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Recently, on Wednesday, February 28, 2018, I, along with my fellow Heir, had the amazing experience of going out to Jellyfish Lake in the Rock Islands of my home state -- Koror, Republic of Palau -- with incredible Palauan biologists of Coral Reef Research Foundation (CRRF).
Through a program that Heirs To Our Oceans and CRRF partner in – A Day With A Scientist -- I was invited to be a marine biologist for a day at Jellyfish Lake. I had no idea what it would be like, but I decided to jump at the opportunity. I hadn't been to Jellyfish Lake for over three years, and I knew the experience was going to be a ton of fun. But at the back of my mind, I was scared.
Jellyfish Lake was such an important place to me, and for the past couple of years, my classmates had been telling me that all the jellyfish in the lake had died. Growing up, I had been to the lake many times, and there was so many jellyfish that the thought of so many of them dying had never occurred to me. I didn't want to believe them, and I wasn't going to listen to any of these rumors until I saw the lake for myself, and that was what I had set out to do.
On Wednesday morning, I got to the CRRF research center around 8:00 AM. I met Charley Peebler, a member of Heirs To Our Oceans of the Bay Area in California, and we were instant friends. Our love for the ocean, along with out other shared interests, struck an immediate connection between us, and I knew that being with Charley was going to make the day even better. (We were also daunted with the task of untangling a rope that seemed to never come undone, which surprisingly makes for a good bonding experience.)
At around 9:00 AM, we left for Jellyfish Lake on a small speedboat with the CRRF's marine biologists. It was the bumpiest boat ride that I had ever been on, but that didn't take away from the beautiful view of the rock islands we had.
After the boat ride, we climbed the short but steep hike on a rock island, all hauling heavy backpacks, and eventually got to the lake. The researchers pulled a small weather tower from the middle of the lake to the wooden dock on the lake's edge, and then they began to make adjustments to it. As they did so, Charley and I attached sensors to rope. The sensors measured the lake's salinity, acidity, temperature, oxygen levels, etc. for up to three months. The CRRF needed to record whatever changes were occurring in the lake's waters so that they would know what allows a jellyfish population to decrease, increase, or stabilize.
Charley and I had lunch and fed some fish before we finally got in the water. We pushed a kayak with the water sensors onboard into the middle of the lake. Immediately, I knew that the water seemed much saltier than I had remembered. That realization made me think of the disappearance of the jellyfish that I had been hearing about because I had heard that changes in the lake could no longer sustain the jellyfish, which caused them to die off, but I ignorantly and fearfully brushed that thought away.
Normally, when one swims towards the middle of the lake, they are eventually swarmed by clouds of beautiful, harmless jellyfish, so much so that they almost can't even move without bumping into at least one jellyfish by accident. But that wasn't the case on that day. We got to the lake's center, and not a single jellyfish was in sight. My heart dropped, and I was left in utter shock. The rumors were true; there were no jellyfish. Although I was deeply saddened, I knew I had a job to do. Charley and I did whatever the CRRF researchers had asked us to, such as keeping the kayak and a raft in place amongst the lake's current.
Right when I had lost all hope of even seeing one jellyfish, Charley frantically shook my shoulder and pointed to something about a couple yards underneath the kayak. Whatever she was pointing at looked like a yellow blob through the slight fog of my mask and the slightly murky water, but Charley had yelled out right when I realized what it was. "A jellyfish!" she exclaimed. "It's a jellyfish! There's a jellyfish under the kayak!"
The CRRF researchers were just as shocked as I was. We all dove down and gently cupped the jellyfish in our palms by its bell, and brought it higher towards the surface. Charley and I played with the jellyfish, which was a beautiful fully-grown female. We ran our fingers through its tentacles, stroked its bell, and looked at it from every angle we could to remember that amazing moment. We admired the little jellyfish for about an hour, losing track of how much time we were spending with the amazing siphonophore.
Sadly, the CRRF researches announced that it was time to leave, and Charley and I had to say our goodbyes to the jellyfish, which was definitely really hard to do. We swam back to the lake's dock, packed our things, and Charley and me took a quick selfie. (I'm not one for taking selfies, but that was a day I definitely wanted to remember for awhile. And I knew that my mom would be disappointed if I hadn't taken a single picture during the trip.) We all powered through the hike back to our boat, and made our way back to Koror.
The trip was amazing, to say the least. I gained a new friend, my eyes were opened to how much my home country was changing, and I had a memorable time.
I'm so glad that I met Charley and shared that experience with her. She is an amazing individual, and she is so intelligent, funny, and nothing short of awesome. Even though I am older than her, I look up to her. She is clearly not afraid to stand up for what she believes is right, and that is a quality that I want to have. Also, she is smart, no doubt about that.
For the past few years, I have been ignorant to the changes that Palau has been going through, and I intend to change that mindset of mine and do something about whatever is harming my oceans, especially as a member to Heirs to Our Oceans. That experience made me more motivated about protecting the ocean because the entire world is incredibly dependent on it, especially my island country, Palau.
I want to encourage any other people, especially the youth, to do whatever they can to help the planet, no matter how small your effort may seem or how young you are. Even something you do that looks insignificant may create a huge impact. And if you think you can't do something just because you're young, remember that you could be saving your future and many generations afterward from hardship.
When one of the CRRF researches asked about what Heirs To Our Oceans was on the boat ride, I didn't know how to answer at first. We're such a diverse, widespread, ambitious group that it was hard to give a brief summary as to what this organization is. But I don't think I could have said it any better when I answered with, "Well, we're just a bunch of kids that want to do whatever we can to save the world."
And we're not the only ones who can save the planet. Anyone-- even you-- can do it, too.
Heirs To Our Oceans is creating the next generation of environmental leaders.