As we get closer to the departure date, you might be thinking about what to pack. Well, here is a start:
To some extent, it makes sense to have separate clothing and gear for different habitats, so we'll break up this blog post a little bit. But also keep in mind that many days we'll be fairly amphibious: we probably won't do sampling in all three major habitats in one day, but most days we'll be either terrestrial/marine or terrestrial/freshwater.
In town / front country: There will be a day or two you'll be in nice-ish front-country (as opposed to backcountry) settings: you'll be interacting with Palauan elementary school students and their teachers, or the staff of a variety of NGO's and governmental agencies, so it would be good if you had an outfit or two that would not be offensive to moderately conservative mid-western Americans. Palau has a lot of foreign tourists, so the in-town dress code is fairly relaxed: you can pretty much wear things you'd wear on campus during the summer. Some of our front-country time will be spent in air-conditioned rooms, though, and they're sometimes quite chilly, so it would be good to bring at least one or two outfits that you'd be comfortable sitting around and using a microscope for a few hours when it's in the mid-60s. I usually just bring some long pants and a polypropylene long-underwear top or two. The long underwear top can also double as a rash-guard (discussed in the marine habitat section).
Terrestrial habitats: If you're from the northeast, chances are you've had the experience of being in the woods when it's hot and humid. Chances are you've walked through a thorn patch or two, and chances are you've run into some high densities of biting insects. For our terrestrial field work, it would be a good idea to be prepared for all of these things. That means it's a good idea to have long pants and close-toed shoes that let you walk through a thorn patch and avoid mosquitos a little bit. Synthetic pants sold at outdoor supply stores are a pretty good option:
Thick cotton pants (e.g., jeans) will tend to be uncomfortable in the humidity. They're pretty good for places like Arizona, but in the humidity of Palau they pretty much won't dry out... ever. They're find for front-country wear, though.
Usually on our terrestrial/freshwater days we'll be under a decent canopy of trees, so sun protection won't be quite as much of an issue, but it can still be nice to wear a light long-sleeved shirt, again, for biting insects and thorns. My favorite field shirt is a cotton men's seersucker dress shirt I got at a Ross Dress-for-Less in Guam. Hopefully I'll be able to find it for this trip so you can all revel in how awesome it is :)
Footwear for terrestrial habitats is also kind of a tricky situation. Most of the terrestrial work we'll be doing could involve a short jaunt through the water, so leather hiking boots probably aren't a great idea (like jeans, they won't dry out, and will sometimes start to rot). It's hard to find shoes that will both let you get wet and fend off thorns a bit. The neoprene booties scuba divers use are actually pretty good, but don't provide any ankle support:
Same goes for these Japanese gardening shoes (tavi's) that some people wear. They're canvas and rubber, so they breath better than neoprene booties, but they're not great for long hikes over hard-packed trails, where you would want more insole cushioning and more ankle support.
Many people who do terrestrial field biology in the tropics wear some kind of rubber rain boot, similar to this:
I personally find this general style of boot uncomfortable (they're pretty hot, and they abrade my calves when I walk, etc.), but lots of people I've worked with in, e.g., Panama, think they're great. In Borneo, I've done tropical field work in something like this,
These were honestly great, but I don't know if you can get them in the US. If you had some old, beat-up sports cleats, those would probably work pretty well, too.
A good compromise might be some old running shoes you don't mind getting wet. There are some close-toed shoes specifically made for use in the water, but it might not really be worth getting them for a 2-week course.
For walking around in the woods, you'll probably want a backpack like the one you might use for school. It's useful to have at least some part of your backpack that is waterproof. Some heavy-duty garbage bags and zip-lock bags are good for this, or, for a more long-term solution, something like the small version (4L) of this might be nice:
(Beyond this course, if you're thinking about doing marine or freshwater work (or super-rainy days on land), it can be nice to have a solid dry bag with backpack straps, like this:
But keep in mind that if your water bottle leaks while it's in this bag, the water will stay in the bag. So, having one or more waterproof/water resistant containers within your bag can be nice.)
Freshwater habitats: The freshwater habitats we'll be working in will mostly require between 15 minutes and 2 hours of walking through the forest, so you'll more or less have wear clothes you'll be comfortable in both places with. For freshwater sites we can access directly from the road, it would probably be most comfortable to wear shorts and some kind of Teva- or Chaco- like sport sandal. But I've had bad luck walking through thorns and then walking through the mud (had to miss a few field days because of a staph infection in some thorn scratches), so it's probably wisest to stick with your terrestrial outfits: old running shoes or neoprene booties, and long pants. The parts of the rivers we'll be visiting will mostly be a bit too shallow for snorkeling, so expect to get wet up to your knees or waist, but you don't need to be prepared for fully swimming in the water with mask, fins, and snorkel. The deeper parts of the rivers tend to be closer to the estuaries where there are lots of mangroves, which is where crocodiles tend to hang out, so we won't be swimming there.
In our marine surveys, it'll be important to be comfortable in the water, but it's also important to be comfortable taking short walks across potentially sharp corals and stones, so the combination of "open-heel" style fins and rubber-soled neoprene booties is pretty nice to have:
or something like these:
fins (recommend "open-heel" design to accommodate booties):
For the booties and the fins, it's OK to go pretty low-budget, but when it comes to masks you probably want to spend more than $40, and make sure you try your mask on. You should be able to put your mask on your face, breath in a little bit, and hold the mask on your face with no hands and no strap: that's how you tell it's air-tight. Having a mask that really fits your face really makes a huge difference in how much you can see while you're snorkeling. Here's a quick youtube video that talks about fitting a mask to your face in case what I just said doesn't make sense: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv7o8EeAIYY
Another really useful item of marine clothing is a long-sleeve rash guard:
The water is warm enough (generally around 82 degrees F) in Palau that people don't usually snorkel with a neoprene wetsuit, but the rash guard is nice because it provides some warmth, and also protects you from the sun. If you're coming more or less straight from Syracuse to Palau, your body might not be great with dealing with being in the tropical sun all day. Similarly, for women, it can be nice to wear knee-length shorts while you're snorkeling, since it's basically extra sun protection (and can give your legs a bit of extra protection while you're doing terrestrial field work on combined terrestrial/marine days). If you get cold easily (and/or want some extra sun protection and/or modesty), it might be worth looking into one of the longer swim-suit designs, like this:
In addition to warmth and protection from the sun, longer swimsuits also provide some protection from stinging cnidarians, like jellyfish and firecorals.
For getting your salt-water-y gear from the boat to the car, it can be nice to have a mesh bag like this:
If it's raining on the boat ride home, it can get pretty chilly, so it's nice to have a light rain jacket. In the forest, I personally think it's a little too hot for raincoats, and it often feels more comfortable to use an umbrella. Umbrellas can make activities like eating and writing in the rain much easier and more pleasant.
Finally, for both freshwater and marine surveying from out of the water, it can be very nice to have a decent pair of polarized sunglasses. Polarized lenses genuinely do cut down on glare from the sun reflecting off water (it's not just a gimmick), so they can help you see below the surface. You don't need to spend thousands of dollars on sunglasses, but you might want to spend more than $10. When you try on the sunglasses, look at the sky (if it's daylight and you're not too far into a store), and tilt your head from one side to the other. The sky should change color perceptibly as you tilt your head. Here are some somewhat reasonably-priced sunglasses with polarized lenses that float:
For doing work at night, it would be great if you had a headlamp. If you can, bring a waterproof flashlight as well, in case we get the chance to go snorkeling at night. There could be some pretty cool stuff going on in the ocean with the full moon on May 29th.
So, in summary, the tl;dr version of what kinds of clothing/field gear to bring:
Front country pants (1 - 2; synthetic or cotton: for wearing in overly air-conditioned buildings)
Front country longsleeve shirts (1 - 2; consider a medium-weight polypro long underwear top or flannel)
Front country footwear (doesn't have to be fancy: just something relatively dry and mud-free; I usually wear flip-flops aka slippahs aka zories)
One or two semi-respectable front country tops (for wearing when we're presenting things to school kids or meeting important people)
Backcountry pants (2 - 3 pairs; synthetic, to protect against mosquitos and thorns)
Backcountry longsleeve shirts (2 - 3; cotton or synthetic; see notes about pants above)
swimsuit (1 - 2; a good idea to rinse off with freshwater after use)
shorts: good for mixed backcountry / front-country (5 - 7 pairs, e.g., "board shorts")
tshirts for back-country / front country (5 - 8)
Rash guard / longer swimsuit options
underwear and socks for 7 - 8 days (we'll be able to do laundry at least once during the course)
Light raincoat / poncho (ponchos are super-cheap and can also cover your backpack)
1 - 2L water bottle(s)
Mesh bag (optional, but can be nice)
Neoprene booties / water socks
Mask & snorkel (make sure it's a good mask that fits your face! see discussion above!)
Waterproof watch (an inexpensive waterproof watch can be really handy; it would be good if at least half of you had one)
writing implements (especially pencils)
Laptop (if you have one)
camera (if you have one)
OK, thanks for reading! Definitely feel free to ask Jesse or Dr. Rundell questions, or add comments below!