Internet’s being disastrous, so this one’ll be short!
This week was spent mostly clearing the path down through Breakneck Valley with Charlie and Kenickie. It’s a beautiful historic path that goes down past the water catchment and the Marine Barracks at the top of the mountain and follows the valley down the mountain and ends at the Pines. The Pines are norfolk pines, grown because of their long, straight trunks which make excellent ship masts.
We also did the Letterbox and Northwest Point bird monitoring, and lots of the masked boobies at the Letterbox have fledged and left, whereas many of the noddies at NW Point appear to have failed.
The turtle season is basically at an end, with a grand total of 6 coming up onto Long Beach on Thursday night! The number of hatchlings is still high, but starting to drop now. I managed to get some video of one swimming! I’m still trying to edit it into something actually worth watching, but will post it asap.
This weekend I finished my BSAC Sports Diver qualification, and to celebrate, the other divers I qualified with and I went on two awesome boat dives. On the way back, we bumped into a pod of about 15 dolphins, circled around with them a little, before stopping the boat to jump in and see them under water! I was so upset that my camera had run out of batteries during the days dives and I couldn’t get an footage of the dolphins. However someone else had their camera, so there should be some stuff I’ll try to get a hold of!
Right, that’s it for last week. I’m off back to the UK for a brief (4 week) trip on Friday (the 21st), so not much exciting conservation-ey type stuff will be posted, but I’ll still write something up about what I’ve been up to!
Well, this past week has been incredible. I have met so many new people, and learned an incredible amount. We hosted a conference for land owners and conservationists from the Falkland Islands, and St Helena, with visiting speakers from Kew Gardens. Over the course of the week, we learned about monitoring, management plans, designation of protected areas, enforcing protected areas, invasive species management, and in-situ and ex-situ species protection. On Friday, I was lucky enough to be invited out on a boat dive with the Shallow Marine Surveys Group who have been visiting from the Falklands. Some incredibly cool people, and got to dive parts of the island I’ve never seen before. They had some awesome kit, and I’m hoping to get hold of some of the photos; More to come on that front.
I’ve been working on my BSAC Sports Diver qualification, and successfully passed my theory test. We had our first practical lesson today, and got to do all sorts of exciting things like deploy a delayed surface marker buoy and surface towing of an unconscious diver, as well as less exciting, but still necessary, things like navigation. Not long ‘till I’m at the next stage in my diving experience!!
Turtles have declined massively, with hardly any coming up on Long Beach, I believe the total was under 20 this last Thursday night.
On a more social note, we had a big party up the mountain at the Administrators Residence in honour of the Queen’s birthday. A wonderful event with everyone dressed all posh. It was great! :)
Bank Holiday tomorrow, so going walking with Charlie and Kenickie, then off to English Bay for a beach day!
This week has been spent clearing Elliot’s in preparation for the Protected Areas Workshop. We installed a brand new picnic bench, and finished clearing the Ptisana restoration site, as well as planting some Hystiopteris, a native fern that grows around the Ptisana, and the two species of fern support each other. It will be interesting to see how the restoration effort pans out over the next couple of years. Really not that exciting in terms of work, but working up the mountain in fantastic weather has been wonderful!
On Wednesday, we had the first proper rain in roughly two and a half months. Very welcome, as the drought was starting to make itself felt. St Helena has had to take a water donation from Ascension, as when the ship arrived here, we were told that St Helena only had enough water for 6 more days. I hope that the little that Ascension was able to send will tide them over until the rains come.
Managed to get a dive or two in, and tomorrow I have my first confined water dive lesson for my next dive qualification: BSAC Sports Diver. This qualification will allow me to dive deeper, safer, and for longer, as it has in depth gas calculations, rescue procedures and skill requirements.
That’s all for now, more to come soon.
P.S. excuse the crappy photo editing. Rushing through photoshop on a borrowed computer…it’s better than nothing!!!
Last week was quite dull in terms of conservation stuff, but in the area of my life in general, pretty exciting. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to prepare for the next stage in my life: university. I’m waiting for confirmation from Aberdeen Uni that they’ll allow me to exchange the course I initially applied for to one that I’d actually like to study. I received a letter of allocation to accommodation, which I’m taking as a positive sign…they hopefully wouldn’t allocate me to accommodation if they didn’t intend to accept me. I’m also in a bit of a unique predicament: I was born in Kenya, have a British passport, went to boarding school in Scotland, grew up in Germany, and now live on a UK Overseas Territory. When I applied to uni last year, I was living in Germany which made me an EU student. But now, I really don’t know where I’m at in terms of fee status. One of the other things I need to figure out is a decent spec laptop for a reasonable price, any suggestions welcome!!
At work, we’ve been preparing for a big protected areas conference starting next week. We’ve got lots of exciting people coming out to the island, from organizations like the RSPB, and the St Helena National Trust. It’s going to hopefully be quite an exciting and eventful workshop. Last Wednesday, we had Deirdre, a doctor who had been working down on South Georgia and in the Antarctic and was passing through Ascension on her way back to Skye, volunteer with us. We gladly accepted her help. Due to the nature of the work we were doing, (noddy nest monitoring out at North East Point), we were unreachable through radio for most of the day and we arrived back at the office to find almost the entire police force waiting for us. Unbeknownst to us, she had somehow managed to leave the airhead without a valid entry permit. The police had been searching for her all day. She was informed she was going to be on the next flight back to the UK (on Friday). This left her with two days with little to do, so she came out working with us for the rest of the week. She turned out to be pretty cool, despite being a Scottish spy.
The frigatebird chick out on the Letterbox is doing fantastically, and is almost full-sized, and looking quite vulture like. I’m hoping I’ll be able to see her fledge before heading off to uni. That way I’ll have witnessed her entire ‘childhood,’ from egg to hatching to fledging.
Turtle numbers have dropped crazily, with us only having 50 on Long Beach last Friday! Not long now until the end of the season.
This week has seen me return to work up the mountain on Elliot’s Pass. We have a restoration site for Ptisana purpurascens (http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/43922/0) situated roughly halfway along the path. Weeds, which needed removal, had begun to sprout amongst the ferns, and recent heavy rains had caused a landslide at the base of the site (which is conveniently located in a steep ravine…). Initially we cleared the path to the entrance of the fenced site, which in the three months since it had last been cleared had rapidly become overgrown with ginger, before moving on to the clearance of the landslide. The soil and rock had taken with it the ‘oracles’ of 13 of the large ferns, so careful excavation of those specimens was required before clearing the remainder of the landslide. In order to weed the site, we set up ropes at the highest points of the site, and proceeded to rappel down the steep cliff face, weeding as we went. Overall, quite nerve-wracking!
The work n Elliot’s took up most of the week, and on Thursday we had a team day up on Bishop’s Path. The aim of the day was to clear some of the banks along the path of vegetation in order to monitor the recolonization rates of some of the island’s endemic and native bryophytes. It was a fantastically clear day up at the top of the mountain, and we managed to get loads done!
In terms of turtles, the Long Beach number was a severely diminished 67 attempts, a significant difference from the massive peak back in March. I’m looking forward to seeing the final formatted data which should show a wonderful bell curve over timespan of the season. Hatchlings are becoming an increasingly commonplace, although I’m yet to go out with my camera and get some good pics!
That’s all from me for this week, more to come soon!
This week has been really great. Operation land crab is still going strong; We had a mass spawn of land crabs which peaked at about 800 crabs on one night at North East Bay. Turtle nesting numbers have been dropping steadily (down to 103 on Long Beach on Thursday night) whilst the number of hatching nests has been rapidly increasing (I know, I know, you guys want to see adorable little hatchlings. I promise to post some photos/videos by the end of next week!). The rat project has spent this week trapping in the dense guava habitat around the NASA road on the southern side of the island, and I was surprised by the fact that we haven’t actually caught that many. I would have thought that the rich, ripe guava fruit would attract the rats in vast numbers, but it appears not to be so.
On Wednesday I headed out to North West Point with Charlie, Leon and Kenicks to monitor the Brown Noddies and Brown Boobies. Sadly, lots of failed nests, due to the recent rough seas. The birds nest just along the cliffs meaning exceptionally strong winds and high waves can knock the eggs loose and wash them away, as well as carrying off newly-hatched chicks. During our lunch break, due to the abnormally calm seas around the Wishing Well, we decided to have a quick impromptu lunchtime swim. It was FANTASTIC! Nothing beats a the cool water and beautiful sea life as a break from a hard days walking and bird monitoring. Leon showed off his fin/mask/snorkel-less freediving skillage by swimming down to seek out the long, deeply submerged tunnel leading into the wishing well (video to come, uploading from home would take around 8 hours…). As we left the water to get back to work, Kenicks spotted a tiny octopus hiding in one of the small, barnacle encrusted pools in the rocks. It was fascinating to see it move and flash its camouflage out of the water
Today saw the raising of Ascension’s first flag. We are the last UK Overseas Territory to have a flag approved by the Queen, so it was an historic occasion. I have photos of the event, but for some reason tumblr’s refusing to upload those ones (silly technology!). The flag ceremony was followed by the Ascension Day Fair (Ascension being named for the day in the religious calendar that it was discovered, what better cause for a party on said day?)
Well, I can’t think of anything more to write. So, until next week, that’s it from me!
Wow. So much has happened in the two months since my last post. We have had two MSc (Masters of Science) students come out here to do their field projects. One of them is studying the diet and distribution of populations of the black rat, Rattus rattus, and the other is determining the spawning locations and areas for recruitment to the population of Ascension’s endemic land crab, Johngarthia legostoma. These new projects have been really interesting to take part in. I have been helping with monitoring the numbers of spawning crabs at many of the beaches on the eastern side of the island, which required a couple camping trips to some of the more remote areas such as Crystal Bay, Pillar Bay and Spire Beach. The crab surveys involved clambering around the cliffs and rocks hunting for land crabs in the night, and for each one we found, we would record its gender and whether it had eggs, and then mark it with a paint marker to prevent multiple counts. The only monitoring of the land crabs had previously only occurred on a single beach, North East Bay, and along the roads. We found some good data showing other significant spawning sites, as well as finding some of the various stages of the development the crabs go through after hatching (megalops, and first crab stages, which hadn’t been seen in over 50 years).
The work with rats is a little less glamorous; We’ve been setting live traps in a grid overnight, then collecting the rats we catch and killing them through cervical dislocation before returning to our ‘lab’ and dissecting them and examining stomach and faecal matter. We record all of what we find the rats have been eating, and so far have some promising results.
We recently had a visit from some bryologists (people who study bryophytes, which are mosses, hornworts and liverworts) who taught us a little about the numerous endemic bryophytes, and we may have found a species new to science, as well as numerous species not previously recorded on Ascension. Mosses, hornworts and liverworts are astonishingly beautiful plants when looked at properly:
In terms of turtles, we reached peak nesting towards the end of March with a massive record-breaking number of 423 in one night on Long Beach, and since then numbers have been declining. Peak hatching will occur over the next couple weeks, and I’ll be sure to upload loads of photos & videos of the adorable little things.
I’ve managed to power past the 20 dive line, and will hopefully starting a BSAC course to advance to the next level.Here’s this video of a little octopus I filmed on my GoPro (parents got it for me for my 18th, best present ever!!!) and some more dive photos/videos to follow in a little bit!
That’s all for now, and now that things have calmed down a little, I’ll be back to posting every week. :)
Photo credits to Dr Sylvia Pressel, Prof. Jeff Duckett and Catriona Regnier-Mckellar