Life in the Atlantic

  • 6.8 million km2 - UK overseas territory
  • 5 week expedition
  • 2020 a new marine protection regime
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Supporting Tristanians to save ocean life

Jonathan Hall, Head of our UK Overseas Territories team, shares the successes of an RSPB-National Geographic expedition to Tristan da Cunha.

How did the expedition come about?

Thanks to its 14 Overseas Territories (OT), the UK is responsible for a vast marine area measuring 6.8 million km2. Three years ago, we at the RSPB took part in the formation of the Great British Oceans coalition, which campaigns to protect ocean ecosystems in the OTs. This is a partnership of six organisations – the RSPB, Pew Charitable Trusts, Blue Marine Foundation, Greenpeace UK, Marine Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London.

What was the purpose of the expedition? 

It was launched to support the 270-person Tristanian community in their vision to create a science-based marine protection regime to cover their entire 750,000km2 maritime zone by 2020. Our five-week expedition, in partnership with National Geographic Pristine Seas and the Tristan da Cunha Government, involved a 3,000-mile round trip, over 100 dive surveys, 23 underwater camera drops, 30 floating camera deployments, camera-drone use, shark and seal satellite-tagging and seabird counting. 

Rich waters

What is Tristan da Cunha like? 

It’s an archipelago of volcanic islands with enormously rich waters. Underwater, giant kelp ring the island, before the seafloor drops away. 

What would you say was your most exciting discovery?

The presence of lots of large female blue sharks and weeks-old pups, suggesting that the Tristan island group is likely to be a previously unknown pupping area for this species. Three new fish species were also recorded for the first time in Tristan’s waters. 

What was the highlight of the expedition? 

It was a privilege to work with the National Geographic Pristine Seas team, and the warm welcome and assistance we received from the Tristan da Cunha Government and community was unforgettable.

What’s next?

We’re now focusing on using our research to help the community designate their new marine protection regime by 2020, fulfilling their ambition to have a Tristan led process to safeguard their waters for future generations. The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha Island Council have also developed a programme to save threatened species on Tristan’s Gough Island, including the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross, Gough bunting and Atlantic petrel. Gough Island is home to more than eight million birds from at least 23 different species and we are fundraising for a large project to remove the invasive mice. Once successfully restored, the island will be even more special.

The Tristan da Cunha volcano at dawn.

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