Gough Island restoration programme programme

Gough Island has been described as one of the most important seabird nesting sites in the world. But many of the birds which nest here are now under threat, including the iconic Tristan albatross and the Gough bunting.

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 24 different species, including the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross and Atlantic petrel as well as the Gough bunting 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 colonised this World Heritage Site and evolved to 50% larger than the average house mouse – alowing them to exploit larger food sources on the island. Video cameras reveal how the mice eat the flesh of live seabird chicks. Tristan albatross chicks weigh up to 10kg (around 300 times the size of mice), but the open wounds inflicted frequently lead to their deaths.

The situation is so severe that just 21% of Tristan albatross chicks survived to fledge during the 2017/18 breeding season. Such low breeding success is rapidly pushing these species towards extinction. With the recent indications that mice may now be attacking adult birds as well as predating chicks, the Tristan albatross is likely to be the next British bird to go extinct, without urgent action to address these problems.

 
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 up to two million seabirds each year.

Objectives

  • To prevent the extinction of the Tristan albatross and Gough bunting, listed as Critically Endgangered
  • To restore Gough Island to a seabird haven, ensuring 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 operation is planned to go ahead in 2020.

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. Pilots will be highly experienced in aerial eradication work and 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 and Antipodes Island Restoration Projects. Both projects highlight that complex island restoration projects are achievable in difficult environments.

Partners

It is only through our close partnership with Tristan da Cunha that the programme will be successful. Local knowledge of the island and community interests will be respected throughout.

Carrying out the progamme in partnership with the RSPB and Tristan da Cunha are the UK Government, BirdLife South Africa, the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa, Island Conservation and BirdLife International.

 

 

Funding

A project of this magnitude and conservation impact exceeds the normal capacity of the RSPB. We cannot fund this globally important work alone and we are calling on all those with a love of nature to support this work.

If you would like to help us raise the final funds required to protect Gough’s unique biodiversity please donate using our online form. Or please get in touch to discuss partnership and funding opportunities.

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