Worldwide conservation, crabs, apes, trees …


Land crab with eggs. Credit: Sam Weber

From Fauna & Flora International:

Flagship Species Fund supports eight conservation icons in 2013

Posted on: 22.04.13 (Last edited) 22nd April 2013

Fauna & Flora International’s Flagship Species Fund announces eight grants to be given to species conservation projects in 2013.

Flagship species are those iconic, charismatic species that capture public admiration and may be used as figureheads to promote broader conservation action.

The Flagship Species Fund is a partnership between Fauna & Flora International (FFI) and the UK Department for Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra). In 2013, the Fund will support the conservation of some of the most endangered, yet best loved, species as well as promoting new and emerging flagships for conservation.

The eight grants will cover a range of species (from mammals, reptiles and birds to invertebrates and plants), with projects working towards:

Last, but by no means least, the fund will be supporting the conservation of the land crab (Johngarthia lagostoma) on Ascension Island. The land crab’s relationship with the inhabitants of Ascension Island has come a long way since the first permanent settlements were made on the island in 1815, when a British naval garrison was built. The admiralty saw the crabs as pests and rewarded sailors from the garrison with rum for killing them.

Today, the crabs enjoy a much more favourable relationship with the islanders, with images of them appearing on postage stamps and guide books. However they still face severe threats as they are now locked in competition with introduced species including rats, mice and rabbits.

Land crab. Credit: Sam Weber

Land crab. Credit: Sam Weber

Mass spawning of thousands of land crabs only occurs at a few locations around the island, and on just a couple of nights each year. Dr Sam Weber, who will be leading the conservation efforts, remembers the first time he experienced this spectacle: “The bright orange of thousands of crabs moving over the black volcanic coastline is really striking and stopped me in my tracks. I particularly remember laughing at the little ‘hula dance’ they do as they release their eggs into an approaching wave. Now I can’t help wondering how much more impressive it would have looked at the time the first ships landed at Ascension and before species introductions and harvesting began.”

The Operation Land Crab team will be using the Flagship Species Fund grant to tag spawning crabs with coloured claw bands and microchips. This will allow the team to identify individual crabs in the future and study their migrations, growth rates and age.

Land crab. Credit: Sam Weber

Land crab. Credit: Sam Weber

FFI looks forward to following the progress of these interventions through the year, and wishes the project teams every success as they strive to conserve these iconic species.

Looking back- the rise of new icons for conservation

Since its establishment in 2001, the Flagship Species Fund has awarded 151 grants, which have in turn provided support for the conservation of 101 threatened species. This has included household names like the mountain gorilla, African elephant and hawksbill turtle.

But the Fund has also supported some little known, but engaging, species that have become new champions for the conservation of their habitats. These have included the cowboy frog, freshwater crayfish, Cebu cinnamon tree and Indian tarantula. The success of these projects proves that a species doesn’t need to be furry, act like a human, or be a candidate for a child’s cuddly toy, to enlist widespread interest and spearhead conservation action.

Through these projects, FFI has supported the work of 109 local NGOs or agencies, across 40 developing or transitional countries and five UK overseas territories.

In 2012, the Fund supported 11 locally developed and delivered projects, which resulted in meaningful change on the ground. These include:

  • Direct habitat management – 20,000 endemic hardwoods were planted in a re-greening agreement with villages in northern Sumatra
  • Association establishment and empowerment – around the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda, ex-hunters associations were established, which led to the willing surrender of 1,400 snares from ex-hunters
  • Awareness raising – through agro-theatre performances and poster display competitions in Tajikistan
  • Alternative livelihoods – The Lamu Marine Conservation Trust, working along the northern coast of Kenya, reported increased local revenue from turtle tourism and the reintroduction of 5,102 baby turtles to the sea

By supporting a wide range of species and approaches, FFI has continued to explore what makes a locally-powerful conservation symbol, and promoted the conservation of the world’s most iconic and threatened species.

Frigatebirds back on Ascension Island after 180 years


This video about Ascension Island is called Nesting Frigate Birds and Turtle Babies – Planet Earth – BBC.

From Wildlife Extra:

Frigate birds reappear on Ascension Island after 180 year absence

A UK bird has been found breeding again on a remote island, almost 180 years since it was last recorded there.

December 2012. Two Ascension frigatebirds were spotted sitting on nests on Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory. The species has previously been confined to the outlying Boatswain Bird Island, which is just 1km², for decades after taking refuge there when feral cats overran the main island of Ascension.

Millions killed by cats

The seabird population on the tropical UK Overseas Territory, previously numbering into the tens of millions, was devastated by the cats which were introduced onto the island in the early 19th Century to control introduced rats and mice. The RSPB began a project to remove feral cats on Ascension Island in 2002. The project was supported by funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the island was formally declared feral cat free in 2006.

Globally threatened

The Ascension frigatebird is a globally threatened species found nowhere else in the world. It is one of the 33 Globally Threatened British Birds found in the UK’s Overseas Territories, and is considered Vulnerable to Extinction by the IUCN.

Dr Tim Stowe, the RSPB’s International Director, said: “This is the news we have been waiting for since starting the project more than a decade ago. Many species on the UK Overseas Territories are threatened by non-native species and this project marks a landmark in conservation. Ascension is the largest, inhabited island where feral cat removal has been attempted and proved successful. What a wonderful Christmas present.”

The discovery was made by members of the Army Ornithological Society, together with members of the Ascension Island Government’s Conservation Department.

Ascension Frigatebirds

Ascension frigatebirds are sometimes called Man O’War birds or Pirate birds because they steal other birds’ food in flight. They are almost as big as albatrosses, and although seabirds, they can’t swim.

The adult male Ascension frigatebird is black overall, with a glossy green and purple sheen, but during courtship it develops a bright red gular (a flap of skin) that inflates to form an impressive heart-shaped balloon. The adult female is more rusty-brown, particularly around the collar and breast, and some individuals have patches of white on the breast and abdomen.

Ascension Island birds

Ascension Island is a small, remote, volcanic island in the South Atlantic. It is rich in unique flora and fauna. At the time of its colonisation by Europeans in 1815, it was thought to host 20 million individual seabirds, including the Ascension Frigatebird

Derren Fox from Ascension Island Conservation, said: “We were out with the Army Ornithological Society to work on some other seabirds in the area when Andrew Bray from AOS came up to us with a photograph of the bird on a nest. We were all incredibly excited and went to see the site and survey for further nests in the area. It’s a great moment for Ascension conservation and a superb example of collaborative work between the FCO, RSPB and Ascension Island Conservation.”

Feral cat eradication

A Foreign and Commonwealth spokesperson, said: “We are delighted at the news that, after almost 180 years, the frigatebirds have returned to Ascension to breed again. The feral cat eradication project has been a real success and we are grateful to the RSPB for their skilful management of the initiative. This is great example of the practical impact of the UK’s wider commitment to working with the Territories and environmental partners to protect the bio-diversity of crucial habitats. The UK underlined that commitment with the recent launch of ‘Darwin Plus’, a £2m fund to support environmental work across the Territories. We very much hope to see more innovative projects take advantage of this and help further safeguard the extraordinary biodiversity of our Territories.”

The project to bring frigate birds back to Ascension Island has been a 10-year collaboration involving the RSPB with Wildlife Management International Ltd, the Ascension Island Government (in particular, seabird restoration fieldworkers: Raymond Benjamin, Adrian Bowers, Darren Roberts, Stedson Stroud, Anselmo Pelembe, Tara Pelembe, Dane Wade, Nathan Fowler, Richard White), many volunteers, the Army Ornithological Society, and Ascension Island Government Environmental Health (Kevin Williams and team for rodent control).

Funding for RSPB’s work on Ascension has come from the FCO, Defra’s Darwin fund, and the European Union.

A team of scientists has launched a satellite tracking program that monitors rare Ascension frigatebirds in an effort to better understand where the species goes when foraging at sea. The tracking data collected by the research project can be viewed at seaturtle.org. The project is set to run for two years and is funded by the Darwin Initiative, University of Exeter and Ascension Island Government Conservation Department: here.

Christmas Island Frigatebird: here.

British colonial bases for war against Iran?


This video says about itself:

6 August 2007

Chagossian refugees are appealing to Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make a decision on their right to return to their islands.

They were expelled four decades ago by Britain from their tropical archipelago. This happened during the Cold War to make way for a U.S. military base on the island of Diego Garcia. The base has since been used for military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

In May, Britain’s High Court dismissed an appeal by the Foreign Office against the Chagossians’ return, saying the right to go home was “one of the most fundamental liberties known to human beings”.

Jacques Aristide takes a closer look at the Chagossians’ struggle to go back to their homeland.

By Peter Symonds:

US sought use of British bases for war against Iran

27 October 2012

The British-based Guardian newspaper reported Thursday that American diplomats have been lobbying Britain for the use of its military bases on Cyprus as well as US bases on the British territories of Ascension Island in the Atlantic and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean in preparation for war on Iran.

The US request points to a massive military buildup against Iran. The Pentagon has already stationed two aircraft carrier battle groups in or near the Persian Gulf, along with additional minesweepers and a specialised floating base that could be used to launch special forces operations inside Iran. A squadron of advanced F-22 fighters has also been moved to the region.

Access to the bases on Cyprus, Ascension Island and Diego Garcia would significantly boost the ability of the US air force to wage round-the-clock strikes against Iran.

The British government has, to date, rebuffed the Pentagon, significantly pointing out that an unprovoked US attack on Iran could be illegal under international law, as Tehran did not currently represent “a clear and present threat”.

British officials have cited advice drafted by the attorney general’s office that has been circulated to the Prime Minister’s office, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence. A senior government official told the Guardian: “The UK could be in breach of international law if it facilitated what amounted to a pre-emptive strike on Iran. It is explicit.”

Like the US-led illegal invasion of Iraq, the Obama administration is preparing to launch a war of aggression against Iran. This was the chief crime for which Nazi leaders were tried and convicted at Nuremberg following World War II.

That Iran is not “a clear and present threat” also punctures the steady buildup of propaganda in the US and international media about the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran.

WikiLeaks reveals how West’s Iran war drive was undermined: here.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn warned the People’s Assembly that Britain could be dragged into a devastating war with Iran: here.

The Other Lobby: Newspapers of Persian Gulf Oil Monarchies Condemn US-Iran Rapprochement: here.

Charles Darwin and Ascension island


This video is called A Green Turtle making its slow way back to sea on Ascension Island.

From the BBC:

1 September 2010 Last updated at 10:39 GMT

Charles Darwin‘s ecological experiment on Ascension isle

By Howard Falcon-Lang Science reporter, BBC News

A lonely island in the middle of the South Atlantic conceals Charles Darwin’s best-kept secret.

Two hundred years ago, Ascension Island was a barren volcanic edifice.

Today, its peaks are covered by lush tropical “cloud forest”.

What happened in the interim is the amazing story of how the architect of evolution, Kew Gardens and the Royal Navy conspired to build a fully functioning, but totally artificial ecosystem.

By a bizarre twist, this great imperial experiment may hold the key to the future colonisation of Mars.

The tiny tropical island of Ascension is not easy to find. It is incredibly remote, located 1,600km (1,000 miles) from the coast of Africa and 2,250km (1,400 miles) from South America.

Its existence depends entirely on what geologists call the mid-Atlantic ridge. This is a chain of underwater volcanoes formed as the ocean is wrenched apart.

However, because Ascension occupies a “hot spot” on the ridge, its volcano is especially active. A million years ago, molten magma explosively burst above the waves.

A new island was born.

Back in 1836, the young Charles Darwin was coming to the end of his five-year mission to explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no naturalist had gone before.

Aboard HMS Beagle, he called in at Ascension. En route from another remote volcanic island, St Helena, Darwin wasn’t expecting much.

“We know we live on a rock, but the poor people of Ascension live on a cinder,” the residents of St Helena had joked before his departure.

But arriving on Ascension put an unexpected spring in Darwin’s step.

Professor David Catling of the University of Washington, Seattle, is retracing Darwin’s travels for a new book. He told the BBC: “Awaiting Darwin on Ascension was a letter from his Cambridge mentor, John Henslow.

“Darwin’s voyage of discovery had already caused a huge sensation in London,” he explained.

“Henslow assured him that on his return, he would take his place among the great men of science.”

At this fantastic news, Darwin bounded forth in ecstasy, the sound of his geological hammer ringing from hill to hill.

Everywhere, bright red volcanic cones and rugged black lava signalled the violent forces that had wrought the island.

Yet, thinks Professor Catling, amid this wild desolation, Darwin began to hatch a plot.

Out of the ashes of the volcano, he would create a green oasis – a “Little England”.

Island Eden

Darwin’s great buddy was Joseph Hooker, the intrepid botanist and explorer.

Only a few years after Darwin’s return, Hooker was off on his own adventures, an ambitious slingshot around Antarctica aboard HMS Erebus and Terror. Mirroring Darwin’s voyage, Hooker called in on Ascension on the way home in 1843.

Ascension was a strategic base for the Royal Navy. Originally set up to keep a watchful eye on the exiled emperor Napoleon on nearby St Helena, it was a thriving waystation at the time of Hooker’s visit.

However, the big problem that impeded further expansion of this imperial outpost was the supply of fresh water.

Ascension was an arid island, buffeted by dry trade winds from southern Africa. Devoid of trees at the time of Darwin and Hooker’s visits, the little rain that did fall quickly evaporated away.

Egged on by Darwin, in 1847 Hooker advised the Royal Navy to set in motion an elaborate plan. With the help of Kew Gardens – where Hooker’s father was director – shipments of trees were to be sent to Ascension.

The idea was breathtakingly simple. Trees would capture more rain, reduce evaporation and create rich, loamy soils. The “cinder” would become a garden.

So, beginning in 1850 and continuing year after year, ships started to come. Each deposited a motley assortment of plants from botanical gardens in Europe, South Africa and Argentina.

Soon, on the highest peak at 859m (2,817ft), great changes were afoot. By the late 1870s, eucalyptus, Norfolk Island pine, bamboo, and banana had all run riot.

Back in England, Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution were busily uprooting the Garden of Eden.

But on a green hill far away, a new “island Eden” was being created.

Life on Mars

Yet could Darwin’s secret garden have more far-reaching consequences?

Dr Dave Wilkinson is an ecologist at Liverpool John Moores University, who has written extensively about Ascension Island’s strange ecosystem.

He first visited Ascension in 2003.

“I remember thinking, this is really weird,” he told the BBC.

“There were all kinds of plants that don’t belong together in nature, growing side by side. I only later found out about Darwin, Hooker and everything that had happened,” he said.

Dr Wilkinson describes the vegetation of “Green Mountain” – as the highest peak is now known – as a “cloud forest”. The trees capture sea mist, creating a damp oasis amid the aridity.

However, this is a forest with a difference. It is totally artificial.

Such ecosystems normally develop over million of years through a slow process of co-evolution. By contrast, the Green Mountain cloud forest was cobbled together by the Royal Navy in a matter of decades.

Dr Wilkinson exclaimed: “This is really exciting!”

“What it tells us is that we can build a fully functioning ecosystem through a series of chance accidents or trial and error.”

In effect, what Darwin, Hooker and the Royal Navy achieved was the world’s first experiment in “terra-forming”. They created a self-sustaining and self-reproducing ecosystem in order to make Ascension Island more habitable.

Wilkinson thinks that the principles that emerge from that experiment could be used to transform future colonies on Mars. In other words, rather than trying to improve an environment by force, the best approach might be to work with life to help it “find its own way”.

However, to date, scientists have been deaf to the parable of Ascension Island.

“It’s a terrible waste that no-one is studying it,” remarked Wilkinson at the end of the interview.

Ascension Island’s secret is safe for years to come, it seems.

Love, death, and continuity in Darwin’s think: here.

Branches in the lines of descent: Charles Darwin and the evolution of the species concept: here.

Paradise Lost: Ascension Islanders Uprooted For American Military Use: here.

Saving breeding seabirds of Ascension island


This video is called A Green Turtle making its slow way back to sea on Ascension Island.

From The Islander:

Ascension: Seabirds Succeed on Ascension Island

Submitted by The Islander (Gavin Yon) 14.12.2006

Ascension Island, a small, remote, volcanic island in the South Atlantic, is rich in unique flora and fauna.

Ascension Island is declared feral cat free.

Ascension Island, a small, remote, volcanic island in the South Atlantic, is rich in unique flora and fauna.

When it was first inhabited in 1815, it was thought to host 20 million individual seabirds, including the Ascension frigatebird, a globally threatened species found nowhere else in the world.

Following a 98% crash in numbers, the island seabird population decreased to around 400,000 individuals, mostly confined to offshore stacks and inaccessible cliffs.

The seabird population on the tropical UK Overseas Territory had been devastated by feral cats which were introduced onto the island in the early 19th Century to control introduced rats and mice.

So far, the Ascension Seabird Restoration Project has encouraged 726 pairs of five species of seabird, including brown noddies, masked boobies and red-billed tropicbirds, to return and nest on mainland Ascension Island.

A recipe for success

The Ascension Seabird Restoration Project, implemented by the Ascension Island Government, and assisted by the RSPB with £500,000 funding from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has since 2001 removed feral cats from Ascension Island.

Since February 2004, no feral cats have been seen on the island, encouraging the prompt return of the seabirds. Since this date, the island has run an intensive monitoring programme which has confirmed that the island is feral cat free.

A landmark in Conservation History

The Ascension Seabird Restoration Project is a landmark in conservation history because it is the first time that feral cats have been removed from an island where people were allowed to retain their pet cats.

The Administrator of Ascension Island Government said: ‘The project has been a great success and will make a crucial contribution to the conservation of the world’s breeding seabird populations and the natural history of the island’.

Tara Pelembe who runs the Ascension Island Government Conservation Department added ‘it would not have been such a success without a team of dedicated staff, and the support of the people of the island’. …

Editors Notes :
1) Ascension Island (7◦57S, 14◦22W) lies in the tropical South Atlantic. It is a small volcanic island with an area of 97 sq km.

2) The cats on Ascension island were introduced in 1815 to control the populations of rats and mice. Roaming wild, these cats quickly decimated populations of seabirds on the mainland, forcing most of the seabirds, except the colonially-nesting sooty tern, to nest on offshore stacks, principally Boatswainbird Island.

3) The project has worked with the local community to identify, register, microchip and, where necessary, sterilise pet cats, resulting in greater care of pets. Legislation was introduced through the project to prevent the reintroduction of cats to the island.

4) The Ascension frigatebird is a globally-threatened seabird, which is totally confined to Ascension Island. It is one of 11 species of seabird which regularly nests on the island.

For further information and to arrange an interview, please contact:

Tara Pelembe, Ascension Island Conservation Officer, on 00247 6359

Emily the cat survives ship stowaway adventure: here.

Finches of Tristan da Cuncha archipelago: here.

Sooty terns of Florida: here.