My passion for wildlife was stimulated in my teenage years, mainly thanks to my Mum (a biology teacher) who made me look at the world differently and being inspired by writers such as Paul Colinvaux. This early interest developed into biological research in my 20s, when I did practical conservation work in places such as the Comores and Mongolia.
Today, any free time I have I spend pottering around the flatlands of East Anglia or escaping to our hut on the Northumberland coast looking for wildlife and castles with my wife and children.
I studied Biological Sciences at Oxford and Conservation at UCL, and worked at Wildlife and Countryside Link before spending five years as Conservation Director at Plantlife.
I joined the RSPB as Head of Government Affairs in 2004, became Head of Sustainable Development in 2006, before becoming Conservation Director in 2011.
I am delighted to welcome back my colleague, Jonathan Hall (who heads our work in the UK Overseas Territories), to report on a new expedition designed to improve the protection of the marine environment around Tristan da Cunha.
We are very excited to announce that in January next year, the RSPB, Tristan da Cunha Government and the National Geographic Pristine Seas team will be conducting a joint 5-week marine discovery expedition to Tristan da Cunha archipelago, the UK Overseas Territory situated in the South Atlantic Ocean.
At least seven days sailing from Cape Town (with fair winds and calm seas, potentially many more if the roaring forties live up to their reputation), Tristan da Cunha is the most remote inhabited island in the world. The four main islands in the group are the peaks of gigantic underwater volcanoes which reach up from the abyssal plain. Tristan erupted as recently as 1961. Above water, their hard-to-access slopes are breathtaking and even give rise to the name of “Inaccessible Island”.
The islands provide vital nesting sites for many endemic albatrosses, shearwaters and petrels as well as some truly unique landbirds, whilst their shores are lined with seals and penguins.
Atlantic Yellow-nosed albatross, endemic to the Tristan group
Underwater, they are home to massive kelp forests and the unique lobster population upon which the Tristan da Cunha community depends via its MSC-certified sustainable lobster fishery. Further out to sea, these vast rich waters are still almost entirely unknown, but hold numerous seamounts and reports of important whale, dolphin, shark and tuna populations.
With a world-leading science team, underwater film-makers, deep-diving cameras, satellite trackers, a terrestrial film crew, expert local knowledge and plenty of places which no human eye has ever investigated before, we’re hoping to discover new species and records for Tristan, as well as to showcase the archipelago’s wildlife treasures to the world!
The expedition will help the Tristan community fulfil its ambition of establishing a regime for protecting the waters across the entire Tristan da Cunha Exclusive Economic Zone by 2020. This will be driven by the community, be science-led, and will meet both local economic and conservation needs. It will have the full financial support of the UK for management and enforcement, as part of the UK Government’s world-leading ‘Blue Belt’ commitment.
Most excitingly, the resulting protections will cover more than three quarters of a million square kilometres of rich ocean and also surround Gough Island World Heritage Site, described by the IUCN as ‘arguably the most important seabird island in the world’.
We’re very excited about this new partnership. If you would like to hear more as the work unfolds, please make sure to check in to our ‘Saving Special Places’ blog in January & February for updates, photos and short films from this cutting-edge expedition.
Thanks Johnathan, what a fantastic expedition, it's just this sort of activity and collaboration that excites me as an RSPB member. Please remind us what is happening as it progresses.