With only about 20,000 people, Palau may not be big on human population, but when it comes to its flora and fauna, its abundance is quite vast: there are approximately 830 native plant species, 194 of which are endemic, although plant experts in Palau believe that there are actually more endemic species than have been confirmed. The rarity of these species is outstanding, but with so little research and recognition, it is near impossible to identify them all. Boasting a cool 284-mile (458 kilometers) landmass, Palau’s size posts a challenge to many researchers and scientists, as virtually no studies have been done on its plant and animal species. Its tiny size and out-of-the-way location make Palau a very difficult place to study, and its struggle for recognition is a very real one.And so, in an effort to learn more about its native plant species and to also explore ways in which some of them may be used for restoration, I am interning with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research so we may do just that. My mission for the summer is to learn how to propagate certain native plant species that come from Palau, such as the palm Ponapea palauensis, the cycad Cycas micronesica, and the ornamental plant Eurya japonica var. nitida in the hopes that we may find ways to successfully germinate their seeds, have them grow to be healthy specimens, and then share the information with Palauans, so they may grow and maintain their native populations.
It may sound like an easy-enough job, but when your boss has to trek almost 7,000 miles (1,100 kilometers) from San Diego to Palau and back, just to retrieve those species’ seeds, it can be a tough waiting game for both me and the seeds waiting to get germinated.
I spent a month in the office, reading…reading…and reading some more. I familiarized myself with the plants that I was going to be growing so that when the time came, I was prepared. I came up with a system for all the articles and books I was reading, just so there was a little variation to my day. With all the knowledge I had gained through all the reading and researching, it became easier for me to wait and be patient. At last, on a very sunny June 25, 2014—I remember it clearly—we got the call that the seeds had arrived and were ready for us. The waiting was over, my seeds were here, and I was finally able to stretch my legs and sow my seeds!
Antoni Soalablai is an intern in the applied plant ecology division of the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research.