15 Oct 2018

24 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Six: Passengers Behaving Badly

We had a great guided trip on 23 Apr on Ascension Island (see earlier Blog Posts). But the day wasn't over. After dinner, we were back into the zodiacs to go ashore to look for Green Turtles on Long Beach. The Conservation Dept team were back out again to guide people. After a presentation, while they were looking for egg-laying female Green Turtles, we were led in groups of around 15 along the road at the back of the beach. We were asked to wait on the road, until a female was found so that a group could be taken to see the egg-laying. Unfortunately, few Green Turtles were found that night & the group I was in stayed on the road. We did see a Green Turtle from the road, but not up close & personal. Apparently, once they start egg-laying, having a group of quiet people appear up close will not disturb them, providing there are no white lights & obviously no flash guns going off.
Green Turtle: While everybody else was misbehaving on the beach, I spotted this Green Turtle that had been overlooked in the darkness. I took a few photos & quickly left her, hoping others wouldn't see her. Unfortunately, a few others did see her & then insisted of standing around like prats talking & photographing her, including one well known UK Birder who should have known better. He is not one of the passengers whose mugshot appears on my Blog
We still had the following morning & I was up early enough to ensure I was on the first zodiac, with all zodiacs departing in the dark. However, that didn't help as once we were ashore, we were all kept on the quayside until everybody had made it. A second problem quickly became obvious that only three members of the Conservation Dept had arrived to guide everybody. Perhaps not surprising as they had all worked a very long day with the guided tour & then being out late on the evening guided tour. Like us, the few who appeared had only had a few hours sleep. There were few Green Turtles on the beach just before first light. As a result, the decision was made that just about everybody was going to be allowed to see one Green Turtle. Consequently, everybody stood no further than ten metres from this poor Green Turtle in three quarter circle. I had knelt down to present a lower profile, but the reality is nobody else thought to follow this action. Not surprisingly this large group of people spooked the Green Turtle which hadn't started egg laying & she tried moving back towards the sea. Next thing, one of the European non Birders decided that he had to stand in the middle of the open part of the circle and block the route for the Green Turtle to the sea. That was something we had been told explicitly not to do, but I guess if you are a prat, you are excluded from doing what you are told to do. A few people must have told him to move, but soon after he was replaced by another prat in the same place. I can't believe it not stressful for a Green Turtle to be surrounded by such a large group of people. She left & briefly attempted to try another nesting hollow, but was pursued by virtually everybody. I was disgusted by the uncontrolled behaviour of the group & returned to the back of the beach, to find just one other passenger had also walked away. With the posse following close to the Green Turtle, she ended up abandoning egg-laying & returned to the sea. By this time, it was light, so perhaps she was too late to have got ashore & successfully lay eggs, but I still don't think that gives the other passengers the right to act inconsiderately to the Green Turtles.
Just a small part of the posse who pursued the Green Turtle to the water: Albeit, as she got closer they finally lined up at right angles to the water, rather than in a broad line a few metres behind the Green Turtle
What I think should have happened is while we were on the quayside, we were asked to split into two groups based on who had been successful in being led to a Green Turtle the previous night or not. Then formed up into a line to go the beach, with those who hadn't been successful at the front of the line. Once a Green Turtle had been found, then a group of 15 could have been led off to spent a few minutes up close with a Green Turtle, before being asked to return to the road, while the next group were led up. That would have given everybody a fairer chance at seeing a Green Turtle up close. Secondly, the Expedition staff should have been asked to help organise this, given few of the Conservation Dept had been able to return. The smaller groups would have been more manageable & if anybody didn't want to behave, then they should have been told by the Expedition staff to return to the quayside. I got the impression that we had a larger number of passengers than the Conservation Dept were used to dealing with & they were not used to having to deal with large groups. If any of the Conservation Dept are reading this, then perhaps this will help deal with large groups in the future. I'm not having a go at the Conservation Dept staff, as they still had to head off to do their normal day jobs that morning, but I'm trying to provide some suggestions for the future. While everybody else was behaving badly, I ended up staying at the back of the beach & photographed passing Ascension Island Frigatebirds. It was a very frustrating start to the morning.

14 Oct 2018

23 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Five: Sooty Terns

In an earlier Post of the guided tour around Ascension Island, I skipped over the stop at the Sooty Tern colony. This was another of the highlights of the visit to Ascension Island. We were given a short talk about the Sooty Terns on Ascension Island & how their numbers have improved since feral Cats were removed. However, removal of the feral Cats has led to an increase in the introduced Rats. This is a problem the Conservation Dept are keen to tackle at some point in the future. But it is a case of arguing for the removal of these Rats against clearance of introduced Mice & Rats on other islands. Hopefully, it will be addressed at some point in the future. Once the talk was over we were allowed down to the edge of the colony to enjoy the spectacle & take a few photos. Enjoy.
It was difficult to figure how how to drive past the sign
Sooty Tern paparazzi
The Sooty Terns were nesting on this old, jagged lava flow
Sooty Tern: Adult with a well grown juvenile behind
Sooty Tern: Adult
Sooty Tern: Adult & juvenile
Sooty Tern: Adult
Sooty Tern: Adult
Sooty Tern: Adult
Sooty Tern: Adult
Sooty Tern: Adult
Sooty Tern: One of the more advanced juveniles took to the air
Sooty Tern: Juvenile
Sooty Tern: Juvenile
It had been a good visit to the Sooty Tern colony, but I was keen to see the rest of the historical parts of Ascension Island including visits to Green Mountain & the historical fortifications. Overall, a great day on Ascension Island & some excellent guiding by the Conservation Dept.

13 Oct 2018

23 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Five: An Afternoon Of History On Ascension Island

After a great morning on Ascension Island visiting Green Mountain, it was time to spent some of the lower slopes of the island & have a look around Georgetown. The first stop after lunch was the gun emplacements of Fort Bedford above Georgetown. There were guns from various eras in the island's history.
These two 7 inch guns were manufactured in 1866
A close up of the 7 inch guns
It is a good thing I didn't have any complaints about the service on the Plancius
5.5 inch guns from HMS Hood: At the start of WWII, HMS Hood had her twelve 5.5 inch guns replaced with 4 inch guns for better protection against air attack. Two of the 5.5 inch guns were shipped to Georgetown to protect the colony. Sadly, HMS Hood was sunk, along with HMS Prince of Wales, in 1941 during the battle to try sinking the German battleship Bismarck & heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen. These guns were used in anger in 1941 when German U-boat U-124 approached close to Ascension Island: it quickly departed. These guns were given a lot of TLC to preserve them in the 1980s
The view over Georgetown
The view over Long Beach
Green Turtle tracks on Long Beach
One of the interesting things about Georgetown is it doesn't appear to have changed much in the last 100 years. Therefore, unlike virtually any other UK colonial base, it has retained much of it's original layout & character. I'm not sure if that makes it a more comfortable place to live, but it makes it a very interesting place to visit.
Georgetown church: Georgetown has retained much of its colonial layout
The final stop was the Georgetown museum. As we were back in the town, we were free to look around the museum, wander around within the town boundaries including the old fortifications & check out the excellent air conditioning in the main food store. The museum was interesting with plenty on the history & natural history of the island.
This sign board next to the museum confirmed how isolated Ascension Island is: The surrounding vegetation is Mexican Thorn Bush which is an Acacia-like bush. Obviously, it is introduced & the Conservation Dept is trying to clear it from parts of the island as it helps provide cover for the introduced Rats which are a significant cause for concern for the Seabirds breeding on Ascension Island
More historical cannons: You are never too far from history in Georgetown
Another cannon by the museum
Sgt Davies's Jeep: This is the only surviving Jeep from WWII and was used by some of the American soldiers who were based on Ascension Island during the war & who build the runway
4.7 Inch Quick Fire Gun: This gun dates to 1895 & was of two originally mounted in Fort Hayes along with a six inch gun to protect Georgetown during WWI
Fort Hayes: The garrison in WWI was 38 men and so might have struggled to hold out had there been a serious attack on it
Fort Hayes: The fort is now part of the museum
Fort Hayes lies immediately to the SW of the centre of Georgetown
Looking immediately out of Fort Hayes is the the quayside and another Green Turtle beach
The coastal view from Fort Hayes
Looking back to Georgetown
Looking back on the museum from Fort Hayes: The museum is the nearest building
An old light in Fort Hayes
John demonstrating how one of the 4.7 Inch Guns would have defended Georgetown in the event of an attack
The Exiles Club in Georgetown: This was the original Marines barracks in Georgetown. A replacement barracks was built next to it, but had since been demolished. When the Navy left, the Exiles Club was renamed the Ascension Club
The replacement Marine barracks to the left of the Exiles Club
This Cannon protects the Exiles Club
Historic Anchor
The Pierhead Stores Building: Had this been in the UK, it is likely that this historic building would have been replaced with some modern concrete building with no character
The Moon: There was excellent light to photograph the Moon

12 Oct 2018

23 Apr 18 - Atlantic Odyssey - Day Twenty Five: Ascension Island Is Another Amazing Island

Ascension Island is the third & final part of the Tristan da Cunha British Overseas Territory. Once we were anchored in Georgetown Bay, the Ascension officials came aboard & checked the Plancius's papers & our passports. We were then cleared to go ashore for the day.
Black Triggerfish: There were large numbers around the gangway throughout our visit
Black Triggerfish: They occur in all the tropical oceans around the world
We had non-visa access to Ascension Island which allowed us to go on a guided day trip of the island & walk around in Georgetown. Ascension Island has a joint RAF/US Air Force airfield on the island. However, the airport runway was closed to large commercial planes in 2017 due to problems with the runway. As a consequence, some of the limited tourist options that were possible in previous years have currently shutdown. Without a visa which would have allowed us to travel around the island & the ability to hire a car or taxi, then the only option was the guided tour. This guided tour included a visit to one of the Sooty Tern colonies. Some of the punters on the previous Odyssey trips had complained that this left insufficient time to spend at the Sooty Tern colony. The guided tour gave us around an hour at the Sooty Tern colony & this seemed to be sufficient for most of the Birders. We were offered the chance of another extended visit on the following morning, but no more than a handful of people expressed an interest in that trip. The reality is like the other British islands we had visited, there was so many other interesting things to see on the island, it would have been a pity to have spent much longer at the Sooty Tern colony.
Long Beach: This is next to the quayside
Long Beach: The Green Turtle tracks indicate how popular this beach is for Green Turtles
The landing at the quayside steps was perhaps the trickiest we encountered. When a wave was high, the zodiac driver drove at the steps & Leon in the centre helped to pull the front up another step. By this time, the water level had dropped & the front of the zodiac was firmly wedged on the steps. We were then allowed to get up which involved a walk up the front of the zodiac which was angled at about 30 degrees. Surprisingly, the islanders hadn't found a better way to improve the landing on the steps over the years.
The landing: Bob, Leon & Seba waiting to help us land
Leon has just pulled the front of the next zodiac up out of the water
Once ashore we had to wait for everybody to land before we could start on the guided tour. It was a long & hot wait for everybody to land.
The approach to the docks
There was even a passenger terminal for visitors: Although that didn't include us
The Ascension Island logo is one of the best I've seen
Finally, we were all loaded & headed off for the two minute drive to the first stop at Long Beach. At each stop, the members of the Conservation Dept gave us a short presentation talk. At this stop, it was to tell us about the history of Green Turtles on Ascension Island. In the early history of occupation of the island, the islanders collected Green Turtles & held them in this holding pen. They were then kept for months until a sailing ship came in & bought the Green Turtles. They would have been kept alive on the sailing ship, until being killed & cooked as food for the crew. Fortunately, this practice stopped in the 1950s & now the Green Turtles are fully protected. The population of Green Turtles nesting on the beaches is still increasing. A survey in 1977, suggested there were around 1,000 nests, which had increased to around 10,000 in 2012.
The Green Turtle holding pen
Long Beach
Long Beach: The sea was quite rough along the beach
Warning about one of the native species: They are a land crab that occur only on Ascension Island, as well as, Fernando de Noronha & Trindade Island
Parts of this island are incredibly arid
When Ascension Island was first discovered it was a hot & arid island. When Joseph Hooker visited in 1843 as part of James Ross's Antarctica Expedition, he proposed that to help provide sufficient water for the population, the high peak should be planted with trees. The hope was these trees would then capture moisture from the sea air & this would then run down & be captured. Hooker suggested a variety of suitable trees from different parts of the world. One of the stops was to the Peak or Green Mountain as it is also known. Our guide told us that the trees planted on the lower slopes were selected as trees that could cope with hotter & drier habitats, whereas the trees on the higher slopes were trees that preferred cooler & more moist habitats. As an experiment to capture water, it was incredibly successful. But it has also left Ascension Island with a large number of introduced trees & plants & many of the native plants are extremely threatened by this mass introduction.
Another member of the Conservation Dept gave us a talk on their work to save the endemic plants
A display box which gives an idea of how some of the native plants would have looked
Towards the top of the Green Mountain, there is the remains of an old army base that was built when Marines were stationed on Ascension Island in 1815, after Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to St Helena. The Conservation Dept have set up their botanical centre to grow endemic plants there, so that they can be replanted in suitable areas on the island. There is also a good walk through the Trees to see how successful this scheme has been & which included walking past one of the old water catchment sites.
The clock tower at the old Marines base
The start of the walk from the old Marines base
John Holmes with Jemi behind walking up from the old Marines base
One of the Conservation Dept staff (on the left) next to some old Marines buildings
Another view of the old Marines buildings
Part of the 19th Century water capture scheme
The old water tanks
The old water tanks
The runway in one of the typically arid lower parts of the island
The view from the top of Green Mountain: One of the reasons for the Marines base was to provide a lookout of any arriving ships
The settlement of Two Boats: Although the surrounding area looks green, most of this is actually arid Acacia-like bushes
This forest is not only around 160 years old: But it looks to be a lot older
The forest looked good
Shy White Tern: Not surprisingly there was a lack of Birds on the walk
Arjen from the Expedition staff
My mate Richard Lowe
Some excellent Lichen
I've no idea what this is or where it occurs naturally, but it looks good
US mailbox
Good to see a Rat poison trap along the walk: Rats are a major problem on Ascension Island
Finally, we all heading off to the Two Boats settlement for lunch.
Filming for the Ascension Island remake of Last of the Summer Wine was going well: Tony, Mike & Glenn
The second half of our guided tour of Ascension Island will be coming in the next Post.