Palau trips produce orchids, memories
Spending just more than a week in Palau, two members of the Illinois College community returned with tales of tropical beauty and dodging some of the region’s more unique fauna while gathering the orchids and fungi they originally went to find.
Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree | Journal-Courier
Illinois College junior Collin Walter '20 and IC biology professor Lawrence Zettler spent 10 days in Palau, a group of islands in the western Pacific Ocean, east of the Philippines, gathering orchids and harvesting fungi to bring back to study.
For Walter, the experience isn’t one he’ll forget.
“I liked going out to the different islands,” he said. “Some of these haven’t been explored before. We were looking for these orchids that we didn’t even know were there.”
Working with Zettler and members from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, the group collected seeds and fungi that would allow the seeds to germinate to enhance growth of some of the endangered orchid species.
There are more than 90 species of orchids on the Palau islands.
“We want to study these and find ways to preserve them so they don’t go extinct,” Zettler said.
Because of Illinois College’s U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified noxious pests quarantine facility, the group was able to bring samples of both the plants and the fungi back to the United States for further study.
“There are a lot of permits needed to bring these types of species back into the country,” Zettler said.
For Zettler, this is the first trip he has taken to Palau.
The group spent their time looking through the jungles and attempting to collect as many varieties of the plant as possible.
“It was like a scavenger hunt,” Walter said.
The trip gave Walter an appreciation for those who do field work and the work in the lab.
“There was a team aspect to it,” Walter said. “I met these amazing people and being out there collecting samples gives me a better appreciation for what we do in the lab.”
Zettler said the hands-on experience is something he is happy Walter was able to experience.
“He learns a lot in the classroom, but he got to apply it there in a real-life setting,” Zettler said.
When not looking for plants, the group did do some scenic viewing, including a snorkeling trip that brought them a little history.
“The colors are just amazing,” Zettler said. “I can’t even begin to explain how beautiful it is. I was stunned by the natural beauty.”
During a snorkeling trip, Walter and Zettler were able to see a sunken Japanese airplane that had been used in World War II.
It was a connection to history that Walter enjoyed.
“My great-grandfather was in World War II,” Walter said. “There, just 10 feet under the surface, was this plane. We also saw tunnels that were used by the Japanese. Seeing the history there was amazing.”
They also had some adventures while dodging the run-off during a rain storm.
“We were looking for orchids when it starts pouring down rain,” Walter said. “Everyone pulled out their ponchos, but I forgot to bring mine, so I took two big palm tree leaves and used them to cover my backpack to keep it dry. Then I had to try and avoid the sap from the poison tree.”
Zettler said the poison tree produces black sap that causes burn-like scars when it comes into contact with skin.
“We had to cover any exposed skin,” Zettler said. ” After we had to wash our clothes with these different chemicals to clean them.”