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Program Locations

Overseas Seminars - Palau


Corals of Palau: Ecology, the Physical Environment, and Reefs at Risk
Study in Palau with Rob Dunbar and Steve Monismith

Arrival Date in Koror: June 24, 2013
Departure Date from Koror, July 13, 2013

Information Session: Wednesday, October 10, 5:15 - 6:15pm

@Y2E2 Room 105


The seminar is designed to teach students about coral reef ecology, biogeochemistry, and physics with a view towards developing a science-based understanding of modern threats to coral reefs as well as management issues throughout the western Pacific. Coral reefs have been called the “canary in the coal mine” of the coastal marine environment due to their sensitivity to a suite of anthropogenic impacts, including overfishing, pollution, acidification, and climate change. According to the recent “Reefs at Risk Revisited” report, overfishing and destructive fishing practices affect 55% of reefs globally, and coastal development and watershed-based pollution each impact about 25% of reefs. Warming temperatures, changing ocean chemistry, and increased climatic variability, already affecting reefs in many areas, are projected to cause unprecedented future losses. Without conservation and management interventions in the near future, we risk the loss of one of the most vibrant, diverse, and important marine ecosystems. This topic, “Reefs at Risk”, is currently the focal point for many research programs. Yet it is also an effective and exciting rallying theme for building an interdisciplinary field course designed to teach students about the basic sciences of ecology, chemistry, and physics from the standpoint of marine environmental science, as well as how science-based solutions can address global problems.

The seminar also puts our students in touch with several local Palauan students for both academic and cultural interactions. These students will bring local knowledge on reef uses and the role of reefs in traditional culture that will help our students to deeply identify with current issues in environmental monitoring and management.

Fundamental learning goals include:

  1. Acquisition of a field-based understanding of the complex array of organisms, structures, and physical and biological processes that constitute a healthy coral reef system.
  2. Develop observation and quantitative field skills needed for measuring biological, physical, and chemical time series changes on a coral reef – with a focus on diel and tidal timescales.
  3. Understand the nature of threats to coral reefs worldwide as well as additive effects and pathways by which reefs are stressed
  4. Develop the capacity to understand, analyze, and compare a variety of proposed policy and management solutions as an entry into systems analysis and Earth Systems type thinking.
This is a field-based seminar with extensive field work components on small boats and/or in the water. Students will be directly introduced the corals and reef environment of Palau through a snorkel trip/water safety checkout swim during the first full course day on site. Nine additional field days are interspersed with classroom and lab lectures at the Palau International Coral Reef Center (PICRC). Field excursions include training and on-site discussion experiences as well as 5 full days of mission-driven student designed small group research projects. Projects will be observational or experimental (or both) and will be supported with modern scientific sampling gear made available specifically for this course. All projects will be hypothesis driven and implemented through small group project–based learning techniques. One exciting element of this new course is the work at the intersection of science, policy, and management. Students will begin a dialog with at least two local coral reef managers on the first day of the course. This is followed by a panel discussion with reef managers on course day 8 and later with meetings at the offices of local government officials responsible for the conservation of Palau’s marine resources. At the  end of the course, all students, including the Palauan participants, will contribute an oral presentation of their research results and participate in a group discussion about what has been learned and how this might be applied to coral reef management, both locally and at other reef sites.

Palau is located within the “coral triangle”, a global hotspot in terms of biodiversity. Palau’s reefs are considered one of the “7 underwater wonders of the world” with >350 species of stony coral and more than 1300 species of reef fish (with a high level of endemism). Palau’s biodiversity has been formally assessed as part of the implementation of an innovative Protected Area Network (PAN) system. The reefs are unusually accessible to visitors given the nation’s geography, standard of living, and the generally benign ocean environment. Our housing and local support facilities are all located in Koror, the principal city of Palau, located about 20 km SW of Ngerulmud, the nation’s capital. We will utilize the classroom and labs provided by Palau International Coral Reef Center ( as well as a variety of small to medium size boats for days trips in and around Koror, Babeldaob Island, and the Rock Islands preserve.

Palau enjoys a pleasantly warm climate all year round with an annual mean temperature of 82° degrees F. (27° C.). Rainfall can occur throughout the year, and the annual average is 150 inches. The average relative humidity is 82%, and although rain falls more frequently between July and October, there is still much sunshine.

The population of Palau is approximately 21,000, of whom 70% are native Palauans, who are of mixed Melanesian, Micronesian, and Austronesian descent. Many Palauans also have some Asian ancestry, which is the result of intermarriage between settlers and Palauans between the 19th and 20th centuries. Palauans with mixed Japanese ancestry accounted for the largest group, and some also had some Chinese or Korean ancestry. Filipinos form the second largest ethnic group.

The official languages of Palau are Palauan and English, except for two states (Sonsorol and Hatohobei) where the local language, along with Palauan, is official. Japanese is also spoken widely amongst older Palauans, and is an official language in the State of Angaur. Tagalog is not official in Palau, but it is the fourth largest spoken language.


Living and Traveling Conditions
Students will share a dormitory-style room or equivalent throughout the seminar. Students should be prepared to sleep in bunk beds and share a common bathroom and have less privacy and personal space than they may be used to on the home campus. This seminar is strenuous. Students should expect to spend about 9 or 10 hours out in the field during which they may be in the water for up to 6 hours/day. Students must be able to swim and snorkel competently and safely for prolonged periods of time.

Internet and E-mail access is widely available in Palau although it may not be available in the student housing unit. Nevertheless, there are several Internet Cafes in downtown Koror that provide Internet and e-mail access. In addition, the Palau National Communications Corporation provides numerous Wi-Fi Hotspots. Customers can access a PNCC Wi-Fi Hotspot with a Prepaid Internet Card or a regular PalauNet dial-up subscription using a laptop computer, netbook, ITouch or other device with Wi-Fi capability.

Dinners will be prepared by local staff at the student housing unit. Lunches will be served deli style either in the field or at PCRC. Breakfasts will be a simple self-serve affair at the housing unit. Dietary selections may be limited so students with severe restrictions should carefully evaluate their ability to participate comfortably.


Rob Dunbar ( is the W.M. Keck Professor of Earth Sciences and a faculty member within the department of Environmental Earth System Science at Stanford. He directed the Stanford Earth Systems Program for 9 years and co-founded Stanford’s Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources. Dunbar is interested in global climate change, and in particular how to separate man-induced climate change from the large and dynamic variability that is simply part of how our planet works. He teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses in climate and global change, geochemistry, oceanography, marine geology, and paleoclimatology. Prof. Dunbar is particularly intrigued with teaching in the field and has taken over 250 Stanford students to remote locations such as Antarctica and the Line Islands to participate in educational and research expeditions. His research group focuses on using isotopic and biogeochemical methods for measuring ocean temperatures at the poles, tropics, and within the deep ocean interior. Current field areas include the American Samoa, Antarctica, the Line Islands, Easter Island, Chile, Patagonian Argentina, Tierra del Fuego, and Palau.

Steve Monismith ( is the Obayashi Professor in Marine Sciences and Chair of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford. Prof. Monismith received his Ph.D. at the University of California at Berkeley in Engineering. He and his lab group study flows in lakes, estuaries, and the coastal ocean. Current projects include field and computational work on wave-driven flows over coral reefs, transport in a small estuary/wetland complex, wind-waves in shallow estuaries, benthic grazing on coral reefs and in estuaries, internal waves and mixing in the Florida Keys, circulation and zooplankton retention in the St. Lawrence estuary, mixed layer dynamics and circulation in the Gulf of Aqaba, as well as lab and computational studies of flows through coral colonies and kelp forests. He especially values field sites that are attractive (e.g., have good diving prospects) and have good restaurants. He is also involved with various scientific panels focusing on the San Francisco Bay/Delta including the IEP Science advisor group (which he chairs) and various CALFED advisory panels and groups.


Enrollment Capacity
13 undergraduate students.


Prerequisites and Expectations
This seminar is intended for students with some background in the sciences, although not necessarily advanced knowledge. Since swimming and snorkeling are required part of the seminar activities and would also be needed in an emergency, the ability to swim and snorkel competently for an extended period is a requirement to participate in the seminar. All accepted and waitlisted students must have their swimming and snorkeling skills evaluated and confirmed by the faculty leaders during a mandatory course orientation meeting in the Winter Quarter, 2013. If accepted to or waitlisted for this seminar, all students will be required to pass a swimming proficiency test. Students are expected to bring their own dive skins, mask, snorkel and fins to the orientation session as well as to Palau.

A small group (2 to 3 individuals working together with significant guidance from faculty and TA’s) research project involving field and lab work will comprise a significant portion of the course. Students must be able to work productively, efficiently, and congenially in a small group setting. The scope of the projects as well as examples will be discussed during a second mandatory orientation session to be held during April, 2013.


Grading Basis
Letter grade.


Passport and Visa
Students are solely responsible for obtaining their passport and visa. Every BOSP participant MUST have a signed passport that is valid for at least 6 months after the scheduled RETURN date from the overseas program. Students who do not have a valid passport must apply for a new or renewed passport immediately. For information on obtaining or renewing a U.S. passport see To expedite your passport processing, click on the following link and go to the appropriate tab:
For visa information for this specific seminar, please click on the link below and go to the appropriate tab:


Health and Safety
Students on international programs should be aware that attitudes toward medical conditions, disabilities, and psychological conditions vary by culture and under the laws of the host countries. These differences impact the level of treatment and accommodation available abroad. Students should give serious consideration to their health and personal circumstances when accepting a place in a program and should consult with their physicians.

Students must be aware that certain immunizations are required to protect their health in Palau. Students must review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website for complete information on health conditions and vaccinations in Palau at Students must also consult the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic ( Students are expected to make an appointment with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic as soon as they are accepted to the program at (650) 498-2336 ext. 1 to discuss any health concerns, pre-departure immunizations and any personal prescriptions before going abroad.


Students must review the U.S. State Department’s consular information website for complete information on safety and security in Palau at


While overseas, students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the areas in which they will be visiting. As with any foreign travel, emphasis will be placed on staying away from questionable situations, avoiding injury, and preventing infectious disease. Students will be expected to travel in groups, avoid travel at night, and stay with the group unless prior approval is obtained. Additional issues of personal health and safety and precautions will be discussed in detail during the mandatory pre-seminar preparation and upon arriving in country.


Other Considerations

Comprehensive training on water safety will be provided to students during the mandatory orientation sessions and also immediately prior to any water activities once we arrive onsite in Palau. We will employ a buddy system at all times during our field activities.

Palau is generally a safe country to visit.  But as with any place in the world today, common sense must always be used. Pedestrians should be careful, as sidewalks are limited even in downtown Koror.

Hazards to participants in this seminar include exposure to the sun, heat, and a variety of marine organisms. Constant vigilance is required to avoid sun burn. All students must carry adequate sunscreen and drinking water during the seminar. Possible marine hazards include sharks and saltwater crocodiles.

If you are uncomfortable traveling under such conditions, you should not apply to this seminar.