Coral Reefs of Palau: Marine Environment, Ecology and Management

Seminar Quick Facts

Location: Koror, Palau

Faculty Leaders
Robert Dunbar, Earth System Science 
Stephen Monismith, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Bob Richmond (U. Hawaii)

BOSP Special Programs Coordinator: Morgan Kapinos

Arrival date in Koror, Palau: June 21, 2019

Departure date from Koror, Palau: July 11, 2019

Information Session: Watch Information Session

Academic Prerequisites
Students must complete a 5-week, 1-unit preparatory seminar during the first half of Spring Quarter 2018-19. The course will tentatively meet from 3:30pm - 5pm on the following Thursday afternoons: April 4, 11, 18, 25 and May 2 (location TBD). Students that are off-campus during Spring Quarter should make a plan with the faculty to complete the course remotely.

Additional Program Requirements
1) Vaden Travel Health Orientation
1x1 Appointment with Vaden Travel Clinic
Swim Test - Students participating on programs involving a water-based activity will be required to pass a swim test prior to program departure. The Swim Test will consist of the following: tread water for 10 minutes, swim 100 yards and retrieve a 10 lb brick from the bottom of the pool. 
4) Ground Rules - In order to optimize safety during the program, students will be required to agree to and sign Ground Rules that may restrict behavior throughout the program. These Ground Rules are in addition to the BOSP Participation and Assumption of Risk, Release of Claims, Indemnification and Hold Harmless Agreement that all students sign and agree to at the time of program application. Students’ parents/families will also need to sign these Ground Rules to confirm that they acknowledge the specific dangers of travel to the program location.

Activity Level
Moderate/Strenuous: Participants should expect to spend multiple hours engaging in physical activity such as hiking or snorkeling. Some days might require more physical activity such as a full day of snorkeling or hiking on steep terrain. For a full list of program activity levels refer to the Overview page.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Health Information for Travelers to Palau

US State Department Country Information

Visa Information
Consulate General of Palau

General Information: Visit the Overseas Seminars/Faculty-Initiated Programs Overview page

Application Deadline: October 28, 2018

See these Stanford News Service stories and Videos from the 2017 BOSP Overseas Seminar in Palau:

General Description

This Bing Overseas Seminar is designed to teach students about coral reef ecology, biogeography, and physics with a view towards understanding modern threats to coral reefs as well as management and policy issues in the western Pacific. Coral reefs are often 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 impacts 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, management of coral reefs for conservation as well as productivity, is the focal point for many research programs, including here at Stanford. It is also an effective and exciting 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 environment science, as well as how science-based solutions and policy intersect to address global problems.

The seminar includes engagement with local Palauan students from the Palau Community College as well as many talented staff members from our host facility, the Palau International Coral Reef Center. These students and staff will bring local knowledge on reef uses and the role of reefs in traditional culture that will help Stanford students more deeply understand 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 quantitative observational field skills needed for measuring biological, physical, and chemical changes of a coral reef -- 2019 observations will build on observations made and analyzed by our 2013, 2015, and 2017 classes.
  3. Understand the nature of threats to Pacific coral reefs 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 exercise in 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 are introduced to coral reefs of Palau through a snorkel trip/water safety checkout swim during the first full course day on site. Twelve 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 discussions as well as 6 full days of and student-designed small group research projects. Projects will be observational or experimental and will be supported with modern scientific sampling gear made available by the course instructors specifically for this course. All projects will be hypothesis driven and implemented through small group project-based learning techniques. One exciting element of this course is the work at the intersection of science, policy, and culture. Students will begin a dialogue with at least two Palauan coral reef managers on the first day of the course. This is followed by a discussion with reef managers from the Palauan government as well as local NGOs such as the Nature Conservancy. Since President Remengesau is currently implementing a ban on all foreign commercial fishing with Palauan waters there is great interest in the impact of this step on coral reef health. We will set up at least one meeting between our students and President Remengesau to discuss the intent of the ban as well as its impacts (both expected and unanticipated). At the end of the course, all students will give 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 reef 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 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 day trips in and around Koror, Babeldaob Island, the Rock Islands preserve.

Palau enjoys a pleasantly warm climate all year with an annual mean temperature of 82 degrees Farenheit (27 degrees Celsius). 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 resident 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, a result of intermarriage between settlers and Palauans in the 19th and 20th centuries. Palauans with mixed Japanese ancestry accounted for the largest group, and some also have Chinese or Korean ancestry. Non-citizen Filipinos form the second largest ethnic group residing in Palau.

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 Travel Conditions

Students will share a dormitory-style room or equivalent through 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 email access is widely available in Palau including at PICRC and in the students housing unit. In addition, the Palau National Communications Corporation provides numerous WiFi Hotspots. Customers can access a PNCC WiFi Hotspot with a Prepaid Internet Card or a regular PalauNet dial-up subscription using a laptop computer, netbook, iTouch or other device with WiFi capability.

Dinners will be prepared by local staff at a restaurant. Lunches will be served deli-style either in the field or at PICRC. 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.


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 sunburn. All students must carry adequate sunscreen and drinking water during the seminar. Possible marine hazards include sharks and stinging sea creatures.

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


Rob Dunbar ( is the W. M. Keck Professor of Earth Sciences and a faculty member within the department of Earth System Science at Stanford. Dunbar has held a Bass Undergraduate Teaching Fellowship for 13 years at Stanford (originally appointed as the Weintz Fellow in Undergraduate Education for 10 years). He directed the Stanford Earth Systems Program for 9 years and co-founded Stanford’s Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources which he led as Director for 4 years. Dunbar is interested in global climate change, and in particular how to separate man-induced climate changes 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. Dunbar is particularly intrigued with teaching in the field and has taken over 400 Stanford students to remote locations such as Antarctica, Palau, Alaska, Patagonia, the Line Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, and Raratonga to participate in educational and research expeditions. His research group focuses on using isotopic and biogeochemical methods for measuring ocean processes and climate change 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. This is his 6th Bing Overseas Seminar offering.

Steve Monismith( is the Obayashi Professor in Marine Sciences. 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/.

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 parts 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 skills evaluated by Stanford Recreation. The swim test will consist of the following: treat water for 10 minutes, swim 100 yards and retrieve a 10lb brick from the bottom of the pool.

A small group (2 to 3 individuals working together with significant guidance from faculty and TAs) 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 the Spring quarter, 2019.

Students must complete a 5-week, 1-unit preparatory seminar during the first half of Spring Quarter 2018-19. The course will tentatively meet from 3:30pm - 5pm on the following Thursday afternoons: April 4, 11, 18, 25 and May 2 (location TBD). Students that are off-campus during Spring Quarter should make a plan with the faculty to complete the course remotely.

Application Process

Decisions will be based on application materials. There are no interviews. The seminar capacity is 15 students.

Grading Basis

Letter grade

Passport and Visa

Students are solely responsible for obtaining their passport and visa (if applicable). 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 please visit the State Department website.

To determine whether a visa is necessary for your program, visit the Consulate General of Palau website. You may also consult with the recommended visa service providers listed below.

VisaCentral by CIBT

VisaCentral by CIBT offers online Stanford rates, or contact the local office:

In person: 555 Montgomery St. Suite 700, San Francisco, CA 94111
Walk-in hours: 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
By phone: (877) 535-0688

VisaBy Casto for Stanford Travel Program

VisaBy Casto offers special rates for Stanford online, or through the local office:

Address: 2560 North First Street, Suite 150, San Jose, CA 95131
By phone: (408) 553-4735
By email:

Health and Safety

Students on international programs should be aware that attitudes toward medical conditions, disabilities, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression 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 clinician.

While the benefits of international travel can be enormous, it is often associated with certain health and safety risks. Thankfully, a number of interventions exist to mitigate these risks including vaccines, use of certain medications, and specific behavior changes. Health concerns vary by the particular destination, time of year, the health of the individual, type of accommodations, length of stay and specific activities. Participants should be up to date on all their regular immunizations, check the CDC website for vaccinations and immunizations. In addition, specific travel vaccines such as typhoid, yellow fever, or rabies vaccines may be indicated. Various types of medication may also be needed to prevent life-threatening malaria or altitude illness; or to treat traveler’s diarrhea. Finally, students should learn and utilize insect precautions, food and water precautions, and general safety precautions. These can prevent illnesses such as dengue fever, schistosomiasis, HIV; or accidents such as those involving motor vehicles. In spite of all the precautions, occasionally students do become ill or sustain an injury while traveling. Thankfully, most of these are minor. However, it is critical that students have a clear plan of care in case of an emergency on their trip. The travel clinic at the Vaden Health Center has produced an online travel health module that provides comprehensive strategies to help you stay safe and healthy while traveling.

Students must review the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website for complete information regarding the health concerns and vaccine recommendations specific to Palau. Students must also discuss with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic or a travel health specialist about the best ways to protect their health.

There will also be a mandatory Palau Health Orientation in February and all students will also be required to make an appointment with the on-campus Vaden Health Center Travel Clinic by March 1, 2019 to discuss any health concerns, pre-departure immunizations, and any personal prescriptions before going abroad.

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

As with any foreign travel, students are advised to be alert to their surroundings, and be particularly aware of any health and safety advisories for the area in which they will be visiting. Students should consult with their health care provider(s) to be prepared for potential illness. Additional issues of personal health and safety and precautions will be discussed in detail during the mandatory pre-seminar preparation and upon arriving in the country.

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

Program Modification and Cancelation

Stanford reserves the right to cancel or modify the Program before or during its operation for any reason, including natural disasters, emergencies, low enrollment, unavailability of facilities or personnel, or compliance with the University travel policy at