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Gough Team 63 - Settling into island life

Updated: Feb 14, 2018

After a nine day voyage on the SA Agulhas II, we finally arrived at Gough Island on a particularly wet and windy afternoon. Strong wind and low visibility meant the helicopters were unable to offload either passengers or cargo, so we anchored at The Glen for the night and enjoyed the dramatic scene before us.


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – View of The Glen


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – the sign at the helipad when you arrive at Gough Island


The next day was stunning, so ‘takeover’ commenced with much enthusiasm. Needless to say, we were a little bit excited! The next two weeks were spent learning as much as we could from the Gough 62 team, visiting our work areas and getting a handle on the species monitoring we’ll be undertaking over the coming year. The rest of our Gough 63 team (met technicians, diesel mechanic, electrician, communications engineer and medic) were doing the same with their G62 counterparts (actually the G62 medic is our G63 medic for a few months, so he already knew the ropes).


Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence – Gough Team 63 on the red carpet


Meanwhile, the base was re-stocked, re-fuelled, cargo moved in both directions and maintenance undertaken.


Highlights included the round island Tristan albatross chick count – the chicks are big, beautiful and still a bit fluffy, and the scenery breathtaking.


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – Tristan Albatross Chick

Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence – The view of Hags Tooth on the round island Tristan Albatross count.


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – Kate in front of Hags Tooth


Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence – Fabrice and Jaimie searching for the Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross nests


Another important job was familiarisation with the sagina zones, where we’ll be abseiling off the cliffs and scrambling around the scramble zones to eradicate this invasive weed (Sagina procumbens). We had some great training both off and on-island and we’re feeling like we can make a positive contribution to this challenge.


Photo: courtesy of ZMilner – Jaimie and Kate on the hunt for Sagina in the Snoekgat scramble zone


Getting anywhere on this island is strenuous. Tracks in the lowlands are usually difficult to distinguish amongst the dense Jurassic Park-esque bog ferns and bracken, not to mention muddy, with surprise deeper mud holes to trip you up. However, after going off-track and struggling to make headway though the same ferns, brackens and Phylica arborea trees (lovely to look at; difficult to get through their low, tangled branches) the tracks seem like super-highways. Up higher the walking sometimes gets a bit easier. But even on top of the hills the ground and vegetation holds onto an amazing amount of water and we find ourselves squelching through mud and bogs. When the cushiony ground cover of mossy vegetation is dry-ish it can be like bouncing down a trampoline going downhill, but takes about four times as much energy for each spongy step when going uphill. Abseiling in the sagina zones involves first finding our anchors and then rigging our ropes amongst the dense Spartina arundinacea (apparently a tussock grass but I would argue more like a skinny bamboo well over head height – and if you’re not careful the broken stalks poke you in the eyes and up the nose). I’m sure we will curse the vegetation and the mud many times, but at the same time we love it. This island is a wild and extraordinary place, and we are privileged to be here.


Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence – Fabrice and Jaimie on the hunt for Sagina on the sea cliffs


Now it’s our turn


On September 26 the island was officially handed over to the Gough 63 team. On October 2 we waved goodbye to the ship.


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – The SA Aghulas II standing off Gough Island during the takeover operations


Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence - The SA Aghulas II departs


Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence - View of Gough Island base from Tafel Koppie during the takeover operations


Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence – Albatross on Tafelkoppe


Rather than feeling a bit apprehensive, as I expected, I relished the idea of having the island to ourselves. After months of preparation, training and travel, it was wonderful to finally unpack properly and really settle in.


Since then we have been into our work: monitoring Atlantic yellow-nosed albatrosses, sooty albatrosses, Tristan albatross chicks, southern giant petrels, rockhopper penguins, macgillivray’s prions, Gough buntings and Gough moorhens, and spraying sagina.


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – Sooty Albatross sitting on a cliff edge


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – Preening Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – Snoozing Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – The Rockhopper Penguins have returned to Gough Island and are preparing to incubate eggs


Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence – Incubating Rockhopper Penguin


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland – Tristan Albatross Chick


Photo: courtesy of Jaimie Cleeland - Jaimie taking a break after completing the round island Tristan albatross survey


Photo: courtesy of Kate Lawrence – Gough Team 63 getting to know the island.


Meanwhile we’ve also been getting into the routines of base life: the 10 of us take it in turns to cook dinner, Friday nights are ‘take-away’ dinner at the bar, Saturday nights are a three course meal and on Monday mornings we are allocated areas of the base to clean. We don’t have meetings, we have ‘yarns’ around the dinner table. We’ve all helped sort out the food store, to get a handle on what we have and what we don’t have much of. The food list is still being finalised but it’s clear we have plenty of meat, brussels sprouts, corn flakes, jelly and ice cream and not much tinned tomato or spinach (note all fruit and vegetables are frozen or tinned – nothing fresh is allowed on the island for biosecurity reasons). Cheese will be rationed. Chocolate, juice and chips (Aussie for crisps) have been divided up equally amongst us to ration individually as we wish (34 blocks, 12 litres and 27 packets each, respectively). The lack of fresh fruit and vegetables and limited ingredients has not stifled the team’s cooking ability; we’ve had some very tasty meals, and Fabrice has already come up with a delicious soup recipe to use up brussels sprouts!


All in all, it’s been a busy but wonderful few weeks. We’re here with a great group of people who will make all the difference to our time on the island and we’re looking forward to all that Gough has in store for us!

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