The Race: Fiat Lux


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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).



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.


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).



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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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:


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.


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


















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