May Term 2013
Dr. Monty Hempel-:
Lewis Hall #104
Palau is a young nation (1994) on the western edge of Micronesia, composed of more than 340 islands that stretch across a 93-
mile-long by ~12-mile-wide archipelago. It is located approximately 550 miles east of the Philippines. Only 8 of the islands are
permanently inhabited. A few show signs of human habitation for over 3,000 years.
Palau is home to a combined population of less than 20,000 people. Prior to contact with European missionaries and traders in the
late 18th century, Palau was an isolated paradise with an elaborate system of self-sufficient villages and regional alliances.
The dazzling coral reefs and idyllic island settings of the archipelago have made it one of the most exotic and photogenic places on
the planet. The Rock Islands, the most famous of Palau’s scenic treasures, resemble giant gumdrops made of limestone. Palau’s
lagoon and outer coral walls are properly regarded by divers and snorkelers as one of the underwater wonders of the world.
Environmental and Cultural Concerns
Like other modern Edens accessible by plane and ship, Palau faces potentially large threats to its environment and way of life.
Many of these threats are also opportunities, in the form of expanded tourism and development. The concern is how to promote
economic vitality without adding to problems of deforestation, toxic pollution, sewage, sediment runoff, invasive species, and other
challenges associated with modernization. Fortunately, many of Palau’s residents are trying to protect their resources and eco-
friendly way of life. They know that the ecological and cultural wealth of their islands is imperiled by reckless forms of growth.
This expedition combines the study of Palau's marine ecology and natural history, its clan-based system of social organization, and
its efforts to achieve sustainable forms of development. Students will participate in a series of interviews with traditional chiefs,
high government officials, and Palauan conservation and natural resource experts. During our stay of approximately 19 days in
Palau, students will reside on two very different islands and explore more than a dozen others. In addition to hiking, kayaking, and
swimming, students will participate in a variety of underwater activities, either as snorkelers or as SCUBA divers.
Following orientation in Redlands, we will fly to Palau, via Hawaii and Guam. The first few days in Palau will be spent in the
main city/island of Koror learning about Palauan society and the country's economy and conservation challenges. We will then
travel to Babeldaob, Palau’s largest island, for an overview of jungle, village life, ancient ruins, and hikes to waterfalls. During the
first week we will embark on a kayak expedition through the famed Rock Islands, exploring unique marine lakes, dry caves,
jungle, and coral reefs -- all within the calm waters of the lagoon. Students will visit Jellyfish Lake to snorkel amidst thousands of
stingless jellyfish. One week will be spent on Peleliu for the purpose of experiencing traditional island life and exploring the
incredible coral reef ecosystems offshore. Boat trips will take us to nearly a dozen nearby reefs and islands for snorkeling and
SCUBA diving (divers must be certified and receive approval to dive from Dr. Hempel). During this period, students will be
housed in 2- or 3-person bungalows on the edge of a lagoon (each with indoor showers and toilets). An optional assignment for
the course will be to organize ourselves as a film production team to prepare a 10-minute documentary video examining a specific
sustainable development issue that affects this coral Eden. A written essay analyzing the sustainability challenges facing Palau will
be required at the end of the course. Grading will be based on both field activities (60%) and the written essay (40%).
Student Selection Criteria
Only 10 students will be permitted to enroll in this travel course. Preference will be given to students who have a strong interest in
learning about sustainability and ocean-related environmental issues, as well as relevant coursework, experience, and passion for
integrating knowledge about social and natural systems. They must be content to be adventure travelers, NOT tourists. Seniors
qualify for special consideration. All participants must be physically fit and comfortable in a wide range of tropical forest and
ocean conditions. Everyone must be strong swimmers and comfortable around marine life. Divers must be certified, safety
conscious, and experienced in open water conditions. Each participant may have to cope at times with social and cultural
differences, last-minute changes in schedule, and high heat and humidity. Flexibility, adaptability, and a cheerful attitude are a
must! Living conditions and food will sometimes be basic. Each participant must welcome outdoor adventure and place-based
learning, and show deep respect for wilderness and for other cultures. If your interest is in sun tanning, shopping, or drinking beer
on the beach, do not apply!
Estimated cost per student is $3,700 and includes roundtrip airfare, transfers, lodging, meals, boats and kayaks, captains and
guides, ground transportation, tours, and snorkeling. An additional fee for SCUBA diving will be collected in Palau ($75 per dive
day, which includes 2 boat dives, rental tanks, weights, regulator & backup octopus, buoyancy compensator, gauges, and airfills).