Equatorial Guinea: The Waters at the Middle of EarthLatest update March 11, 2019 Started on March 5, 2007
WCS have been working in a one of the pristine places on earth, Equatorial Guinea, since 2007. The only spanish speaking country in Africa, it is a singular arrangement of islands and continent with 92% of seas.
As the airplane landed in the middle of the Atlantic at the airport of Annobón Island, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard so many things about this small island in the Gulf of Guinea that it had almost acquired mythical properties in my imagination and I was about to clash with reality. Although reality and imagination often are not in the same realm, I was hoping that in this case they would blend into a nice surprise for my senses.
Annobón lies almost 600 km from mainland Equatorial Guinea, a tiny speck of land inhabited by 4,000 people. I am joined by INDEFOR’s park ranger for Annobón’s protected area during this visit, we hope to work together with fishers in order to better understand their livelihoods, a livelihood that is intrinsically linked to the sea.
With the help of local authorities, we meet fishers from all around the island under a small group of trees on a beach that would be the main feature on any tourism brochure: plain yet beautiful. Together, on maps of the island, we draw their main fishing grounds, scribble down the species they catch and register their observations on the visits of humpback whales, orcas, dolphins, tiger and hammerhead sharks, these are just some of the some of the many species that we discussed.
The following day, we arranged a boat ride with several fishers to circle the island. The landscape is breathtaking; it feels like a scene from Jurassic Park, I felt like I was stealing this view from another world. As we move around the various bays and coves, the fishers point out mud flats and reefs hidden beneath the waves where they free dive for conch and octopus, hidden rocks where they fish for wahoo, shallow areas where female humpback whales give birth to their young and secluded beaches where marine turtles lay their eggs. All in all, a paradise that we get to appreciate but need to conserve so others can experience these wonders and the local population can continue to benefit from its resources.
As the sun settles on the horizon, the men gather under the trees of the town’s beach ready to play a round of checkers. They circle the two players, watching as they pound the board when they make their moves, smiling at each other, pointing out which move they would have made instead. Today's winner is the man that told me the legend of the island’s cave a couple of days ago. A small beach on the southern coast hides a cave, a cave said to have a tunnel that goes through the heart of the island, reaching San Antonio de Palé to the North. However, it is forbidden to enter. Someone, no one knows who, laid out a curtain several meters into the cave. No one is sure what would happen if this fragile barrier is breached, perhaps nothing, perhaps a curse would fall on the trespasser. No one knows and no one goes beyond.
The small restaurants in San Antonio de Palé offer the freshest fish, conch and octopus you can imagine. As you walk around the streets, you can see a young man hammering at the shell of the early dawn’s catch of conch, a mother laying small salted pelagic fish to dry under the sun or a fisher walking with his morning prize, a wahoo as large as his leg. As Santos, the owner of one of the establishments in the small town, frequently says “the only problem you will have today, is that you will eat well”.
As our adventure comes to an end and airplane lifts off, I can’t help but compare my experience to those high expectations I had envisioned. My mind flies back to the local cuisine, the lake in the crater of the volcano that created the island, the fish drying along the streets, the lush green forests, the hidden coves, and the awe-inspiring cliffs that are part of the island’s landscape. But most of all, I remember the friendly people of Annobón and how a smile was always ready to great me as I walked around the island. I look forward to visiting again and getting a better idea of the wonders that lie beneath the waves when we return to mythic Annobón with an ROV as part of our crew.
by Erick Ross Salazar, Marine Director at WCS-EG
Equatorial Guinea is located in the heart of the Gulf of Guinea, a biologically rich area of Africa where it’s possible to see an elephant, a humpback whale, and a leatherback sea turtle all in the same day.
WCS have been working in one of the last pristine places on earth, Equatorial Guinea, since 2007. The organization started with the "ambassadors of the sea" sea turtles program, but later has gone on to work with whales, fishes, habitats, birds and more creatures that you can imagine. Equatorial Guinea is 92% water thanks to the oceanic territory granted by the islands of Bioko, Annobon and Corisco in the Gulf of Guinea. What do you do in a country that is 92% water? Explore, explore, explore! Since 2014 WCS has been undergoing research to get as much information as possible to inform a Marine Spatial Planning process. We want to use the latest science available, which includes sea exploration! Another thing that makes Equatorial Guinea unique is the fact that it is the only Spanish-speaking country on the African continent. This creates an opportunity for collaboration with scientists and managers from Latin America with experience in conservation who have share the same language.
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