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Environmental Education activities in São Tomé island, São Tomé and PrÍncipe
Diogo Veríssimo1*, Gabriel DOS SANTOS OQUIONGO2, Leonel Viegas2, Ricardo Faustino de Lima2,3
1 Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology (DICE), University of Kent, CT2 7NZ, Canterbury, UK;
2 Associação Monte Pico, Monte Café, São Tomé, CP 1119, São Tomé and Príncipe
3 Animal Diversity and Conservation Research Group, Centre for Environmental Biology, Lisbon University Faculty of Sciences, Campo Grande 1749-016 Lisboa, Portugal
Diogo Veríssimo is a Portuguese conservation biologist specialized in conservation education and social marketing. He has worked in projects across Europe, Asia, South and Central America, and Africa.
Gabriel dos Santos Oquiongo and Leonel Viegas are Santomeans, member of the environmental NGO Monte Pico, and have participated as research assistants in several conservation projects in the island of São Tomé.
Ricardo Faustino de Lima is a Portuguese conservation biologist interested in the impacts of human activities on the endemic species of São Tomé and Príncipe. He recently finished his PhD at Lancaster University and is now a post doc researcher at Lisbon University. He is also a member of Monte Pico.
Recommended citation: Veríssimo, D., Oquiongo, G.S., Viegas, L., Lima, R. 2012. Environmental Education Activities in São Tomé Island, São Tomé and Príncipe. Available at diogoverissimo.com
Cover: Photos taken by during field work in São Tomé Island; © Diogo Veríssimo
The island of São Tomé, on the west coast of central Africa, is rich in endemic biodiversity but has received little attention in terms of biodiversity conservation. This is reflected in a lack of investment in environmental education and consequent low levels of knowledge on sustainability and on natural resource management. To address this gap we conducted a project to disseminate information about biodiversity conservation and sustainability, and also to identify knowledge gaps in two important stakeholder groups, communities surrounding the Obô Natural Park and school children. The project took place during the months of October and November 2012, directly reaching 13 local communities and six schools, from kindergartens to high schools. The results show that local communities still largely ignore the existence of the Obô Natural Park but are generally aware of the problems surrounding natural resources management. People from local communities have a considerable knowledge of the species around them, although they usually do not know that these can only be found in São Tomé. In relation to schools, and bearing in mind the large age interval encompassed in this project, there is an overall better awareness of the existence of a Natural Park and the endemic species, which is possibly linked to the recent introduction of environmental education in the national curriculum. Most students, and especially those living closest to the Obô, recognise a large number of species. The younger students usually are not aware that a number of these only exist in São Tomé. Given the scarcity of financial resources in São Tomé and Principe, it is likely that foreign actors will play a significant role in ensuring biodiversity conservation. However, conservation will only be successful if Santomean stakeholders are engaged. In this report we describe and comment on our experience in the complex social context of São Tomé and Principe, providing clues on how to improve awareness and engagement in future conservation projects,
Islands have long been recognized as the home of many unique species, featuring prominently in a number of lists of the world’s most valuable areas for biodiversity conservation (Kier et al. 2009). São Tomé is an example of this importance, being home to a wealth of endemic and threatened species spanning diverse taxonomic groups, such as terrestrial molluscs, orchids and birds (Jones 1994), with new species being discovered every year (e.g. Garcia et al. 2012; Rocha et al. 2012). However, in contrast with other African offshore islands such as Mauritius or the Seychelles, the island of São Tomé has received little attention (Holmes et al. 2012) and remains largely unstudied (Dallimer et al. 2009).
This lack of investment in biodiversity conservation in São Tomé, mirrors the lack of interest in environmental and conservation education. Most of the researchers that come to the island to work on biodiversity make little effort to disseminate their findings to non-specialists. An exception being the California Academy of Sciences, which started the first large scale conservation education effort in 2011, as part of a long term commitment to raising awareness about biodiversity in São Tomé and Príncipe (Drewes 2012). With this in mind, R.F. de Lima, who completed his PhD on “Land-use management and the conservation of endemic species in the island of São Tomé” in 2012, secured funding from The Rufford Small Grants Foundation to raise environmental awareness in the island. The aim of this initiative was to disseminate the results of de Lima’s research, while raising awareness of the uniqueness and importance of the biodiversity of São Tomé, and understanding the knowledge and attitudes of key stakeholders towards biodiversity, sustainability and natural resources management. To achieve these aims the activities targeted (i) students at different school levels, especially from those schools not previously visited by the California Academy of Sciences, which would be reached through schools visits, (ii) rural communities around the Obô Natural Park (ONP), which would be reached through community meetings, (iii) government, industry and ONG stakeholders, which would be engaged through public debates, and (iv) all non-specialists, which would be reached through mass media such as television. This report focuses on the experience gained with the first two target groups.
Given the range of expertise required for the project and its limited time frame, D. Veríssimo, a Portuguese conservationist who specializes in social marketing, environmental education and behaviour change, was contacted to help in this effort, namely with the activities to be carried out in schools and rural communities. The team was completed by Gabriel dos Santos Oquiongo and Leonel Viegas, two Santomeans residing in small rural communities, and who contributed with their communication skills and sound knowledge of São Tomé’s biodiversity and society.
The aim of this report is to provide information on the implementation, outcomes and limitations of the environmental education activities targeting the school students and rural communities, as to ensure that the lessons learnt can be shared and inform future work around the human dimensions of biodiversity conservation in São Tomé.
2. Study Area
The oceanic island of São Tomé (00°25’N–00°01’S, 06°28’E–06°45’E) is located on the equator, 255 km west of Gabon, in the African mainland. The island has an area of 857 km² (47 km x 28 km) being the second largest in the Gulf of Guinea, after Bioko.
The climate of São Tomé is oceanic equatorial, dividing the year into rainy (September to May) and dry seasons (June to September) (Jones & Tye 2006). The annual average temperatures range between 22°C and 33°C in coastal areas, but diminish with altitude such that above 1,000 m, the minima are around 7°C (Christy 2001). The central mountainous part of the island acts as a barrier to the prevailing southwesterly wind. This causes heavy rainfall in the south-west and south, with average annual averages of 7 000 mm and a marked rain shadow, with average annual rainfall of less than 500 mm in the north and north-east (Christy 2001).
The island of São Tomé was discovered by Portuguese navigators at the end of 1470. São Tomé soon became a major sugar production center, which lead to the clearing of large tracts of lowland forest (Peet & Atkinson 1994). By the 1540s, São Tomé was the largest exporter of sugar in the world. However, it was not before the introduction of coffee, in 1822, that forest clearance took place at higher altitudes, as this crop is best grown in these areas (Peet & Atkinson 1994). Soon afterwards, cocoa was also introduced and became São Tomé's major export in the 1880s. Between 1908 and 1919, São Tomé was the largest cocoa producer in the world (Peet & Atkinson 1994). This 'scramble for land' cleared approximately 70% of São Tomé's forest and left a very small area of forest remaining. This situation would, however, be reversed in the mid-1970’s thanks to both a crash in cocoa prices and the arrival of independence in 1975, when the islands of São Tomé and Príncipe constituted the Democratic Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe. At this time, many plantations reverted to secondary forest, increasing the country’s overall forest cover. In 1989, around 90% of the country was covered by forested land-uses, with old-growth forest, secondary forest and shade plantation covering similar proportions of its terrestrial area (Jones 1991). Today, São Tomé and Príncipe is a developing country with an economy largely dependent on rural activities, and although the country’s social indicators have improved in the last decade, it still ranked only 144 out of 187 in the 2011 Human Development Index (UNDP 2011).
Currently, about 85% of São Tomé’s old-growth rainforest falls within the island’s only protected area, the Obô Natural Park (ONP), which covers 244 km2 of the island. However, resources are limited and there is little conservation management on the ground (Dallimer et al. 2009). Hence, the ONP is subject to pressures associated with unprotected areas, such as illegal hunting and deforestation, and the benefits of the Natural Park to the local population have so far been negligible.