Gough Island restoration 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 Critically Endangered and iconic Tristan albatross – one of only two Critically Endangered British birds.

Gough Island Albatrosses

Overview

Part of the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha, Gough Island is home to more than eight million breeding birds from at least 24 different species, including highly threatened species such as the Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, Atlantic petrel, MacGillivray’s prion, Gough bunting and Tristan albatross. The Critically Endangered Tristan albatross, 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 learnt to exploit all available food sources on the island – including seabirds. Video cameras reveal how the mice eat the flesh of live seabird chicks – and, more recently, live adult birds too. Tristan albatross chicks weigh up to 10kg (around 300 times the size of the 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 the Tristan albatross towards extinction. The new evidence of attacks on adults is a dreadful development – the loss of adults  will accelerate the path to extinction for this amazing bird.

The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha have developed an ambitious programme to save the Tristan albatross and other highly threatened species on Gough, such as MacGillivray’s prion and Atlantic petrel. Successfully restoring the island to a seabird haven will prevent the deaths of at least two million seabirds each year.

Objectives

  • To prevent the extinction of the Critically Endgangered Tristan albatross. 
  • To restore the fortunes of Gough Island’s seabirds and ensure 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 in ensuring the long-term future of this special island and its unique wildlife.

 

Planned Work

Our plan is based on internationally-recognised best practice methods to restore island ecosystems damaged by invasive non-native species. We will apply rodenticide bait administered in the form of cereal bait pellets across the island to remove the mice. The operation is planned to go ahead in 2020.

The solution is relatively straight-forward but the operation is logistically complex, largely because of the island’s remoteness. Gough is right in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, 1,550 miles (2,800 km) from the nearest city – Cape Town.

The eradication of invasive non-native mice will be achieved using helicopters to spread bait from underslung, specially modified agriculture fertiliser buckets. Pilots will be highly experienced in this field of work and guided by the Global Positioning System (GPS).

This programme is buoyed by the success of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project, South Georgia Habitat Restoration and Antipodes Island Restoration Projects. The success of these projects highlight that complex island restoration cases are achievable even in difficult and extreme environments.

 

Partners

It is only through close partnership working with Tristan da Cunha that the programme will be successful.

Carrying out the programme in partnership with the RSPB and Tristan da Cunha are the UK Government, BirdLife South Africa, the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, Island Conservation, BirdLife International and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.

 

 

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

Download

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