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

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SA Agulhas II arrives at Gough as project starts in earnest

Report and images from RSPB's Antje Steinfurth and Sophie Thomas

SA Agulhas II arriving at Gough Island on 3rd June 2021

SA Agulhas II arrived at Gough Island on 3rd June 2021 to herald the most crucial phase of the £9 million RSPB-organised Gough Restoration Project.

The vessel carried four helicopters that were deployed to transfer the incoming team, equipment and supplies ashore. This included specialist bait produced in New Zealand that will be distributed by helicopter across all of the island's surface to attract and eliminate invasive house mice that have caused havoc to the native fauna by predating on breeding sea and land birds and their eggs.

Stores being lifted onto SA Agulhas II's helideck on 3rd June

A temporary helihanger has been constructed on the island in order to be able to service the helicopters as well as temporary helipads for the planned flights. The Agulhas II will return to Cape Town as soon as unloading has been completed and will return later in the year, probably during August, to collect the team on completion of the work.

The team aims to set up a small camp at the north of the island and will be paying careful attention to the weather and forecasts that will determine when flights can take place during the southern winter months.

One of the four helicopters flying towards the Gough Base helipad on 3rd June 2021.

SA Agulhas II sails for Gough

Images from the RSPB

RSPB's Sophie Thomas announced that the SA Agulhas II departed from Cape Town at about 21.00 GMT on Saturday 29th May 2021. This voyage will complete the gathering of the large team assembled at Gough Island to carry out the Gough Restoration Project aimed at eliminating invasive house mice from the island. The rodents have been an increasing risk to millions of breeding seabirds. Aboard SA Agulhas II are helicopters, poisoned bait specially prepared in New Zealand and a team of specialists hoping this major exercise will be a boost for the wildlife of Tristan da Cunha's World Heritage Site of Gough and Inaccessible Islands.

Team members boarding SA Agulhas II on 29th May

The team assembled on the ship's helideck

A helicopter being lowered into position

Evening view of Table Mountain from the ship

Departing Table Bay

Tragic scene on Gough Island as adult albatross killed by mice

First confirmed death of adult Tristan albatross due to mice attack.
News comes as Gough Island Restoration Project progresses aiming to eliminate alien mice from the island.
Report and images from the RSPB

Aerial view of Gough Island (Chris Jones)

  • An adult Tristan albatross has been eaten alive by invasive mice, leaving her chick at risk from the mice and starvation. This is the first conclusive evidence that mice kill adults of the species.
  • Tristan albatrosses are on the brink of extinction due in large part to invasive mice on their breeding ground, Gough Island.
  • The RSPB will begin a mouse eradication project to save the Tristan albatross and other endangered and threatened birds next month.

The first-known adult Tristan albatross known to have been killed by house mice (Peter Ryan)

For the first time on record a Critically Endangered Tristan albatross adult has been eaten alive by invasive non-native house mice. About a third of Tristan albatross chicks are eaten by the introduced mice each year on Gough Island, a UK Overseas Territory island and World Heritage Site in the South Atlantic 2,600km away from the nearest land mass of South Africa. Only two to three pairs of Tristan albatross breed anywhere else on Earth. The mouse predation, and the threat of unsafe fishing practices, has placed them in danger of extinction.

Despite her deep wounds the female adult still guards its chick (Peter Ryan)

This adult was on Gough Island, Tristan albatrosses’ main breeding ground and one of the most remote islands in the world, raising a chick with her mate. She was one of the most experienced mothers on the island and the father must now struggle to feed the chick alone - leaving it at risk not only of starvation but also at greater risk of being eaten by the mice.

The female's body was later found a little way from the nest (Roelf Daling)

Kim Stevens, RSPB Senior Field Assistant, said: "To see a parent killed in this way, and her chick in such danger, is devastating. Albatrosses are stunning, long-lived birds that spend much of their lives soaring over the oceans, and they need safe places to feed and raise their young. This albatross was ringed when she herself was a chick back in 1986 so we have lost one of our oldest known, most experienced mothers."

The male parent takes over duties at the nest with the blurred white image of the carcass of its female partrner being consumed by Tristan skuas in the background (Roelf Daling)
Will the chick survive now that only one parent lives?

The death of each breeding Tristan albatross is a devastating loss because they don’t start breeding until they’re about ten years old. It then takes two parents about a year to raise one chick. With only one parent providing food it might take the chick months longer to fledge and is likely to leave it in a weaker state, multiplying the threat from the mice and making it less likely to survive at sea.

It is most likely that sailors in the 19th century accidentally introduced mice to Gough Island. The mice have since adapted to feed on the seabirds, who evolved without the threat of land mammals and so don’t have any natural defences against them. We now know that even the adult Tristan albatross, one of the largest seabirds in the world with a wingspan of over 10 feet, will sit there defenceless as it’s slowly eaten alive. The mice threaten the future of the estimated eight million breeding birds who live on Gough.

This year the RSPB is launching a mission to eradicate every single mouse on the island and make it a seabird paradise once again. The project was originally scheduled to go ahead in 2020, but the coronavirus outbreak meant the RSPB and the Tristan da Cunha government had to abandon these ambitious plans and airlift the team home. With the delays the project now has a significant funding deficit.

Defra Minister for Biosecurity Lord Gardiner said: "The UK is a proud custodian of 14 Overseas Territories which hold over 90% of the UK’s wildlife, and it is our responsibility to rise to the challenge of protecting the species within our care.

"The sad news that we have now lost an adult albatross for the first time is a timely reminder of the global threat of invasive non-native species to wildlife, which is why it is so important that the Government is contributing towards this ambitious project led by the RSPB to save one of the world’s greatest seabird colonies."

People can donate directly to the restoration project to save the Tristan albatross and the other birds on Gough Island at https://www.rspb.org.uk/join-and-donate/donate/appeals/gough-island/.

UK Overseas Territories Environment Council, April 2021

Tristan continues at the fore of international conservation work
30-Apr-2021
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Yacht SV Urchin Calls at Tristan on the Way to Gough Island

The yacht SV Urchin stopped at Tristan on the 19th March 2021 to pick up islanders for the Gough Restoration Programme.
20-Mar-2021
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Second Restoration Team Sails to Gough Island

The yacht Pelagic Australis has delivered second Gough Restoration Programme team from Cape Town to Gough Island.
19-Mar-2021
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Gough Restoration Programme 2021 Start

The postponed restoration programme has resumed in 2021 with the first team members arriving at Gough Island.
13-Feb-2021
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RSPB announce programme to go ahead in 2021

Long-awaited project to eliminate seabird-eating invasive mice ready to go.
25-Nov-2020
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King Birds Breeding at The Potato Patches

Antarctic Terns are once again breeding at the Patches in 2020.
15-Nov-2020
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