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Seabird Watch visit Ascension Island

31 May 2024


AIG working in partnership with Seabird Watch to develop remote seabird monitoring

AIG Conservation and Fisheries Directorate recently welcomed Dr. Tom Hart and Laure Cugniere from Oxford Brookes University as part of the Darwin Plus funded project DPLUS174: “A cross-UKOT camera network to enhance marine predator conservation”. Hart and Cugniere represent ‘Seabird Watch’ which uses remote camera technology and citizen science to monitor seabirds in remote locations worldwide.

Hart and Cugniere have delivered training to AIG Conservation at Oxford Brookes University, including UAV image stitching and processing. This visit allowed the researchers to deliver further training for other AIG staff and provided Seabird Watch the practical understanding of how Ascension Island works, allowing new ideas and further project development.

The Darwin project is now in its second year with several time-lapse cameras installed on important seabird colonies at Boatswain Bird Island Sanctuary and on Green Mountain National Park. The project also incorporates using Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones) to collect images across seabird colonies to produce accurate population counts.

Data collected as part of this project has already guided the expansion of the Letterbox Nature Reserve in May 2023 with UAV images clearly showing new nesting sites for Masked Boobies (Sula dactylatra) outside the old reserve boundary. These new nesting sites are inaccessible by foot, highlighting the importance of developing new techniques to conserve Ascensions seabirds.

Working alongside island partners at the Royal Air Force (RAF) and United States Space Force (USSF), drones have been used around the Mars Bay Nature Reserve, capturing images of nesting sooty terns (Onychoprion fuscatus). Sooty terns nest on Ascension in internationally important numbers with an estimated population of 250,000 pairs (RSPB 2008). Previous monitoring techniques made it difficult to establish an exact population count however it is hoped that adopting innovative technology will allow AIG to look at annual and spatial trends of this species with more accuracy. Understanding the health of the population is important for the conservation of the species and the safety of runway operations.

AIG are grateful to island partners for their support, showcasing the Ascension One Island Vision.