Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

Counting Sooties: annual expedition arrives at Gough Island in the south Atlantic via Tristan da Cunha and Nightingale

After a 10-day voyage the South African annual relief expedition finally arrived at its destination today: Gough Island in the south Atlantic.

The relief of South Africa’s weather station on this British island (part of the United Kingdom’s Overseas Territory of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha) takes place every September-October.  As usual, the SANAP (South African National Antarctic Programme) research and supply vessel, the m.v. S.A. Agulhas II, first visited Tristan to offload passengers, making for a long cruise.

We then sailed the short distance to Nightingale Island where yesterday we dropped a six-person party who will spend several months studying the biology of Endangered Northern Rockhopper Penguins Eudyptes moseleyi, as well as attempting an island-wide census of ACAP-listed and Endangered Sooty Albatrosses Phoebetria fusca- no easy task on a steep-sided island that is covered in thick head-high swathes of Tussock Grass Spartina arundinacea.

Sooty Albatross, photographed by Andrea Angel and Ross Wanless

The only estimate (probably no more than an educated guess) of the Sooty population of Nightingale is of 100 to 200 annually breeding pairs made by Mike Richardson, then the medical doctor on Tristan, way back in the early 1970s - so a new estimate is long overdue.

Nightingale also supports a breeding population of Endangered Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses Thalassarche chlororhynchos (the only other ACAP-listed species that occurs) with the most recent estimate of 4000 pairs being made in October/November 2007 by Peter Ryan of the FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town.

Click here for the ACAP Breeding Site account for Nightingale Island.

For information on research on ACAP-listed albatrosses and petrels planned for the relief and over the next year on Gough click here.

With thanks to Peter Ryan for information.

Selected References:

Richardson, M.E. 1984.  Aspects of the ornithology of the Tristan da Cunha Group and Gough Island, 1972-1974.  Cormorant 12: 122-201.

RYAN, P.G. (Ed.) 2007.  Field guide to the animals and plants of Tristan da Cunha and Gough Island.  Newbury: Pisces Publications.  162 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, on Gough Island, 15 September 2013