Great news: our Gough Island restoration programme has been given the green light!
Meet the intrepid conservationists who'll spend 13 months on one of the planet's most remote islands.
Their mission: help save some of the world's most endangered seabirds.
Fabrice Le Bouard, Jaimie Cleeland and Kate Lawrence are part of this massive operation, managed by the RSPB and part-funded by DEFRA and the US-based National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, to save the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross and Gough bunting; and the Endangered Atlantic petrel and McGillivray's prion from extinction.
What will the team do on Gough?
Gough, a mountainous island in the middle of the South Atlantic, is a truly special place. Part of the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha, it's home to a number of endangered birds. The birds are facing a serious threat from introduced house mice, which arrived on the island from ships during the 1800s. The mice have grown in number — and size — and have proved a dangerous neighbour to the ground-nesting seabirds. You may have seen images or videos of the mice eating the birds' chicks alive on their nests.
The RSPB will begin an island-wide eradication project in 2019, but right now there's a lot of preparation to be done. Bait dropped for mice could also be taken by the endangered Gough bunting and Gough moorhen. Fabrice, Jaimie and Kate will study how these birds can be safely kept out of the way while the mice are removed. They'll also study the remarkable ecology of Gough so we have a baseline against which we can measure the recovery of the island once the mice are gone for good.
Introducing the team
Fabrice, Jaimie and Kate will be the Gough 63 team, joining a legacy of Gough researchers that goes back to 1955.
They are experts at conservation work on islands. Fabrice has six years' experience in reserves bird management and Kate has experience in captive care of birds. With additional avicultural training and support of experts from the National Trust and RZSS, the team are fully equipped to successfully trial our captive management plan. This is a major part of the eradication preparations, and the results will enable us to finalise the plan and logistics for captive care of the endangered Gough bunting and Gough moorhen on this challenging island!
From left to right, Jaimie, Fabrice & Kate
Fabrice Le Bouard
Fabrice has a clear passion for island conservation; five years of island experience with albatrosses, penguins, seals, and petrels — all of which are found on Gough. Fabrice has also worked on our Nightingale Island and Atlantic puffin projects.
Fabrice: "I first heard of Gough ten years ago when I applied to be a field assistant — I didn't get the job but Gough's seabird community is exceptional in diversity and numbers... It became a kind of Holy Grail after which I've been running for years.
"I think if you like spending time outside in a preserved and beautiful natural environment, hiking and working with seabirds, you shouldn't go to any remote Sub-Antarctic island... because you'll just want to go back — and that's what happened with me."
Growing up on the island of Tasmania, Kate and Jaimie caught the island bug at a young age! Jaimie spent three seasons on Macquarie Island, in the southwest Pacific Ocean, studying albatrosses and petrels before focussing her PhD on the effects that climate change, fisheries, and habitat degradation have on albatross.
Jaimie: "Gough Island is higher, wetter, bird-ier and more remote than any other island I have worked on in the past! I am keen to explore its gullies, peaks and coastal escarpment... The wildness of remote islands captures my sense of adventure. On remote islands, I become immersed in nature and at the same time can contribute to their conservation."
Until 2012 Kate represented Australia in international canoe slalom! Since moving into conservation, she's spent two seasons on Macquarie Island and has experience in Australia, New Zealand, and the Sub-Antarctic. Kate also brings invaluable bird husbandry experience to the team.
Kate: "I can't wait to see what joys and challenges Gough will throw at us! The Gough Island Restoration Programme is bigger than just our team and I'm looking forward to playing my part in the wider effort, working hard on the island to achieve our goals and contributing to this important project. I hope that the captive trials provide valuable information to safeguard the birds from the potential impacts of baiting."
The on-island teams have been central to the progress of the Gough programme so far, and 2017/18 involves some crucial work towards a successful rodent eradication. Our thanks go to all of the past overwintering teams as we wish the Gough 63 team a fantastic year with us.
Follow the team and this exciting programme as it progresses on the Saving Species blog and the upcoming new Gough Island Restoration Programme website.
The Gough Island Restoration Programme is being carried out by the RSPB in partnership with Tristan da Cunha, BirdLife South Africa and the Department of Environmental Affairs in South Africa.
The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations.