Biologists report on their work on the World Heritage island

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RSPB Team depart Gough Island

RSPB MAC Team depart Gough Island

RSPB Field Biologists Michelle Risi, Christopher Jones and Alexis Osborne departed Gough Island aboard SA Agulhas II on 10th October 2020 and arrived in Cape Town via Tristan on Thursday 15th October.

Report first published on the RSPB website.

After two years living and working on Gough Island, Michelle, Alexis and Chris – or Team MAC as we called them – have become familiar faces to many of our supporters through our social media pages, blogs and newsletters. They have shared their vital work and given us a glimpse of the amazing place that is Gough Island through their stories and spectacular images, all the while being passionate advocates for the island’s restoration. After completing their second overwintering season, it is now time for them to leave Gough and return home, even though the mice are still there.

Michelle, Alexis and Chris with a stormy Gough Island behind: Photo: Chris Jones

It is time for the three of us to leave Gough Island. It is difficult to compress two years into a few hundred words. We feel we have accomplished so much in this time, from completing all of our fieldwork tasks and helping to establish the annual World Albatross Day, to assisting with the planning of restoration project and sharing bits of our time on the island and the beauty of Gough with you in social media posts and blogs.

Our highlights from a ‘professional’ point of view include:

  • Nest monitoring of the Gough bunting. This was the first study of Gough bunting breeding ecology and the study provided invaluable information to the planning phase of the restoration operation.
  • Confirming with video evidence that mice are attacking adult seabirds. We already knew that mice are causing the loss of over 2 million seabird eggs and chicks each year on Gough. But if mice can kill adult albatrosses as well this could have a significant impact on populations and cause species to decline much more rapidly. The video evidence we collected from Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross not only confirmed our fears – that mice are attacking adults – but brings that reality home and highlights the urgency of the restoration operation.
  • Gathering evidence which highlights the extent of the terrible impacts mice are having on MacGillivray’s prion. This little-known species is one of the worst affected by mice, and our monitoring of the breeding success at our study site in Prion Cave over the last two years found that almost no chicks are surviving to fledge. This species needs Gough Island to be restored, and we hope our work to publish and film the situation on Gough helps build the momentum to make this happen.
  • Establishing World Albatross Day. We were involved in establishing World Albatross Day along with ACAP and other seabird organizations around the world – and we’re very happy to have celebrated the inaugural World Albatross Day on 19th of June from Gough Island! We truly hope the day raised awareness of albatrosses and the threats they face and helped people to understand how they can help these beautiful birds.

SA Agulhas off Gough Island

Although we leave Gough with some amazing highlights, at the same time we feel we are leaving without completing the most crucial task we had set out to finish. We had big dreams and set our hearts on being part of the mouse eradication operation itself, a momentous conservation action which aims to restore the homes of so many animals so close to our hearts.

COVID-19 has changed everyone’s lives in a big way, and it was very bizarre to experience a pandemic from a remote island. Although we were completely unaffected in the sense that our day-to-day lives did not have to change, our whole mindset had changed significantly. We were constantly worrying about the health and safety of loved ones at home, wondering how things will be when we get back to South Africa, and hoping that the postponement of the 2020 operation will not stop the project from going forward entirely.


In our last weeks on Gough Island we witnessed the return of many of Gough’s iconic animals. The air is again becoming filled with the braying calls of the northern rockhopper penguins, exultant cries of the sooty albatrosses and it is a joyful sight to once again come across many Atlantic-yellow nosed albatrosses refurbishing their nests on our slog up the Gonydale path. All this beauty is finished off with the emotive image of watching a Tristan albatross chick that has survived winter stretch its wings in the wind, and have our hands brooded by the very friendly southern giant petrels when we read their rings. There really is no place like Gough.

Before leaving the island, we handed over the ropes to our friends from our time on South Africa’s Marion Island research station, Kim, Vonica and Roelf. When you enjoy a place so much, it is extra special showing someone around who you know will love it just as much as you do — we know we are leaving the island in good hands. As part of Kim, Vonica and Roelf’s induction to Gough Island we completed the annual round island Tristan albatross chick count, which will give an indication of the impact that mice had on this magnificent species this year (more on this soon).

This is also an opportunity for us to say thank you to you, our supporters. Without you we would not have been able to attempt the operation this year or be able to return to finish the work once it is safe.

Despite the rollercoaster of emotions that we have faced over the last two years, we leave Gough on a very positive note truly hoping that the restoration programme can go ahead in 2021.

For now, we say goodbye to Gough Island, but Team MAC hopes to come back!

MAC – Michelle, Alexis and Chris

For more information on the Gough Island Restoration Programme
please visit the website