''Explorer's Africa'' Voyage 7107 Day 12

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Day 12 - April 5, 2011 - Bom Bom Island & Principe, Sao Tome & Principe

By Robin Aiello, Marine Biologist

Co-ordinates: 01º40.784’N, 007º19.429’E
Weather: Sunny with a few puffy cumulus clouds
Air Temperature: 29ºC
Sea Temperature: 29ºC


What a fantastic day!!! It started very early for the Expedition Team – we were in Zodiacs and out scouting by 6am, although disembarkation was not until about 7:45am. But since we had not been here before, we wanted to have a quick look around to see exactly what there was to see – and let me tell you, it was beautiful!

Bom Bom Island is a very small island just offshore from Principe Island – it is actually so close that it is connected by a beautiful wood boardwalk. Today, the plan was to spend the day in the vicinity of the Bom Bom Resort. There were several activities planned, including long and short nature walks, a visit to San Antonio (the only town on the island), snorkeling and swimming. Since we were the only people at the resort, we also had use of the pool and several of the villas. The Resort is absolutely stunning with well-groomed gardens of tropical plants, gorgeous villas looking over the ocean, meandering paths through the rainforest, and many small sheltered beaches fringed by volcanic rock outcrops. The birdlife was wonderful too, with African Grey Parrots and Reef Egrets flying overhead.

Guests had the opportunity to come and go from the ship as they wished and to participate in all or none of the activities. The first guests off the ship at 7:45am joined our birder on a long birding and botany walk through the rainforest. According to Will Wagstaff, our birder, they saw many of the birds that they were trying to see – so they were very happy with the additional birds that they were able to tick off their list!

The second group of walkers followed at 8:15am for a ‘fast’ paced walk through the rainforest, and the final group at 8:45am was a more moderate walk. Although I was not on either of these walks, everyone came back smiling and telling tales of beautiful scenery and exciting adventures (including one group that got a bit lost and ended up crossing the same creek about 4 times!

Me, well I was stationed for the entire day at the snorkeling beach – a beautiful long beach lined with large shade trees. It was perfect. Snorkellers and swimmers simply walked down the soft sand into the water, and had only a short snorkel to get over to some outcropping rocks where there were plenty of fish to see.

Although there were not many corals, and the fish were not as brightly coloured as some of us were expecting, from an academic perspective, this site was fascinating. This ‘reef’ is not a ‘reef’ as most of us generally think. The island is simply too isolated and the larvae from corals and fish simply cannot get to these islands. In fact, there are only a few species of corals and only about 230 species of fish here

But the fascinating thing is that this is NOT a degraded reef, suffering from impacts, but a very healthy site. Let me explain…Principe lies in a location about 500km from the west coast of West Africa, yet the predominant current here is the Equatorial Countercurrent that travels west to east at about a 100m depth. This is the current that carries most of the fish and coral larvae. Scientists have done DNA studies that show that, in fact, the majority of the species of fish and corals here DO derive from Brazil and the Caribbean – meaning that the larvae had to have travelled in the above-mentioned current. But few larvae can survive the months that it would take to float all the way from South America. As a result, the diversity in Principe is very low.

However, this same isolation results in the area being what is called a ‘Diversity Hotspot’ because a very high percentage of the species found here are endemic to this area – not found anywhere else. Fascinating!

Nearly all the guests ended up going for a nice snorkel or swim, and several guests tried snorkeling for the first time ever!!!

The guests that took the shuttle busses into San Antonio really enjoyed it. Although very small, it was an interesting insight into what it was like when the Portuguese colonized the island. The streets are lined with ancient crumbling examples of beautiful Portuguese architecture. The locals were very friendly and greeted the guests with genuine warmth.

It was a nice restful day – a nice mid-trip break before a busy few days to come in Benin and Togo.

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