Let the Diving Begin!
The diving begins and conditions couldn’t be better. Calm seas, warm and transparent waters, abundant ocean life. The diversity here is lower than in most of the Atlantic, but there are several unique species found only here (endemics). Our team of seven has several different but complimentary missions, and the ultimate objective of all our tasks is to provide data that will support conservation efforts in the island. I am documenting our records through photography, looking for interesting species interactions, organizing logistics, and evaluating the possibility of making Principe a permanent monitoring site.
Cadu and Renato are assessing the fish community using visual transects. They lay down a 20m transect over the reef and count every fish they see 1m to both sides of the transect. The data they collect will give us a sense of how diverse the community is and how it’s organized. It will also serve as baseline data for future surveys. Sergio follows them around and lays down quadrats to be photographed. Since we are surveying several different habitats, photos of the bottom will allow us to show quantitatively that certain species prefer certain types of substrate.
Luisa is doing “video plots”: she sets a series of GoPro cameras in various spots along the reef and records fish activity in front of these cameras for 15 minutes. Her data will give us unbiased information on how fish interact with each other and with the bottom. Gasparini is searching for new species; he has a very good eye for the small ones, and the more unique (endemic) species we find here, the more likely that the region will be protected. São Tomé native Hugulay is not yet dive certified, so he is snorkeling to learn the local fish assemblage (something he hasn’t done before starting his PhD at Sergio’s lab in Brazil). His project will continue after the foreign portion of the team leaves: he will be interviewing the local fishers to try to learn more about the apparent decline of top predators in the area, something all too common these days.
Our routine is heavy but rewarding. We wake up early every day to set up our cameras, and take a short ride to the beach to load up the boat and head out for the first dive. After we return, we have to transcribe our data as soon as possible to avoid forgetting important details. Coffee consumption is high, and nights are long, but we are doing what we love.
On the next blog, I will report on our first trip to Tinhosas, a group of islands to the far south of Principe. Stay tuned!