Fact finding expedition to São Tomé & Principe puts biodiversity hotspot on the map
By SPEA, Mon, 04/02/2013 - 13:36
SPEA maps palm oil company’s effect on local biodiversity São Tomé and Príncipe, an island nation located in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Central Africa, is probably one of the last unknown biodiversity hotspots in Africa. The country’s forests are home to 28 species of endemic birds, an extraordinary number considering the country’s size (the Galapagos, which is eight times bigger, has 22). Habitat destruction, together with the absence of any census or monitoring schemes, are the country’s biggest threats. In 2010 the São Tomé and Príncipe Government signed a contract with Agripalma (a joint venture between the company Socfinco and the São Tomé Government), loaning a 5,000 hectare concession to plant oil palm. According to Agripalma, this size would be necessary in order to secure the profitability of this venture. Unfortunately, and according to SPEA’s (Portuguese Society for the Study of Birds, BirdLife in Portugal) previous visits, these 5,000 hectares include rich secondary forest zones located in the surroundings or directly within the Obó Natural Park. This Park covers one third of the island and is home to some of the most endangered birds of the world, such as the critically endangered Dwarf Olive Ibis Bostrychia bocagei, the São Tomé Fiscal Lanius newtoni and the São Tomé Grosbeak Neospiza concolor. If we are serious about preserving these iconic species while allowing a sustainable country’s development, we must act and we must do it now. Following an assessment done in 2012, a joint mission this month led by SPEA and funded by RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds), will arrive in São Tomé. Counting on the support of local ABS (Associação de Biólogos São Tomenses), SPEA’s biologist Nuno Barros will spend two months mapping all the areas currently affected by the Agripalma palm oil company. The results of these surveys will be made available to both Agripalma and the São Tomé and Príncipe government in order to inform further decision-making. But SPEA’s objectives are not only focusing on the terrestrial species. With the support of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme, and counting on the vital sponsorship offered by Bom-Bom Island Resort, SPEA will lead BirdLife’s first expedition to the Tinhosas Islands.