Research and management expedition visits two new Ramsar sites in the South Atlantic
Gough and Inaccessible are two island nature reserves in the mid South Atlantic that are part of the United Kingdom’s Overseas Territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha. Together they form a single World Heritage Site. Most recently they have been afforded the status of Wetlands of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention as sites nos. 1868 (Gough) and 1869 (Inaccessible), being designated on 20 November 2008.
During September-November 2009 a multi-national expedition is visiting the two islands to conduct biological research and to undertake conservation management activities. Three weeks are first being spent on Gough Island to undertake censuses and demographic studies of threatened albatrosses and petrels, including the Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena. Research on the introduced House Mice Mus musculus, required to plan their eventual eradication, also will be conducted.
While on Gough, the 10-person expedition, with members drawn from Canada, Namibia, New Zealand, South Africa, Spain and Tristan da Cunha, will continue with an eradication programme for Procumbent Pearlwort Sagina procumbens, a relatively recently arrived alien plant that has the capacity to be highly invasive at sub-Antarctic islands.
Two members of the expedition then move to spend nearly two months on Inaccessible Island to undertake a survey of the endemic Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata and to deploy satellite tags on Spectacled Petrels, Sooty Albatrosses Phoebastria fusca and Great Shearwaters Puffinus gravis. They alsowill map the distribution of alien plants on the island, following previous surveys in 1989 and 1999, and will continue with the eradication of New Zealand Flax Phormium tenax, which has been slowly invading the island’s coastal cliffs.
The expedition is supported by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels, Birds Australia, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the South African National Antarctic Programme through the National Research Foundation, the South African Department of Environmental Affairs, Tristan da Cunha’s Conservation Department, the United Kingdom’s Overseas Territories Environment Programme and the University of Cape Town, South Africa.
-- John Cooper, Centre for Invasion Biology, Stellenbosch University
and Peter Ryan, FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town
Checking Tristan Albatross study nests, Gonydale, Gough Island, with the Rowetts in the background. Photograph by John Cooper
Northern Rockhopper Penguins rest on the boulder beach north of Salt Beach on the east coast of Inaccessible Island (PG Ryan)