On 13 June 2021, South Africa’s research and supply ship, the S.A. Agulhas II, returned to Cape Town following a charter voyage to Gough Island. The purpose of the voyage was to deploy the Gough Island Restoration Programme (GIRP) operational team, together with all their equipment and supplies, for the RSPB to commence the urgent task of eradicating introduced House Mice from Gough Island. I was fortunate to be able to participate in the voyage to learn from the GIRP experience, and to help inform our own preparations for the Mouse-Free Marion (MFM) project.
As we have previously reported, there are many similarities between the GIRP and MFM projects. Both projects are targeting mice as the only introduced mammalian predator. The ecological and topographical attributes of the islands have some similarities, and both projects are making use of the S.A. Agulhas II to support the operations.
The voyage provided a range of valuable opportunities for me to observe, and participate in, the logistical and final planning aspects of the GIRP operation. These included the loading of the ship at Cape Town, its offloading at Gough Island, taking part in briefing and planning meetings on route to the island and many informal discussions with members of the GIRP team, including eradication experts and helicopter pilots, as well as the crew of the S.A. Agulhas II. The experience was incredibly helpful, and I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to have gained such valuable insights.
The GIRP team includes some of the world’s leading island rodent eradication experts, and it was a privilege to spend time in their company. Without exception the members of the GIRP team are motivated by the ultimate objective of their efforts, which is to shift the ecological balance of the island back to a state that favours the globally important seabird populations and the ecological integrity of this World Heritage Site. The removal of the introduced mice is a necessary step towards this goal.
This restoration motivation extends to other islands that are threatened by introduced predators, including Marion Island. I remain impressed and inspired by the level of enthusiasm and generosity with which the community of island rodent eradication experts continues to contribute their extensive expertise, knowledge, and advice in support of the MFM project.
I’m delighted to end this article noting the wonderful news that the GIRP team has recently achieved a major milestone towards the goal of restoring Gough Island, having completed the first island-wide distribution of bait. A huge congratulations to the team.
Anton Wolfaardt, Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager, 29 June 2021