Preparations to ensure bio-security on the Tristan da Cunha Islands during the expedition' s passage from Cape Town to Tristan da Cunha

Preparing the Team - Protecting the Islands

Report from Expedition Leader Paul Rose on 13th January 2017

The flags of Tristan da Cunha and National Geographic proudly fly together above the SVS Grenville
en route to Tristan da Cunha. Photo by Roger Horrocks

It’s a big relief when our operational support systems are up and running. Our compressor system is commissioned and is pumping nitrox mix for the divers. The air bank is full and we’re now filling dive cylinders. Our two-man recompression chamber has been blown down three times and is ready to go.

The workboats are being washed and checked, the inflatables are inflated and for the first time in history I didn’t lose any skin assembling them.

GPSs are initialised, VHF radios are charged, and the Inmarsat system is up. It feels good to be connected again and the satellite phones are running hot with calls to the island finalising our plans.

The science systems have come to life. With help from the energy of the seabirds swooping along with us, our partners from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) are rigging a few hundred bird tags for the Tristan Conservation Department to deploy so they can better understand where their key seabirds feed. I couldn’t help but notice that when the tags came out on deck, the albatrosses seemed to give them a highly suspicious glance.

The seal team has all of their gear along the starboard side—catch nets, backpacks, tagging gear, buckets, boots; it’s great stuff and looks as if it’s had an adventurous life on wild beaches. The drop-cameras are assembled, charged up, and ready. Pelagic camera rigs and the remote shallow water video systems are next in line. The hydro-acoustic unit and the shark tags are ready to go. The marine science dive team have their dive gear, measuring tapes, slates, and cameras all set up and are itching to get in the water.

Members of the Pristine Seas team and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds
meticulously clean equipment in preparation for arrival. Photo by Dan Myers.

The Most Important Work: Biosecurity

Because Tristan da Cunha is so remote and has a large number of endemic species (found nowhere else on Earth) it is especially vulnerable to invasive species. The beautifully balanced local ecosystem has no defence against aggressive alien plants and animals which can overrun the native life.

Sadly, a number of invasive species have already been introduced to the island. One of the most devastating is the common house mouse introduced to Gough Island World Heritage Site by sealers and which today kills an estimated 600,000 seabird chicks every year. Tristan da Cunha and the RSPB are preparing and fundraising for a hoped-for joint project in 2019 to restore this entire 25-square-mile island and undo the damage. This will be similar to a project carried out in South Georgia—another amazing South Atlantic British Territory which is hopefully now rodent-free.

The Tristan community are fully aware that invasive species are the number one threat to the environment upon which they depend, so they have been very proactive in developing new terrestrial biosecurity protocols for all visitors to their isolated ecosystems.

With all that firmly in our minds and overseen by Andy Schofield from RSPB, who is acting on behalf of Tristan da Cunha as an Environmental Officer, and Ian Lavarello the Chief Islander, we are enthusiastically working on our pre-arrival biosecurity measures. We are scrubbing boots, washing rain jackets, pants, rucksacks, cameras, tripods, and all equipment that is needed ashore. Velcro fasteners, pockets, the insides of bags, and all potential seed traps are being vacuumed clean. We are also carefully choosing the lunch food we will bring ashore—we cannot carry anything that has seeds such as apples, tomatoes, dried figs, etc.

We’re happy to work to this high standard as Tristan da Cunha is one of the least disturbed environments on Earth and we are honoured to be working alongside the Tristan islanders to learn from their experiences and join them in keeping it pristine for the future.