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.