai stone. These magnificent stones are made from calcite, which is is formed when limestone and water which calcifies. The yap is very important for the Palau and Yap cultures and once the stone hits the ground, it must stay right where it touches the ground and no longer holds its original value. People can buy the yap, but it still must stay in the same spot. The large stones would get carved from a calcite cave and then they would shape the stone with pumice and other tools very carefully because the stone is fragile and can crack very easily. We learned that the hole in the center of the stone is meant for transportation.

Broken calcite
The class next to the rai stone

After seeing the yap money, it was time for our lunch. We ate lunch on the beach of an island that had quite a bit of black tip reef sharks. Everyone swam with the sharks and were able to check them out up close which was pretty dang cool. We saw as many as five sharks!

Blacktip Reef Sharks with juvenile Golden Trevally
Blacktip Reef Shark with a Remora under it
Everyone swimming with the sharks

Our final stop for the day was at the fishbowl or otherwise known as the fish cemetery. At the fishbowl there were lots of big, beautiful coral and many fish. We also were able to perform some conservation by taking out some crown of thorns. The crown of thorns like to feed on coral reefs, so it is essential to limit their population so help mitigate some of the damages. The crown of thorns is very poisonous, so you have to be careful to not touch their thorns, so the best method of removal is by using a spear to pick them up. While the crown of thorns is not an invasive species, there is a population imbalance, and they require management. Our guide Finn was able to spear one crown of thorns while we snorkeled.

Clown fish peeking up
Finn spearing the crown of thorns

After a long day out on the ocean we headed back to Paddling Palau and then back to PCC. We all freshened up to go out to one last group dinner at Kramer’s. We were joined by a few special guests like Chris Kitalong and Dr. Nwe. It was a lovely evening together just chatting, playing pool, and eating some really good food.

Group photo after the day’s adventures
Everyone eating and enjoying our time together at Kramer’s

Written by Garret and Veronica

Day 12: Rock Island Hoppin’

Paddling Palau picked us up today at 8:00 am to take us to their shop. Once we got there, we made sure that all of our permits were good to go for the Rock Islands, and then we boarded the boat. Once we arrived at our destination of Risong Bay, we split up into three groups on kayaks with our snorkel gear and rotated locations. The first group was dropped off at the site of a shipwreck, which was a Japanese cargo ship from World War II. The second group was dropped off at Mandarin Fish Lake, where they were on the search for the skittish mandarin fish. This group got lucky and had the chance to see one!

Image: Mandarin Fish photographed by Reid Endress

The third group was dropped off at what was called the fish pond, which is basically a lagoon that has been closed off with rocks which were put in place by the Japanese during WWII; it is where people would hold and rear the fish until they reached a harvestable size.

Image: Remnants of a fish pond photographed by Scott

While out on our kayaks, we heard the most ethereal bird calls. It was so peaceful to be able to sit out there and just listen to the sounds and live in the moment. Some of the species that we heard included the Palauan Bush Warbler, which almost sounds like a human whistle. We also heard the Imperial Dove, which has a growl-like call. We saw lots of Fruit Doves, which are the national bird of Palau, and are an endemic species to Palau. We also saw lots of fruit bats!

Our tour guides Mac, Finn, and Adam were brimming with knowledge about all the different birds, plants, history, and basically just everything that we saw. They could answer any questions that we had about the area, and really made the tour extra special. Mac told us all about the formation of the Rock Islands as well as the erosion which causes the undercut. These islands are essentially just pushed up coral reefs made out of limestone, that have been slowly eroding away at the waterline. Mac pointed out on a rock face in one area that had a distinct line which is an indicator of the sea level once being much higher than its current level.

Image: Erosion of the Rock Islands photographed by Anna

Once everyone had a full rotation on the kayaks in Risong Bay, we hopped back on the boat to eat some much needed tasty bento boxes. When everyone was finished eating, the shenanigans commenced! We had people belly-flopping off of the bow of the boat, jumping, and swimming around the reef that we were anchored above.

Image: Haley with her bento box

Our next stop was to try and spot some Mesekie (dugongs) near a sanctuary area they are known to frequent. The water was a little rough (okay maybe a lot for some), so it wasn’t easy to spot them at first. However, after a few minutes, someone spotted several and we were able to watch them for a little bit. While waiting for them to surface again, we also saw many sea turtles in the area.

After seeing the dugongs, we headed out to a channel in which our guides knew some manta rays had been using recently as a feeding zone. Almost right away we saw several from the boat at the surface feeding. We spent some time snapping some photos from the boat, but the real excitement came when Mac asked us if we wanted to get in the water with the mantas. Of course, the answer was yes. The current was really strong in this area because of the rising tide carrying water and nutrients from the deep blue nearby. This is primarily the reason the mantas show up in this spot. Almost immediately we had mantas swimming directly below us! One cool thing that Mac mentioned about the mantas is that they tend to get white spots on their top side when they’re feeding. This is a sign that they’re eating well and happy. We had so much fun on our first drift-snorkel through the channel that the boat captain, Jeff, took us to the beginning so we could do it all over again. 10/10 recommend!

Video: Manta Ray swimming directly beneath Haley

After a successful day of kayaking, listening to the birds, seeing the lush flora and fauna of the rock islands, and swimming with manta rays we headed back to Paddling Palau and called it a day.

Image: kayak raft photographed by Alanna

Written by Anna and Rebecca

Day 11: Kayangel Atoll

We started the day with an early morning boat ride, going 2.5 hours to the north. During the ride, we saw spinner dolphins jumping out of the waves to greet us.

When we reached the island the water was a gradient of colors ranging from turquoise blue to deep ocean blue.

The turquoise blue waters near the atoll
Our boats docked along Kyangel Atoll

There was work lined up for the day, but the Kayangel State Conservation Staff was on lunch break, so we sat in the summer house and ate our lunch. Each of us got a single piece of the best mango on the planet.

Delicious mango that we all cherished

Afterwards, we took the opportunity to explore or talk to conservation experts. It was low tide, and on the far side of the island there was more trash than any of us had seen here. All of this was washed up by the tide, and most was not from Palau.

Disco ball shack

We also explored a cool island shack that seemed to be the life of the party! Cue the disco ball.

Trash piled along the east side of the island

Down in the tide pools, we came across two different species of moray eels. They were hiding under rocks away from the sun waiting for the tide.

Moray eels within the tide pools

We then made our way to the clearing to help the conservation staff continue their work. Our job was to remove the invasive green vines that were growing over the trees. Removing the vines prepares the land for reforestation, which will improve the habitat of the Megapode (a native ground bird).

A group photo of work being done to remove invasive species
Melissa clearing vines from the trees

We boarded the boat to start back towards Babeldaob, and to listen to Chris Kitalong talk about the destructive coconut rhinoceros beetle. The beetles have always been in Palau, but go through cycles of destruction. They eat the heart of the palm , which kills the tree, resulting the loss of palm fronds and fruits. It is clear when the beetles have been to a place because the palms are left looking like giant sticks. Coconut trees are important to island life because coconuts provide a hydration source where freshwater is rare or absent.

Chris Kitalong giving us a lecture about the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle
Coconut trees that have been decimated by the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle

As we were making our way to the dock, the sun began to set, which made a calming glow on the tranquil waters and the rock islands.

Sun setting on a group boat by the dock

It was a quick turnaround from returning to the dorms to leaving for the night market. The Koror night market occurs biweekly, and features food, art/craft vendors, and dancers. We all got to try fried spiral potatoes and bought some fresh dragon fruit.

Local night market under the Friendship Bridge in Airai

Written by Rachel, Abby, and Haley.

Day 10: June 30th

We all loaded up in the Mesekiu bus yet again and ventured back up north through the winding mountain roads to the PCC Multispecies Hatchery. We met Richard Page, an aquaculturist who has worked at the facility over a year. The facility is a polyculture center that houses and reproduces multiple types of sea creatures such as sea cucumbers, tiger shrimp, rabbit fish, giant clams, mangrove crab, and some rescued hawksbill turtles. Just in the last year this institution has grown exponentially, increasing their success in aquaculture production. In the past eight months they released 16.5 million mangrove crab megalope into the ocean.

(Group gathering around the sea cucumber tanks)

The tour began in the lab where they culture the algae in mother cultures and transfer them into water jugs. There are three different types (CM, Nano, ISO) that are used as the base for the aquaculture feed.

(The three types of algae)

There were three different tanks with tiger shrimp. Tank 1 had a high protein feed, tank 2 had a Taiwanese feed, and tank 3 had a low protein feed. We observed that the shrimp in tank 1 were the largest around 200 grams and had much more color and energy.

(Tiger Shrimp chilling out)

We moved our tour to the sea cucumber tanks where there were two different types. Most interesting was the Stichopus cucumber contains the highest amount of fucan sulfites. These sea cucumbers can be segmented into additional ones. Richard Page has been studying the effects of the holothurin toxin that they contain and the regenerative processes that they can have. When mixed with stem cells they have the potential to help with growing skin, cartilage, and ligaments.

(Veronica, Rebecca, and Abby holding sea cucumbers)

We returned to PCC for a quick break and then returned to our bus to make our way to the Koror Solid Waste Facility. It is a multi operational facility ran by the local government. Here they separates the glass from the plastic and compost.

(The group photo in front of Koror Solid Waste Facility)

Onsite it contains the Belau Eco Glass Studio that turns the glass in the recycling process into art.

(Belau Eco Glass Center sign)

(Recycled glass art replication of Palauan women’s money (Bachel))

Part of the waste facility is dedicated to recycling plastic into a synthetic Diesel fuel. The process begins with separating plastic into four categories, cutting them up into tiny bits, washing, drying, and then heating that into a gas that distills into the end product of fuel. This process creates enough energy to fuel itself with a 10% surplus. The Chief engineer of the facility told us that they would like to expand the operation to process all of Palau’s waste plastic, but they are facing a prohibitive cost and a lack of personnel. We also learned how the Japanese government gave Koror a grant (in alignment with the UN mission for sustainability) to replace equipment lost in a 2017 fire.

(Separated plastic shreds)

We came back to PCC and toured their 3D printing lab where they had made lots of these cool fruit fly traps that twist onto plastic bottles. They also had a giant lantern trap for Rhinoceros Beetles. One type of the beetle lives in a coconut tree and spreads a disease into the trees which can eventually kill them. The lantern traps have a light and pheromone pouch that lures them inside.

(Bryan, Scott and KB introducing the Rhinoceros traps)

This day gave a lot of insight into how the Palauan community, government, and outside partnerships collaborate to solve sustainability issues and to better improve the cultural and economic environment.

This blog was written by: Alanna and Brittney (With some help from Alex and KB)

Day 9: Plant Tissue Culture and Agriculture

After a refreshing day off, we got up bright and early and headed out to PCC’s Cooperative Research & Extension (CRE) station to visit their research & development section.

Image: Road sign at the entrance to PCC-CRE

We started with presentations by Dr. Nwe and Arsenio, a representative from Koror State Solid Waste Management. Dr. Nwe gave us a brief background and explanation of the research they are conducting regarding plant tissue culture and agriculture. We learned that they do a lot of research around crop improvement not just for the country of Palau but to help surrounding islands as well.

Arsenio gave us a background of what their office does and how they manage waste in the island and their overall goal of “environmental protection & preservation”. They sort the waste into different types of materials: recyclables, plastics, food waste, metals, and glass. For the plastics they have implemented an energy recovery program that will melt plastic into a bio-diesel fuel which can be used for their generators to power facilities all while producing no harmful emissions and reducing plastic waste. Another interesting project they told us about was their repurposing of glass. They will take the recycled glass and melt it down in a kiln to be turned into blown glass art to be sold.

Image: Dr. Nwe introducing the PCC-CRE staff

After the presentations, we split into three different groups to get hands-on experience of the work they do. One of the stations was in their plant tissue culture lab, where we got to see and help propagate clones of different species of taro. This was conducted in a sterile environment so before entering we put on lab coats, masks, and gloves. This is to protect the genetic diversity of the taro as the lab serves as a form of seed bank for taro. The process begins by taking a clone and dissecting it down to the sprout and then placed in a gel media to grow. The gel is changed every month for 3 months, and then the taro is taken out of the jar and then cleaned and planted.

Image: Garret (left) and Alix (right) showing their successfully dissected taro shoots.

Another station was learning about soil analysis with Arsenio. We got to review the results of the soil samples taken when we were at the bauxite mines on day 3. While the dirt is still generally unproductive, the soil from 2020 did show some progress in that there was an increase in magnesium. Arsenio and his office use this system to analyze the compost they make to see if they need to add or take away anything, they also use this to test areas of concern around the island. One of the projects that Koror State Solid Waste Management has started is the Urban Growers Program. This program provides opportunities and access for families and households in Koror to grow their own gardens to give better access to healthy and fresh food. They provide the tools and resources needed for the families to understand proper waste management.

Image: Soil Analysis results of our soil samples with 2020 on the left and 2023 on the right.

The last station, was with Kodama-san in the greenhouse. He showed us propagation techniques of air layering, cutting, grafting, and budding. Air layering is when we expose the stem and then wrap in moss to encourage roots to form, which you can then cut and plant after a few months. Cutting is taking a healthy portion of a plant, applying hormone powder to the base, and placing it in soil where it can then grow and become a separate plant. Grafting is a technique where tissues of plants are joined together so that the new branch will become part of the host plant. Budding is grafting technique in which a bud of a plant is grafted onto the stem of another plant.

Image: Dustin trying his hand at air layering

After lunch, PCC CRE provided us with some refreshing coconuts to enjoy before our tour of the farm.

Image: (Left to right) Noah, Rebecca, KB, Veronica, Melissa, Alix, and Alanna enjoying their refreshing coconuts

The first stop on our tour was their livestock, where the manure of the pigs is collected to be used for compost. We also got to view their banana crops where they had two separate crops to test how one did with fertilizer and one without. Even though they were planted at the same time, and are the same species, the fertilized group was larger in size and healthier overall. The last stop was their taro and tapioca patches. They explained that Palau has three different crop environments: sers (uplands), mesei (swamp/marshlands), and dechel (wetlands). We were able to see examples of all three environments, with taro traditionally being grown in a mesei environment.  

Image: View of a tapioca crop at PCC-CRE with taro fields in the background

Today’s blog was written by Noah and Alix

Day 8: Free Time

Today was a day of rest and/or free exploration for us. Some of us went to the beautiful Long Island Park and Conservation area to hike in the jungle.

Ngermalk – Long Island Park and Conservation Area
One of many labeled trees along the trail and the raucousness of the jungle (volume up!)

At the park was a medicinal plant garden full of species like Kertaku (Myrtaceae Descaspermum fruticosum – native), Blaulked (Rubiaceae Timonius mollus – endemic), Rur (Rubiaceae Bakia palauensis – endemic), Ebechab (Plypodiaceae Microsorum scolopendria – native), Chemudelach (Rubiaceae Hedyotis Korrorensis – endemic), Kelsechedui (Lamiaceae Vitex trifolia – native), Ukellelachedib (Fabaceae Chamaecrista mimosoides – native), Ngmak (Asteraceae Ageratum conyzoides – native), and several others. We learned that endemic refers to species found only in a certain region, and native refers to species that are naturally occurring without human introduction but can be found in other regions.

Indigenous medicine garden

Medicinal uses for Kelsechedui, for example, include reducing high blood pressure, use as a mosquito repellent, a tonic to simulate appetite, give you energy, and keep your body hydrated. Recipes and instructions for these remedies can be found in the Palau Primary Health Care Manual.

Across the island, another group spent the day with Sam’s Tours diving out in the Rock Islands. Palau is known worldwide for its incredible diving and this group did not want to pass up this opportunity.

Ready for a day of diving! From left to right: Brittney, Reid, Melissa, Scott, Alex (eyeballs only), Jocelyn, Dustin

We left the dock and before we even reached our first dive site, we came across a reef manta ray swimming across the reef.

Reef Manta Ray

The first dive took place at German Channel. An equal mix of sandy bottom and reef, this was the perfect easy dive to begin the day. We spotted many varieties of fish and other sea life including sharks and turtles.

Before ascending to the surface, we stopped to snap a few quick pics to remember the moment.

Brittney and Dustin throwing shakas 50 feet down
Jocelyn throwing shaka 48 feet down

The next dive site, Dexter’s Wall, exhibited plunging reef walls that disappeared far below what we could see. The reef was made of mostly soft corals mixed in with hard corals. Here, the sea turtle sightings continued with our group spotting at least five of the beautiful creatures.

Melissa observing a green sea turtle

The dive concluded when we arrived at the Blue Corner, which swept us away into a drift dive. People who talk about diving in Palau never fail to mention the sudden swift currents that can catch a diver off guard. After a fast-moving safety stop at 15 feet, we popped to the surface for lunch.

After a delicious bento box, we hopped back into the water for our last dive of the day, Canyons. This site displayed steep walls of colorful hard corals with canyons breaking up the scenery. We swam though a rather large overhead tunnel and finished our dive at a vertical wall full of life and color.

Hard coral rock wall at Canyons

From laundry to shopping, to diving and hiking, we ended our day feeling rested, refreshed, and ready for another week of adventure here in Palau.

Written by Jocelyn, Dustin, and Hilary (Shaka)

Day 7: Sad Goodbyes and New Beginnings

We soaked up our last little bit of Ollei at the Ebiil Society camp this morning with what had quickly become a routine of coffee, chats, and laughter in the kitchen area with some much needed snuggles and scratches with Dice, the dog that everyone has become so fond of. Before splitting into our groups to do camp clean-up chores, some students took a walk over towards the dock for breakfast and a milkshake. When everyone was all finished, we convened in the classroom one last time for a group reflection. It quickly became apparent how much of an impact this experience had on each of us. Some teary eyes, hugs, and thank-yous were made to Anne, Cindy, Omar, and the rest of the wonderful staff as we geared up to head to the traditional fish weir in Ngekkeklau. The high emotions were an indicator that our souls were fulfilled and inspired by what an incredibly special place the Ebiil Society is. It was hard for us to leave such a warm and welcoming place in which we all felt that we had become part of a big family. We all succeeded in rediscovering our inner child at Ebiil Society.

Students and Ebiil Society staff

After taking a group photo we all hopped on the bus (with air conditioning!!) to head to our next destination; the traditional fish weir. Before arriving, we were all expecting that we would be wading in the water at most up to our knees, well, we were wrong! Not one of us was prepared to go for an unplanned swim, but being flexible and having the ability to find laughter in uncomfortable moments meant most of us just went for it.

Students standing around fish wier

The fish weir is constructed of stones from the area and was recently rebuilt so that it can be used again to harvest fish this August. The original structure dates back about 1000 years. The fish can swim into the weir at high tide, but the design is such that the fish aren’t able to swim back out because they can’t turn around such a sharp corner. The fish can then be harvested with a spear for a fresh meal. This method is very passive, requiring no refrigeration, no fuel costs, and any unwanted species can be tossed back over to the other side to continue living freely making it more sustainable overall. There are plans being made around Palau to restore and use more ancient fish weirs for these reasons.

Drone photo of fish wier

Our next destination was to visit a reconstructed Bai, the traditional meeting house used in ancient Palau for making many governmental decisions. To get to the Bai we had to hike an ancient stone path that wound up the steep forest hillside. The hike was a brisk 10-15 minutes up the mossy and lush forest. When everyone reached the Bai, our tour guide Thema began to explain the purpose and significance of the Bai. He told us that the Bai was the center of the executive part of the government in the ancient Palauan state.

Ancient stone path to Bai

The Bai is covered in stories. Our guide talked about how each image on the outside of the Bai is significant to what happens inside. One of the most interesting details of the stories and the structure is the entrance. There is no door, just a low opening at each end to allow people to step inside. The short height of the opening is purposeful, it forces someone to bow their head as they enter and show respect as they enter. The front entrance to the Bai also has a large black bat painted on the underside of the beam that supports the front wall. The bat represents the action of bowing; bats hang upside down when at rest, this is considered a show of respect. Thus, the bat in the low doorway requires all who enter to follow suit and show respect.

Reconstruction of traditional Bai

After our hike we continued our journey back to PCC to get settled bac in the dorms. We all gathered and had a chat about what everyone was doing the next day and what the plans for the week are. That concluded our day.

Blog by Anna Tollfeldt and Alexander Van Brocklin

Day 6: A Day on Ngarkeklau Island

Our day started off early in the morning at 5:30 am when we paddled out to watch the sunrise as we floated to Ngarkeklau island in hopes of seeing some dugongs. Unfortunately we didn’t spot any, but we still got to experience the peacefulness of the early morning out on the ocean. The island of Ngarkeklau is an isolated island managed by the Ebiil society in an effort to conserve the mangroves and other unique species, including sea turtles.  

Image: Morning paddleboard to Ngarkeklau

Upon arrival at Ngarkeklau island we explored the tree named Demdemkur. A Palaun legend says that the God’s were having a throwing contest to see who can throw their betelnut the furthest. A trickster god put a bird in his mouth instead of the betelnut, and threw the bird which ended up landing the furthest away. This spot is where the tree lies. After looking at Demdemkur, we wandered the island where we got to explore the mangroves and even see some previous sea turtle nests. We then went and collected clams on the shore with Cindy, which would be used to make, demok (clam chowder). While searching for clams we found other interesting shells and even some broken pottery from when Palauans used to make pottery from the clay on the island. While exploring, we noticed a lot of trash on the island that drifts in from Asia; we even found a glass fishing float from the Japanese when they colonized the area.

Image: Demdemkur tree
Image: Searching for clams with Cindy
Image: Anna holding her Japanese fishing float

After a few hours on the island we got on the boats to go snorkel the Ebiil channel where we saw some awesome fish and coral structures. Bryan and Scott told us how last year they noticed a lot of dead coral and this year they noticed there was some growth, meaning the coral in the Ebiil channel is recovering. We got to see giant clams, tons of fish, and even a baby shark! Seeing the giant clams in their natural habitat was especially cool after visiting the aquaculture center and planting some ourselves. The Ebiil channel is also a marine protected area (MPA) which means there are certain laws and regulations in place to protect the marine life within that area. It was very special to be able to snorkel in an area that was protected, and be able to see the benefits of these MPA’s.

Image: KB diving with a starfish
Image: Baby shark (doo-doo doo-doo)
Image: Alex with a giant clam
Image: Drone footage of all of us snorkeling at Ebiil channel

After an amazing snorkel, we headed back to the island where we got to enjoy a delicious lunch served on coconut leaves.

Image: Lunch; fried fish with veggie slaw, taro, and rice

After eating, we hopped back on the boats and headed out to the open ocean, where we got to fish using the hand lines that we made yesterday. We made some awesome catches, including Red Snappers and a Black Saddled Coral Grouper, and even got an unexpected visit from a sea krate. Some of our catches had to be released back into the water because they were either a protected species or they were juvenile, meaning they haven’t been able to reproduce yet.

Image: Rachel with the biggest catch of the day: a Red Snapper
Image: Sea Krate on our boat

After some fishing we headed back to camp Ebiil where we learned about the anatomy of a fish and the type of data that fisheries collect for sustainable fishing. Some of these include the size, gender, and age. We then had a demonstration by KB and Midner on how to properly scale and gut a fish, and were able to try ourselves for those of us who wanted to. This would be our dinner for the night.

Image: Fish scale and gut demonstration

We ended the day by sitting at the dock and enjoying the beautiful sunset. After dinner with our freshly caught fish, we did a group reflection of the day, and got to enjoy smores by the fire.

Image: Sunset at Ebiil

Written by Veronica and Rebecca