Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Day on Gough Island

The ship's doctor and ship-based science party pose with Agulhas II during our outing to Gough Island.  
Earlier this week, I got to spend 24 hours on Gough Island, one of the most remote places on Earth. Inhabited by a team of scientists year-round, the Agulhas II is in charge of turnover. The ship brings out a new batch of birders, biologists, ecologists, and members of the South African weather service, who will spend the next year living and working on the island. There's a 2-3 week turnover period where the previous year's team trains the new one. Also on the island during this time are staff from the weather service, public works department, and other government agencies who have maintenance projects to conduct. At the end of the change-out period, last year's team and the turnover staff return to the ship. A fishing vessel or two will stop at Gough Island during the year before Agulhas returns, but that's about it. 
Gotta love a good Jurassic Park reference.

The science party was invited over to Gough Island this week for the turnover party. Everyone there has been working nonstop since we dropped them off before continuing with our ship-based science a few weeks ago. After a ceremony and speeches, we were treated to a feast, tables and tables of delicious food. Festivities went into the wee hours of the morning. The five of us ship-based scientists slept on mattresses on the floor of the movie room like it was a slumber party. The next morning we went for a hike. I did a mild walk to Seal Beach, while some of the others went on a 7-hour quest up the mountain looking for a wandering albatross nest (which they found). Appropriately enough, at Seal Beach I saw fur seals, lounging on warm rocks and swimming in a large tidepool. The nearby rocks were covered in nesting rockhopper penguins. For over an hour I just watched them, their facial fringe flapping in the wind. They inhabit rocks much farther from the waterline than I expected, and watching them make their way across boulders was both impressive and amusing. 

Yellow-nosed albatross on its nest.

There are many other bird species who nest on the island. During the hike, we saw multiple yellow-nosed albatross nests and could hear great shearwaters calling from their burrows all around us. On the cliffs, sooty albatross (my favorite) were gathered. I also saw dozens of Gough moorhen around the base. An endemic species (only found on Gough Island), the moorhens are related to a South American species that somehow ended up far from home. It's one of only two land bird species, the other being a bunting that I unfortunately didn't see. 

The ship has been hanging around Gough Island since we returned onboard. The helicopter teams move crates back onboard whenever the weather allows, and the crew also transferred fuel from the ship to the island's tanks. When there's no work going on involving the ship, it moves to a protected area out of the wind. Gough Island is absolutely gorgeous, with amazing rock formations and water falls. I consider myself very lucky to be one of very few people to ever see this beautiful place.
The protected side of the island, with the ship's bow in the fore-ground.
The helicopters land containers in the yellow circle.

Waterfalls along the coast of Gough Island.

A beautiful day for a hike on Gough Island.

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