California Academy of Sciences
Sarah collecting some microscopic specimens from São Tomé's southwest coast. Photo by Dong Lin.
Norm getting set to pin a lacewing. Step 1: get it out of the vial! Photo by Fabio Penny
Diatom from São Tomé. Photo by Dong Lin.
Freshwater red algae from São Tomé. Photo by Dong Lin.
A green lacewing with great detail of its venation. Photo by Dong Lin.
Nature Club members at a weekly discussion. Photo by Pundu.
Putting their imagination to conservation. Photo by Fabio Penny

Dispatch Number Nine - May 11, 2001
Text by Fabio Penny, Computer Services

1st Direction: To The Southwest Coast
Wednesday, 05.09.01, 0730 hours

São Tomé Harbor
Norm and Fabio helped Sarah, Ricka, Joel and Dong load food, camping gear, traps and fresh water into a small sailboat. They planned a 3-day field trip in search of diatoms, blind snakes, caecillians, tarantulas, and scorpions in the roadless southwest portion of the island near the town of Porto Alegre. We found out later that they confronted heavy surf and experienced some sea-sickness en route. Unable to land at Praia Palma, they opted for a calmer landing further south at Praia Sambangombe, a former palm plantation now becoming an eco-tourist destination with some rustic huts and shower facilities. Their plan was to hike the following day to an area between two large rivers, the Rio Mussucavu and Rio da Pedras. The group unloaded, set up camp and ventured as far as they could up the coast that day. Before the trip was over, Sarah was able to sample some algae from various localities, and Ricka located various geckos and skinks. Meanwhile, Joel, using his aspirator to collect, scoured the area for arachnids.

Direction 2: To the Mountain
1000 hours
Bom Sucesso Field Station

Norm and Fabio had headed up the mountain by vehicle to Bom Sucesso after watching their colleagues set off early. Norm was dropped off at the radio tower (00º, 16', 32.0N, 006º 36', 18.7"E, 1300m) , and after setting a Malaise trap near the tower, he started back down the mountainside, meeting Fabio once again. To his surprise Norm saw one of the large apochrysine green lacewings on an overhanging limb, the first he had observed outside of the forest itself. Norm collected two individuals on that limb, with Fabio helping to beat on that limb for another few minutes. Part way back to the field station Norm met Delfin and showed him the green lacewings that he'd collected, as well as a banana plant covered with spittle-bugs. Delfin instantly recognized the green lacewings and called them "cuidanos."

Norm explained about the froth nests created by nymphal spittle-bugs, but Delfin didn't seem to recognize these. Together they collected lacewings along the roadside for the next hour. After noticing that Delfin's net was battered and ragged, Norm offered a challenge: if Delfin could collect five chrysopids (green lacewings), Norm would give him a new insect net. Delfin's eyes and smile brightened immediately, and by the time we got back to the field station, he had collected three specimens. Delfin had explained earlier that he lives in Trinidade and had walked for 2.5 hours to get to the field station to meet Norm, having heard about Norm from Ricka and Fabio. Norm gave him two vials for the long trip home, in case he was able to collect more lacewings along the way.

That evening, Norm was talking to the night watchman while standing in front of the field station. The fluorescent lights were turned on, and Norm suddenly heard the unmistakable buzzing of a large dynastine scarab beetle being attracted to the lights. The beetle crashed into the wall of the lodging and Norm reached for his net. As he quickly approached to capture the beetle, one of the watchman's dogs ran over and devoured it before Norm's eyes. Oh, the competition entomologists have for their valuable specimens! If they don't become frog food, they are eaten by dogs! In fact, in the tropics it is difficult to find neuropterans (the order of insects in which lacewings occur) around lights, because behind every light there is at least one gecko. One of the advantages of working at the Bom Sucesso field station is that the herpetologists had collected all of the geckos around the lights, so the insects were free to fly around at will. Unfortunately, of course, that gecko-free zone was short-lived. Then, within an hour after sunset, a bat swooped around the lights collecting all flying and crawling creatures. Insects have a rough life--there is no end to their predators!

Direction 3: In The City
1400 hours
São Tomé home base
Fabio completed the last touches on a website for STeP UP. This small project will go a long way towards getting world-wide attention to the NGO's work. He'll move it to the new SteP UP domain later this week.

1730 hours
Fabio met with a couple of members of the Club de Natureza ST (Nature Club of São Tomé) over ham sandwiches and fresh mango juice at the Bar Lozita. The trio discussed ways to promote conservation through education in the least expensive way possible. Fabio will attend their weekly meeting this Friday afternoon for a technology demonstration and roundtable discussion.

Thursday, 05.10.01
Near the Sambamgombe River
Southwest São Tomé Island

Sarah, Ricka, Joel and Dong continued collecting and sampling the coast. Although the intent was to get to some primary forest, due to the rough terrain they were somewhat restricted to the old plantation areas. The area had been clear-cut for crops an estimated 100 years ago and now was without roads. The approaches to the primary forest were seemingly impenetrable. The reasons for the forest's relative isolation, even on this small island, soon became apparent: tough hiking made worse by sheer cliffs.

More frogs and caecilians were collected today by Ricka. These new locations will help the team to determine aspects of their relationships with forest and plantation environments. What lives where and why? Under the blazing sun, Joel continued his search for tarantulas. Slightly disappointed by their scarcity, he was still able to find many other species of spiders. A lot of Joel's ID work will have to be done back at the Academy, and so for now, he will collect what he can find--and that is a lot!

Sarah continued her sampling, using her small field microscope to be able to see these diatoms in their relative environment within a short time of collecting.

Bom Sucesso Field Station
Norm woke up at the crack of dawn intending to get an early start and collect around Lagoa Amelia at 1500m. At this hour it was incredibly peaceful around the field station. Not a sound, except for cacophony of bird calls. How seldom it is in this modern world to be able to completely escape the constant sound of human civilization!

This field station is at mid-elevation (1174m), and the air is cool in the mornings. Considerable condensation is evident on all of the vegetation. On this morning by 6:30 am Norm was on his way up the trail to Lago Amelia, a hike that takes 1.5 hours. Lago Amelia is really more a swamp area than a lake, surrounded by forest with giant begonias. Along the way Norm saw a butterfly trap high in a tree that Delfin had put out the day before. A bizarre event happened soon after.

Norm kept hearing voices in the forest. As he ascended to a little shelter above the swamp, he continued to hear them. At the top there was a side trail, and suddenly he came upon a small meteorological station and tower in a grassy clearing, with no one around. It was all automated with solar panels, and the voices that Norm had heard were coming from what was obviously a radio relay station!

After collecting in the forest for about four more hours Norm found Delfin looking for him. Some of the farm laborers had caught a blind snake for Ricka, and Delfin was preserving it for her. He was all smiles as he turned over his two vials to Norm - they contained eight lacewings. Delfin said that he hadn't arrived home until four hours later than usual the night before, collecting lacewings along the way. What a pleasant experience--his enthusiasm abounded! Delfin not only got his new net, but also a granola bar, a handful of beef jerky and a some money as well.

Delfin said that Bom Sucesso Valley is one of the best agricultural areas of the country, and because of its higher altitude, they are able to grow beans, carrots, cabbage, lettuce, and several other temperate crops. Unfortunately, the market is small and the competition among farmers intense. The two discussed the possibility of exporting this agricultural produce to West Africa where the climate won't sustain these popular crops. Shortly therefore, Norm and Delfin parted ways, and Delfin started his long trek back home.

Again this evening and the next morning a peaceful tranquility reigned over the area, and birds and their diverse songs were everywhere.

Friday, 05.11.01, 0630 hours
Bom Sucesso Field Station

Fabio arrived with the vehicle to take Norm back to the steamy lowlands with his backpack full of newly collected insects. Fabio had also collected lacewings--on the lights surrounding the home base near the broad leaves of a fruit tree. Collectively, we have discovered over 100 specimens of lacewings, from high on the mountain down to sea level.

On the drive down, we encountered some mechanical problems with the Land Cruiser. The motor was fading in and out--mostly out--and we coasted down the mountain, powerless and in neutral. When Norm hit the brakes to slow down, he noticed they weren't catching either!! Now we found ourselves being able to only barely slow down and unsure as to whether we could handle the two small inclines ahead of us. When we entered Trinidade, we saw Delfin and did manage to stop. We now needed to be pushed down the main road through town in hopes of the motor catching. The willingness of the São Toméan people to help others demonstrated itself once again, and soon we had over a dozen people pushing the bulky Land Cruiser. With that much collective effort, the motor had to start--and it did!! Immediately after arriving we had a filter replaced.

1300 hours
The rest of the team, due to arrive at 1500 hours, suddenly arrived. They had made a deal, although the terms were not clearly understood by all, with the driver of a large flatbed truck and his helpers. After bargaining down to a non-extortionistic price, the truck departed. Sunburned or tanned, tired and hungry, it was time to rest. Now all six of us were together, after three days, and three directions.

1430 hours
Fabio caught a taxi to meet Tereza at the ECOFAC offices prior to a meeting at the Minister of Economy's office scheduled for 1500h.

1445 hours
There is a power outage-@#@#$%@!! Tereza and Fabio immediately get a call at the ECOFAC offices explaining that power is NOT down at the Minister's offices, and that the two (accompanied by Pundu of the Liceu Nacional) should come over immediately. WAWA- West Africa won again. This time, there was some work being done on the phone lines in front of the offices. No phone line, no internet. A local telephone project manager was rushed in to explain the situation. In short, they said they were "working on it." The meeting was rescheduled for Monday at 1500 hours, with the ECOFAC offices as an alternate locale, if necessary.

1530 hours
Tereza dropped Fabio and Pundu off at the Cultural Center for the Club da Natureza ST (Nature Club) meeting. The club has an astounding 96 members. Though not all are in attendance at every meeting, it is still an impressive number. Each member pays a monthly fee of 5000 dobras--the cost of a can of soda. The group's goal is to promote conservation through education, volunteerism, and demonstration. The members are comprised of local area students, ranging in age from 14 to 21. Already they have secured support from local television, several hotels and a museum for their cause. They were interested in how the Internet can help them. Fabio gave a demonstration of how information can be exchanged, and joined in a round-table discussion (held outside in a beautiful garden).



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