California Academy of Sciences
 
 
Good friends: Pedro, a small snake and Ricka
Good friends: Pedro, a small snake and Ricka. Photo by Fabio Penny.
 
The weekly TAP flight arriving from Lisbon
The weekly TAP flight arriving from Lisbon. Photo by Dong Lin.
 
Dr. Sarah Spaulding will be conducting the first known research on the diatoms of Sao Tome
Dr. Sarah Spaulding will be conducting the first known research on the diatoms of Sao Tome. Photo by Dong Lin.
 
Sarah studying her taxa soon after a taxing flight
Sarah studying her taxa soon after a taxing flight. Photo by Fabio Penny.
 

SNAKES, TARANTULAS, DIATOMS, & DINNER
Dispatch Number Seven - May 9, 2001
Text by Fabio Penny, Computer Services

Monday, 05.07.01  0900 hours
Bom Sucesso, Obo National Park

Norm, Dong and Fabio descended to the lowlands in order to meet with the Minister of the Economy, while the rest of the team remained to work on the mountain.  Joel, Allen and Tino continued to collect leaf litter for the Winkler traps, and Ricka searched for more Herp specimens.  We suddenly heard yelling from in front of the ECOFAC Field Station – it was Pedro and his team of gardeners.  While trimming some hedges only 20 meters from the station, they ran across a small black snake.  Ricka jumped up and raced to the scene.  Being careful not to misidentify it, she is waiting until she can prepare the specimen to determine its exact species name.  The excited workers smiled and clapped - matching Ricka's enthusiasm.

A local youth named Adi paid us a visit.  In one plastic sack he had three juvenile tarantulas and two adults (species yet undetermined).  We were delighted by his work, and Joel quickly separated the individuals so they would not begin to eat each other.  We have been aided tremendously by the residents surrounding the park.

1430 hours
ECOFAC Offices, Sao Tome

Tereza, Norm, Fabio and Dong waited for Maria das Neves Batista de Sousa, the Minister of the Economy, to arrive for the 1430 meeting.  We decided to call her offices and suddenly learned the meeting place had been changed to the Ministry office.  After racing to the government offices, we were detained for about 15 minutes before being allowed to see the Minister. She then warmly welcomed us into her spectacularly decorated office.

Meeting with Sao Tome's Minister of the Economy - May 7, 2001

Tuesday, 05.08.01, 0715 hours
Sao Tome International Airport, Sao Tome

The weekly TAP flight is due at 0730 hours but, according to the airline, it will be delayed until 0850hours.  Luckily Ned's home is five minutes from the airport so we headed there for cold drinks on his pier.  Ten minutes after arriving, we heard the loud roaring of an airplane.  We gulped our drinks, jumped in the car and raced to (hopefully/finally) meet Sarah!

TAP, (affectionally referred to as Take Another Plane), apologized for the misinformation we were given, but all we wanted to do was confirm Sarah's arrival.  Fabio talked two airport guards into allowing Dong Lin past the metal barrier to get a clear shot of Sarah.  She was safe, awake and smiling as she walked out.  We were all relieved that she had finally arrived after her long unscheduled stay in Lisbon.

1500 hours

Excited about being able to study the distribution and abundance of diatoms on Sao Tome and Principe, Sarah has brought her minute field microscope.  Diatoms are single-celled, microscopic, photosynthetic organisms that live in nearly every aquatic habitat (freshwater and marine).  She jokingly refers to them as being in the size range of “extra, extra small."

Already on her first afternoon here she has pulled samples from the wash basin behind our compound. There is just enough natural light on the porch for viewing with her field microscope; inside, the building is too dark, and outside the equitorial sun is too bright.  The small pinch of slime is teeming with life: filaments of blue-green algae (cyanobacteria), green algae and a couple of familiar “friends”, Navicula and Nitzschia species.  These are widespread taxa that might be expected to grow on a faucet anywhere.  She hopes to find what species have made it to this isolated two-island nation.  By having a chance to look at both extant and fossil forms, she can begin to determine if there has been a loss of species over time.  Previous to this CAS expedition, there had been no known research conducted on the diatoms of Sao Tome and Principe.

1930 hours

We had dinner with members of the SteP UP board at the Blue Container, a large shipping crate used as a restaurant and bar along the coast.  The conversation ranged from how to teach conservation issues to Sao Tomean youth, to lessons in the Portuguese language.  With a magnificient full moon overhead, waves rocked the seawall, nearly splashing the diners. After an enjoyable meal, we drove back early to our home base in preparation for a three-day outing down the southwest coast beginning tomorrow.



     
 

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