Press Release

Local and International Scientists Embark on Ambitious Study of Palau’s Underwater Ecosystem

National Geographic Pristine Seas returns to Palau with new scientific tools to contribute to an enhanced understanding of Palau’s marine environment and empower the next generation of ocean stewards through science education

Photo by Enric Sala, National Geographic

Photograph by Photo by Enric Sala, National Geographic

Koror, Palau (February 2, 2024)—National Geographic Pristine Seas returns to Palau to explore the diverse underwater ecosystem and contribute scientific data to the country’s ongoing marine spatial planning efforts. In partnership with the Government of Palau, the Ministry of Environment, One Reef, Palau Conservation Society, Ebiil Society and the Palau International Coral Reef Center, the expedition will conduct surveys of Palau’s marine environment to provide data and fill science gaps to inform planning.

The expedition team includes local scientists from Palauan who will live and work aboard the Pristine Seas vessel—the M/V Argo—to contribute to the underwater research and share their knowledge, insights, and personal connection to the study areas.

Palau is a nation in the western Pacific ocean composed of approximately 340 islands, located southeast of the Philippines and northeast of Indonesia. Palau has a rich biodiversity and stunning lush tropical landscapes with vibrant coral reefs. Its waters are home to over 1,300 species of fish, about 700 species of hard and soft corals, and marine lakes filled with non-stinging jellyfish.

The expedition team will study deep sea environments, seamounts, and remote areas to assess the health of the least known marine environments of Palau. Methods of research include deep sea cameras, baited remote underwater video, photo mosaics, environmental DNA (eDNA), and survey SCUBA dives, among other techniques.

In collaboration with local educational institutions, high school students in Palau will participate in events hosted by Pristine Seas. Students will learn more about the incredible marine biodiversity that surrounds them and how scientists study vast underwater environments. This effort aims to bring new conservation stewards to the forefront of ocean science and to support the resilience of our ocean.

"We're excited to learn more about our oceans and how we can better protect them while also ensuring that our people benefit from this resource that has sustained Palauans for thousands of years," Palau President Surangel Whipps Jr. said, "We're grateful for our partnership with National Geographic and their assistance with Marine Spatial Planning. The collaboration between NatGeo and our local scientific community, as well as with our educators and students, is amazing. I know everyone is excited about the opportunities presented during this visit."

“We are honored to return to Palau to continue our support of ocean conservation. We look forward to working with our in-country partners, Palauan scientists, the local community and sharing our work with local high school students during our expedition,” said Ryan Jenkinson, National Geographic Pristine Seas expedition leader.

“We, at Palau High School, are so excited and honored to be part of the Nat Geo expedition. The students will have the opportunity to meet and talk to the Scientists in our Ship tour and during the livestream classes where they will explain their work. Students will see the worksite and laboratory inside the ship and they can ask how they use equipment to gather data. Paluan students will have this once in a lifetime experience and they will be forever grateful to their ocean and to their community for preserving and protecting it.” Liezel Pulgueras, Environmental Science Teacher at Palau High School.

“Our team is eager to explore the rich waters of Palau, work with local researchers, communities, and classrooms, and contribute important biodiversity information to Palau’s marine management efforts. We look forward to a successful expedition!” said Whitney Goodell, National Geographic Explorer and Pristine Seas Palau Expedition Science Lead.

"I'm look forward to creating a fresh set of photomosaics to contribute to our reef health monitoring efforts. These 3D models of vital reef habitats help to create a permanent record for future reference and scientific use. This expedition offers a unique opportunity for us to join forces with an international team and impact the next phase of ocean protection in Palau," said Wayne Andrew, OneReef Micronesia Senior Director

Pristine Seas kicked off its Global Expedition in 2023 with a mission to spend five years exploring the tropical Pacific and supporting communities and governments in their efforts to protect the ocean. After a robust itinerary of expeditions in 2023, where the team explored and studied the Southern Line Islands, Tongareva, Niue, The Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia, 2024 will start with a new set of expedition locations beginning with Palau. For updates from the field, follow @natgeopristineseas on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Threads, or read our Field Notes.

About National Geographic Pristine Seas Pristine Seas works with Indigenous and local communities, governments and other partners to help protect vital places in the ocean using a unique combination of research, community engagement, policy work, strategic communications and media. Since 2008, our program has conducted 43 expeditions around the world and helped establish 27 marine reserves, spanning more than 6.6 million square kilometers of ocean.

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About National Geographic Society

The National Geographic Society is a global nonprofit organization that uses the power of science, exploration, education and storytelling to illuminate and protect the wonder of our world. Since 1888, National Geographic has pushed the boundaries of exploration, investing in bold people and transformative ideas, providing more than 15,000 grants for work across all seven continents, reaching 3 million students each year through education offerings, and engaging audiences around the globe through signature experiences, stories and content. To learn more, visit www.nationalgeographic.org or follow us on Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook.