Two Articles: Transportation Difficulties and Killer Mice
- The following articles are courtesy of the St. Helena Independent.
Tristanâs Holiday Plans Disrupted
From information received from the Administrator, David Morley, The MV
Baltic Trader eventually left Cape Town 09.00 local time on Thursday
11th December on its inaugural journey to deliver materials for the
reconstruction of the islandâs fishing factory and components for a
heavy duty harbour crane. The shipâs late departure has a knock-on
effect on Tristanâs traditional Christmas holiday arrangements, with
the traditional Break Up planned for today, Friday 19th December,
seriously disrupted. Medical and Education departments likely to be
stopping on the 19th as planned, but everyone else is likely to keep
working until MV Edinburgh expected to arrive today with Christmas
fresh/frozen order for whole island)and MV Baltic Trader, expected
Thursday 18th or earlier, are unloaded. Even with perfect sea
conditions, it will be difficult to unload both ships by Christmas.
As a result Sheep Shearing Day and the main annual slaughtering will
be postponed until New Year. We have a separate Christmas and New Year
Holiday page and will endeavour to keep our visitors up to date with
images and news of Tristanâs busy summer âholidayâ period there.
KILLER MICE BRING ALBATROSS POPULATION CLOSER TO EXTINCTION
The Tristan albatross, one of the worldâs most threatened birds, has
suffered its worst nesting season ever, according to RSPB research.
The number of chicks making it through to fledging has decreased
rapidly and it is now five times lower than it should be because
introduced predatory mice are eating the chicks alive on Gough island
- the birdâs only home and a South Atlantic territory of the United
The mice are also affecting the Gough bunting â" one of the worldâs
largest finches â" another species endemic to Gough island. A recent
survey of the buntingâs population reveals that the population has
halved within the last two decades. Now there are only an estimated
400-500 pairs left.
Despite the grave situation for both species on Gough Island,
government funding to plan for and take forward the eradication of
mice is still lacking. This is despite recognition from two prominent
House of Commonâs Committees that the âbiodiversity found in the UK
Overseas Territories is equally valuable and at a greater risk of
lossâ (than the UK) and that current levels of funding are âgrossly
inadequateâ. Eradicating mice is the single action that would solve
the primary conservation threat facing both species.
Because of the impact from introduced house mice, both the Tristan
albatross and the Gough bunting were listed earlier this year as
Critically Endangered, by BirdLife International. This is the highest
level of threat before extinction. Richard Cuthbert is an RSPB
scientist who has been researching the mice problem on Gough Island
since 2000. Commenting on the latest results he said: âWeâve known for
a long time that the mice were killing albatross chicks in huge
numbers. However, we now know that the albatrosses have suffered their
worst year on record. âThe mice do not affect the adult albatrosses,
but we know from our work that these are being killed by longline
fishing vessels at sea. So, unsustainable numbers of this bird are
being killed on land and at sea. Without conservation efforts, the
Tristan albatross is doomed.
âWe also know that the mice are predators on the eggs and chicks of
the Gough bunting and mice predation is the main factor behind their
recent decline. We also suspect that the mice may compete with the
buntings for food, especially during cold winters.â
Collaborator Peter Ryan from the University of Cape Townâs Percy
FitzPatrick Institute has been studying buntings at the island since
the 1980s. He said âThe decline in bunting numbers is alarming.
Without urgent conservation action to remove the mice, both the
albatross and the bunting are living on borrowed time.â
A complete survey of the Tristan albatross on Gough Island in January
showed there were 1764 adult albatrosses incubating eggs. A later
survey revealed that only 246 chicks had survived to fledging. Richard
Cuthbert added: âWhile some breeding failures would have occurred
naturally, the majority of these would have been killed by mice. Far
higher numbers of winter-breeding burrowing petrels are also predated
by mice. For example, we estimate that half a million Atlantic petrel
chicks will have been eaten last winter.â
The RSPB has been involved in a feasibility study to test whether itâs
possible to remove the mice. So far, the trials look promising, giving
both birds a more optimistic future. Funding on this yearâs work on
Gough has come from the Overseas Territory Environment Programme (OTEP).
Removing rats from seabird islands has been conducted in several parts
of the world with great success, and the RSPB is working with New
Zealand conservationists to tackle removal of the smaller mice. The
procedure will involve dropping poisoned bait from helicopters.
Alistair Gammell is the RSPBâs International Director. He said: âWe
are grateful to the Government for funding to allow us to assess the
feasibility of removing mice.
âIt is essential that the Government commits adequate funding for the
protection of the many threatened species found on the UKâs Overseas
Territories. âWe are challenging the Government to prove its
commitment to conservation by properly funding conservation
initiatives in these territories, and most urgently to commit to
funding the removal of mice from Gough.â
The RSPB is not alone in calling for greater funding. The House of
Commons Environmental Audit Committee on Halting Biodiversity Loss,
published in November stated: âOne of the most important contributions
that the Government could make to halting biodiversity loss would be
to provide more support for the UK Overseas Territories, where it is
the eleventh hour for many species.
Although England has a number of internationally important species and
habitats, the biodiversity found in the UK Overseas Territories is
equally valuable and at a greater risk of loss. The Government must
act now to protect these areas.â
The House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee for the UK Overseas
Territories stated in June: âThe environmental funding currently being
provided by the UK to the Overseas Territories appears grossly
inadequate and we recommend that it should be increased.â
House mice were introduced accidentally to Gough island by sealers
during the 18th or 19th century.