Day 11 |
Sep 26, 2012

Bijagos Islands, Guinea Bissau

By Hans-Peter Reinthaler, Biologist

Co-ordinates: 10°59´N, 15°34´W
Weather: sunny
Air Temperature: 31°C

With a slight delay, because of the declaration into Guinea Bissau yesterday took longer than expected, the Silver Explorer arrived at the anchor position near the island of Meio in the Bijagos archipelago. The view of this island from the ship promised that it would be a wonderful day here in the West African tropics. After the Expedition Team landed on the island, a short scouting was done and the island was just a paradise. White sandy beaches stretching over miles, behind them a luxurious forest, and in front of them a calm blue sea.

The Bijagos archipelago consists of about 88 islands of which only 20 are inhabited. Meio was one of the uninhabited and is part of a marine nature reserve. Due to difficulties of communication with mainland Guinea Bissau that persist to this day, the population has a considerable degree of autonomy and has shielded its ancestral culture and its nature from outside.

After the landing site was set up we started with the disembarkation for those guests who wanted to join my colleagues, Kara and Patri and myself on a birding botany walk. The first part of the walk was along the beach where we could observe some herons, waders and Palm nut vultures. Also there were some beautiful Kapok trees with immense buttress roots reaching up to four meters high.

The second part was a short walk into the tropical forest, with perfect opportunities for a botanist to explain the structure and function of this fascinating ecosystem. Out on the beach again the walk continued along the tidal pools of the sea and there was equally much to see as before. All in all it was a wonderful nature walk on this island. Back at the landing site the hotel department already had setup a small bar and a BBQ on the beach and guests were welcome to enjoy a delicious lunch on a tropical island. Around noon I started my duty in the rescue boat, as our guests not only had the possibility to enjoy nature but also leisure time for swimming and kayaking in the bay and along the coast.

After some rest time and after the greatest heat of the day had passed, we offered to our guests a second walk this time in the opposite direction as the first one. Luckily we were able to observe Palm nut Vultures with their immature chicks. At 4.30 pm the last Zodiac with the last guests went back to the ship and soon afterwards the Silver Explorer heaved the anchor and set sail for the next stop: Poilao, another small island in the archipelago, famous for its sandy beaches and for the Green turtles that lay their eggs on these sandy beaches.

The excursion started just before sunset, to get to island still with sunlight but also that we don’t have to wait too long for the darkness and the turtles to come on land for breeding. The conditions couldn’t have been better: nearly full moon and high tide. The Zodiac ride to the island was a little bit bumpy but the reward is to see these fabulous creatures. The guests were split up in several groups and the groups were positioned along the beach and wherever a turtle would appear we would communicate with each other with the radio.
Soon afterwards the first call came that there were turtles, but to our surprise these were young hatching turtles, making their way out of the nest into the water. What a spectacular sight. Shortly afterwards another call on the radio: A turtle was found laying eggs and from then on more and more turtles were coming out of the water, making their way up the beach, shoveling a hole into the sand, where they laid their eggs into it. In total about 15 to 20 turtles were seen, what a wonderful experience under a wonderful tropical sky.

Back on the ship after a night Zodiac ride, guests were tired but enjoyed a well-deserved marvelous dinner in The Restaurant looking out onto this tiny little paradise in West Africa.