Gough Island restoration programme

Gough has been described as the greatest seabird island in the South Atlantic. But many birds which nest here are now under threat, including the iconic Tristan albatross.

Gough Island Albatrosses

Overview

Part of the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island is home to more than eight million birds from at least 23 different species, including the northern rockhopper penguin and the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross. This iconic bird, one of the world’s greatest wanderers, is in need of an eleventh-hour intervention.
 
Mice were accidentally introduced by sailors to the remote Gough Island during the 19th century. These rodents have now colonised this World Heritage Site and evolved to become two or three times larger than normal by exploiting all the food sources on the island. Video cameras reveal how the mice eat the flesh of seabird chicks. Tristan albatross chicks weigh up to 10kg, but the open wounds inflicted frequently lead to their deaths.
 
The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha Island Council have developed an ambitious programme to save the Tristan albatross and other threatened species on Gough, such as the Gough bunting and Atlantic petrel. Successfully restoring the island to its natural state will prevent the deaths of more than 900,000 seabirds each year.

Objectives

  • To prevent the extinction of the Tristan albatross and Gough bunting, listed as Critically Endgangered
  • To restore Gough Island to its natural state so the island remains one of the world's most important seabird nesting sites, worthy of its World Heritage Site status
  • To support Tristan da Cunha Island Council as custodians of Gough Island and ensure a lasting legacy for Tristan da Cunha, a British Overseas Territory.

 

Planned Work

Eradicating mice from Gough Island to prevent extinctions

Our plan is based on methods developed primarily in New Zealand but now widely used across the world to restore island ecosystems. Our strategy is an island-wide application of a proven rodenticide administered in the form of cereal bait pellets.

The solution is relatively straightforward but the operation will be logistically complex, mainly because of the island’s remoteness. Gough is 1,550 miles (2,800 km) from South Africa. All staff and equipment must be shipped to the South African weather service base on Gough. An additional remote camp will be set up at a northern point.

The eradication of the non-native mice will be achieved using helicopters spreading bait in specially modified agriculture fertiliser spreaders. These helicopters will be piloted by highly experienced pilots each guided by the Global Positioning System (GPS).

This programme is buoyed by the success of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project and the successful delivery of the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project. Both of these projects highlight that complex island restoration projects are achievable in difficult environments.

Partners

It is only by working closely with Tristan da Cunha and the UK government that the programme will be successful. Local knowledge of the island and community interests will be respected throughout.

Funding

Supporting a project of this magnitude unfortunately exceeds the normal capacity of the RSPB’s members. Thanks to a generous grant from the government and external funders, we have raised £4 million. If you would like to help us raise the final funds required to protect Gough's unique biodiversity, you can donate using our online form.

Albatross display

Tristan albatrosses doing a courtship display

The Tristan albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) spends most of its life at sea, wandering over the Atlantic. These graceful birds only seek land when they mature at 5-7 years of age and it’s finally time to mate. Around 2,500 pairs of Tristan albatross return to Gough Island each summer to breed, performing an intimate courtship as can be seen in this video.

The birds then rear a single chick among the tussac grasses and tree ferns of Gough Island. But having evolved without land mammals, these birds lack the instinct to protect their offspring from the attacks of the mice on Gough. In 2014, fewer than 10% of breeding pairs successfully fledged a chick. If nothing changes, this magnificent albatross will go extinct.

Play video
Albatross displaying video screenshot

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

The Gough Island Team

GoughIsland@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: England Project status: Ongoing Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection