Gulf of Guinea

Let’s travel to the eastern side of the Atlantic Ocean, right off the coast of Africa. Between Cape López, near the Equator, and Cape Palmas lies a body of water known as the Gulf of Guinea.

The Volta River and the third largest river in Africa, the Niger River, are the major rivers that feed into the Gulf of Guinea. Because of the runoff from these two rivers, and the high amounts of rain along West Africa, the gulf’s water is lower in salinity than other parts of the ocean. This warm water is separated from deeper, colder, saltier water by a shallow thermocline.

A thermocline is a thin, distinct layer in a body of water that marks when the temperature of the water rapidly changes with depth. In the ocean, it separates the upper mixed layer near the surface and the deep, calm water below. Thermoclines exist in the atmosphere as well.

Off the coast of Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire, a seasonal coastal upwelling forms in the gulf. An upwelling occurs when cold, nutrient-rich water from the deep is brought up to the surface water. This nutrient-rich water creates a boom of activity that attracts organisms from every level of the food chain, including fish, birds, and mammals. When the nutrients are depleted, the organisms move on.

The Gulf of Guinea has been nominated as a Hope Spot. The beaches around the gulf contain prime nesting sites for leatherback sea turtles, which are a threatened species. Sea turtles grow for many years before they reach sexual maturity, and the process of reproduction can be fatal to females. Newly hatched sea turtles have a high mortality rate because of predation before they reach the ocean and from human activity. It’s extremely important to protect these nesting sites.

Within the Gulf of Guinea lies the island nation of São Tomé and Príncipe, which contains vital habitat for humpback whales, African manatees, dolphins, and soft corals. Humpback whales are considered endangered by the IUCN Red List their populations are threatened by whalers and by getting struck by cruise liners and cargo ships. African manatees are classified as vulnerable.

The Niger River is being explored for oil and gas mining, which could have a serious impact on the Gulf of Guinea. Luckily, non-government organizations (NGOs) have been working hard with both government and international partners to develop green practices to extract those natural resources. The NGOs have also been developing full-scale wildlife law enforcement programs to protect the gulf and its wildlife.

This is definitely a cool Hope Spot and I wish them the best of luck. If you travel to any of the beaches containing turtle nesting sites, see if there are any volunteer programs you can join. I know in the US there are volunteer programs that help get the baby sea turtles into the water. May not be the ideal vacation plan, but it’ll be something memorable to share with your friends and family!



Jackass/African Penguin

Photo by Jean van der Meulen from Pexels

Domain: Eukarya
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Sphenisciformes
Family: Spenisciformes
Genus: Spheniscus
Species: demersus

First, I would like to clarify that this penguin has two accepted common names, Jackass and African penguin, and I’m not just cursing just for the fun of it. The two common names are used to describe unique features of this species of penguin.

This species is known as the African penguin, because it lives on the coasts of South Africa and in the south Atlantic and southern Indian oceans. It’s lovingly called the Jackass penguin because when it calls out for a mate it sounds like a braying donkey, and the name “Donkey penguin” just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Seriously though, take the time to watch videos of these guys’ mating calls—it will make your day!

Not all penguins live in arctic climates. The African penguin has adaptations that allow it to survive the cold temperatures of the oceans and the sweltering heat of Africa. It has a dense coat of feathers that keeps it warm and water proof. For the hotter weather, its pink glands above the eyes collect blood that is then cooled by the surrounding air to help keep the penguins from overheating.

Jackass penguins grow no bigger than about two feet tall, making them one of the smallest penguin species. It looks very similar to its South American cousin, the Magellanic penguin, but instead of having two black bands on its chest, the jackass penguin has only one black band.

Another cool feature about these guys is that each individual display a unique flecked pattern on its feathers that acts like a fingerprint. Each pattern is unique and allows researchers to keep track of who is who. Jackass penguins can hold their breath for up to 2‒3 minutes and can dive down to 400 feet to catch small fish such as anchovies and sardines, small squid, and crustaceans. African penguins are also really good parents, even if they keep their eggs in nest made of guano (seabird and bat poop). They don’t always mate for life but they stay together through incubation, hatching, and raising.

I’ve liked penguins ever since I was little, but they were never really a main focus of my affections. Penguins are still interesting to read about because each species has their little quirks, like these guys that sound like braying donkeys when they’re looking for a lady. I highly recommend taking the time to read up on these penguins’ they’re the only species of penguin in Africa, and they’ve been declared to be endangered. There are already programs in place to help protect this species, but even that can’t completely stop the overfishing of their food sources.

Penguins braying like donkeys:

Sources and cool links:
Ocean: The Definitive Visual Guide made by the American Museum of Natural History