Guest blog by Dr Araceli Samaniego (Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research)
This morning, my phone reminded me that 6 years ago I was with my family enjoying an African safari – in Mexico (there is a wonderful park, Africam Safari, in central Mexico). This is hilarious because I’m finally in Africa for the first time, and I can’t leave my hotel room! Oh, well, I guess doing strict quarantine as a prerequisite for going to the renowned Gough Island so as to help out with the mouse eradication, is a small price to pay.
I kept scrolling through my ‘rediscover this day’ photos and reflected on how fortunate I am. Except for last year, when humankind pressed ‘pause everything’ (including Gough 2020), I’ve been in an amazing place, usually an island, for many years in a row. With a combination of excitement and satisfaction, I revisited the last few years.
In 2019 I was on Lord Howe Island, Australia assisting with the rodent eradication there. I met fabulous people, some of whom I’ll be seeing again on Gough, or next year in the Indian Ocean. In 2018 I was on Tetiaroa Atoll, French Polynesia conducting research in preparation for the rat eradication that took place a few months later. Here I saw both the smallest and the largest coconut crabs I’ve ever seen (we are talking a 4 kg difference!).
Araceli finds a tiny baby coconut crab and an enormous (dead) one on Reiono, Tetiaroa Atoll
In 2017 I was packing for Lehua Island, Hawaii which was one of my most extreme field trips to date, weather wise. A hot summer on a steep volcanic island with no trees is not easy, but the rat eradication required us to get toasty. It clears the soul. 2016 is memorable because is when we (my Kiwi partner and I) moved to New Zealand (a big island!) for good. It was the time of finding cutlery, a house, and everything in between. In 2015 I was working in the Mexican Caribbean to rid Banco Chinchorro of invasive rats. This was the last and the largest project I oversaw while based in Mexico. It’s also the place where I’ve had the pleasure (yes, it was a real pleasure) to kayak among wild crocodiles.
A juvenile red-footed booby enjoys Araceli's hat,
Lehua Island (Mele Khalsa, Island Conservation)
All these conservation projects were successful or are in the confirmation phase, thanks to the dedication of numerous people and organisations. The biodiversity gains are remarkable. The friendships are grand; the learnings are creating more opportunities to restore the islands of the world – the last strongholds for so many endangered species. I’m so looking forward to creating memories about Gough and this critical project.
Araceli Samaniego is a conservation biologist with almost 20 years of experience, always combining biodiversity conservation projects and applied research. She started as a project manager in Mexico, her home country, where she led numerous conservation projects on islands, including 12 rodent eradications—all successful. Her career quickly expanded internationally, and she has made contributions to projects in Australia, Belize, Canada, Fiji, French Polynesia and the USA, among others.
Araceli recently joined Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research (MWLR), New Zealand’s Crown Research Institute for the country’s land environment, and a partner in the Gough Island Restoration Programme. She is the Technical Advisor for the mouse eradication operation on Gough. MWLR undertakes research into New Zealand’s unique biodiversity, biosecurity, land resources and soils, and environmental issues including climate change and carbon emissions. MWLR works with numerous institutions, nationally and internationally, to create impactful, relevant and useful research.
Cover image: Araceli with Mexican red crabs, Alacranes Atoll, Mexico.
With thanks to J.A. Soriano/GECI archive.
This year the RSPB and its partners will try to eradicate the house mice on Gough and make it a seabird paradise once again. The project was originally scheduled to go ahead in 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic meant the RSPB and the Tristan da Cunha government had to abandon these plans and airlift the team home. With the delays the project now has a significant funding deficit.
If you would like to help close this funding gap, you can donate directly to the restoration project at https://www.rspb.org.uk/join-and-donate/donate/appeals/gough-island/
Acknowledgement The Gough Island Restoration Programme is being carried out by the RSPB in partnership with Tristan da Cunha, BirdLife South Africa, the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (South Africa), the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Island Conservation, Conservación de Islas, Manaaki Whenua - Landcare Research and BirdLife International. The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK Government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations.