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A Skillful Approach to Kayangel, Palau

Island Conservation Project Manager Tommy Hall invites you into the tropical, day-to-day fieldwork on Kayangel, Palau.

By: Tommy Hall

The only way to get to Kayangel is by boat, that is, unless you have a helicopter waiting for you on the mainland of Palau. In this region travel plans are at the mercy of the weather and sea conditions. We had to delay our trip to the atoll several days due to a large tropical storm moving to the northwest of Palau and bringing monsoon rains, winds, and hazardous sea conditions. When the red warning flags were taken down the significant wave height was only 6 to 8 feet and we are ready to go.

Exiting the main reef to the north of Babeldoab, (the main island of Palau) is a rush. Our boat captain expertly navigates the narrow winding channel (gap in the reef) up and over the breaking waves and out onto the open ocean. A couple of very clean, nice looking waves with almond shaped barrels grind along the reef towards the channel. I make a mental note to ask around about the potential for surfing these reef passes.

Once on the open ocean we can clearly see the island of Kayangel. The silhouettes of palm trees bob in and out of view as we roll over the swells. Only about 70 people live here, and all on Kayangel Island–the other three islands are uninhabited.

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The restoration team approaching Kayangel. Credit: Tommy Hall/Island Conservation

In order to get on land, we have to get into the surrounding lagoon first. This means going through another channel in the reef. Our captain proves his skill once again, this time surfing the boat on a breaking wave and into the lagoon like a pro. Once inside the protective reef it’s full throttle, accelerating the boat across the lagoon and skipping across the bright iridescent blue water, which is almost glowing against the grey sky.

Once inside the protective reef it’s full throttle, accelerating the boat across the lagoon and skipping across the bright iridescent blue water, which is almost glowing against the grey sky.

You’re probably thinking we must have a really good reason to be traveling to this far-flung tiny atoll of the Pacific. Indeed, we’re here to make some more progress on the planned restoration project for Kayangel. The project, which is to remove invasive rats, will protect many of the native species of fauna that call Kayangel home. The project will also support crop production and improve food security for the people who call Kayangel home.

One of the most important and rewarding aspects of this effort is working closely with the community; this is, after all, their project and their home. During this visit we are going around house to house to talk to as many people as we can about the project. While we’re here we will also be working through some of our strategies for the project, including managing food waste on the island, data collection and management, and figuring out how to coordinate the massive amount of work that will be involved to prepare the island for the project. One of the questions we have been asking the community is if they would like to be involved in the project, and the answer is overwhelmingly yes! The locals are clearly excited about the prospect of a rat-free island.

One of the most important and rewarding aspects of this effort is working closely with the community; this is, after all, their project and their home.

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Kayangel Locals. Credit: Tommy Hall/Island Conservation

We arrive at the long concrete pier on the largest and only inhabited island on the atoll. As we approach land we can see the damage from the storm to the trees that line the beach. Once we make it on land it becomes clear that the entire community is working together to clean up from the storm. The children are laughing loudly as they rake up leaves and clean debris from the narrow dirt roads. There are trees down all over the island and everywhere I look I find huge bunches of bananas that have been cut from the fallen banana trees and hung up to ripen. On the neighboring island a small fishing boat has been smashed onto the beach, apparently no longer seaworthy. The storm has taken a toll on the island, but it seems only to have strengthened the community’s sense of solidarity.

To be continued…

Read Part 2: Nocturnal Fieldwork & Crocodile Hunting in Palau
Read Part 3: Through the Vines and Trees of Kayangel, Palau

Featured photo: Approaching Kayangel. Credit: Tommy Hall/Island Conservation

About Tommy Hall

Tommy earned his BS in biology from California Polytechnic, San Luis Obispo, where he worked on a variety of biology and ecology projects. Traveling with his father in the mountains of California and around the world served as the catalyst for igniting Tommy’s passion for preserving the beauty of natural ecosystems. As an avid outdoorsman, Tommy enjoys fishing, hunting, surfing, and backcountry snowboarding.

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