Our time on the Ridge to Reef Study Abroad has come to an end. The 2019 Cohort wants to communicate our gratitude and appreciation to our faculty leads, community partners, Palau Community College and Palau High School Students, and the Palauan Community.
A special thanks to Ebiil Society, Ann Singeo, Elchung Gladys, Ilima Kloulechad, Patricia Kloulechad, Roseberry Kinto, Francisca Blesoch. Our time at Ebiil Society was eye-opening, memorable, and life altering. We will forever hold a special place in our hearts for Ebiil and those we met there.
Palau Community College (PCC), PAIR Program, and Dr. Chris Kitalong. Thank you for sharing your research and labs with us. With your support, our time in Koror has been enriching. It was an honor to participate in the thatching process for the Bai at PCC. Best of luck at the National Institute of Health Conference this week.
Thank you to the PCC and Palau High School students: Raimunt, Junior, Jose, Kobe, Ya-Ya, Bubbles, Mederang, and Mereng, Lus, and Jesse. We really appreciate how you all took us in and taught us about your culture and country. You all gave us an opportunity to learn more about Palau that we couldn’t otherwise have experienced. We hope you all continue to pursue your passions.
To our faculty leads, Bryan Endress and Scott Heppell, thank you for facilitating such and incredible program. Your guidance has given us new perspectives that we will take forward into our education, careers, and life.
Sofia Baum, Business Administration and Sustainability, Graduating Spring 2020
We started our day bright (well sort of bright) and early by rolling out the door at 7:15am in route to Rock Islands Kayak Expeditions for a full day of kayaking Risong Bay. Arriving hopeful with peeks of blue sky (with mostly solid wind and rain in the forecast) we pulled into our kayak tour company’s lot to meet our guides and start the day.
However, we were so thankful that massive gust and rain passed relatively quickly. We got a break in the storm and took our chance to venture out to sea to continue our kayak day with Mack, Kobe, and Jeff with RIKE.
After getting a peek of the bay and water that we’d be spending the day in, our guides took us to an undisclosed local lake within the bay to see more jellyfish. This location is not open for tourists. There were not as many jellyfish in the lake in comparison to the other lake we went to a few days ago, but we were pleased to get out of the boat and check it out!
After our many muscles were so from paddling, swimming, and such we headed back home with a quick boat ride and current float to hopefully see Lolita, the Manta Ray coming in with the current. No such luck there, but we did manage to see a couple massive Cuttle Fish!
We cleaned up ourselves and stuff and went to meet Ann from the Ebiil Society for a final goodbye and thank you dinner. After stopping at several restaurants with no luck or room for our large group, we got lucky at The Carp. Big portions, low prices, and great company! What a wonderful way to wrap it all up.
We had a long day of kayaking, with cool but sunny weather, seeking out new things to be seen. Pleased (and exhausted) with our kayak adventures and last snorkel here in Palau, we had a lovely sit down with Ann, her kind husband, her patient daughter, and a bonus El (from Ebiil). We were coming to realization that our time here is just about over. Sentimentals soon coming, but attempting to save them for tomorrow.
The PCC crew had reached out and wanted to have an evening out with us and talked us into at first what we thought to be Karaoke, then a local Palauan band (then to find out only a DJ playing ‘eh’ American music). Only Sofia and Katherine were set on going, but capably talked the rest of the crew into joining as it was many of our last nights in Palau. Upon arrival, the dance floor was bare. We tightened down our sandals, sipped our waters, and got the party started. Twas a good ol’ time laughing, dancing, and enjoying our last night together. We were thankful that El and Kobe joined us, however having it not be Palauan music, they were there to enjoy the scene at a further distance. Upon departure, the music floor became bare once more and we thanked the Taj staff for a pleasurable evening and headed back to the Dreamhouse.. to do just that.. dream.
Destiny Pauls, Natural Resources- Conservation Law Enforcement, Class of Spring 2021
Day 12 on Palau consisted of snorkeling, stone money, and ethnobotany! We headed out on a boat to patch reefs outside Koror. After snorkeling for about 20 minutes, we had to pack up and head to a different location because the sea was becoming too rough. (Rumor has it that a typhoon is developing over Yap, a small island near Palau, and headed this way.)
After snorkeling, we hiked up the Balang trail where people from Yap used to travel to harvest Aragonite, a type of stone only found on Palau, to make their stone money. Stone money pieces are huge (sometimes up to 12 feet in circumference) donut -shaped slabs used as women’s currency in Yapese culture. One of these slabs was left on the island after being cut and sculpted because it was broken during the moving process and therefore worthless.
After hiking the Balang trail, we snorkeled in the reef right off the quarry. Within the Rock Islands, the water is more protected from storms and was much more calm than our previous snorkel that day. During this snorkel, we saw some human-made trash, unfortunately. Even in remote areas like Palau, plastics and littering are still an issue for marine and terrestrial life. Our team picked up around 20 pieces of trash from just that one snorkel site. It can be easy to disassociate yourself from your garbage when you don’t have to witness what happens with it afterwards. However, seeing the plastic bags and Coke cans on the bottom of the ocean floor, with fish swimming in and out of them can be eye-opening. The FW 391 gang would like to remind you to Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle!
One of the discoveries made on this snorkel trip was a wild Day Octopus, pictured at the beginning of this blog. Student Tate originally found this octopus hiding in a hole in a mound of coral. As the octopus moved to different parts of the coral, its body shape, texture, and color would change to match its background. If you took your eye off of it, you would probably never find it again.
After leaving the snorkel site near the Balang trail, a storm hit the ocean. Intense, cold rain poured down on the gang and we had to get creative.
The day ended with a lecture in ethnobotany by Dr. Chistopher Kitalong. His research focused on using traditional Palauan plants as medicine to help treat diabetes on the island. He discovered that the traditional ways are more effective for treating the islanders than the modern Western medicine.
All in all, it was successful day! We are very grateful to our boat captain for navigating us through the storm, our instructors for their insight and advice, the PCC students and Dr. Kitalong for allowing us to sit in on their lecture, and to all of Palau for granting us a 12th day on this beautiful island.
Simone Burton, Oregon State University, Marine Biology major, Graduating June 2021
Katherine Healy, Oregon State University, Women and Gender Studies
Today we headed out to the state of Melekeok to see the largest lake in Micronesia! We met with some of the park rangers who were there to tell us about the creation of the park. In 1997 it was made the first terrestrial protected area in Palau.
Some of the land had received damage in World War 2 and burning from people in the local area is creating large savannahs that experience high amounts of erosion and sediment runoff. The state rangers are working to replant these areas to slow the rate of erosion.
Along the trail we stopped to find a carnivorous plant called the Sundew. It traps insects with a sticky sap that it produces.
The rangers allowed us to plant some trees in one of the areas where they are trying to reforest.
On their way out the PCC students noticed that one of their tires was flat. With the help of the park rangers they were able to get it fixed in no-time!
After Lake Ngardok we visited an area to snorkel but we discovered it was low tide during a new moon which was making the tide even lower than normal. We decided to do some Palauan tide pooling instead.
After the tide pools we went back to PCC to help build more segments for the roof for the traditional Bai.
Savannah Hesidence (Oregon State University, Marine Biology and Environmental Sciences major, Graduating Spring 2022)
The tenth day of the class began with a brief visit to the Coral Reef Research Foundation (CRRF) to listen to a presentation on the impacts of climate change on the islands of Palau by Dr. Pat Colin.
After the presentation, we headed to the Palau International Coral Reef Center where we hopped on a boat and went on a bumpy 30 minute ride to Jellyfish Lake.
Once we arrived at the lake, a bit beaten and battered from the boat ride, Gerda Ucharm, a research biologist for CRRF, gave us a brief overview of what we would see in the lake and the life cycle of their world famous jellyfish.
Once everyone was ready and had their snorkel gear on, we jumped in the water and were greeted by the most amazing scene we had ever seen.
Jellyfish are not, however, the only residents of the lake. There are also a few endemic species of fish and anemones, of which, three are pictured below.
After snorkeling Jellyfish Lake for about an hour, we went and had lunch on a nearby beach and then went for a short snorkel.
After we returned to dry land, we headed over to Palau Community College (PCC) where we learned how to weave palm fronds into pallets to be used on the roof of a traditional bai, or men’s meeting house. According to the president of PCC, they need approximately 2,000 pallets to cover the roof (I was only able to make two in an hour).
After working up a big appetite making pallets, we ended our evening at the Rock Island Cafe where we had pizza, pasta, burritos, and sundaes.
Dylan Heppell, Environmental Sciences, Class of 2022
As we start our time back in Koror, some of us are relieved for a mellower day (healing sunburns and staying mostly dry) indoors attending presentations by the Palau Conservation Society, the Palau Community College’s PAIR high school students, the Palau National Marine Sanctuary, and the Division of Marine Law Enforcement.
We arrived at the Palau Community College around 8:30am to listen to a couple of the PAIR high school students present their research and get some feedback before they leave to present in Washington DC at the National Institute of Health Conference. In preparation to hearing them, Chris Kitalong was happy to fill the time gap with personal history and research of his actions in Palau, with the college, and with his own experiences and research. He is a Palauan scientist whom leads the PAIR program and guides local youth to be involved and learn about their community from a science perspective.
After some technical difficulties, we were able to view the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle poster and learn briefly about some of the research on the effects it’s having here in Palau with the coconut trees. Quick description includes: The beetles have been found to be killing the coconut tree (a very resourceful plant here in Palau) in the Pacific islands, with Guam no longer having the tree and Hawaii losing it’s population quickly. Research shows that in the lower populated areas of the Palauan islands have less tree damage ,while the areas that clear vegetation for building have more tree damage due to having more downed trees for beetle reproduction areas. These CRBs (Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle) have been narrowed down to two types with one type being susceptible to a virus that kills them after injection and release back into the vegetation. The research is very important to preventing the future death of the coconut tree and Ya-Ya will be presenting this in Washington DC next week.
After our quick morning at PCC, we arranged to come back later in the afternoon to view the rest of the presentations and provide feedback. We hopped in the vans for a drive over to the Palau Conservation Society to meet with the executive director- Abolade (Bola) Majekobaje, project coordinator- Bernie Besebes, and John, the once Protected Areas Network Coordinator and law enforcement ranger and now legislator and PCS program coordinator.
They provided such fun and interpretive materials with their conservation work with the locals nationally. As well as explained some of their neat international partnerships working to improve and conserve Palau for future generations. Check out the video below for a fun way of seeing some of the successful projects come to life!
Pictured above is the Okeanos Sailboat in the port that some of the PCC students sailed on during their recent research of the Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle damage on southern islands. Be sure to check out the rad (once Australian Navy) boat the Marine Patrol now uses behind it!
Elsei Tellei with the Palau National Marine Sanctuary provided a wonderful presentation of the PNMS work within Palau and the Marine law enforcement. Covering the importance in topics such as the fisheries, food security, education, tourism, and even some of the fishing laws in place and ones that will soon take effect.
After an engaging discussion and view of the patrol boats and surveillance room with the PNMS folks, we headed back to PCC for more student presentations and possible Bai roof help work.
That just about wraps up our long day of classroom like sessions. Dinner, leftovers, and homework ends the evening splendidly. Jellyfish Lake tomorrow and we can’t wait for more snorkel adventures. Until next time.. 🙂
Destiny Pauls, Natural Resources- Conservation Law Enforcement, Class of Spring 2021
Today was our day off from regular class activities. The group split up and went to do various activities around Palau. Destiny, Dylan, and Scott went diving with Sam’s Tours; below are some of the photos taken on their dive trip.
After our first dive, we went to a beautiful secluded beach for lunch.
For our second dive, we visited Ngerchong Reef, a slow sloping reef still recovering from a typhoon that came through six years ago.
Once we were finished diving, we visited a few souvenir shops, got some coffee, and then ended the evening at burger shack.
The remaining members of the class spent the day visiting PCC, going souvenir shopping, swimming in a freshwater creek, and snorkeling near a reef. We started off the day at Palau’s community college in Koror to visit their rhinoceros beetle lab.
After the lab we wandered around Koror visiting local souvenir shops and eating at a local coffee shop. While at the coffee shop we happened to see Pia Mia, a famous singer from Guam. We then traveled to a swimming hole that is a favorite among Palauan high schoolers.
After the freshwater creek we decided to go snorkeling.
We ended in the evening at a local Vietnamese restaurant before returning home.
After a once in a lifetime experience staying in Ollei we have sadly come to the end of time with the Ebiil Society. The schedule for our last day consisted of looking for the Sea Cucumbers (Curryfish) we had tagged prior, and snorkeling through the mangroves. We set out across the sea grass at low tide this morning and after multiple transects found 21 total Curryfish, eight of which were tagged. We also found many crabs, jellyfish, as well as many different fish species, some of which are endemic to Palau.
After finishing the transects, unfortunately the tide was too low to snorkel in the mangroves; instead we ventured out past the sea grass to the reef for a snorkel. We encountered many different species of fish, clams, nudibranchs as well a Japanese plane that was shot down during World War II.
After returning back to camp, we enjoyed our last lunch at the Ebiil Society. It included the fish we had personally caught. We also had the opportunity to drink fresh coconuts. Saying goodbye to all the staff and teachers was emotional. We are so grateful for the time we were able to spend with them and for everything they taught us.
Starting the day with a morning boat trip to Ebiil Channel. Ebiil Channel is a marine protected site in the northern part of Palau established in 2000. It’s an important site for the spawning of Bumphead Parrotfish.
Picture below are some of the interesting animals we encountered on our snorkeling adventure
After lunch we headed to a local taro patch where we learned about its traditional significance. An elder of the village taught us about farming techniques and the importance of the keeping the tradition.
We put coconut oil onto our arms and legs to prevent irritation from the taro plants. While we were doing this, we talked about legends associated with the taro patches. One of the legends created a rule where if you forget something at the field, you do not return for it. This was created from a tale of a woman returning to the field for something she forgot and found the field had turned into a lake.
Some of the rules that are followed in the taro patch are that women are the only ones who take care of taro and that you are only allowed to walk in the irrigation path ways. It was believed that not walking in the water ways would curse you or curse the plants.
A traditional field has three different purposes. One part of the field was partitioned for the elder man of the family, one part was partitioned for customs which were funerals and first birth ceremonies, and one part of the field was partitioned for the community and those who didn’t have food.
We were listening to the elder, Ulang, seated on the right, about the history of the field. She said the field had been there since the beginning and that her mother planted in the field and her mother’s mother had planted in the field.
Junior Yalap ( Palau High School, Auto mechanic major, Graduating Spring 2021, Pacific Academic Institute for Research)
Savannah Hesidence (Oregon State University, Marine Biology and Environmental Sciences major, Graduating Spring 2022)
For our fifth day in Palau, we hopped on a boat and headed to the outside of Ebiil Channel. The group used bottom line fishing (a hook with bait attached to a line with weight, coiled around a spool, is dropped into the water until it reaches near the bottom).
With this tool, the group starting catching fish left and right! Tate, an OSU student, had a bite on the first drop of the day. The group caught 15 fish, but had to throw 3 back because of size limits and 2 groupers because they are not in season.
About an hour and a half in, rain started heavily pouring down. We quickly reeled in our hand lines and headed back to the Ollei port. The rain was so heavy that you could not see 10 feet in front of you, much less the islands that are supposed to guide fishermen back to port. The team did not lose motivation in the storm, however. Most of us were all smiles and singing songs.
After rounding up all the fish we had caught, Tino, captain of the boat, showed us how to measure each fish, differentiate between the males and females, and record the data.
Each student had a turn to scale the fish with fish scalers provided by the fishermen at the port. Starting at the tail, while holding the head, students remove the scales using the fish scaler to prepare it for eating.
After cleaning the fish, we sat down with the local fishermen elders (including Chief Rteruich Katsusi of Ollei) to discuss the issues the fishermen face today with the changes in tourism, culture, and everyday life.
In the evening, the Oregon State University students were invited to a celebration of the Todai (lighthouse) in the village of Ollei. The evening consisted of touring the remains of the lighthouse built by Palauans under control of the Japanese administration during World War II. The remains of the Todai showed bullet holes and had remnants of Japanese hand grenades within the foliage from when the Japanese fought the Americans during a battle.
We were then given a dinner of fish, clams, fruit (including dragonfruit), tapioca, and taro. The evening concluded when the local girls of Ollei performed a contemporary dance (the name for the traditional Palauan dance).
“Ng meral mle ungil a sils er kemam.” (Palauan for “We had a very good day!”)
Simone Burton (Oregon State University, Marine biology major, Graduating Spring 2021)
Raimunt Mesubed (Palau High School and Pacific Academic Institute of Research (PAIR))
Our second day at The Ebiil Society we had plans to go to a nearby island and learn about various animals and archaeological history. We met early to discuss and learn about the basics of calculating population density before departing from the local port to the Island of Ngerkeklau to perform transects on the eastern side of the island to determine the population densities of the Curryfish (Ngimes) and Lollyfish (Chouas). After 12 transects we calculated the results and determined there are approximately 0.85 Curryfish (Ngimes) per square meter and 0.12 Lollyfish (Chouas) per square meter. After the transects we took a short break for lunch.
Following lunch we alongside Palau Community College Students and the Pacific Academic Institute for Research had the chance to learn the methods of turtle monitoring and megapode nesting by Joshua Eberdong and Ann Singeo of The Ebiil Society.
We continued to hike along the Island and began to wind our way inland on trails made by the first inhabitants 800 years ago. We found old pieces of pottery and tools that they used as well as coral walls they had built.
The trails led around the island back to the summer house that we used as our home base for the day, we regrouped and packed up before getting back in the water to collect Curryfish for tagging and transport.
The group headed to the western side of the island and gathered Curryfish before departing back to Ollei for tagging and outplant near the local dock.
We tagged the Curryfish at the local dock to determine populations estimates and how long they stay in a certain location. Following the tagging of the Curryfish we took them to a set location just south of the local port, with that we came across the carcass of a sperm whale.
After we finished putting the Curryfish back we returned to The Ebiil Society to find our dinner being processed. Sam, Ann’s husband had caught a Yellow Fin Tuna and was cutting it into steaks. It made a delicious fish soup and tuna steaks. After a long yet successful day and a wonderful dinner we are looking forward to tomorrows adventure learning about fisheries in Palau.
The Ebiil Society adventures have begun! Today we had a whole day laid out for us with a tree planting project to seeking out a historic road for the people of Babeldaob to cooling off in the Mesekelat waterfall.
Most of us were awake and ready to start the day around 7am and prepared our breakfast soon after with things such as toast, bananas, ramen, boiled eggs, fish, and cereal. After promptly filling our bellies, around 8am we began by loading up the truck with 82 trees, such as Btaches, Kisaks, and Miich to help the society with a reforestation project in an eroded site in Ngermchau Bai, Ngiwal. While driving the route to the site, part of our group stopped to collect lemongrass to plant at the site to help assist in preventing future erosion.
After Ann gave us a brief history of the area, we got down and dirty. Literally. Ilima, El, and Surech guided us with the osib in digging a trench and hole to show us how to plant the way they would prefer. After the example, we pitched in and got started. Several of us learned how to properly plant the lemongrass in the trenches to help protect the newly planted and tagged trees. We only tagged a sample of the trees planted to watch their succession over time. Bryan and Scott helped us by cutting the wires with the single multi-use wire cutter that we also used for the clamping part of the tagging. This timely process, El took down the tree info and tag number to keep record of the area.
With the help of the Ngiwal youth and their leaders we were all able to work on an eroded hillside to dig holes, plant the trees and lemongrass, and properly tag and record info for the Ebiil Society’s project. While the ground wasn’t the best, we worked our way with the red acidic clay and gravel with lots of tender loving care. We planted, patted, and gave these little guys all the love and hope we could manage.
By this time we were famished, dirty, and ready for lunch and a cool down. Ann took us to Mesekelat waterfall and we ate under shade at the trail head. No photos of our delicious lunch were taken as we were too busy scarfing down our chicken sandwiches, banana fries, and grapes. But do not fret our journey to and from the waterfall was documented quite well!
As we ventured down the steps and path to the old Babeldaob road, which is about a few thousand years old, Ann told us about some of the road’s history. We got to see some of the caves that the Palauans took cover in during airstrike attacks, as well as some remains of the Japanese agriculture carts. We identified a few endemic trees of Palau along the road. The road was recently opened and cleared for passage and some of the water crossing were a bit sketchy.
At last we made it to our destination of cool, sparkling waters. Upon promptly rushing down the steps, we were all in the water within minutes. Exploration and relaxation at it’s finest happened at the Mesekelat waterfall. We spent a good chunk of time here, cooling down and washing off the dirt from our hard work this morning.
On the way back to the Ebiil Society we came across a fire along the road, Ann went to investigate and there was a man claiming to watch it carefully. Fires are illegal in protected areas but this may have been private property.
Dinner was just what we all needed after a long day. It consisted of mashed banana with coconut and coconut glaze, rice, grilled tuna, poke, papaya, mango, kangkum salad, kool aid, and water. We happened to briefly catch the sunset during the feast and it was extravagant! After dinner, Ulang and Osu joined us for a story and Q&A session. We learned about the women’s fisheries and sea turtle issues in this area. Whew! What a day, looking forward to another full day tomorrow!
Destiny Pauls, Natural Resources- Conservation Law Enforcement, Graduating Spring of 2021.
Jose Thomas, Liberal Arts, Graduating Summer of 2020.
Today we transitioned from Koror to Ngarchelong, home to the Ebiil Society. During travel we stopped to examine the four ecological services Palau’s natural environment offer: cultural, provisioning, regulating, and supporting. In the photo below we are discussing Palau’s swamp forests which prevent soil erosion, slow down the movement of freshwater to the ocean, help shelter the island from storms, and provide habitat.
On our hike down to the Ngardmau Waterfall we saw a variety of flora and fauna, including pitcher plants and small frogs.
Hiking down the Ngardmau Falls we were met with red volcanic soil, about 650 stairs, and a beautiful, wet walk through the rain forest.
Bryan and Scott, faculty leads for the program, got especially wet when adventuring through the waterfall.
After arriving at Ebiil Society, touring the facilities, and walking down the pier we encountered many creatures including mud skippers, fiddler crabs, and a juvenile shark.
At the end of the day, before an awesome dinner of rice, taro, fish, papaya salad, fruit, and taro elang, we hiked to an old Japanese lighthouse and watched the sunset. A great ending to a full day!
Sofia Baum, Business Administration and Sustainability, Graduating Spring 2020.
Dylan Heppell, Environmental Sciences, Graduating Spring 2022.
For the next two weeks this blog will detail the learning
adventures of Oregon State University’s FW391 students in Palau! This class is
designed to explore natural resources on small islands and how both communities
and ecosystems can be resilient with appropriate management approaches. In
addition to the seven students from OSU, we have four Palauan students joining
us from Palau Community College and three more from a local high school. This
mixing of students provides great opportunities for peer-to-peer student
learning, and sharing our learning with the Palauan students -who have a great
wealth of cultural and ecological knowledge about their country, will
contribute greatly to the richness of the class. We will also be joined by Dr.
Chris Kitalong, a Palauan scientist at PCC.
Each day two students will post a narrative of our
adventures, talk about what they’ve learned, and share videos and photos to
round it all out. For our first blog, Bryan Endress, who organized the course,
and Scott Heppell, who is a co-instructor, are taking on the task. So let’s get
Most students arrived a day or two before class to take advantage of the amazing recreational opportunities that Palau has to offer, including world-class scuba diving. Here’s Dylan Heppell, Simone Burton, and Destiny Pauls getting up close and personal with some of the underwater denizens of Palau’s amazing coral reefs:
Our first official day of class was great, too! Our goals
for today were to get students thinking about Palau, its natural resources, and
its culture. First of all, who doesn’t love a syllabus review to start the day?
Following that rousing activity, we visited the Belau National Museum, where we learned about the several thousand-year history of the islands, some of the important cultural features of Palauan society, and a bit about Palau’s recent efforts in conservation. Having the Palauan students along was a fantastic way for the OSU kids to learn more about the various topics than what could be read on the placards. Outside was a traditional Bai, a meeting house for chiefs in the community.
After a quick break for lunch we were headed off for our
afternoon activity -a visit to the Aquarium followed by afternoon snorkeling to
round out the day.
And every day in Palau ends with a fantastic sunset…
It was a great way to start the class, and it’s just the
start of what will hopefully be an amazing two weeks. So please follow along!