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

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Tristan da Cunha achieves Blue Park Award

Tristan da Cunha earns prestigious Blue Park Award for Outstanding Conservation Value

at a Marine Conservation Institute Our Ocean Conference held in Athens, Greece on 17th April 2024

Dr. Lance Morgan, President of Marine Conservation Institute, announced the 2024 Blue Park Awards at an event co-hosted by Marine Conservation Institute and the Bloomberg Ocean Fund. The event highlighted contributions toward the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework's target to protect 30% of marine and coastal areas by 2030, showcasing the Blue Park Award winners as outstanding examples of effective biodiversity conservation in Marine Protection Areas.

With this award, Tristan da Cunha receives US $8,000 and joins a growing network of 30 awarded Blue Parks around the global ocean that have met the highest science-based standards for conservation effectiveness.

"Our long-term goal has always been to help ensure that the unique biodiversity of our archipelago is protected," said James Glass, Chief Islander and Tristan da Cunha's Director of Fisheries, "not only for the future of our younger generation, but for the future population of the planet."

"On behalf of all the community, we are delighted to receive this Blue Park Award in recognition of Tristan da Cunha's Marine Protection Zone," said Janine Lavarello, Marine Protection Zone Officer of Tristan da Cunha. "It is essential that marine protected areas are designated to help preserve our wonderful wildlife and ecosystems, and we are thrilled that this award recognizes our hard work over the last few years. We are committed to maintaining these high standards to ensure Tristan's waters are protected now, and for future generations."

The Blue Park logo
that Tristan da Cunha may now use

Tristan da Cunha, an archipelago in the southern Atlantic Ocean, protects its entire Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) – spanning over 750,000 square kilometres. Encompassing such a vast marine area, the MPA protects highly productive deep ocean areas, kelp forests, and several seamounts that support abundant cold-water corals. It includes migratory pathways for many fish, cetaceans, and seabirds, including endangered northern rockhopper penguins. Tristan da Cunha's extensive no-take zone and minimal human disturbance provide an ideal setting for its temperate marine ecosystems to thrive.

Broadnose sevengill shark - Photo Credit - Rob Mrowicki

"Tristan da Cunha is a small, remote island in the middle of the South Atlantic meaning we're not very well known to the rest of the world, with many people having never heard of us," expressed Janine. "This Blue Park Award will raise the global profile of our Marine Protection Zone and island, giving us a platform to share our approaches to safeguarding our amazing wildlife and managing our Marine Stewardship Council-certified fishery."

Northern rockhopper penguins - Photo Credit - David Kinchin-Smith

Tristan da Cunha's conservation efforts are championed by its local community of approximately 245 year-round residents. The MPZ (Tristan uses the term Marine Protection Zone) is managed by the Tristan da Cunha Government, and many partner organizations have contributed to its success, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Blue Nature Alliance, Pew Charitable Trusts, UK Government Blue Belt Programme, British Antarctic Survey, National Geographic – Pristine Seas, Natural History Museum, University of Plymouth, Darwin Initiative, Wyss Foundation, Becht Family Charitable Trust, Don Quixote II Foundation, and Blue Marine Foundation, among others.

Subantarctic fur seal - Photo Credit - National Geographic Society (Pristine Seas)

The Blue Park Awards are supported by Blue, the Blue Endowment Fund. The Blue Park Award recognizes outstanding efforts by national governments, nonprofit organizations, MPA managers, and local communities to effectively protect marine ecosystems now and for the future. The award has been given annually since its launch in 2017. The 2024 Blue Parks join the Blue Parks Network, made up of some of the world's most outstanding marine protected areas and ocean champions.

"We are thrilled to recognize the hard work of the Tristanians and their partners who are protecting the vibrant ocean around Tristan da Cunha," said Director of the Blue Parks Program, Dr. Sarah Hameed. "The Blue Parks offer examples of conservation success that inspire us all to accelerate efforts to safeguard life in the sea."

More information about the award is available on the Marine Conservation Institute website.

2023-2024 Flax Removal from Inaccessible Island

Report from Carmen Ferreira, Rope Access Head of Department.
Photographs from Carmen, Brandon Cloete and Julia Gunther

For the the past five years, during each summer season, Inaccessible Island has been the home base for a team of four contracted by a company called I-Rigging Solutions. Their purpose is eradicating the invasive plant, New Zealand flax Phormium tenax, that was introduced to Inaccessible Island in the 1930s - when an attempt was made to establish a human settlement at Waterfall Beach. Here, flax plants were transferred from Tristan da Cunha mainly for thatching purposes. The settlement was unsuccessful, but, unfortunately, the flax survived and thrived and has managed to invade predominantly around the north eastern region of the island stretching from Waterfall Cliff face to Salt Beach. The Flax Eradication Project has been an ongoing effort facilitated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) and managed by the Tristan Conservation Department. The project is currently funded by the Darwin Plus Grant Scheme and has also contributed to funding in previous years.

In the Blenden Hall Conservation Hut are, left to right Carmen Ferreira,
Christiaan Gerber and Brandon Cloete ready to go with packed rucksacks.

Christiaan Gerber and Brandon Cloete
getting rigging ropes ready.
Birds-eye view of an al fresco meal.

Fortunately, New Zealand flax is a slow grower, but, in spite of this, the plant has spread and its visible presence can be seen on the Waterfall Ridge cliff face. This was also the most dense area of flax up until the 2022 season. With the completion of another two successful eradication seasons since 2022, the plant profile has changed from high dense areas of plants, found at Waterfall Ridge, to more singular and isolated plants towards the Salt Beach side ─ known as outlier plants due to active eradication efforts.

Jedd Cossey on ropes high above Waterfall Beach with Salt Beach beyond.

Christiaan Gerber on a rope transversing a gulch on the edge of the Inaccessible plateau.

Jedd Cossey on ropes within an island tree Phylica on the edge of the Inaccessible plateau.

The eradication approach has started from most dense to less dense areas in order to decrease the spread of seeds, especially on exposed rocky areas where it is easier for seeds to anchor and germinate. The denser the tussock the less small plants will be expected, and if so, cluster of plants growing around one large plant or a large singular plants in comparison with multiple small plants found around a bare rock area where the tussock is shorter and not so extremely dense.

This past summer season, between the months of December to March, the rope access team has endured a full 10-week stint on the island. With five years in the running and another two seasons to go, the battle to rid the island of flax is progressing well.

Another view of Jedd Cossey on ropes high above Waterfall Beach with Salt Beach beyond.

View of Waterfall Beach which was the site of the failed Five-Year Plan to colonise Inaccessible in the 1930s
which first introduced New Zealand Flax for roof thatch.

Waterfall beach is one of the few beaches on Inaccessible with a freshwater supply which makes it viable for the team to survive out there under those circumstances. In order to make living and work viable – two camps are established each season – one on the plateau and one at the base of the cliff.

The project team, being fully submerged in their natural surroundings, is continuously gathering valuable knowledge regarding the environment and wildlife. The seal activity on the coastline has been vigorous, making living conditions and camping quite tricky down at the base camp. It has embedded a vigilant mindset among the team members. Each year the team gets a better grasp of the wildlife, especially the abundant birdlife. On the plateau the island becomes alive at night. During mating season, the borrowing birds heave from underground, so getting a non-interrupted night’s rest is a rarity, and far-between.

Every season gets judged by the weather it presents. As for the weather it plays a significant role in how much work can be completed each season- as a given the weather conditions on Inaccessible can fluctuate from profoundly beautiful hot, sunny, and windless days to gale force winds gusting up to 70-80 kmh coupled with heavy rain showers. Mist covers the mountain during the December period, giving the island a mysterious air.

This past 2024 season boasted continuously wet days with large amounts of rain pouring down, followed by exceptionally hot and windless, sunny days during February which made working conditions challenging. Wind from the south made working on the north-eastern cliff faces viable whilst the camping grounds on the plateau were blowing in full turmoil. Despite the extreme weather conditions, the team made excellent progress and has managed to clear a large area of cliff.

Tristan Conservation Department RIBs on one of their trips to Inaccessible Island to support the Flax Eradication Team.

Throughout the season, Trevor Glass and his team (Julian Repetto, Wayne Swain, Shannon Swain, Tristan Glass and Kieran Glass) provided essential back-end support system for the project - the team received multiple visits to replenish food stores and logistical assistance. This included major operations to load and offload gear to and from Inaccessible plus transferring the team from Waterfall Beach to Blenden Hall, where the cross-island hike towards waterfall cliff plateau starts.

After spending so many summer seasons on Inaccessible, the logistics and the camp management of this unique, annual expedition has improved greatly and the way of life on the island has become second nature. But, it goes without saying ─ by the end of a work season, team members are aching for a hot shower, a flushing toilet and meat protein.

The level of kindness and generosity shown from the local community towards the team has been amazing, Tristan cakes, treats have been gifted along the way to make the outdoors on Inaccessible for the duration of the expedition so much more bearable.

The rope team with members of the Tristan Conservation Department during rope training on Tristan da Cunha. Left to right: Jedd Cossey, Tristan Glass, Brandon Cloete, Shannon Swain, Kieran Glass and Carmen Ferreira.

Shannon Swain gaining rope skills.

The project also facilitates post trip training and aim to build practical skills among Tristan community members. The up-and-coming younger members of the Tristan Conservation Team (Tristan Glass, Kieran Glass and Shannon Swain) participated in rope access and rescue training with Carmen and her team. The training encompasses basic technical rope knowledge rigging techniques and basic theory behind loads forces and mechanical advantage. The team get exposed to rescue techniques and manoeuvres applicable to Inaccessible work ethic. The intension is to expand knowledge and awareness and ultimately initiate interest so that further research projects can be facilitated on and around their home territory on a place like Inaccessible where accessibility is limited.

Tristan Starchy Survey uncovers mountain Sagina spread

Report and photos from Peter Ryan

Emeritus Professor, FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town

One of 16 Starchies ringed on Tristan during the survey

The only juvenile Tristan Thrush or Starchy seen during the survey

Starchy and Gough Moorhen survey on Tristan

The Tristan Thrush or Starchy is the only native landbird that survives on the main island of Tristan; the native finch and flightless moorhen both went extinct in the 19th Century. The thrush on Tristan is smaller and paler than on Inaccessible and Nightingale Island, and is recognised as a distinct subspecies. It is much more scarce on Tristan than on the other islands, but there has been little attempt to estimate their abundance and distribution. Peter Ryan and Coleen Moloney returned to Tristan in February-March 2024 to estimate the population of Starchies and Gough Moorhens. Starchies occur in low densities in Phylica woodland along the coastal cliffs, and locally at some of the gulches on the base, but are most common on the lower slopes of the peak above 1100 m. Worryingly, very few juveniles were observed, suggesting that breeding success is poor.

A Gough Moorhen peers out from under a bogfern on the Base above Burntwood

Gough Moorhens were introduced at Sandy Point on Tristan in 1956, when the Gough Island Scientific Survey team returned to Tristan. It is fascinating to speculate why they have flourished while the flightless moorhen native to Tristan went extinct. Peter and Coleen conducted repeated counts at 94 sites right around Tristan which show that moorhens occur in all areas with sufficient cover from the coast to around 900m elevation. The count data will be used by the RSPB to estimate the current population.

Sagina can displace more palatable plant species, reducing forage for sheep

Procumbent Pearlwort on the Peak

While searching for Starchies (Tristan Thrushes), Peter Ryan came across large areas of Procumbent Pearlwort (Sagina procumbens) near the Castles between 1150 and 1300 m on the lower slopes of Tristan’s peak. Subsequently it was also found east of Hottentot Gulch at a similar elevation. This invasive species is commonly found in stony areas on the coastal lowlands of Tristan, with large areas at The Caves particularly badly affected. However, to date it has not been reported from the island’s interior. It’s presence on the Peak is particularly worrying, because the Pearlwort is an aggressive invader of loose scoria, and so has the potential to radically change the vegetation of the peak. Sadly there’s little that can be done to prevent its spread. A massive effort to eradicate the plant on Gough Island, where it was introduced at the weather station in the late 1990s, was finally abandoned, with efforts now focusing on containing it to the sea cliffs in the immediate vicinity of the base. The fact that the Pearlwort has reached the peak on Tristan again raises concern about the possibility of it getting into the highlands of Gough, where it would likely have a much greater impact than in the lowlands. It also highlights the need for effective biosecurity measures even when moving around within as well as between islands.

Patch of Sagina on the upper Tristan slopes.

Historic event as newly built longboat launched

Named 'Sean B' in tribute to Sean Burns
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Visit of the Yacht SV Urchin

The SV Urchin was chartered to transport conservationists from Cape Town to Inaccessible Island, arriving 7th December 2023.
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BEM presented to Andy Schofield

Ceremony at the Hull Guildhall in East Yorkshire
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DEFRA meeting highlights Tristan's conservation matters

Minister updated on island's wide conservation agenda
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St Mary's School Celebrates World Ocean Day 2023

The school celebrated World Ocean Day on 8th of June 2023.
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Tristan flag flies at Red Ensign Group gathering

Chief Islander gives presentation to Coastal State Forum
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