We have travelled from the capital of Equatorial Guinea, Malabo, to the small town of Moka (population around 200). This unassuming place has been the real home base for the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program for over 20 years.
The Moka Wildlife Center sits at the base of steep hills that form the crater containing Lago Biao. When it’s humid, the surrounding ridges and all their dense vegetation are covered in clouds as they move through. It is a relatively modest place, with a house for students and researchers, an education building with classroom, lab space and wildlife exhibit.
Our water supply is from rain collectors on the roof, and hot showers are made with pots of water heated over the fire. I get a top bunk with a mosquito net and channel the endemic chameleon in the center’s terrarium each time I carefully climb into bed!
Drexel researchers and study abroad professors Patrick McLaughlin, PhD, and Dana Venditti have been doing their work here for the past two months, but both have been engaged with the program for over six years. McLaughlin studies frogs, genetics and conservation, although he is also working in conservation of pandas in China.
This year has been especially dry in the dry season—the streams I had hoped to find new species in are not flowing, and I felt lucky to find one small puddle with some whirligig beetles, water striders and small squaregill mayflies. These taxa tend to reside in still water, and they tolerate low oxygen levels, so I can’t be sure about the water quality from just this isolated pool.
McLaughlin is concerned that he has found very few frogs this year. Since he began surveying the amphibian communities, he has never seen so few. This year he has only seen three specimens.
When I sampled remote jungle streams in the southern beaches of Moaba, I was shocked to find only one species of crayfish and virtually no aquatic insects. Most streams have millions of insects, so they can be found under each rock and along the banks. But this stream, with no nearby populations or stressors, is an enigma.
Could the work of Christine Sealing, Amanda Lough, PhD, and Loyc Vanderclausen, PhD, vulcanologists in Drexel’s Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science Department, help me find clues as the what’s happening with the water quality? McLaughlin and I worry that missing frogs and missing bugs may also be related, which we hope to explore in a future trip.
During my visit, I was able to connect with Jose Manuel Esara, Faustino Anda Esono, and Jose Manuel Borilo at the National University of Equatorial Guinea. These professors are working hard to take stock of all the questions that can be asked and answered about Bioko’s natural environments. I asked about the recent dry period, and they noted that although Bioko gets 10 meters (394 inches) of rain a year, compared to Philadelphia, which gets 1,053 millimeters (41 inches) on average, there are still long periods where communities have no water each year.
We brainstormed about the ways Drexel researchers could collaborate with the University of Equatorial Guinea to help resolve some water quantity issues, not to mention poor water quality, with so many waterborne diseases. Drexel’s work here has always been based in collaborating to collect information for important natural resource issues.
Mary Katherine Gonder, PhD, is continuing the primate and sea turtle surveys that Gail Hearn, PhD, started around 20 years ago. She connects work in Bioko to surveys in nearby Cameroon and promotes related social initiatives in the community for employment and conservation.
Venditti, Gonder’s PhD student, collaborates with the forest service and university on bushmeat markets, which are the biggest threat to the island’s unique mammals.
As we explore ways to get more involved with this diverse and delicate tropical island ecosystem, the Drexel Study Abroad students are developing public service announcements to continue to urge the citizens of EG to preserve and protect their natural resources under a grant Gonder received from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Their final projects for McLaughlin’s Research Methods class and Venditti’s Natural Resource Economics class are also in progress, and they are huddled in groups around the research center working through the end of semester until the town’s ladies who cook for them, known as the “Mamas” announce that dinner is ready.
I’ll leave Moka in a few days to go back to Malabo for my departure, full of ideas for how we can keep supporting this amazing program and develop research on water quality and quantity. That means I’ll have to say goodbye to nighttime serenade of the hyrax outside my bedroom window, the stoic assessment of the visiting chameleon, and the distant sounds of colobus monkeys. Well, maybe not goodbye—maybe just hasta luego.
Read part one in this series, here.
Text by Stefanie Kroll, PhD, Academy Watershed Ecology Section Leader and Drexel Assistant Research Professor, Department of Biodiversity, Earth and Environmental Science
Images courtesy of the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program