Day 6: A Tail of Two Facilities

Our day began with a heavy downpour over Ollei– a few students out on a morning paddle got caught in the rain, and came back to a small flash flood around the Ebiil buildings!  However, the rain was soon followed by a beautiful and calm morning, rainbow included.  

After a nourishing breakfast (and caffeine) to start our day, we began our drive to the Cooperative Research & Extension Aquaculture Facility, where we met with staff to tour the hatchery and learn more about aquaculture in Palau.  First, we got an overview of aquaculture’s ancient history and importance– these practices began as long ago as 5000 B.C., and held an importance as a sustaining food source.  Today, it can be used as a method to replenish degraded populations, as well as to prevent over-harvesting of other marine systems.  With extensive experience and knowledge in the field of aquaculture and fisheries, the manager helped provide us with new perspectives on hatchery management and the incorporation of hatcheries into Palauan communities.  

Students viewing one of the working tanks at the Cooperative Research & Extension Aquaculture facility.

The facility itself, founded decades ago, has since fallen into disrepair and is no longer fully functional.  For example, all of the facility’s raceways were painted with exterior-only epoxy paint, which leaches into the tanks and kills the fish they contain. The epoxy painted concrete raceways cannot be used until completely stripped of epoxy and repainted, with an estimated price tag of $75,000.  Our visit prompted extensive group discussion about the future of the hatchery, its goals, and its long term success.  Currently, the manager is applying for grants and meeting with Japanese government representatives to improve the hatchery’s production capacity and hire a team of staff to manage it.  Though students are skeptical about its long term success, we hope that the facility’s conditions improve and the community becomes more involved with hatchery operations.  

For lunch we had arrangements at an oceanside cafe. We were served fresh poke, fish fingers, rice, pad Thai, and tempura fried vegetables.  After a full meal and refreshing drinks, we spent a few minutes in the water before driving to our next site.

We made a stop at Mesekelet Conservation Area where we hiked down to a waterfall and cooled off in the pools. The deepest pool was about 8ft deep with a waterfall on the upstream side making it a favorite spot for most students. On our hike back up to the vans, we discovered that the concrete stairs and trail surface were dated to 06/13/2022, just a week prior to our visit!

After swimming in Mesekelet Falls, we drove up to meet Jack Lin at the Palau National Aquaculture Center. The stark contrast of this facility with the facility we toured earlier in the morning was evident to all of the students. Jack started our tour by showing us the lab where he works. He was able to show us various life stages of sea cucumbers under the microscope and how to tell when to move eggs, larvae, or juveniles to different tanks in the hatchery. Jack also led us through the clam, giant clam, and sea cucumber stocks. He described each species, how they are managed, and their use and importance in the community. Once these species are grown to a suitable size, they are distributed to different communities throughout Palau to help support sustainable fisheries management.

Getting a closer look at the clam stock.

Staff members from the Taiwan Technical Mission led us through the rest of the hatchery and showed us rabbitfish, tiger shrimp, milk fish, and others. Staff fed some of the fish which gave us a great view, especially in some of the deeper tanks. There were even two sea turtles (one hawksbill and one green), being held in rehabilitation tanks until they are healthy enough to be released back into the ocean. 

Jack teaching the class about clam tank management.

We all agreed that this hatchery is really well run, clean, and has knowledgeable staff. It even has a beautiful view of the ocean and surrounding islands. Most students really enjoyed this location and gave even more of a perspective on the aquaculture industry. Some students even commented that they would love to intern at this location.

We ended our night with a trip to the Koror night market where we sampled food from local vendors. After eating and enjoying live music, we sat under the bridge and watched the sunset until we drove back to Camp Ebiil.