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Atlantic Whale and Dolphin Foundation

Month

September 2019

Swimming with Dolphins

by Emma Chereskin

Today, we set our alarms for 5:45 in the morning.

Arming ourselves with coffee in water bottles, we set off for the village of Moro Peixe with Maxime, owner of Sao Tome’s Paradise Tours for a morning out on the water.

At the village, just 20 minutes north of the city, we were brought to the Turtle Museum and Hatchery. A part of Project Tato, the hatchery trains eco-guards to patrol the beaches looking for turtle nests. By bringing the eggs safely to the incubation center at the museum, the baby turtles have a much higher survival rate when they are born.

The eco-guards and museum are doing amazing work for the conservation of 7 different species of sea turtles. We cannot wait to further develop a relationship with Project Tato and the Turtle Museum and Hatchery and to have our future volunteers experience turtle hatching season first-hand.

After getting to see the incubation room for the turtle eggs, we headed out to sea to find some mammalian wildlife, namely cetaceans. We scanned the horizon looking for any splashing or a glimpse of a dorsal fin. And finally, seemingly out of nowhere, we were surrounded by around 200 Pantropical Spotted Dolphins. We watched in awe as they breached, lunged, surfed, and porpoised all around the boat.

As the boat slowed down, we were able to get in the water with them, maintaining a respectful distance. One at a time, we put on our snorkels, jumped in the water, and held on to the boat as we meandered behind the group. Holding on to our swim suits with our left hand and the boat with the right, we lowered our faces down to see the world below us. And it was magical.

The dolphins swam so gracefully through the water, some with calves trailing beside them. We could even hear the dolphins click and whistle as they called to one another! It was an amazing experience, to see these animals in the open sea, where they belong. While we were watching the dolphins, we almost forgot to hang on to the boat!

It was sadly time to leave the dolphins to their own devices. It is so important to us that we only work with organizations that value and observe strict whale watching guidelines. Throughout our excursion with Maxime and Paradise Tours today, we maintained a safe distance, never interacted with the dolphins directly, and left after 30 minutes of watching these beautiful creatures.

On our way back to shore, we were able to stop for a brief swim in the shallows of Cabras Island. The crystal clear water was amazingly refreshing. As we headed towards home we snacked on fried sliced breadfruit and sat in awe of the amazing morning we were given by the dolphins of Sao Tome and Maxime.

 

 

 

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Sao Tome Botanical Gardens

by Emma Chereskin

Today we headed for Sao Tome’s Botanical Gardens at Bom Sucesso. Located high up in the mountains, it took a 2-hour long trek to get there from the city center. We were treated to a lovely road trip through villages and gorgeous rainforest, where we learned that wild pigs and goats abound on the island. The gardens are situated above the cloud bank, so we were surrounded by surreal mist as we toured the grounds.

Our guide led us around the gardens, pointing out different species of plants, some endemic, and describing their properties and uses. We were captivated by the beauty and colors of the plants. We learned which plants were good to make tea out of and which were used for medicine when you were sick. We even learned which plants were considered aphrodisiacs. One of the most interesting plants turned out to be the cinnamon tree. Cinnamon sticks come from the bark of the cinnamon tree and we were able to sniff the bark in its natural state before the drying process. So cool!

We eventually came to a small greenhouse with many hanging plant boxes. We had reached the orchid house! Our guide explained that there were many different species of orchids on the island, roughly half of which were endemic, meaning we could only see them here. The way they had planted the orchids in the hanging boxes was unlike anything we had ever seen. So beautiful!

A papaya tree was also featured on our tour and we learned that the bottom of the tree had large beautiful yellow flowers while the papaya fruit was located up at the very top of the tree. Who knew? We journeyed on to see huge elephant ear plants, a mangrove tree and even giant snails! The snails live in the jungles and make for a tasty snack in a pinch.

After the tour we were able to try some bananas that had just been cut down from a tree. We both agreed they were some of the best bananas we had ever had. The journey through the botanical gardens at Bom Sucesso was definitely worth the trek up into the cloud bank.

Sao Tome – First Day at Sea

by Emma Chereskin – Research Coordinator

After the 10 hour flight to Sao Tome, and after a couple of days of settling in, meeting some fabulous people and planning our schedule for the next three weeks; today was the first day we were able to get out on the water to see our humpback friends.

After a 2 hour trek along the eastern side of the island from Sao Tome city to Porto Alegre, we were greeted by beautiful beaches and a large number of hermit crabs.

Out on the water, the sea was quite rough, with whitecaps and huge swells that obscured our view of the horizon.

Our captain drove the boat around Rolas Island, a beautiful little volcanic paradise. As we took out the GPS, we watched the latitude get lower and lower until finally, we were at the equator!

We were fortunate enough to say that our trek took us all the way from the Northern Hemisphere into the Southern.

Rounding Rolas Island we stopped the boat the submerge the hydrophone. We waited anxiously to hear the characteristic humpback song or whistles of dolphins, but alas the sea was silent.

We journeyed onwards with a brief pit stop at the docks on Rolas Island.

We were treated to views of a gorgeous beach with crystal clear water and were able to watch a fisherman swim home with his daily catch of octopus and red snapper.

We headed back to shore, unable to spot any whales. But a day out on the water is still better than a day spent on land.

We drove back to the city with salt drying on our skin and smiles on our faces.

So begins our whale watching season!

Here’s to better luck next time around.

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