Ascension : ASCENSION ISLAND CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT
Submitted by The Islander (Conservation Office) 05.12.2013 (Article Archived on 09.01.2014)
We would like to welcome an new member to the team. Miss Eliza Leat, who be working with the Seabirds on Ascension.
ASCENSION ISLAND CONSERVATION DEPARTMENT
We would like to welcome an new member to the team. Miss Eliza Leat, who be working with the Seabirds on Ascension. Eliza will be monitoring the behaviours of the birds around the island. Please see below an introduction from Eliza.
‘Hello Ascension islanders. I have recently arrived from the UK to spend two years with the AIG Conservation Team working as their seabird conservation scientist.
My parents installed in me a love of the natural world from a young age, teaching me and my sisters the names of wild flowers and birds on family walks. My first real taste of working with seabirds came when I was still at school and I took an afternoon off to go with my dad and the local ringing group to the Farne Islands off the Northumbrian coast in the UK. By Ascension standards these islands aren’t very remote, only 2 nautical miles off the mainland UK, but the thousands of seabirds make it seem like another world. I was hooked, and spent three summers out there doing research on Arctic terns which nest all around the old stone peel tower where I lived with the National trust wardens. After a while you only notice the constant noise of living in the middle of a seabird colony when it stops, like when the terns are spooked by a bird of prey or even a racing pigeon, and all fly out to sea leaving the island suddenly quiet.
After a brief foray into Neotropical ornithology in the Ecuadorian rainforest for my undergraduate dissertation I was fortunate enough to find a PhD researching persistent organic pollutants in Great skuas in Shetland. I knew from my time on the Farne Islands that I wanted to do my own research, to not only collect the data but to design the methods, analyse the results and present them, so I was very excited to find a subject that interested me. Great skuas are migratory seabirds, who for four or five months every year the island descend on the island of Foula, where they vastly outnumber the small human population of ~30 people. They are the bullies of the seabird world, and like the frigate birds here they steal much of their food from other seabirds or from discards from fishing, killing the occasional rabbit or fulmar as well. If you stray too close to their nests they fly at your head and try and hit you with their feet, which given they weigh ~1.5kg can hurt if they aim well. I loved the remoteness of the work, spending all day on the hills when the weather allowed; rain and hill fog are common in even in summer in Shetland.
There is nothing quite like being in a seabird colony, the noise, the smell and just been so close to animals which ordinarily are inaccessible, flying somewhere out at sea. So when I saw this job advertised the only thing that weighed on my mind was how remote your little island is and how far from my family I would be. Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith and I knew I couldn’t miss the opportunity to work on some amazing species of seabirds so here I am!
I am really enjoying life on Ascension so far and I am relishing the new challenges working with tropical seabirds brings. The birds here don’t seem to be fixed to breeding in specific seasons like those in the UK which makes determining their population size a little more tricky. However compared to both the Farne Islands and Foula I am finding your seabirds here quite gentle, the sooty terns seem content to attack my boots from the ground rather than viciously pecking my head like Arctic terns.
Feel free to stop me and ask any questions about the seabirds on the island, I might not have all the answers yet but I will try to find out if I don’t know. The wonderful thing is that maybe no one knows the answer to your question yet; there is still a lot of research we need to do to find out more about the extraordinary birds that surround us. I would also like to thank you for all for being so welcoming, it makes a big difference when arriving in a new place on your own.’
The Conservation Office in Georgetown is open from 7:30am – 10am on week days but due to fieldwork commitments, staff will only sporadically be in the office throughout the rest of the day. We also open on Saturdays 10am -12noon. Please come in and see us if you are interested in finding out more about conservation work on Ascension or if you would like to purchase something from our shop!
Volunteers welcome. Please contact Natasha Williams or Jolene Sim. Ascension Island Conservation. Georgetown. Tel: 6359. Email: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org