Tristan da Cunha Programme

Tristan da Cunha is one of the world’s most pristine environments. Found deep in the South Atlantic Ocean, it’s home to the most remote community on Earth. Thanks to their leadership, a new marine protection zone has been declared, providing greater protection for wildlife – but there is still more work to do.

Wandering albatross

Overview

The RSPB has worked closely with the government and local community of Tristan da Cunha for over two decades. In recognition of their outstanding contribution to nature conservation, the entire community of Tristan was awarded the much-coveted RSPB medal for conservation.

Tristan da Cunha is a mountainous archipelago that is home to tens of millions of seabirds, and several unique land birds comparable to the famous Galapagos island finches. The island group includes the World Heritage Site of Gough and Inaccessible Islands: Gough is arguably one of the most important seabird islands in the world.

Some of Tristan's seabirds, a handful of which nest nowhere else in the world, face many threats. These include illegal or unregulated fishing activities, which result in needless deaths due to bycatch, especially with longline fleets. Global ocean overfishing, plastic pollution, climate change and the accidental and historic introduction of non-native species, such as rats and mice, also threaten Tristan's wildlife.

Rodents have decimated many great seabird colonies around the world and Tristan da Cunha is no exception. On the main island of the archipelago, the once vast colonies of petrels are now reduced to tiny remnants. Working in partnership with the Tristan da Cunha government we will reverse these declines and restore these once magnificent islands to their former glory.

Fortunately, two other islands in the archipelago (Nightingale and Inaccessible) remain a rodent-free haven for seabirds and it is vital they stay that way, which highlights the need for improved biosecurity. Over five million great shearwaters nest on the islands, as well as endemic land birds such as the Wilkin's bunting, which is found only on Nightingale Island and holds the title of Britain's rarest bird, and the world's smallest flightless bird, the Inaccessible rail.

Species at risk in the Tristan island group 

Critically Endangered species: Tristan albatross, Gough bunting.

Endangered species: Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, Wilkin's bunting, sooty albatross, Atlantic petrel, MacGillivray's prion.

Vulnerable species: Inaccessible rail, Inaccessible bunting, Nightingale bunting, spectacled petrel.

Near threatened species: Tristan thrush.

Objectives

  • Continue to build a sound working relationship with the Tristan government, Island Council and the Tristan community.
  • Continue to support and build capacity within Tristan's conservation and fisheries departments.
  • Work alongside the Tristan government to strengthen island biosecurity operations, policy and legislation.
  • Work alongside the Tristan government to eradicate mice from the World Heritage Site of Gough Island.
  • Support the Tristan community to remove non-native rats and mice from Tristan da Cunha, so that the entire archipelago is free from invasive rodents.
  • Continue to support and facilitate world-class science and research within the island group.

Progress

  • In November 2020 a vast new marine protection zone (MPZ), covering an area almost three times the size of the UK (687,000km2), was designated around the Tristan archipelago. This MPZ is the largest no-take zone in the Atlantic and forms part of the UK government’s “Blue Belt” of protected areas. It will help to safeguard a wealth of wildlife, including endangered albatrosses and northern rockhopper penguins, as well as blue sharks and beaked whales.
  • A practical biosecurity manual and policy have been prepared, and training has been delivered to local stakeholders. New legislation has been drafted.
  • An effective control agent for invasive scale insects has been identified. The next stage is to test its efficacy alongside our partners at the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), before its use on the island.

Planned Work

We currently have several projects running within the Tristan archipelago, which include:

  • The hugely ambitious Gough Island Restoration Programme, which seeks to remove invasive mice from the island. It is planned to take place in 2021, if possible.
  • A Darwin Plus Initiative project which aims to strengthen biosecurity measures, policy and legislation to further protect Tristan’s unique and threatened wildlife from future introductions of invasive non-native species. This project will support the legacy of the Gough Island Restoration Programme.
  • Supporting the Tristan island community in delivering world-class management of their vast marine protection zone.
  • A Darwin Plus Initiative project which aims to strengthen local capacity to sustainably manage marine resources. This will include research into the effects of climate change, invasive species and fisheries management on the marine environment and the Tristan rock lobster, which the community and local economy depend upon.
  • A Darwin Plus Initiative project to better understand land bird populations throughout the island group. Currently, little is known about the many threatened endemic terrestrial species that the Tristan islands hold.
  • An externally funded project enabling Tristan's schoolchildren to do seabird research and tracking. This will increase our understanding of the marine environment and how species use it.
  • Satellite tracking of subantarctic fur seals and blue sharks to further understand how larger marine species use Tristanian waters.
  • A Darwin Plus Initiative project which aims to control two invasive non-native species – brown scale insects and New Zealand flax. These are threatening Tristan's only native tree species, Phylica arborea, with extinction and in turn the endangered endemic buntings that rely on fruit from the trees.

Results

The RSPB has supported Tristan on a remarkable journey, from helping co-establish its government's Conservation Department to declaring the Atlantic's largest fully-protected marine zone. We have undertaken feasibility studies and operational plans to remove mice from Gough Island World Heritage Site, identified marine Important Bird Areas, assisted in long-term training and capacity-building, supported sustainable lobster fishery research, and conducted a joint marine research and community engagement expedition with National Geographic Pristine Seas. A Tristan Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) has been completed, implemented and subsequently revised. Monitoring manuals for birdlife have been published and are currently being updated. All publications are available for download below.

Partners

We are extremely grateful to the people of Tristan da Cunha and the Island Council for their continued support and partnership, as well as to successive government administrators of Tristan da Cunha. Alongside our partnership with the Tristan government, we work in partnership with the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town, Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), Fera, BirdLife South Africa, the UK government Blue Belt Programme, National Geographic Pristine Seas, and the Great British Oceans coalition.

Funding

Our work on the Tristan islands has been supported by many funders including: OTEP, Darwin, Darwin Plus, the European Union’s EDF-9, the Blue Nature Alliance, the Wyss Foundation, Kaltroco, the Don Quixote Foundation, and the Becht Family Charitable Trust together with the Blue Marine Foundation.

Contacts

Coast on a stormy day

Andy Schofield

Senior UK Overseas Territories Officer, RSPB

andy.schofield@rspb.org.uk
Tagged with: Country: International Country: Tristan da Cunha Project status: Project types: Organisation development Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection