Two million seabirds lost from UK Island each year

Monday 22 October 2018

A curious Tristan albatross reaches out towards camera

Trouble in paradise

On first impressions, Gough Island is an idyllic uninhabited UK Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic, supporting breeding populations of 22 seabird and two land bird species. The unique flora and fauna of the island earned Gough the status of World Heritage Site in 1995.

But look closer and you’ll see a heart-breaking story unfold.

Mice were accidentally introduced to Gough Island in the 19th Century. Now, over 100 years later mice have colonised the entire island, evolving to be giants, 50% larger than the average house mouse and have begun feasting on the eggs and chicks of the island’s once abundant birds.

A new study calculates the impact mice are having on 10 species of defenceless seabirds on Gough Island, and the results are greater than anyone had ever imagined.

The research, supported by the RSPB, found that mouse predation is causing a loss of two million chicks and eggs on Gough Island every year. It might be hard to believe that a 30 gram mouse could kill a 10 kilogram chick, but this environmental catastrophe is very real. These predatory mice are pushing albatross, buntings, petrels and other seabirds towards extinction.

“We knew there were large numbers of chicks and eggs being eaten each year but the actual number being taken by the mice is just staggering. The seabirds of Gough Island desperately need our help.”

Dr Alex Bond

Eaten alive

- This video contains graphic images that some viewers might find disturbing. Strong images start at 1.36-

A Tristan Albatross chick is eaten alive by a strain of giant invasive house mice on Gough Island, a UK Overseas Territory in the Atlantic Ocean.

Albatross at Gough Island

However, help is on the way.

The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha government, together with international partners including Island Conservation from the USA and the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa, have developed The Gough Island Restoration Programme. Not letting the challenges of working on one of the world’s most remote islands get in the way, the Gough team are planning to eradicate mice from Gough Island in 2020 to stop this carnage once and for all.  

If successful, this one action will save two million seabirds each and every year afterwards.

“The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha Island Council have developed an ambitious plan to save the Tristan albatross and other species on Gough. The results of this study are a powerful reminder of why we’ve taken this challenge on, restoring the island to a more natural state will prevent the deaths of millions of seabirds. But we cannot do this alone. We are asking all those with a love of nature to come together to save these precious species.”

John Kelly, RSPB Manager for the Gough Island mouse eradication

Last Updated: Tuesday 5 February 2019

Tagged with: Country: Centre for Conservation Science Topic: Birds Topic: Conservation Topic: Albatrosses