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Gulf of Guinea Expeditions 

March 14, 2010

The Race: GG IV- Once in a Lifetime!

It is probably not uncommon for many a field biologist to question himself about life choices he has made—like when he faces college tuitions, buying a new car… shouldn’t I have “gone for the bucks?,” the American Dream?” and so on. And then you get a 24 hour period like the one we just experienced, and it all becomes clear again.

Bom Bom Turtle Hatchery.  RCD phot. GG IV

The building to the far left in the picture above is called the pool bar (you can just see the swimming pool). Just beyond is an extension of sand which is confluent with the beach and cove beyond. There is 1 to 2” edge to the grass turf along this small beach extension. Since there are no tourists here at the moment the pool bar is where we scientists eat with the staff (you can see the barbecue). At 7:35 we were just finishing yet another wonderful Indian dinner cooked by Shyju, our chef (and friend from GG III), when there was a commotion right behind us in the sand and Attie, the young man who waits tables came dashing up to our table with a hatchling sea turtle. A whole nest of sea turtles had just hatched with 30 feet of our dinner table!

wrong-way hatchling.  RCD phot. GG IV

Quick-witted Attie grabbed a plastic bucket, and we began racing around catching them, because it became clear almost immediately that the little critters were going the wrong way. They were heading toward the pool bar (and us) rather than down the sand to the ocean, only forty or so feet in the other direction. In fact the only thing that was keeping them within the sand area was the steepness (to them) of the grass/sand interface; otherwise, I have no doubt that eventually they would have all ended up in the swimming pool (saltwater, this year, luckily).

Attie’s bucket of turtles.  RCD phot. GG IV

We figure there were about 80 of them in the bucket, once we had them all. When, Attie took them down to edge of the surf and gently spread them out, they turned around, away from the ocean, and frantically made for the pool bar again. That’s when it became obvious that they were being attracted to the electric lights. So I stood in the surf, turned on my powerful halogen collecting light and that did the trick.. like little wind-up toys, they again all turned around again and paddled into the ocean..many swam past and brushed my feet… a wonderful tickly feeling I will never forget. I have no idea what species they were– I would guess either greens or hawksbills.. definitely not leatherbacks…maybe I will be able to identify them from the few pictures and movies I took… In all of our travels, neither Jim, Tom nor I had ever seen this.. and it just happened one night on an Academy scientific expedition…

Phonolite towers, east coast, Principe.  RCD phot. GG IV.

This morning we went by boat down the east coast of Principe to the southern end of the island; there are no roads on the southwestern exposures of any of the Gulf of Guinea islands because that’s the direction the weather comes from…and has for millions of years—and these areas are just too steep and dissected.. also the most poorly explored. As you can see from the image above, the east coast of Principe speaks for itself… this is truly an ancient island.

Our conveyance in fishing cove.  RCD phot. GG IV

Our intention was to explore the Rio Sao Tome, scene of the disastrous boat flip incident during GG III, wherein all of our equipment got soaked (we’re talking cameras, recording stuff, cell phones, etc.) This time the skipper was a local Principean, Argentino who deposited us safely in a small protected cove, adjacent to a two-man fishing village (!)

Ramos at Rio Sao Tome, Principe.  RCD Phot. GG IV.

Ramos (above) has been our constant guide and local naturalist on Principe throughout both GG III and GG IV. He appears frequently in earlier blogs. You are probably tired of reading about our bryophyte guy, Jim Shevock, going nuts, but he did again. We are up to over 600 collections (both islands), and recall that only 14 species of mosses have been recorded from the islands. Jim says he has tripled that number.

The high point was Tom’s discovery on a mossy vertical bank of a truly tiny begonia. what might be the smallest begonia in the world.

Begonia sp. perhaps smallest?.  RCD phot. GG IV

Tom has no idea what species it is (or even if it has been described) but is thinking it might be the smallest begonia in the world; and wouldn’t that be somehow perfect?… we already know that the world’s largest species, B. baccata, is endemic to Sao Tome!

The last event of the day was a rather unique State visit. Unfortunately, we have no photos of this, but we knew that the President, Tose Cassandra, was fishing somewhere here today.. on our way up the coast, Argentino suddenly turned inland to a beach, and there was the President and a whole bunch of guys in the surf, some with beers. When we got to about 20 or 30 meters of the shore, Ramos jumped in and swam to join them. Mr. Cassandra was sitting on a cooler up in the shade. Suddenly he yelled “Bobi, Come!” So I dove in and joined the group for an informal summit… what are you gonna do?. A total kick. And, by the way, the other folks were his entire cabinet. Winding down now, here on Prince’s Island.

The Parting shot:

Shyju, master chef, at work.  Weckerphoto. GG III

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible. Our island work can be supported by donations to the California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund.


Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 3:46 am

March 10, 2010

The Race: GGIV An Educational Interlude

So we are back on Principe, Sao Tome’s older (31 million years) but smaller brother. It is as idyllic and wild as we remember. It is also very hot and humid. Just Tom, Jim and me; Roberta is still working on our educational proposal back on Sao Tome. This appears to include lunches at the Brazilian Embassy, but we are not too jealous.. great things are being accomplished.

Jim is of course sampling mosses, liverworts and allies at his usual intense pace.

SE end of Principe. RCD Phot. GG IV

Yesterday, we were about 2/3rds down the East coast of the island (you would not believe the “road”) near some remarkable granitic formations that someone coined the “Mayan Ruins” during GG III. They of course nothing of the sort, but what they are is a great site for Jim’s mosses and other critters. Tom got a bunch of neat ferns and several rare acanths (his group) in flower and tissue for DNA.

Recall that I have several “questing beasts” here. So far, the only success I have had is with millipedes for Dr. Shelley in North Carolina. I already have good samples from both islands, from various elevations. Like home, they are pretty common, but here on the islands they are unstudied. I have turned over a million logs (it seems), but still no Principe caecilian like the fabulous Cobra bobo of Sao Tome. The locals, including the irrepressible Ramos (see earlier blog: “We Find Jita”), insist that it is here. But I have the sinking suspicion that they are confusing it with the endemic, spectacular Principe endemic, Typhlops elegans. See for yourself:

Sao Tome caecilian,” Cobra bobo’.  Weckerphoto GG III”

Principe golden burrowing snake. Typhlops elegans Weckerphoto GG III

As for the shrew, two days ago we went back to the same Principe villagewhere we failed to catch one in GG III. I hate to admit it, but Ramos, Wes, Jo and I were all afraid to pick the thing up – they bite like hell and at the time, we did not know that the supposed Sao Tome endemic, C. thomensis, had been rediscovered.

Jim, Tom, Ramos and I actually turned over the exact same piece of metal sheeting as GG III. No shrew, but the locals all recognize the picture I brought and are on the look-out (incentive has been provided!). As for the Sao Tome animal, I can only hope that Ricardo Lima and Maryana Carvalho are successful in getting another, while we are over here.

The reason I have time to write this blog is because instead of joining Jim, Tom and Ramos in the bush, I spent the entire morning in the town of Santo Antonio at a “conference.” What came as a surprise is that I turned out to actually be the conference! The Governor of Principe (here he is called the Presidente- Principe is semi-autonomous), is Tose Cassandra, whom I have met before. Earlier on Sao Tome, he asked if I would give a talk on our work while on Principe. I assumed this would be my usual powerpoint celebrating the endemic critters here, the uniqueness of the islands, etc. But somehow this sort of “morphed.” Early this morning, I was picked up by presidential driver and transferred from our lodge to the State House for a rather formal meeting with Pres. Cassandra; from thence I was whisked to a packed (air-conditioned!) hall where a “conference on biodiversity” was to be held. Turns out that was me. In earlier days, I might have freaked out, but some of the guys here at the lodge sort of hinted in might be more than just a slideshow, and so it was. The President sat on my left, a translator on my right (Ramos’s brother!), and we used my projector (thanks, Tosh Chiang, of CAS!) The whole thing went for a couple of hours including a Q & A, and ended in a TV interview (we’re talkin’ local, here). The images below are some that I showed and represent a way of informing the citizens of how special the islands are.

ONLY ON PRINCIPE!!

ONLY ON SAO TOME!!

ONLY ON OUR ISLANDS!!

Here’s the parting shot:

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible. Our work can be supported by donations to the California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund.


Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 10:01 am

March 4, 2010

The Race: GG IV–The Second Week

OK, first an update on our special “questing beasts”: last weekend after Roberta Ayres, our education officer, finally arrived, we had a traditional Sao Tome dinner at Nova Moca, a former plantation high on the eastern slopes of the mountain. This is where Ricardo Lima lives, our graduate student colleague who first brought my attention to the supposedly endemic Sao Tome shrew and our mystery “charroco,” the fish that does not appear on our fish checklist.

Roberta Ayers at Nova Moca (Ricardo Lima in back). RCD phot. GG IV

Ricardo gave me the preserved shrew he had already caught, a piece of its tail preserved separately, and the tail of a second shrew, removed by machete by one of Ricardo’s assistants (I should add that shrews are mean critters to handle, and some species have a toxic bite)… the rest of the shrew escaped. Again, we are anxious to test the DNA of this species to see if it is in fact a real endemic or was brought to the islands recently (like during the last 500 years of Portuguese comings and goings). We are unsure of what preservative Ricardo used for the material (he doesn’t remember), so we will be uncertain as to the value of what we already have until we get back to the lab. But I have left a couple of liters of 85% with him, so we know we will get DNA from the next shrew that is encountered


Millipede from Bom Sucesso. RCD phot. GG IV

Another questing beast is the millipede. To our knowledge, this group (the myriapods) has not been sampled on the islands, and our colleague at North Carolina State Museum, Dr. Rowland Shelley (a specialist on the group) expressed doubt that there was much present. Sure enough, almost the first log we turned over had a bunch of them underneath, and we also have a sample from 1100 m higher (including the above). Obviously we will search many more localities, both here and on Principe. I must also add that it is wonderful to have an expert colleague willing to examine stuff like this and give us some answers… the Academy has a lot of experts, but we don’t do everything.

The botany guys, Tom and Jim are doing wondrous things:

Pico Cavalio from the north.  T. Daniel phot.GG IV

The picture above is of Pico Cavalio, one that must be climbed en route to the ultimate Pico de Sao Tome at 2,000 meters. This one is a brute and our guys have collected the top of it. So far, this is the highest locality that any of our expedition members has ever reached at 1566m. Also, the guys have found a bunch of new trails through really good forest that earlier teams missed, especially around Lagoa Amelia (in earlier blogs)– some of the results have been pretty spectacular.

Begonia macambrarensis, A Sao Tome endemic. T. Daniel phot. GG IV

This yellow begonia is known only from Sao Tome, and Tom and Jim found it on the way up to Pico Cavalio. This is our first collection of this endemic and quite exciting.


Brachystephanus occidentalis 2 more to go! T. Daniel phot.GG IV

Although the begonia is exquisite, Tom got even more excited about the critter above. Tom just published a monograph of the Acanthaceae of Sao Tome and Principe. By the end of GG III, he had found all but three of the endemic species present on the islands – now the list is down to two! And we have tissue samples for comparison with members oft his family on the mainland and other parts of the world.

Jim Shevock is in “seventh heaven;” he is up to 400 collections. Many of you don’t know Jim yet (he is new to the CAS faculty)—Jim is not only tireless, but totally ebullient! Nothing bothers him (and Tom and I have been trying!)


Jim Shevock collecting new trail. T. Daniel phot.GG IV

One of the real pleasures of leading these expeditions is learning how differently we do the same thing—collecting and preparing specimens. Collecting for Jim just looks like scraping away at rocks, or tree trunks and other substrates (of course, you have to know where to look, and that can take many years). And basically that is what he is doing.. However, the way he prepares his collections is really different.

Jim with prepared specimens of Leucobryum RCD phot. GG IV

Jim does not press plants like Tom does—the stuff Jim collects is already pretty flat! Instead, he has special archival paper which has, already printed on each sheet, a table that includes blanks for the number of the specimen as well as for the whole range of possible environmental conditions under which the specimen was collected. He fills out the blanks (duplicates everything on the computer, of course), then folds the specimen into the paper in such a way that each packet stands up while the specimen is drying within. Our room (all 3 of us together) frequently looks like a major regatta on San Francisco Bay.


Regatta in room #10.  RCD phot. GG IV

It is probably obvious to anyone reading this that we could not do any of this work without approval from the authorities, especially the Ministry of the Environment. The Director is Arlindo Carvalho, a delightful man. One of the other gentlemen with whom we work is Vitor Bonfim, who is head of Conservation on the islands. I am including a picture of Vitor because his nephew is a FaceBook friend of mine.. a student in Los Angeles!


While the guys are having all this fun, Roberta Ayers and I have been pursuing the education proposal/dream/idea. We have had an amazing series of meetings with all sorts of people here on the islands; it is my intention that whatever we come up with will have the enthusiasm of the citizens at all levels.


Roberta Ayres and Roberta dos Santos. Omali Lodge. RCD phot GG

A very dear old friend of mine is Roberta dos Santos. Roberta works with Ned Seligman in his NGO, STeP UP. In fact, Ned met Roberta when he was running the Peace Corps here, years ago. But more than that, she has been in education her entire life and her degree (in education) is from the US. (Imagine a young girl born and raised on Sao Tome—on the Equator—landing in Buffalo, New York in mid January!) We have contracted with Roberta to assist our CAS Roberta set up meetings, etc. And Roberta knows absolutely everybody. The “Dos Robertas” are a wonderful team. Our CAS Roberta has the perfect personality as well as the educational know-how for what we are trying to accomplish, and I am much impressed. She “gets it,” and is fun.

After some panicky moments yesterday, our flights to Principe, the much older, smaller island, have been confirmed. I must confess I will be glad to get back out into the field. While I do have this dream for raising awareness of the unique biodiversity here, I really am a bush guy at heart, and meetings pale in comparison to stomping around in forests and swamps. CAS Roberta has all she needs to carry on during the week we are gone and is totally comfortable. Tom, Jim and I take off on Sunday and will return a week later, after Roberta has flown home. With fingers crossed, we are off to see if “cobra bobo” exists on Principe.

The Parting Shot:


Dinner at Nova Moc. Ricardo Lima and RCD.  T. Daniel phot. GG IV

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible. Our work can be supported by donations to CAS, Gulf of Guinea Fund


Filed under: Gulf of Guinea,Uncategorized — bob @ 10:49 am

March 1, 2010

The Race: We begin GG IV

The first week on any expedition is usually the toughest. Our education specialist, Roberta Ayres, was told in the States that she did not need a visa because she is a Brazilian citizen (still!)—like Humphrey Bogart in Casa Blanca, she was misinformed! She had to spend this last week in Lisbon, while I and the two botanists, Jim and Tom, continued on. Our arrival was fine except that the bag that contains all of my field gear failed to make it. On the other hand our great friends at Omali Lodge, Jannie the manager, Cecilia, Suresh and all our AFRICAS EDEN supporters were here to welcome us and once again, we are able to do our work with reliable power sources and in considerable comfort. Happy to say, Roberta, all of her bags and my missing one showed up at 0530 this morning.

In the absence of Roberta, I have been meeting with people about our education ideas, but only those I already know and who speak English. Two of my oldest island friends are Ned Seligman and Enrique da Costa.

Enrique Pinto da Costa and Ned Seligman (sitting). RCD phot GGIV

[Enrique and Neddy]

Enrique is a former member of the STeP government and a true intellectual; probably the foremost historian of the islands (from an ecological sense, as he would say), and my talks with him have been extremely valuable. Ned is a lifelong friend from San Francisco who lives here and is responsible for my first visit 10 years age. He appears in many earlier blogs as does his NGO, STeP UP.

Roberta Ayres and our field taxi. RCD phot. GG IV

One of the vehicles we have rented (again, from friends) is an old taxi suitable for Roberta and I to drive around towns to our meeting but definitely NOT for doing field work. It is a little like driving an old washing machine.

One of our first collecting sites was Ned’s house. He built the ocean front house while he was running the Peace Corps in Guinea Bissau and it is our home-away- from home.

James and Rui (computer guys), Roberta and Ned on the deck. RCD GG IV

Ned told me there were some weird critters living on the wall, under the tapestry that hangs above his bed.

‘Habitat” above Ned’s bed.  RCD phot GG IV

I scraped a bunch off the wall, took some quick photos and sent them off to Norm Penny (who else) of CAS entomology.

“Bagworms”… moth larvae.  RCD phot GG IV

Norm wrote back that these were the larval sacs of a moth species, known in common parlance as “bagworms.” Ned is not amused. Although they are not harmful, they have a weird smell.

Jim, our bryophyte guy at Cascata Sao Nicolau.  T Daniel phot. GG IV

Our intrepid (and exhaustible) bryophyte specialist, Jim Shevock, is up to 300 specimens, and a tad frustrated as he cannot identify a large portion of them.

[Tom pressing]

Tom Daniel, veteran of GG III has also done well. We interact closely with Bom Sucesso, the herbarium and botanical garden. We have presented all of our publications to them over the years, but this year we also brought the formal identification labels for the duplicate material Tom and Rebecca collected in 2008. The curator of the herbarium, Faustino De Oliviera (below) was happy to receive them.

Faustino de Oliviera, Curator, Bom Sucesso.  T. Daniel phot. GG IV

On the most recent foray up the mountain, Tom collected our first and only example of an endemic impatiens; it is a huge group but this one is truly beautiful.

Impatiens thomensis T. Daniel phot. GG IV

One of the many endemic species of birds on the island is the Sao Tome Speirops, a relative of the African whiteyes. One apparently flew into a window while we were there. The little critter recovered, but this gave us an opportunity to get some pretty close shots. I have also had a chance to go up to the secret tree to see if Hyperolius thomensis breeds there. They do; we saw only one juvenile but plenty of egg masses on the walls of the tree holes.(see Glorious Ghost in the Forest).

Endemic Speirops recovering on flowerpot, Bom Sucesso. RCD phot. GGIV

Last night we were invited to a true Sao Tome dinner at a tiny plantation called Nova Moca.. Our host was Ricardo Lima, my grad student colleague from the University of Lancaster (earlier blogs). The dinner was wonderful, but no power, so no pictures. But, Jose presented me with our first shrew specimen, we collected our first millipedes for the expert at the North Carolina State Museum, and I was able to show Roberta her first Cobra bobo. Also present was another grad student friend, Maryana Carvalho, who is studying hunting practices here. Maryana is very interested in our education projects.

While the botanists get to go up and down the mountain, Roberta and I have a series of meetings throughout this coming week. I will post as often as I can.

The parting shot:

Interested on-looker. Nova Moca.  Phot. T. Daniel. GG IV

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible. Our work can be supported by donations to CAS-Gulf of Guinea Fund.


Filed under: Uncategorized — bob @ 2:11 pm

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