Extracts relating to Tristan da Cunha drawn from the Fifth National Report: April 2014, of the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity

United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity

Fifth National Report: April 2014
Tristan da Cunha (Extract from pages 69-77 of the full report which can be found on www.cbd.int

The following information is based on an account supplied to us by the Tristan da Cunha Government.

Additional information was obtained from the following sources:

• Pelembe, T. and Cooper, G. (eds). 2011. UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies: 2011 Biodiversity Snapshot. Peterborough, UK: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

• Cottam, M. (ed.). 2013. The UK Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy – Review of Progress. UKOTA, Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

• Cottam, M. (ed.) 2013. Recent Conservation Achievements of UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies and their Contributions to National Aichi Biodiversity Targets (2013). Peterborough, UK: Joint Nature Conservation Committee.

Part I: An update on biodiversity status, trends, and threats and implications for human well-being

Q1: Why is biodiversity important for your country?

The islands of the Tristan da Cunha archipelago are of high significance in terms of global biodiversity. Gough and Inaccessible Islands are a natural World Heritage Site (one of only two natural sites in the UK Overseas Territories) due to their exceedingly high importance for seabirds. The economy of Tristan depends largely on income from a well-managed lobster fishery with sustainability certification (Marine Stewardship Council). It is clear that any negative impact on this fishery could have dramatic negative impacts on the people of Tristan. Owing to their isolated location in the South Atlantic and with finite resources on island (the population is only 264 people), Tristan requires assistance from the UK and internationally to support them in protecting the environment.

Q2: What major changes have taken place in the status and trends of biodiversity in your country?

Since the last CBD COP, there have not been major changes in the status of biodiversity on Tristan. However, the ongoing impact of invasive species, especially rodents and plants, means that the status of some species continues to decline. This is particularly true for burrowing seabirds and albatrosses on Gough Island, as well as Gough bunting. Northern rockhopper penguin numbers were affected by the oil spill following the wreck of the MS Oliva in 2011, and the breeding success of these birds remains low, perhaps due to global change (research into the cause is underway). Many groups of taxa (plants, lichens, invertebrates) are not well documented, and the status of many species is unclear – there could be further declines that are not known.

Tristan da Cunha has a well run Conservation Department (with 4 staff) which takes the lead on bio-security and bio-diversity on the islands. However Tristan da Cunha does not have the same level of resources as the UK or other far larger Overseas Territories, and reversing some of these negative trends will be difficult without more resources. For example, the Tristan government does not have sufficient resources to maintain a constant staff presence on Gough: this is vital to continue invasive plant control work. The staff of 4 are required to monitor all the islands and all taxa – Tristan has more globally threatened species than the UK.

The Tristan da Cunha government is working with key partners such as the RSPB to look at innovative ways to mitigate threats to wildlife on the islands such as the proposals of eradicating mice from Gough Island. Biodiversity projects are given a high priority by the government.

Q3: What are the main threats to biodiversity?

Invasive species

Invasive species have had a major impact on biodiversity. Rats and mice have been responsible for the disappearance of a large proportion of the indigenous bird life. The capacity to respond to the threat from many Alien Invasive Species (IAS) is limited due to the level of resources available and lack of external funding. Improving biosecurity and minimising the arrival of new species is also a high priority – it would be catastrophic if cats were re-introduced on Tristan da Cunha or rats or mice were to reach the rodent free islands of Nightingale and Inaccessible, and this was feared after the wreck of the MS Oliva. The arrival of new marine invasive species is also of great concern, and Tristan has had two recent shipwrecks both of which brought new additions to the marine fauna. It is still not known what impact these new species may have.

Over/illegal fishing

Long-line fishing is a major threat to some of the Procellariiform seabirds on the island, most notably the Spectacled petrel, Tristan albatross, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross and Sooty albatross. Large-scale mortality of the former two species has been recorded off the South American continental shelf near southern Brazil. Illegal fishing in the Tristan Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) may also contribute significant mortality, however this is unquantified.

Location and finite capacity

Owing to the remote location, logistical difficulties, lack of profile in the UK and internationally, and costs involved, Tristan does not always receive the support it deserves. The Conservation Department is growing slowly but requires funds from NGOs to support their activities. Without that vital support, conservation activity would not occur. The weather is also a significant issue and one that dictates whether conservation work on the islands can commence. Projects can be delayed by at least a year due to the weather. The harbour is not fit for purpose and requires constant repairs. Owing to this the harbour can only be used for a minimal time during the year. The lack of berths available to visit the island also limit the number of external researchers that can visit.

Q4: What are the impacts of the changes in biodiversity for ecosystem services and the socio-economic and cultural implications of these impacts?

The declines in biodiversity that have occurred recently have not been severe enough to have an impact on ecosystem services, except that due to the low numbers of breeding rockhopper penguins, the traditional (sustainable) harvest of penguin eggs has been suspended. The lobster fishery was also closed for several years after the wreck of the MS Oliva, but this has recently re-opened and Tristan da Cunha will be monitoring the situation closely to see what the long-term impact will be.

The people of Tristan have a strong identification with the natural environment and are proud of their amazing wildlife. The rockhopper penguin, Tristan albatross and Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross are all iconic species and feature on many souvenirs and artworks related to the island. When many penguins were oiled following the 2011 shipwreck, the whole island community rallied to save them, with everyone from young children to pensioners involved. The community swimming pool was converted into a rehabilitation centre. Unfortunately, it was too late to save many of the birds, but the community’s efforts were rewarded when they received a medal from the RSPB (a large UK-based conservation charity) in 2012.

Declines in biodiversity at Tristan will affect the fishery, the island income, and the islanders’ sense of identity. It is clear that this community is closely linked to nature.

Optional question:
What are possible future changes for biodiversity and their impacts?

There are several potential changes. Tristan has a very small economy and cannot fund the conservation work without external assistance. Unless the UK HMG and NGOs provide increased financial and resource support, biodiversity will suffer on the islands, with an increased rate of extinction highly likely.

Part II: The national biodiversity strategy and action plan, its implementation, and the mainstreaming of biodiversity

Q5: What are the biodiversity targets set by your country?

Tristan’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) sets out the key objectives for biodiversity conservation. Targets have been established in relation to each of these, but they are too extensive to reproduce here. However, the overall goal of the BAP and the main objectives are listed below.

Overall Goal.

The overall goal is to conserve the native biological diversity of Tristan da Cunha so that the people of Tristan da Cunha continue to benefit from it and the entire world community is enriched by it. To this end, the plan seeks to halt, and in some cases reverse, the rate of biodiversity decline on Tristan da Cunha. The plan will enable the people of Tristan da Cunha to contribute actively to the conservation of biodiversity on their islands and to benefit from it.

The Plan has the following main objectives:

1. Conservation is integrated into all Government programmes, policies and plans (both those of Tristan Government and those of the UK that affect Tristan),

2. Support for biodiversity conservation is strengthened on Tristan,

3. Tristanians have the capacity to manage biodiversity effectively,

4. The impact of invasive alien species is reduced or eliminated,

5. The sustainable use and management of the marine environment is enhanced, and

6. The knowledge of Tristan’s key habitats and species is increased.” It is hoped that the revised BAP will soon be available online. Until then, it is available on request from the Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department.

Q6: How has your national biodiversity strategy and action plan been updated to incorporate these targets and to serve as an effective instrument to mainstream biodiversity?

Tristan’s biodiversity action plan (BAP) was updated in 2012. The targets it contains have been agreed with the Island Council and Conservation Department. It is intended to be a useful and practical document. A goal on integration of conservation into other government programmes is included in the BAP.

Q7: What actions has your country taken to implement the Convention since the fourth report and what have been the outcomes of these actions?

Implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 (CBD 2010) and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets are covered in detail under Question 10.

In addition to its core work in environment, the Tristan da Cunha Conservation Department has undertaken (or assisted with) a number of externally funded environmental projects over the last five years. These include: clearance of invasive Logan Berry plants at Sandy Point; completion of the EU-funded South Atlantic Invasive Species project; assessment of the feasibility of eradicating mice from Gough and continued research into this; development of the Tristan Biodiversity Action Plan and revising the management plans for Gough and Inaccessible; development of a management plan for Nightingale Island; tracking and monitoring of northern rockhopper penguins; tracking of albatrosses; work on Wilkins’ bunting on Nightingale; implementation of marine surveys; assessment of the feasibility of rodent eradication from Tristan; gaining Marine Stewardship Council certification for the lobster fishery; continuing to minimise the impact of the fishery on other wildlife; control and eradication of invasive plants at all the islands; responding to the aftermath of the oil spill following the MS Oliva wreck and working to rehabilitate penguins; botanical surveys of Tristan da Cunha. These actions have resulted in positive gains for biodiversity on Tristan, as well as socioeconomic benefits for the community. For example, the school vegetable garden that was started during the South Atlantic Invasive Species project has been continued and has led to the development of more local horticulture with freshly grown vegetables now available in the Island Store; the certification of the lobster fishery will lead to increased market access, including in the UK which could increase income; the invasive plant control work has almost succeeded in eradicating New Zealand flax from Nightingale and almost clearing it from Inaccessible.

Q8: How effectively has biodiversity been mainstreamed into relevant sectoral and cross-sectoral strategies, plans and programmes?

Tristan da Cunha has not taken part in the current JNCC Environmental Mainstreaming Initiative: remoteness, resources and scale mean that this process may not be as appropriate as it is for other Territories. Local people are already interested in, and participate in, conservation work. However, due to the remoteness and access issues around Tristan, many struggle to access more remote areas and some may not be aware of conservation issues outside the Settlement Plain and Patches. Tristan’s sustainable development plan highlights that the environment and conservation are key for the island. The Conservation team work closely with Tourism, the Post Office, Fisheries and Agriculture. Environmental impact assessments will be carried out prior to new major developments. Due to the very small size of the Tristan settlement and its community, mainstreaming is almost endemic – and many people including several Head Islanders have carried out contract work in the Conservation team; the Head of Police has even written a book called “Rockhopper Copper”!

Q9. How fully has your national biodiversity strategy and action plan been implemented?

Significant progress was made in most areas in Tristan’s last BAP. As described above, the Tristan Conservation Department, Agriculture team, and Fisheries Department have all undertaken work in relation to the implementation of the BAP. However, and also as described above, Tristan simply does not have sufficient resources in-Territory to take all of the management actions necessary to conserve the remarkable biodiversity of the islands. Per capita incomes are low on Tristan, and owing to the small population, the level of resources already being allocated by the Tristan government to conservation is extremely significant. It will be necessary for Tristan to continue to work with external partners (NGOs, UK government, Universities and others) to meet the objectives contained in the revised BAP

Part III: Progress towards the 2020 Aichi Biodiversity Targets and contributions to the relevant 2015 Targets of the Millennium Development Goals

Q10: What progress has been made by your country towards the implementation of the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets?

Strategic Goal A:
Address the underlying causes of biodiversity loss by mainstreaming biodiversity across government and society


1. When the container ship MS Oliva ran aground at Nightingale in 2011, oil and soya were spread around the islands, causing an impact on seabirds and the marine environment. Many islanders were involved in the rehabilitation of penguins and the oil clean up, raising the profile of Tristan's unique biodiversity on island. Media articles raised awareness of Tristan around the world, and resulted in more than £75,000 being raised for conservation work in the islands.

2. Tristan Biodiversity Action Plan 2012–2016 was updated with input from Tristan Government heads of departments. One of the plan's actions is to mainstream biodiversity issues through all government programmes, policies and plans.

3. Tristan Studies which covers study of the Tristan da Cunha's native flora and fauna and issues of conservation, biodiversity and sustainability, is integrated into the school curriculum.

4. Island tourism leaflets were updated following the Oliva incident and were distributed at the UK’s Birdwatching Fair in a joint effort with Ascension Island and St Helena to raise public awareness of these three Territories and their biodiversity.


1. The Tristan Strategic Sustainable Development Plan (2009) aims to ensure that the conservation of biodiversity is mainstreamed into future activities when reviewed.

2. Objective 1 of the Tristan BAP 2012-2016 aims to integrate conservation into all Government programmes, policies and plans.

3. Objective 1.4.1 of the Tristan BAP aims to produce policies that require infrastructure/development projects to undergo environmental impact assessments.



1. The commercial Tristan Rock Lobster fishery received Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in 2010 and annual audits commenced in 2012. Total Allowable Catch (TAC) quotas are in place and regularly reviewed with input from Marine Resource Assessment and Management (MARAM) at the University of Cape Town. Strategic Goal B: Reduce the direct pressures on biodiversity and promote sustainable use


1. An OTEP-funded Baseline Vegetation Survey of the island of Tristan was carried out in 2011/12 to assess the distribution and abundance of native and introduced plant species, to inform future conservation management of the island's habitats. 2. Invasive plant management for selected priority species is implemented at all the four main islands of Tristan da Cunha.


1. Marine Stewardship Council certification for the Tristan Rock Lobster fishery was achieved in 2010.

2. Quotas for Total Allowable Catch (TAC) are in place, applied and regularly reviewed.


1. An agricultural advisor visited Tristan in 2012 to assess and advise on agricultural practices.

2. Training was given to agriculture department staff on island as well as one member of staff receiving training in the Isle of Man.



1. Some invasive alien plant species are controlled (e.g. NZ Flax (Phormium tenax) at Nightingale and Inaccessible, and NZ Christmas Tree (Metrosideros excelsa) on Tristan).

2. Work to combat invasive mice on Gough Island is ongoing – a programme of research into the feasibility of eradicating mice should be complete in 2014.

3. Improving biosecurity on Tristan is a high priority, to prevent any further introductions. Biosecurity systems are in place on the smaller islands of Nightingale and Inaccessible, and are regularly reviewed.


Strategic Goal C: To improve the status of biodiversity by safeguarding ecosystems, species and genetic diversity


1. Gough Island and Inaccessible Island were designated as Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance in 2008.

2. Some 44 per cent of the land area of Tristan da Cunha has been set aside for conservation and a joint ‘Gough and Inaccessible Islands World Heritage Site Management Plan April 2010– March 2015’ came into effect in 2010.


1. Studies into the breeding biology and ecology of Northern Rockhopper Penguin (Eudyptes 75 moseleyi) were carried out in 2012/13, and in 2013/14 will continue in order to inform conservation management for this Endangered species.

2. The Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) is threatened by predation from House Mouse (Mus musculus) on Gough Island. A Feasibility Study for the Eradication of House Mice from Gough Island (the principal breeding site of this endemic species) was published in 2008 and logistics for a potential eradication will be trialled and assessed in 2013.


Strategic Goal D: Enhance the benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services


1. Objective 1.5. in the Tristan BAP aims to monitor the sheep stock levels and to reduce the number of feral sheep on the Base on Tristan. Erosion of soil and changes in vegetation composition caused by the impacts of feral sheep may affect the long-term hydrology of the island.



Strategic Goal E: Enhance implementation through participatory planning, knowledge management and capacity building


The original Tristan Biodiversity Action Plan was reviewed and updated for the years 2012–2016 and is being implemented. Target 18:



1. Objective 6 of the Tristan BAP aims to increase knowledge in Tristan's key habitats and species.


1. Funding was received from the UK government for projects including: Biodiversity Management Planning 2010-12; Baseline Vegetation Survey of Tristan 2011-12; Marine and fisheries project (2013-2015), planned census of Atlantic Yellow-nosed albatrosses on Tristan in 2014/15; deep water marine survey at Gough (2013); feasibility assessment of mouse eradication from Gough.

2. The South African government has supported two/three ornithologists to remain on Gough throughout the year to carry out ornithological research in 2013/14.

3. The RSPB raised almost £80,000 to support conservation work on Tristan da Cunha following the wrecking of the MS Oliva on Nightingale in 2011. A settlement with the insurers of the Oliva has secured resources to carry out penguin monitoring as from 2015.

Proportion of terrestrial and marine areas protected

Gough and Inaccessible Islands World Heritage Site and all breeding colonies of the Northern Rockhopper Penguin Eudyptes moseleyi on the Main Island, Tristan, have been declared Nature Reserves under the Conservation Ordinance 2006.

In total, some 44% of the land area of the Tristan da Cunha Islands is set aside for conservation.

Q11: What has been the contribution of actions to implement the Convention towards the achievement of the relevant 2015 targets of the Millennium Development Goals in your country?

Actions being taken to implement the Convention have certainly assisted in slowing the rate of biodiversity loss at Tristan. However, it is clear that further resources are needed 76 if loss of biodiversity and environmental resources is to be achieved (see MDGs 7.A and 7.B). There is good integration of the principles of sustainable development into Tristan’s policies – indeed with a small, static human population, Tristan could aim to be a model sustainable community.

Q12: What lessons have been learned from the implementation of the Convention in your country?

The Tristan government and its partners have achieved an immense amount during the last decade. A new Conservation Department has been established and has grown from a staff of one to four full-time personnel. Many new programmes and projects have been started, and everyone has been involved – from school children to the oldest members of the community.

The main lessons we have learned is the value of working in international partnerships with NGOs, government, universities and others – as the remotest inhabited island in the world, Tristan has been visited by a huge range of experts from Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Germany, the UK and elsewhere.

Integration of biodiversity considerations into other policies and recognising the financial value provided by biodiversity is very important. We need to increase investment in Tristan’s biodiversity and enhance recognition of the global value of our biodiversity assets.

Although protecting our biodiversity will involve some huge challenges such as the possible eradication of mice from Gough Island, we are confident that together with our international partners we can meet these challenges and can secure the future of Tristan’s remarkable wildlife, for the benefit of the islanders, and the world.


Conservation Ordinance: The first Protection Ordinance was passed at Tristan in 1950, with several subsequent additions. The latest revision to the Conservation Ordinance was agreed by the Tristan Island Council in June 2005, and approved by the Attorney General in St Helena in January 2006. The objectives of this comprehensive legislation are the maintenance of fauna, flora, geological, scenic and historical features of the islands.

Fisheries Limits Ordinance: The Tristan da Cunha Fisheries Limits Ordinance of 1983, as amended in 1991, 1992, 1997 and 2001, defines the fisheries limit around each of the islands as 200 nautical miles, and makes provision for fishing within these limits.

Agricultural Ordinance: Land management on Tristan, and the export and import of livestock and fresh goods is controlled by the Agricultural Ordinance of 1984.

Important biodiversity related strategies include:

The 2001 Environment Charter

The Tristan da Cunha Biodiversity Action Plan 2006-2010 was developed through a Darwin project in 2006, this is now due for revision. http://www.rspb.org.uk/Images/TristanBiodiversityActionPlan2_tcm9-180968.pdf

Wildlife monitoring manuals have been developed for the Tristan Islands.

A Management Plan for Gough and Inaccessible Islands 2010–2015 was developed through an OTEP project in 2010. These islands are a World Heritage Site.