CRRF incorporated in California in 1991 as a vehicle to apply for the prestigious US National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) marine collections contract which it successfully won in 1992. CRRF’s 22 years of work for the NCI enabled it to pursue one of its goals of documenting marine biodiversity throughout the Indo-Pacific, allowing description of nearly 200 new species of marine life, while also pursuing a broad spectrum of other research.


CRRF’s initial field station, called the “Chuuk Atoll Research Laboratory” was located in the southeastern corner of Weno Island in Chuuk (Truk), Federated States of Micronesia, next door to the Truk Continental Hotel. Starting in June 1992 two ocean shipping containers were transformed into a temporary facility to start our work for the NCI. Later a small, unfinished concrete building was renovated and a modest program of additional marine research started. Three years later CRRF decided to move our operations to Palau in the western Caroline Islands, after conducting preliminary work there since 1993 in a temporary facility.


In late December 1995 we permanently left Chuuk for Palau. A new laboratory building on Malakal Island in Koror was designed and constructed. Our staff of 7 moved into the new facility in March 1996 and developed it into a highly successful operation for supporting our own work and that of visiting scientists. For the next 22 years CRRF had 4 successive collection contracts with the NCI which, in addition to the samples sent to the NCI for screening, resulted in over 16,000 specimens documenting marine biodiversity from over 30 different countries and islands in the world tropics and higher latitude areas. The NCI work ended in July 2014 with the completion of our fourth and last contract.

While the NCI provided continued basic support for their specimen collections, we were able to add many additional programs, both externally funded and from internal funds, to engage in a wide variety of basic marine science research in Palau.  Some of this work was driven by events which happened, such as the 1998 coral bleaching event and the related disappearance of the Golden Jellyfish from “Jellyfish Lake” in 1999.  Other subjects were areas of research important to our staff which would have relevance to future environmental and conservation status and concerns within Palau. These programs included work on reef fish spawning aggregations and reproduction, marine lake studies, ocean observing and documentation of physical properties of the reef environment, continued biodiversity collections to assess species diversity and ecology, mapping of bathymetry and habitats, and publication of new information for both professional scientists and the general public. This included the production of two general interest books, Tropical Pacific Invertebrates and Marine Environments of Palau, as well as smaller popular books and booklets on Jellyfish Lake.

Milestones in our efforts were the first serious investigations of the “mesophotic” reef and deeper outer reef habitats, using advanced mixed gas diving followed by a small research submersible in Palau. The sub operations included charters of Deepworker 2000 subs in 2001 and 2008 and later use of “subs of opportunity.”  As part of this effort CRRF had a 40 foot aluminum catamaran, the Kemedukl, constructed in Australia to serve as a submersible support vessel for the 2008 Deepworker dives.  Since then (with its A-frame, large deck area and hydraulic system) the Kemedukl has proven to be a popular platform for many other types of oceanographic work.


On 20 May 2015 a speeding car driven by a drunk driver drove into the CRRF lab building at 3AM, coming to rest inside our collection rooms and exploded into flames reaching over 50 feet high.  This caused extensive damage and destruction – the fire triggered destroyed one third of the NCI and general marine specimen collection while the rest of the ground floor was ravaged by fire, smoke and heat damage.  Nearly all of our scientific equipment, valued at over $200,000, was destroyed, as well as heavy smoke damage to our library and many other materials. All of our spare parts and equipment, camera systems, and a wealth of “one of a kind” prototype equipment was incinerated, as they were right next to the collection rooms. All of the microscopes were melted and charred and the lenses were inoperable.  Nearly all our computers suffered heat damage and melting, but some actually worked for a period of time after the fire. The end result was a mess of such epic proportions we sometimes wished it had all gone up in flames. The perpetrator was never charged. Fortunately our boats were spared as well as our “out buildings” with shop and much general storage space survived.


Moving forward from this trauma, CRRF gradually got back on its feet.  Quickly many friends and supporters gave donations to help the process of replacing equipment we had lost.  One extremely generous donation, for which we will always be extremely grateful, allowed us to move forward with designing and funding a new building to replace the derelict, unlivable old lab.  The old building was torn completely down and the original concrete slab removed, leaving us with a vacant lot by March 2016. A custom Force 10 “panelized” building was ordered from Australia, arriving in 4 ocean shipping containers months later and construction was started in April 2016, nearly one year after the fire. The structure was completed in about 4 months with CRRF moving from temporary quarters into the new building in September, 2016.  The new lab is extremely functional and well lived-in, and we love it!

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