Palau is an independent republic island nation with a population of about 20,500. The islands of Palau are made from limestone corals that were lifted out of the Philippine Sea and have been etched around the edges by the ocean. Of some 300 islands, only nine are inhabited. A beautiful gem, Palau has a delicate ecosystem that must be carefully studied and protected as the people develop the land. The Palau national government has ratified both a population policy and a sustainable development policy.
Enter Monty Hempel, Ph.D. - Hedco Professor of Environmental Studies and
Director, Center for Environmental Studies, University of Redlands (Pandabonium's alma mater) in southern California. Professor Hempel has been an advisor to the government of Palau for some years now. Every year, he takes a group of ten students with him to study the issues faced by Palau as it tries to insure a sustainable future. He has been kind enough to send me the pictures that follow of this year's expedition so that I can share them with you.
The students learned firsthand about coral reef ecology, snorkeling or diving most of the day, and also kayaked through the Rock Islands.
One night he took them to a marine lake and told them to jump in. The water was full of bioluminescent organisms which light up when disturbed, giving off a bright glow. I remember experiencing that in the Gulf of California with bioluminescent plankton. It seemed magical. Another marine lake they dove into was full of millions of jellyfish, but not to worry: they have evolved to become stingless. Unlike the tiny one that gave Pandabonium a mild sting on his toe at Kashimanada Beach this week.
Through these experiences, the course tries to impart to students the understanding that everything is connected. They learn about the effects of development, climate changes, pollution, and over-fishing on Palau's resources.
It all looks like great fun, and I am sure everyone enjoyed themselves. But it was also valuable first hand experience which can be applied to the serious work of preserving Palau for the future generations who will live there as well as the visitors who come to see its beauty. Thank you, Professor Hempel.
Want to see more of Palau? Check out the Palau Visitors Authority website.