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

Day 5: Mangrove Ecosystems and Clam Planting

Figure 1. Mangroves viewed from an inshore channel.

The last several days we have been learning about the traditional food systems of Palau. After breakfast, we began the day by preparing hand lines, which we will be using when we go bottom fishing tomorrow.

Figure 2. From left to right: Midner, Jocelyn, Hilary, Veronica, and Rebecca preparing handlines.

Next, we grabbed the paddle boards, kayaks, and snorkel gear to head out to the mangroves.

Figure 3. From left to right: Dustin, Alex, Anna, Jocelyn, Brian, KB, Scott, Omar, Sharon, Nwe, Aot, Brittney, and Red at the mangroves.

Aot talked about the many different benefits of the mangrove ecosystem. Mangroves are unique trees with many adaptations. To survive in the saltwater, individual mangrove trees use “sacrificial leaves”, which they divert salt from the ocean into, instead of dispersing the salt through the whole tree. Another strategy is the aerial root structures, which vary from species to species. The four types of root structures are buttress, knee, snorkel, and prop. Because of the complex root structure, mangroves protect the coastlines from wave erosion, typhoons, tsunamis, and catch sediments from terrestrial runoff. These ecosystems are also vital to the traditional subsistence practices of Palau. Women go out foraging at low tide for clams, fiddler crabs, and sea cucumbers. At high tide, when larger fish come near the shore to feed, men will spear fish for the larger species such as mangrove snappers, rabbitfish, and mangrove crab. These systems also function as a refuge for early growth of juvenile fish, which then disperse to support the reef fisheries. As estuarine systems, mangroves have high productivity and high biodiversity.

Figure 4. Mangrove prop roots on the left, with snorkel roots on the right.

After the introduction by Brian, Scott, and Aot, we tied up our paddle boards and went snorkeling along the edge of the mangroves. Along the edge of the shore, we primarily saw snorkel roots, but saw more prop roots when we swam up inland channels. Further offshore, beyond the snorkel roots, there was patchy seagrass. Throughout the seagrass, there were mantis shrimp holes guarded by different species of shrimpgoby. This is a mutualistic relationship, where mantis shrimps will dig the holes, and the shrimpgoby guards the hole; the shrimpgoby gets a home, and the mantis shrimp is protected.

Figure 5. Mantis shrimp and shrimpgoby house.

When we swam into the mangrove channel, it was much calmer than in the ocean along the shore. It was cool to experience firsthand how the mangroves keep the waters calm.

When we got back to Ebiil society from our excursion in the mangroves, the power was out so we had a few hours to catch up on journaling, relaxing, and lunch. We wrapped up lunch with a chemang (mangrove crab) that Noah caught!

Figure 6. Noah’s chemang.

Once the boats were fueled up, we piled on three boats and took a 20 minute ride out to Bngall, a traditional fishery which has been degraded by overfishing. The Bngall fishery is located just south of Ollei where we have been staying, near the island of Ngerkeklau.

Figure 7. Garret’s drone footage at Bngall.
Figure 8. Group photo right before clam outplanting. Picture credit Rachel.

The giant clam restoration area was marked by four white buoys, approximately a square kilometer in area. Because it was low tide, we were unable to boat all the way to the restoration area. We put on our snorkel gear and swam in about 2 feet of water for about a kilometer to meet with the smaller boat, which had the clams from the hatchery for outplanting.

Figure 9. Tridacna species ready for outplanting.

Omar explained how to proceed with outplanting to increase the chances of clam survival. He said to plant close to a protective structure such as seagrass, a rock, or coral, so that wave action would not knock the clam over leaving it to die. However, he also said not to put the clams too close to coral or rock, to make sure the clam had room to open and to grow. We planted 55 clams in Bngall!

Figure 10. KB outplanting two Tridacna.

We returned to Ebiil society, where the power was still out and dinner was going in the smoker. We had another amazing meal with tapioca, chicken, fresh caught fish, and the taro which we harvested yesterday.

Most evenings we gather for discussion and reflection on the activities of the day, and talk about all that we are learning. Tonight, welcomed Ann (executive director of Ebiil society) home to Ollei, and had the chance to hear about how she saw the need for cultural resurgence and natural conservation, and how she acted on that.

Figure 11. Brian and Ann at evening discussion.

The earliest project of the Ebiil society was establishing protections for the Ebiil channel. Ann also told us the story of how the sea cucumbers outside of Ollei were overfished. Traditionally a women’s fishery, the sea cucumbers were targeted by the men in the community who had boats for export to China. The fishery was stressed to the point where the lack of sea cucumbers began to effect other organisms in the system, with meas (rabbitfish) being the next thing to disappear from the waters. The desolation of the system impacted the women in the community the most. Once the community understood the damage to the fishery, it was time for action. The mechas (women elders) knew the spawning cycle of the sea cucumbers, which was instrumental to the success of restoring populations. Ann attributes the success of Ebiil to the community engagement and country leadership involvement. Without Ann’s leadership in the early days and continuing behind-the-scenes contributions, Ebiil society would not be where it is today.

Day 4: Mesei, Monoliths, and Monster Fish

Throughout the trip we have learned various ways to use the plants that surround us. Today, we started out braiding betel nut fibers into bracelets to either use on our baskets we made last night or just to wear.

Handmade basket woven from coconut

“A taro field is the mother of life.” – Palauan Proverb

Hilary, Veronica, and Dustin holding Taro that they harvested

Last night we had an honorary guest, Anne Marie, come and speak about her taro garden. She explained the history of how taro is grown and its significance in the Palauan culture. A point that has been stressed every time we learn about taro is that this is a plant that grows on Palau and is Palauan. Rice, and many other foods, are imported, but taro is always here. “Taro is our staple food” is a phrase that comes into conversation often.

There is a legend of how taro is easier to grow in some areas and is not so easy to grow in others. It is said that there was a woman who lived all over Palau, in each place she lived she planted taro. In areas where the taro is harder to grow, the wife liked the husband she had, so she spent little time in the fields and lots of time at home. In areas where the taro is much easier to grow, the woman did not enjoy time with her husband, so she spent more time in the taro patches. This story is used to explain why taro is so difficult to grow in this part of the island. This morning, we walked about 15 minutes to the taro patch that is owned and farmed by the local women, just down the road. Anne Marie showed us the process of harvesting the taro plant, it’s uses, and how traditionally women were the ones who would work in the taro fields. While the women worked the taro patch, the men would set off to catch fish for the day. The taro patch is a source of food through all times, good and bad. It is an anchor that allows for food independence and security.

Taro field from aerial viewpoint using drone
Drone video of the class working in the taro patch

While washing our taro plants in the river, Anne Marie showed us a rock that lay by the roots of a tree next to the taro patch. We were told that this was a sacred rock that fell from the sky called “Emeraeche” which is Palauan for “North Star”. It made the river by rolling down through the forest. She said the rock was unusually heavy for its size, and when it was moved from the river to rest by the tree it took five men to pick it up.

The sacred rock at the base of the tree

Midner showed us how to climb the betel nut tree. A number of us tried, but we will have to make sure we practice a bit more to master the technique.

Midner climbing the betel nut tree

After our lesson on taro, we helped her clean up debris from last night’s storm at the construction site downstream of the taro patch. The buildup of the debris was contributing to higher water in the taro field and a subpar drainage. We managed to get much of the debris removed from the dam quickly by working a team to pull debris and carry it away. The water quickly started to flow again and we expect the water level to be lower by tomorrow.

Clearing the debris down below the taro field.
The finished product

After lunch we decided to visit the historical stone monoliths or Badrulchau. We met up with Cristopher Kitalong who told us the legends of the monoliths. This was presumed to be the foundation for a large structure or Bai which was typically the local meeting house for men within a village. The legend goes that the gods were building this structure were only active at night. One god from the south wanted to keep his village powerful, so to stop the building of the house he shot fire into the sky to make a rooster crow. This fooled the gods in the north into thinking that day had come; they thought it was morning and dropped the stones where they lay on the ground today.

Everyone listening to Christopher Kitalong telling the story of the stones

After the monoliths, we made our way back to the Ebiil Society. Many went paddleboarding, fishing, and snorkeling, while some took a much-needed nap. To conclude our day with a sweet treat, Bryan brought us ice cream and sodas. In a few minutes we’ll be eating yesterday’s catch, doing our dishes, and falling asleep.

Noah’s fishing update:
Noah went out to the outer reef with the rest of the paddle boarders, he reeled in another, bigger, Giant Trevally after having a fierce battle with the 25 pound big boy.

(This blog entry was written by Garrett, Haley, and Alex.)

Day 3: Trees!

We started our day heading out to the state of Ngchesar.  There was an area where dead trees had been observed and our task was to survey and try to determine what the cause of this was. We split into groups and set off through the tall bush and grass to different areas to make our observations and hypotheses.

Image: Haley making observations of a suspected tree system that was dying.

We observed lichen, burrow holes, evidence of past fires, and erosion. We came back to the bus full of excitement to share our findings with our classmates.

Image: Dustin, Melissa, and Hilary comparing notes

Next, we headed north to Ngardmau to the bauxite mines and had lunch before our next project. The bauxite mines were historically used by the Japanese up until the end of WWII. The result of this was that the soil was left degraded and generally unproductive. The Ebiil Society and the state of Ngardmau are undertaking a project to plant native trees that will reestablish vegetation to restore the site.

Video: Drone footage of the reforestation sites taken by Garrett

After an introduction to the different types of native trees and a planting demonstration, we set out to work. We planted 192 trees, with coconut husks around the base of the tree for protection, and then placed palm fronds between the rows to prevent erosion.

Image: A newly planted Btaches tree (Calophyllum inophyllum)

We then took samples of soil from the site we planted at today to compare to soil samples taken from a site previously planted in 2020. The sample from today’s site will provide a controlled baseline to detect if there is any change in the pH in the site from 2020. The hope is that the plants will help decrease the amount of acidity in the soil.

Image: Jocelyn and Dustin collecting a soil sample

Piling back into the bus after a hard day’s work, we headed to Todai Light House, not far from the Ebiil Society. This site would give us a great view of a watershed above the taro fields. It began to downpour while we were there and according to Scott “You can’t have a watershed without water!”

Image: The watershed viewed from the Todai Lighthouse

We walked around the area to look at the site where the remnants of the lighthouse are and the group bonded while hiding away from the rain in a nearby picnic hut.

Image: A group of students huddling together away from the rain

While most took the bus back to the Ebiil Society, some of us decided to take a walk in the rain, making observations about how runoff from heavy rain can affect the ecosystem. Returning to a flooded home, we set to work rescuing adrift flip flops and fishing poles. After drying off, we relaxed for the evening of our rainy day and then had some delicious food for dinner.

Image: Walking back to the Ebiil Society in the rain

After dinner, we all gathered in the learning center to listen to two local Palauans, Tino and Anne Marie, speak to us. With the help of Cindy translating Palauan to English and vice versa, we learned about their expertise in the fields of fisheries and taro cultivation. They told us their backgrounds and answered our questions.

Image: Anne Marie, Tino, and Cindy speaking with Garret listening attentively

Today’s blog was written by Alanna, KB, and Alix

Day 2: Koror to Ollei

Our day began at 9:00 AM when everyone gathered their belongings and hopped onto the Palau Community College (PCC) bus.  This was the start of our journey north to the Ebiil Society in Ollei  ( We were joined by two PCC students, KB and Midner, and by Dr. Nwe, who will all be with us for the remainder of the course.

Image: All ready to go!

Image: Route for today, PCC to Ebiil with a stop (A) at Ngardmau Waterfall.

After traveling through four states, passing ancient earthworks and grasslands, we arrived at the trailhead to the Ngardmau Waterfall. We trekked through the jungle down many stairs (hundreds according to Bryan). Part of the path crossed a single raised rail that had once been used for a tourist tram as an attempt to bring ecotourism to the area.  However, it is now abandoned after that attempt failed. We also walked along the remains of a Japanese railroad that was used to haul bauxite from a nearby mine when Palau was under Japanese occupation. We encountered carnivorous pitcher plants growing in the nutrient-poor volcanic soil, causing them to evolve to feed on insects for sustenance. Other things we saw were several orchid species (there are 80 in Palau!), stingless bees, toads and guppies.

Image: Starting the hike down the stairs.

Image: Remnant tracks of Japanese bauxite trains and tourism rail.

Image: Carnivorous pitcher plant

Image: The beautiful Ngardmau Waterfall.

After reaching the falls, we took the opportunity to relax and take a dip in the water. Then it was time to make the long trip back up all those stairs so that we could eat our bento box lunches and continue on.

Image: Students at the waterfall.

Image: Garret, KB, Midner, and Noah hanging out.

Image: Lunch spot.

We arrived at the Ebiil Society and were welcomed by Cindy, then settled into our dorms for the next five days. While others were exploring, a few of us had the chance to learn about collecting and peeling betelnut leaves. The leaves of betelnut are commonly used for wrapping food or even gifts. Cindy taught us how to find good leaves for peeling and the proper peeling techniques.

Image: Jocelyn, Cindy, Anna, and Haley harvesting betelnut leaves (Areca catechu)

Image: Cindy showing Jocelyn proper peeling techniques

Everyone then broke out their snorkeling gear and we headed down to the docks. We swam through sand flats, seagrass beds and patch reefs where we encountered some familiar animals from the day before (the chocolate sea star, the blue sea star, and giant clams), as well as a few new ones.

Image: A familiar friend the giant clam.

Image: A network pipefish (Corythoichthys flavofasciatus)

While others were snorkeling, Noah caught a bluefin trevally (Caranx melampygus) that he brought back to Ebiil for dinner.  They used it to make us an amazing poke and fish soup.

Image: Noah and his catch.

Image: Dinner time.

We ended our day with an evening group reflection on what we had seen and learned. We’re excited to continue spending time here at the Ebill Society.

Today’s blog post was written by Jocelyn Wilson, Hilary Hillis and Melissa McMullen

DAY 1: Orientation

Hello! This is our first day of OSU’s 2023 Ridge to Reef class.

Our day began by gathering in one of the Palau Community College classrooms where we became acquainted with one another and were introduced to the class curriculum for our two week course. After the briefing we ventured out in the pouring rain to our new form of transportation, the Palau Community College bus.

(Image: Palau Community College Bus)

Our first destination was the Belau National Museum in Koror. Upon entering the first exhibit we noticed that new research had been compiled to exemplify the most up to date information on the monumental earthworks of Palau. This research process was done using LiDAR, these earthworks are the earliest expression of earthen monuments in Oceania. 

Upon moving to the upstairs exhibits, we found that the presence of Germans greatly influenced the ecological and cultural environment of Palau. German currency was the first form of foreign currency to be introduced to Palauans. The German Channel was created in the Rock Islands as an easier alternative for passage. This channel was created through means of explosives devastating wildlife. Mixed in with these exhibits were testimonials from Palauan’s who lived during these times. 

After exploring the gift shop we stumbled upon a shelf of old license plates. Shuffling through, one of our classmates came across a very familiar logo.  

(Image: OSU license plate at Belau Museum)

Our next stop was the Palau National Aquaculture Center. It was here we learned about the complexities of giant clam aquaculture and their species. In the wild a giant clam such as the Maxima can live past 200 years. However, in captivity they can only survive a few decades. Which is why the aquaculture center plants them in the wild. We also learned that clams are identified by their shells and not their colors or lack of colors. Palau was the first to successfully cultivate giant clams in captivity.

(Image: Palau National Aquaculture Center Entrance)

(Image: View of Giant Clam Aquaculture Facility)

(Image: Nursery Tanks)

(Image: Giant Clams )

(Image: Hilary (an OSU Student) holding a baby Hawksbill sea turtle)

After the Palau National Aquaculture Center, we made our way to the Palau International Coral Reef Center. At this research institute we encountered chocolate chip sea stars and sea cucumbers in their interactive touch tank.

(Image: Chocolate Chip Sea Star at the Palau International Coral Reef Center)

(Image: Bryan showing Brittney (an OSU student) the chocolate chip sea star)

(Image: Blue sea star)

After this extremely informative and immersive experience we ended our day with an amazing presentation and dinner at Paddling Palau. This presentation built upon what we learned today, and we were given first-hand accounts by Mac, a guide from Paddling Palau. He started the presentation by explaining the culture and history of Palau. He talked about his research projects around the islands and discoveries of new fish species and lakes. His work has been instrumental in protecting Palau and its environment. After the presentation we were graciously treated to a delicious buffet of Palauan cuisine by the Paddling Palau crew. We truly appreciated their hospitality and their willingness to share their knowledge with our class.

(Image: Students enjoying an evening at Paddling Palau)

(Image: Students posing for a picture at Paddling Palau)

(Image: Chambered Nautilus center piece)

(Image: Buffet presented to OSU students by Paddling Palau)

We ended the day by reflecting in our journals and discussing what we all learned and want to learn more about while on this amazing journey together.

Today’s blog post was written by: Abby van Klaveren and Brittney Collins