Sunday, August 19, 2007


Just over a year ago my colleague Howard Rosenbaum at WCS asked me to join a project they were proposing: cetacean, manatee and sea turtle surveys in northern Angola. After numerous proposal drafts, Skype conference calls and a scoping trip to the site last November by Tim and Angela, this week the contract has finally been signed. It's funded by Angola Liquid Natural Gas (ALNG), a consortium of oil companies that are building a transfer station (oil transferred there from offshore wells) at Soyo (see top left corner of Angola map below). It will be a very different project from my manatee work in Gabon. The challenge will be working with an oil company to do the best thing for the wildlife, but it's a step in the right direction that they have asked for these surveys.

Below is a Google view of Soyo and the Sereia Peninsula (on left). I'll be mostly working in the rivers that you see in the middle of the photo. Angola has emerged from years of war and very little wildlife work has been done there. To the best of my knowledge, the Soyo area has never been surveyed for manatees, other than a very brief survey by non-manatee biologists contracted by ALNG a few years ago. Angola is the southern limit of the West African manatees' range. We already know Olive Ridley sea turtles nest at the site, since they were documented there last season. And humpback whales migrate by offshore on their way to Antarctic feeding grounds. Tim hopes to find Humpback Dolphins there as well (another very rare species).

A dead manatee washed up at the site a couple months ago and the staff documented it with photos and collected measurements and a genetic sample. Unfortunately the staff biologist, Warren, was away at the time so the carcass wasn't saved. This is disappointing for several reasons (I know the non-biologists are wondering how NOT keeping a carcass could ever be disappointing in any way!). But, West African manatees are so rare, that any carcass is a a treasure of information. This one was of particular interest for 2 reasons: it had propeller scars which are common on manatees in the US but rare (as far as we know) in Africa, and from the pictures the female carcass appeared to be pregnant. I hope there aren't more carcasses in the future, but at least we now know manatees are present in the area.
Photo courtesy of Angola LNG.
So, I will likely make my first survey trip to Angola this Fall while I'm already in Africa. And of course I'll write about it here on the blog.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Gearing up for Gabon

Plane tickets are purchased and I’m getting ready to return to Gabon on Sept. 20. Logistics details are starting to fall into place and it will be an action packed few months in Africa. Here’s a brief overview of some of my plans:

- I’ll be traveling to N’dogo Lagoon in central Gabon to do surveys of this area (faithful readers may recall that I tried to get there last year but was foiled by broken planes). In 1995 my boss Buddy Powell named N’dogo as one of the Eight Critical Areas for Manatee Conservation, so I will be following up his work to see how manatees are doing there 12 years later. Bas Huijbregts of WWF has offered to assist me with lodging and a boat at Gamba for 2 weeks while I’m there.

- This Fall I'm also partnering with WCS sea turtle researcher Angela Formia to combine our efforts for manatee and sea turtle interviews and boat surveys at Akanda National park in northern Gabon and Corisco Island (home to West Africa’s third largest seagrass bed) on the border of Gabon and Equatorial Guinea.

- The United Nations Environment Programme, Convention on Conservation of Migratory Species (UNEP CMS) has invited me to participate in a meeting in the Canary Islands this October to draft the West African Manatee Action Plan. I’m still working on funding to get there and hope I can, because it will be a unique opportunity to work on conservation of the species with people from all over West Africa.

- In late November I’ll be presenting this Gabon research as a scientific poster at the Sirenian Workshop (for you non-marine mammal folks, manatees and dugongs make up the Order Sirenia) and as an oral presentation at the Society of Marine Mammalogy biennial conference in Cape Town, South Africa.

I’m looking forward to it all!!