Starting this Friday, I’ll begin my journey to the most remote inhabited island in the world – the UK Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha. I’m headed there as part of a project funded by the Darwin Initiative, and the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) to do the first quantitative survey of the endemic Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross (Thalassarche chlororhynchos) on the main island of Tristan, and to update counts from Gough Island (400 km to the south).
About half of the world’s population of “Mollys” breeds on Tristan, and the only estimate is “16,000-30,000” from 1972-74, and is based largely on expert opinion. Tristan has introduced mice and rats that can actual eat albatross chicks alive. Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross are also frequently killed in fisheries as bycatch. So you can imagine that not having a reliable population estimate of the (possibly) largest breeding population for more than 40 years is a bit of a conservation gap.
We’ll be working with the Tristan Conservation Department, the Percy FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs to count them. Working from the S.A. Agulhas II, we’ll do helicopter flights to photograph the birds as they sit on their nests early in incubation (the albatross are large, white birds and show up against the brown/green vegetation). But that’s the easy part. When the Agulhas II departs, we’ll have 2 months of hiking around the slopes of Queen Mary’s Peak to ground-truth our aerial counts.
The only way to reach Tristan is by ship – between 5-7 days’ steaming from Cape Town, South Africa. Consequently, there aren’t that many opportunities to get there. Or get back, for that matter. So for the (northern) autumn, The Lab and Field will be on a bit of a hiatus. I’m hoping, though, to find time to post a few updates from the field, and hopefully some photos (Tristan does have satellite internet, but it’s been known to go down for several days at a time). You can also follow along on Twitter with the #TdCadventure hashtag.
So until December, here’s to fair winds and following seas!