Tristan da Cunha Conservation News
News and reports from the Tristan da Cunha Government's Conservation Department.

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2018 World Ocean Day marked with Beach Clean Up

Report and photo from Head of Tristan's Conservation Department Trevor Glass


World Ocean Day on 8th June was marked by a Tristan Da Cunha Conservation Department - St Mary's School colaboration Beach Clean Up.

The initiative is so important as the Conservation Department sees to protect all the Tristan da Cunha Islands from pollution, especially plastics which are washed ashore. Gough and Inaccessible Islands are also World Heritage Sites. The beach clean up was in a 100m area near The Bluff with 12 island school children , picking up plastic, pieces of metal, floats and a variety of material that had been washed up ashore.

All the children we're given protective gloves and a safety talk with Tristan Conservation's Head of Department Trevor Glass as well as two school teachers. Children were split up into teams and slowly worked their way along the beach.


Pupils, teachers and members of the Tristan Conservation Department at The Bluff
after their successful beach clean up

After a successful day of picking up over 10 black bags of plastics and other materials Tristan Conservation Department members explained the importance of cleaning the beach which is such an important marine habitat.

A huge thanks was given to the island school for their help and all the children were sent off with big smiles on their faces.

The plastics found were recorded as part of on-going Conservation Department studies.

2019 Gough Island mouse eradication project announced

Report from John Kelly on 15th May 2018
RSPB Programme Manager for Globally Threatened Species
representing the Gough Steering Group

All going to plan, today marks one year until the Agulhas II leaves Cape Town for Gough Island on 15th May 2019 to start the mice eradication operation to protect endangered land and sea birds.

Kate Lawrence's photo shows the unique and beautiful Gough Island; the fern bush habitat on the lower slopes is home to Atlantic yellow-nosed albatrosses.


Gough Island, in the middle of the South Atlantic, needs our urgent help. Every year over one million seabird chicks are killed, pushing some species towards extinction. The chicks are killed by an invasive non-native species of house mouse that was introduced to Gough by humans.

The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha Government have developed an ambitious programme of conservation action. In 2019 rodenticide bait will be spread across Gough Island, eradicating the mice and restoring Gough to its natural state. This action will prevent the deaths of defenceless chicks year after year, halting decline and allowing populations to bounce back.


Programme objectives

  • To prevent the extinction of the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross and Gough bunting
  • To restore Gough Island to its natural state, ensuring the island remains one of the world's most important seabird nesting sites, worthy of World Heritage Site status
  • To support Tristan da Cunha Island Council as custodians of Gough Island and ensure a lasting legacy for Tristan da Cunha, a British Overseas Territory.




Eradication operation

The solution is relatively straightforward, though the operation is logistically complex, mainly because of the island's remoteness, tough terrain, and harsh weather conditions. Using helicopters, highly experienced pilots will spread cereal bait pellets containing a small amount of proven rodenticide across the island. In difficult to reach areas bait will be spread by hand to ensure that every mouse encounters rodenticide pellets.

We are well-placed to carry out such an important and complex operation. The RSPB and our partners have years of island eradication experience to draw on.

The programme also involves some of the world’s leading experts in the field of rodent eradications who have been buoyed by the success of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project and the successful delivery of the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project. Both of these projects highlight that complex island restoration projects are achievable in difficult environments.

The operation is on track to go ahead in the Southern winter of 2019 (May-August).

Images from RSPB

Left: Helicopter carrying bait station;
Below left:
Atlantic Yellow-Nosed Albatross with chick;
Below right: Pair of Tristan Albatross taking part in their courting display.

Both these species of albotross are presently attacked and killed by mice.

Finding Out More

A Gough website has been launched to help build awareness of the project and support fundraising efforts: Please share it with anyone you think would be interested.

The one year milestone is also being celebrated on our Facebook and Twitter pages today
– so if you don’t follow Gough already please take a second to look at @GoughIsland,
and share, like, retweet etc to help us build the support!

Also published is a new blog from team member Kate Lawrence, who is currently on Gough Island, to mark this milestone and remind us all why this operation is so important:

Blue Belt survey aboard RRS James Clark Ross

Cefas' James Bell reports on the March 2018 Tristan da Cunha Blue Belt survey aboard RRS James Clark

Blue Belt

The Blue Belt Programme is a four-year programme (2016 to 2020), delivered by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO) with the UK Overseas Territories on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

This programme will help to provide long term protection of over four million square kilometres of marine environment across the UK Overseas Territories.

Funded through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) the programme will support the UK Overseas Territories develop, implement and enforce marine protection strategies. Research was carried out around the Tristan da Cunha and St Helena seamounts

My name is James Bell, I'm a fisheries and ecosystems scientist, based at the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), one of the UK organisations responsible for coordinating the work for the Blue Belt programme. I was recently part of a month-long research survey to a number of seamounts in two of the UK overseas territories, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena on the RRS James Clark Ross.

We began the voyage in the Falkland Islands in mid-March and spent eight days in each of Tristan da Cunha and St Helena. Many of the scientists stayed on St Helena after the survey, working with the local Government to further develop the projects.

Photo from BAS' Rich Turner shopws the RRS James Clark Ross in front of Tristan Island.

Working with our partners to deliver the Blue Belt

This survey was primarily a joint effort between Cefas and the British Antarctic Survey, but involved scientists from several other institutions, including the RSPB, Plymouth University, the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute and the UK Hydrographic Office. British Antarctic Survey, as part of its Official Development Assistance programme, are increasingly working with small island nations, like the OTs, to disperse its considerable expertise outside of the polar regions. Together with Blue Belt, this makes for a great alignment between BAS and Cefas scientists.

Addressing the scientific knowledge gaps

St Helena declared a sustainable use MPA across its 445,000km2 maritime area in 2016. Tristan da Cunha is currently collecting evidence and considering possible regimes for protecting the waters across its maritime zone of 750,000km2. This survey was designed to address gaps in the knowledge and understanding of the Tristan and St Helena marine territories, in support of decisions about how they plan to safeguard their marine environment and allow sustainable development into the future.

The marine environment here is the summation of all the different ecosystems within the Tristan da Cunha or St Helena maritime zones and building understanding is vital for taking an ecosystem approach to fisheries management. It is important for our projects to get as wide a view of this as possible so that we can consider the different links and how the implications of different management decisions might be felt elsewhere. This is also key for other uses of the marine environment (e.g. for tourism) and fishing certainly isn't the only thing to consider.

Three work themes

The survey was divided into three main work themes, with other projects (like surveying for plastic pollution) happening when time allowed. The key work areas were seabed mapping and the biodiversity of seafloor (benthic) and water column (pelagic) ecosystems. At Tristan da Cunha, where the fisheries are all at or near the seafloor, the main focus were the benthic ecosystems but for St Helena, where the main catches are tuna that largely inhabit the top 100 m of the oceans, the pelagic ecosystem component was the most important.

Seabed mapping

As a general rule, the vast majority of the deep ocean floor is mapped very poorly and Tristan and St Helena are no exception. In most areas, the resolution of the best available maps (which use data gathered by satellites that measure the strength of the Earth's gravitational field) is something in the order of about 1 kilometre squared. That's really coarse, and means that the map misses a great deal of information (it can even miss entire mountains if they are small enough). The James Clark Ross is equipped with a system called 'swath bathymetry' which acts very much like an echo sounder.

Pulses of sound are sent to the seafloor and the time taken for the sound to return relates to the depth of the seafloor under the ship. Depending on the depth, the resolution of the new map data was between 10 and 100 metres squared (that's between 100 - 10,000 times better than the satellite maps). Although time-consuming to collect, these maps are really valuable to the overseas territories as they provide a much better description of the kinds of habitats present, which also was critical to the benthic ecosystems component. Often, the distribution of different habitats is controlled by factors like depth, slope and how rough the topography is, and the refined maps we produced give us a far greater idea of this.

Photo from Vlad Laptikhovsky shows Cefas' UKHO mapping expert Dan Evans monitoring incoming data.

Seafloor habitats

Around seamounts and remote islands, seafloor ecosystems can often be very unique and biodiverse, which makes them important places to consider in terms of regional ecosystem management. The scientists on board James Clark Ross were working to understand the different types of ecosystems present at the Tristan and St Helena seamounts, and assess whether historic fishing has had any impacts on the species that inhabit these areas. Most of this work was conducted using a non-invasive camera lander system developed by BAS scientists but physical specimens were also collected using a small scientific trawl.

This trawl is specifically designed to cause a minimum of disturbance and is important for two reasons. Firstly, although the quality of the photos we took of the seafloor is very good, photos are almost never enough information on their own to get the identity of a species, and secondly, any additional studies (like for understanding food webs for instance) require specimens for the chemical analysis.

Photo from Nils Piechaud shows colleagues seeing first sight of the seafloor at one of the seamounts of Tristan da Cunha.

Open Ocean habitats

For many of the commercially important species in Tristan (e.g. bluenose warehou) and St Helena (e.g. yellowfin tuna), there are important prey species, like small fishes and squids (pictured), spread throughout the water column, from the surface to near the bottom. The distribution and quantities of these species is therefore of clear importance for determining the health and status of the commercial stocks. The scientists on James Clark Ross used a mid-water trawl net that opens and closes at different depths. This allowed them to take samples from different water depths, down to almost 1000 m at times and compare catches between different areas, both in terms of the species present and their abundance.

The team also used an echo sounder to look for dense shoals of these midwater species (mostly fish and squid) and by comparing these data to the catches in the nets, can start to get an idea of how much biomass is present at each seamount. Seamounts, because of the way they interrupt deep water currents and force nutrient-rich waters nearer the surface, often have much higher biomass than the surrounding deep water and this was true in Tristan and St Helena waters. This is important because it starts to tell us about which areas of their seas are important for the commercial species, and helps guide management decisions.

Extra work

On the James Clark Ross, the team worked 24hrs a day, which creates a lot of time to try and collect a wide range of samples. Further to the main work areas described above, there were a number of other projects. Two of the scientists spent most of their time on the bridge, collecting data on the sightings of seabirds and marine mammals.

Tristan da Cunha in particular is renowned for its seabird biodiversity, such as the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross (pictured), and on some days, Andy Schofield (from RSPB) saw as much as twenty species before breakfast! Amongst the mammals spotted by Steph Martin, a marine mammal specialist, were sperm whales, orca and even a rare sighting of a beaked whale. These records are really important for understanding which species are present in the OT marine territories and because they are so remote, the data is usually very hard to collect.

Photo from James Bell shows an Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross.

We also collected samples to analyse the amount of plastic pollution in St Helena waters, as well as deploying a near-surface baited drift camera around Tristan da Cunha to enhance records of the pelagic biodiversity. We were even able to make good use of the travel time and got busy analysing many of the samples from the Tristan da Cunha fishery, including some very smelly stomach contents!

Next steps

We were all very happy with the survey, even the weather was kind and on the whole, very little time was lost to technical problems (which can be a common thing on research ships). I'm very much looking forward to continuing working with the team as we get stuck into the shoreside element!

We will shortly get under way with analysing the samples we collected and Cefas, together with BAS, will use these data to provide advice to Tristan and St Helena Governments over the coming months and years, ahead of their marine protection strategy decisions in 2020. We will also use the lessons learnt on this survey to help us plan the follow up survey (on the RRS Discovery) scheduled for March next year.

DEFRA Minister briefed on Tristan's Blue Belt Programme

Reception held aboard HMS Belfast on 18th April
Full story >>

London Blue Belt event aboard the ship CEFAS Endeavour

Tristan’s Blue Belt work showcased to Commonwealth leaders and promoted to UK schools
Full story >>

Bluenose survey around Gough Island and McNish seamount

On-going Blue Belt research on MFV Edinburgh
Full story >>

Report from Oliver Yates

Senior Cefas Marine Science Advisor visits Tristan da Cunha Islands January-February 2018
Full story >>

RRS James Clark Ross Expedition Newsletter

RRS James Clark Ross visited Tristan da Cunha waters 22-31 March 2018
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RRS James Clark Ross visits Tristan

Presentation of Blue Belt research given to island community
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