The Race: Fiat Lux

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Andrew Stanbridge, our photographer, receiving welcome local support; Príncipe Id, 2013 (all photos by Andrew unless otherwise indicated)

Readers will know that our primary focus from the beginning has been to discover and describe the biological wonders of these two islands in the Gulf of Guinea.  So far we have done pretty well on the scientific side of things, publishing 35 peer- reviewed, scientific papers, participating in international symposia on the biodiversity and island science and, among us delivering numerous presentations and posters at other scientific meetings via various media such as film, radio and video around the world. While in the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe we give illustrated talks to tourists at lodges, on local television and to advanced students at the polytechnic; even to friends in the government. But what about the majority of citizens of the islands themselves?  To be honest, they are no more aware of science nor of their unique environmental heritage than the majority of people in our own countries in Europe and the New World are aware of theirs.

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Youngster at Nova Moca, Sao Tome

Some six years ago, I was pondering how to involve the island people in the unique biological nature of their island home when I remembered something from my own youth: I happened to be young at the time one of the most successful food franchises in modern history caught fire in America: McDonald’s hamburgers!!

In the early sixties McDonald’s hamburgers were marketed heavily to young children, not to adults  Early Saturday mornings televisions  were beset with cartoon shows and other youth programs which entertained kids and allowed parents a little more time to sleep. There, the McDonald’s ads featured a clown (Ronald McDonald), lots of young kids and the memorable logo, the Golden Arches (below), which still endures today!  Youthful viewers were urged to convince their parents to take them to McDonalds….and the rest is history!

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A survey of the overall primary school curriculum by Roberta Ayres, MSc, coordinator and co-founder of our education project, revealed that the kids were mostly learning about European farm animals, rather than the unique island  species all around them!.  So in 2012, we and our local island colleagues inaugurated the education program focusing on youngsters, and this continues today..  We initially chose about  thirty geographically disparate primary schools (below) on both islands as our targets. We visit the same kids for three years in a row in these schools; i.e. we see the same group of classmates when they are in the third grade, then the fourth and finally fifth grades. After three years, we start over with the third grade.

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Third grade in primary school. Velma Schnoll, early participant from CAS in the background.

Each year our committee (below) meets to decide upon and produce the educational materials to bring to the schools.

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Education Team: Roberta Ayres, Sean Edgerton, Dr, Tom Daniel, Wayne and Alice Settle. Absent: Mike Murakami, Jim Boyer and Bob Drewes.

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These materials have ranged from simple colorful posters to decks of playing cards featuring endemic species (above). Last year (Gulf of Guinea IX), each child received a bird booklet and a pair of plastic binoculars (below).

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Quintino Quade (STeP UP) assisting with newly bestowed binoculars.

This year for GG XI, we are departing slightly from our emphasis on unique endemic species, and instead celebrating the special nature of the coastal waters, from which the islanders acquire the vast majority of their protein. There are, of course, plenty of endemic marine species in the waters of São Tomé and Príncipe as well.

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First, we are bringing brightly-colored posters of coastal species we have collected and identified for broad distribution (above).  In the classrooms, each fourth grader will receive a booklets describing these habitats (in Portuguese) and magnifiers. (below).

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This year our chief designer has  brought more images of people into the material, rather than emphasizing the plant and animal species alone.  The sketches above are preliminaries by our layout artist, Jim Boyer, later incorporated into the booklet, showing children using the magnifiers they will receive.

It is important to know that the children and teachers in each class are not just handed the materials.. Each classroom visit involves a small presentation (always involving the teacher and one or two students of his or her choice) showing how to use the materials; this presentation remains unchanged throughout the season and all members of team are involved.

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Anita Rodrigues (STeP Up) and Dr. Maria Jeronimo preparing materials for school visit

Our island partners, Quintino Quade, Anita Rodriques and Roberta dos Santos of STeP UP, notify all of the teachers and administrators in advance of our visits; Quintino and Roberta are themselves teachers and know almost everyone involved in education in the islands.

We are frequently aided by travelers we meet while on the islands and it is amazing how much fun everyone has.

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Signe Mikulane,  a  PhD  candidate volunteer  from the University of Heidleberg with Quintino Quade of STeP Up

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Maria and Anita in a classroom.

There are two important cornerstones to our project: 1. Every student gets a copy of thematerials we bring; no one is ever left out, and 2, we never preach.  Our message is always the same; “these islands are special, there are plants and animals here that are found nowhere else in the world. They belong to you, and nobody else. Be proud of them.”. Our goal is to impart a feeling of ownership and pride in their environment, without dictating how to manage these precious resources.

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Since our first work in the schools in 2012 we have personally reached about 2,000 children per year.  This part of the Gulf of Guinea project is a great joy (see below),  and I hope some years from now that one or two of these kids might be instrumental in finding a useful way preserving some of the uniqueness that we scientists have had such pleasure in discovering.

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Velma Schnoll greets arriving Roberta Ayres in the Sao Tome  airport – and another season begins

My next posting will be from the islands; in the meantime, here’s the parting shot:

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This is a sticker and our project logo. Each teacher is given 10 each year to award to students for good work.  We return each year to see these proudly worn on school uniforms.

PARTNERS

Our research and educational expeditions are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund.”*  On the islands, we are grateful for ongoing governmental support, and especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome, our “home away from home”. The upcoming GG XI has been funded in part by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”.  Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging, and to the Príncipe Trust for partial sponsorship of our ongoing primary school education program.

*California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118
USA

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Race: “Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends…” – (the troops)

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Ghosts of Past Bondage and Present Beauty (unless otherwise indicated, images by our photographer, A. Stanbridge.)

Our next expedition, GG XI, departs in November. Since returning from GG IX last year, we have been involved in two subsequent expeditions: that of graduate student Matthias Neumann (University of Kassel) whose work on island flatworms we are supporting, and GG X, our second marine expedition led by Dr. Luiz Rocha, of the Academy. As a result, GG IX has perhaps received less “blog attention” than usual, so I am including a few more images below.

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Upon arrival on Príncipe Island, we always pay our respects to President Jose “Tose” Cassandra, in order to inform him of our intentions. He has been a strong supporter of our scientific and educational work on the island since early days; as can be readily seen, a visit to his office is always a pleasure. To my left is Dr. Maria Jeronimo, Portuguese entomologist.

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Above, the team is hiking up to the rim of Lagoa Amelia, a crater lake on São Tomé at over 1400 meters. The giant bamboo is  an invasive or it was introduced for some reason; it is not native to the islands. One of the major joys of being a field biologist is that one often finds oneself working in wonderfully beautiful places like these.

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Kids watching a video of themselves dancing in an abandoned roça (plantation house).

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At about 700 m in elevation in the Contador Valley on the northwest side of São Tomé, there is a kilometer-long tunnel/aqueduct that is a great locality for bats, amblypygids,  geckos(below), and other normally night-time critters of interest. The team in route to the tunnel: Dr Luis Mendes, Dr Rayna Bell, Lauren Scheinberg, Drewes, Dr Maria Jeronimo and K. B. Lim.

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Lauren Scheinberg and Rayna Bell in the tunnels.

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Drewes, Quintino Quade and K. B. Lim in the tunnels.

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The giant, four-fingered gecko of Sao Tome, Hemidactylus greefi.

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The tunnel entrance is behind us; we are examining specimens just collected . To the left is Scheinberg, Drewes, K.B.Lim, manager of the local power plant, Dr. Luis Mendes (foreground) and Quintino Quade.

The water of the Rio Contador is eventually directed to the country’s only brewery,  far below in the town of Neves. Here ROSEMA, the local beer, is produced; we feel this is a noble enterprise and support it frequently and enthusiastically.

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Dr. Luis Mendes with Quintino Quade on the hunt.

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The prey: a silverfish, one of Luis’s academic specialties.

Below, Dr. Rayna Bell of the Smithsonian Institution with a São Tomé giant treefrog, Hyperolius thomensis. Rayna has been studying the genetics and evolution of the unique tree frogs of the islands for a number of years.

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Above, three members of the team work an unnamed waterfall on the west side of Príncipe Island; from left to right: Dr. Maria Jeronimo, Rayna and Lauren Scheinberg. Shortly after this image was taken, Rayna Bell collected a large female Príncipe giant tree frog (Leptopelis palmatus).

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Not only is it rare to find such an animal during daylight hours, this is also the only all-black African tree frog specimen I have ever seen in a lifetime of studying them. Tree frogs always protect their under surfaces against water loss by evaporation; thus the frog is perched (above) on the largest smooth surface available nearby- our indomitable photographer, Andrew Stanbridge.

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Andrew is the veteran of six expeditions and has provided us with invaluable photographic documentation of our past six years of fieldwork.

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Drs Jeronimo and Luis Mendes, our GG IX entomologists, examine the latest butterfly capture (above) and below, Roberta Ayres, coordinator of all of our education efforts examines the oddest vertebrate on São Tomé, the unique legless amphibian or caecilian (Schistometopum thomense) known to the locals as “Cobra bobo” and greatly feared as well. Its nearest relative is found thousands of kilometers to the East in Tanzania and Kenya. Caecilians are harmless.

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Roberta Ayres  near São Nicolao, São Tomé.

The eleventh expedition will run from mid-November to mid-December and will include nine scientists, two of them new to the project.
Our botanists, Drs Tom Daniel and Jim Shevock, will be joined for the first time by Dr. César Garcia (below left) of the University of Lisbon, Museum of Natural History.  César is  a bryophyte specialist who has already worked and published with shevock; together they will continue to survey the moss, liverwort and hornwort flora of the islands. This year the botanists will again attempt a survey of the remote Pico Mesa on Principe.

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Dr. Lauren Esposito (above, right, with an American crocodile in hand – Crocodylus acutus) is a new member of the faculty of CAS and a specialist on arachnoids. She and returning entomologist Maria Jeronimo will continue with our ongoing broad survey of the insect faunas of the islands. Roberta Ayres, our education head, Rayna Bell, Andrew and I round out the members of GG XI. While on Príncipe we will hopefully be joined in the field by Felipe Spina a bee biologist with the Príncipe Trust.
Each year, we look forward to seeing our local collaborators and friends such as Quintino Quade, his wife Anita Rodrigues and Roberta dos Santos all from the NGO STeP UP, Arlindo Carvalho of the Ministry of the Environment, our “friend on the mountain,” Henrique Pinto da Costa and many, many others.

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We are very fortunate to have the support of both the Omali Boutique Hotel on São Tomé and Roca Belo Monte on Príncipe (above left and right respectively) who provide us with logistical support during our expeditions; this has been vital to the success of our Gulf of Guinea projects over the years.
Here’s the parting shot:

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Storm brewing on the southeast coast near Rebeira  Peixe, Sao Tome.

PARTNERS:
Our research and educational expeditions are supported by tax-deductable donations to the “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund.”*  On the islands, we are grateful for ongoing governmental support, and especially to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment of the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome, our “home away from home”. The upcoming GG XI has been funded in part by a generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”.  Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging, and to the Príncipe Trust for partial sponsorship of our ongoing primary school education program.

*California Academy of Sciences
55 Music Concourse Dr.
San Francisco, CA 94118
USA