Gough Island is a remote, uninhabited island in the Tristan da Cunha archipelago, in the South Atlantic, more than 1,500 miles from Cape Town. Being so far from disturbance makes Gough an idyllic nesting ground, and it is relied upon by millions of the world’s most unique seabirds who breed nowhere else. Its importance for threatened species and sites of outstanding universal value earned Gough World Heritage Site status in 1995 and Important Bird Area status in 2013.
Mice were accidentally introduced by sailors during the 19th Century. They have now evolved to become 50% larger than their ancestral relatives by exploiting all the food sources on the island. Video cameras reveal how the mice eat the flesh of seabird chicks. Tristan albatross chicks weigh up to 10kg, but open wounds inflicted over successive nights frequently lead to their deaths. Mice are even starting to attack adult seabirds; the first evidence of this was recorded on Gough in 2018. There is a strong case for action on both welfare and conservation grounds.
To prevent the extinction of the Critically Endangered Tristan albatross and Gough bunting.
To restore Gough Island to its natural state, ensuring the island remains one of the world's most important seabird nesting sites, worthy of World Heritage Site status.
To support Tristan da Cunha Island Council as custodians of Gough Island and ensure a lasting legacy for Tristan da Cunha, a British Overseas Territory.
The solution is relatively straightforward, though the operation is logistically complex, mainly because of the island's remoteness, tough terrain, and harsh weather conditions. Using helicopters, highly experienced pilots will spread cereal bait pellets containing a small amount of proven rodenticide across the island.
We are well-placed to carry out such an important and complex operation. The RSPB and our partners have years of island eradication experience to draw on.
The programme also involves some of the world’s leading experts in the field of rodent eradications who have been buoyed by the success of the Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Project and the successful delivery of the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project. Both of these projects highlight that complex island restoration projects are achievable in difficult environments.
The operation is on track to go ahead in the Southern winter of 2020 (June-August).
The future of Gough
Our commitment to Gough Island doesn't end once the eradication operation is over. We will monitor for signs of mice for two years post-operation – at which point the island will be declared officially mouse-free and its World Heritage status secured. The on-island team will also monitor seabird recovery, collecting evidence of success to inform future island eradications.
After two years, the RSPB will withdraw from Gough, leaving its birds to rebuild their populations and thrive on a restored island. The Tristan da Cunha Government and community are the custodians of Gough, and they will have detailed and effective long-term biosecurity procedures in place to ensure that mice and other non-native species do not recolonise the island in the future.