Ascension Island

Environment:

Ascension Island is in the South Atlantic Ocean, about midway between South America and Africa. The surface of the island is covered by lava flows and cinder cones of 44 dormant volcanoes. The highest point is Green Mountain at 859 meters (2,818 feet).

The Ascension Island Council Conservation Department lists 7 active projects:

  • Darwin Initiative Biodiversity Action Plan
  • Operation Land Crab
  • An Ecosystem Approach to Plant Conservation on Ascension Island
  • Marattia purpurascens Conservation Management
  • Marine Surveys
  • Sea Turtle Monitoring and Research on Ascension Island
  • Endemic Plant Restoration

Kew Royal Botanic Gardens has assisted the Conservation Department in developing species action plans for the island’s 6 surviving endemic plants. In 2010, remnants of the parsley fern (Anogramma ascensionis), thought to be extinct, were rediscovered. In 2012, the University of Exeter Centre for Ecology and Conservation helped coordinate a team to develop the island’s first Biodiversity Action Plan. Ascension Island Conservation Department maintains a social media presence on both Facebook and Twitter.

Ascension Island is known as a breeding ground for sea turtles and sooty terns. By 2006, a feral cat eradication program to safeguard the native bird population was confirmed successful; cats had originally been introduced to control rats escaped from ships. The main breeding site for seabirds is nearby, rat-free Boatswain Bird Island, a designated Important Bird Area. The British Army Ornithological Society has been active monitoring Ascension seabird colonies in recent years.

The largest native land animal is the land crab (Johngarthia lagostoma). Ascension Island supports the second largest Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas) rookery in the Atlantic, up to 15,000 nests each year. The Marine Turtle Research Group helped develop A Management Plan for the Marine Turtles of Ascension Island, including ecotourism infrastructure. Bottlenose dolphins, humpback whales and Gervais beaked whales can be seen in Ascension waters.

Culture:

Of course, Ascension Island was named because it was discovered on Ascension Day by Portuguese navigators at the beginning of the 16th century. The first known resident, seaman Leendert Hasenbosch, was marooned on Ascension by the Dutch East India Company in the 18th century as punishment for homosexuality. In the 19th century, a young Charles Darwin called in at Ascension at the end of his 5 year mission aboard the HMS Beagle to explore strange new worlds; where, Darwin apparently cooked up a little known scheme for the reforestation of Ascension to potentially alter its climate. By the end of the 19th century, Ascension had become an important connection for the underwater telegraph line linking Great Britain with its colonies in Southern Africa. Ascension was managed by the Royal Navy as a “stone frigate“, until being made a dependency of Saint Helena in the 20th century.

During World War II, the United States built an airbase on Ascension, known as Wideawake Airfield after the sooty tern. Since then the island has been variously used for space tracking, signals interception, and shortwave relay. Today, Computer Sciences Corporation manages United States interests on Ascension. Ascension Island remains a key staging post linking Britain to the Falklands Islands. The Ascension Island Heritage Society maintains an informative website.

Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is required for the Entry Permit to visit Ascension Island. The Ascension Island Travel Agency can arrange flights; otherwise, the Royal Mail Ship St Helena regularly links Ascension with Saint Helena Island and Cape Town, South Africa. The Obsidian Group provides a variety of accommodations on Ascension Island, including the Obsidian Hotel.

References:

  • Diving and Snorkelling Ascension Island: Guide to a Marine Life Paradise by P Colley, 2013
  • Frigatebird returns to nest on Ascension for first time since Darwin by R McKie, 2012
  • A Dutch Castaway on Ascension Island in 1725 by A Ritsema, 2010
  • Charles Darwin’s ecological experiment on Ascension isle by H Falcon-Lang, 2010
  • A plan for the conservation of endemic and native flora on Ascension Island by P Lambdon, S Stroud, C Clubbe, A Gray, 2009
  • Ascension Island Walking Guide: Letterbox Walks by N MacFall, 2005
  • The conservation of the endemic vascular flora of Ascension Island and threats from alien species by A Gray, T Pelembe, S Stroud, 2005
  • Do we need a process‐based approach to nature conservation? Continuing the parable of Green Mountain, Ascension Island by DM Wilkinson, 2004
  • Turtle Island: A Journey to the World’s Most Remote Island by S Ghione, 2003
  • Seabird conservation and feral cats on Ascension Island, South Atlantic by NP Ashmole, MJ Ashmole, KEL Simmons, 1994
  • Ascension Island: British jeopardize 45 years of conservation by JA Mortimer, 1979
  • Ascension – the story of a South Atlantic island by D Hart-Davis, 1972