Back on 16th March 2011, the MV Olivia ran aground on Nightingale, part of the Tristan da Cunha group of islands in the South Atlantic. This was the start of an environmental disaster, as 1,600 tonnes of fuel and 65,000 tonnes of soya beans polluted the waters and threatened wildlife on and around Inaccessible and Nightingale.
The MV Edinburgh was the first to learn of the accident, and Captain Clarence and his crew of over 40 provided immediate assistance to the stricken vessel, which quickly broke up and sank – with no injuries or loss of life, thanks to the intervention.
Responding to the ongoing disaster, the MV Edinburgh quickly transformed from a working fishing boat into a rescue vessel – helping volunteers to save over 3,500 northern rockhopper penguins. Captain Clarence is deeply respected by the Tristan community, and his contribution back in March and his ongoing relationship with the islands has been recognised by Her Majesty, with the award of an honorary MBE.
Tristan children with oiled penguins (Katrine Herian)
Without Clarence, his crew and the rapid response of the Tristan da Cunha islanders, the situation would have been much worse, and we are delighted to hear of Captain Clarence's award.
Captain Clarence October, MBE (Estelle van der Merwe)
Rarely has a morning been so exciting - we learned yesterday that one of the Ascension Island frigatebird eggs is hatching!
While not out of the wood yet (the chick still needs to survive to fledging), this will be the first time in 180 years that the species has been able to breed successfully on the mainland – a testament to the time and effort that many people have put into the project across the years, before, during and after the cat eradication programme.
For more on this story, visit the previous post or search for Ascension. If video footage becomes available, we'll post it here.
Welcome to the world (Derren Fox, cension Island Government Conservation)
I don't think we've brought you any news on our blogs before from the tiny islands of the British Indian Ocean Territory, or Chagos Archipelago, some 400 miles south of the Maldives. This UK Overseas Territory is made up of 55 islands, the largest being Diego Garcia, with most of the land no more than 2m above sea level.
Surveying along the beach (Dave Tickler)
In 2010, 545,000 km2 of marine reserve were declared around the islands, and at the end of last year, an extensive Open Ocean Expedition led by Professor Jessica Meeuwig headed out to research the area. This expedition was a collaboration between the Universities of Western Australia and St Andrews, and the Zoological Society of London, and had several interesting strands covering a range of disciplines, including oceanography, acoustics, and the use of pelagic cameras. The team also carried out tagging of sharks, showing that the equipment can be safely and effectively deployed, checked and recovered, setting the scene for future research. The expedition had to deal with some nasty conditions, including Cyclone Claudia - but despite this, it was an unqualified success.
Bird recording – two contrasting styles! (Rudy Pothin)
For us, the key interest was from the first ever quantitative sampling of the territorial waters of the Chagos. Pete Carr, an expert on Chagos birds (having written the Birds of BIOT in 2011) and long time friend of the RSPB's Overseas Territories team, collected substantial amounts of data, and we received the exciting news that Matsudaira's storm-petrel had been recorded for the first time (Pete is an old hand at finding new species on the Chagos!) He had 74 sightings over 21 days, and the species appears to be quite habitat specific, usually occurring over sea mounts or on the edge of banks. Other interesting birds seen included the white-faced storm-petrel and Tahiti petrel.
Matsudaira's storm-petrel (Pete Carr)
Matsudaira's storm-petrel is only known to breed on the Volcano Islands of Japan, but potentially could breed elsewhere. However, it is classified as Data Deficient by BirdLife as we don't know its total distribution, population size, trends and threats, although it has been suggested that the global population is a minimum of 20,000 individuals. It winters in the Indian Ocean, and recent sightings from NW Australia coupled with these new data suggest that it heads south from Japan and then loops back up through the central Indian Ocean rather than cutting across the top of Indonesia on its route from breeding islands to wintering grounds in the north-west Indian Ocean.
To find out more about any species, visit the BirdLife Data Zone.