Saying Goodbye to the Mountain in the Sea
Updated: Nov 9, 2018
Blog by Jaimie Cleeland
Jaimie retrieving a geolocator from a grey petrel (J.Cleeland)
After a year full of adventure on Gough Island the time has come to say goodbye. Kate, Fabrice and I have been privileged to roam this rugged island, monitoring its unique seabird species throughout their full breeding cycles. We have observed adults returning to court, building nests or digging burrows, incubating eggs, feeding chicks and watched in anticipation as chicks fledged, taking their first flight off into the South Atlantic Ocean.
From Gough Base the three of us could often be spotted in the distance in our red Wilderness Equipment jackets as we checked the status of Atlantic-yellow nosed albatross and great shearwater nests. Our outerwear became a part of us, worn every day in the best and worst weather. It survived bites from seal pups, nibbles from albatrosses, bashing through the thick fernbush, wading through deep mud and even after a year, still kept us dry throughout the most torrential of downpours that Gough is known for.
RSPB 2017/18 team, Fabrice, Kate and Jaimie (J.Cleeland)
Kate after checking muddy grey petrel burrows (J.Cleeland)
We did not live alone on Gough but worked in a team that included three meteorological technicians, a diesel mechanic, an electrician, a radio engineer and a medic. Despite inhabiting a UK Overseas Territory, we came from all corners of the globe: Australia, France, Nigeria and South Africa. We tried new foods, shared cultural traditions, learnt different languages and even made up our own Gough words. Our fellow expeditioners showed great enthusiasm for Gough’s wildlife and provided us with vital field support, especially when it came to weighing the seal pups!
The Gough 63 team on arrival at Gough Island, September 2017 (K.Lawrence)
It is hard to reflect back on our year and not think of the terrible impact mice have on Gough’s biodiversity. We felt absolutely helpless and heartbroken as we encountered albatross, prion and petrel chicks with horrific wounds inflicted by mice. We found solace in knowing that all our hard work has contributed to the upcoming mouse eradication. We feel lucky to have experienced the wilds of Gough Island and with the eradication looming, we are eager to see this mountain in the sea restored to its former pristine state.
So, as the SA Aghulas II appeared on the horizon two short weeks ago we felt excited to meet the new team and learn about new projects, excited to be relieved from cooking duties by a chef and excited that we would soon be reunited with our friends and families. But as we relax in our comfortable cabins aboard the ship and indulge in way too much fresh fruit and vegetables our minds wander back to Gough – knowing that as we travel toward Cape Town the great shearwaters are heading off on a pre-laying exodus, the Rockhopper penguins are nest building, the Atlantic yellow-nosed and sooty albatrosses are laying eggs and the Tristan albatross chicks are building up their flight muscles in preparation to fledge. The island will be truly missed by all the team members of the 63rd expedition to Gough Island.
For the seabird monitoring, we have left it in the safest of hands; Chris, Michelle and Alexis are the new RSPB Gough field team. They arrived with much knowledge about Gough life, having all been to the island before, so for two weeks we swapped stories, challenges and solutions.
The two Gough teams spent two weeks together exploring the island during takeover! (C. Jones)
Exploring Gough Island! (C. Jones)
We wish the new RSPB field team a safe and happy year on Gough!
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 and Island Conservation. The programme is part-funded by the RSPB, the UK Government, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and other generous individuals and organisations. If you would like to support our efforts to save the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross and Gough bunting, please get in touch or you can donate using our online form.