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