Capturing the Diversity – a surprise in the water

I was OK.  I used the time to work with conservation.  I say work, for much of the time, I just joined in with their activities like the cat scat monitoring and the bird monitoring.  Graham and Margaret asked if I wanted to join them on a short walk along the north east coast to monitor some noddies.  They picked me up from the Obsidian early on the Sunday morning and we drove the few miles up round the back of Georgetown and north to English Bay.  Just before the power station we turned right and parked next to the BBC’s old beach hut, the Klinka Klub.  The walk to the nesting area was only about half a mile as the booby flies, but with difficult terrain and lots of little bays and humps to negotiate, it took us nearly an hour to get there.  There are a series of small sandy beaches tucked in amongst the end of the lava flow here, as well as a couple of gravelly ones.  While it is dangerous to swim out in the sea here, they do make for more secluded picnics than the popular beaches at Comfortless Cove and English Bay.  They are also some of the more popular Green Turtle nests.

It was the first and only time I walked over the most northerly part of Ascension Island.  From the coastline, where the sea had cut little cliffs out of the lava flows, you could see the gentle sweep of the flow right back up to their source from the central volcanoes.  Those peaks were red scoria cones which glinted in the sunlight in stark contrast to the white and black of the lava.  And then Green Mountain, fat side on, towered above us.

Graham and Margaret were fantastic company; Graham with his job was well respected on island, and one of the right hand men to the Administrator.  He had been very interested in the GIS work Edsel and  I had been doing.  He said he had little need of our skills, but we did find him helpful in passing an eye over some policy statements we had to complete on data sharing and he had a wonderfully dry sense of humour which balanced his sober legal standing.  Margaret, over there as a partner to a government employee, did not need, indeed was discouraged from doing paid work, but she threw herself in to a series of voluntary activities.  They had a lovely daughter who had been with them over the summer holidays, but schooling for teenagers on Ascension was limiting, and like many, she boarded back in the UK.

Graham stopped on a small clifftop overlooking a bay full of rock pools and jagged outcrops of lava.  He pointed across the way and I could just make out that there was more guano on the black rocks there.  This was the small noddy colony we had come to monitor.  We dropped down carefully into the bay itself and made our way a little closer.  Being tight against the cliff it was difficult to access the nests directly.  There were only a few nests to look at and the best technique was to use their binoculars and watch a single nest for a few minutes.  The birds usually shuffled about and if there were chicks in there they would usually make themselves visible to you at some stage as they were often fidgety in the daytime.  You knew there were eggs too if you saw the noddies resting in a certain way, although it was probably impossible to determine how many – a lot of this monitoring had to be best guesswork.

The monitoring results recorded on the sheets, we started to backtrack.  Graham, generally a very quietly spoken man, almost shouted “look there” and pointed to a shallow rock pool only a few metres away.  Tucked along the length of one side, beneath and overhanging piece of lava, was a spotted moray eel.  Normally you only get to see the heads of these when you are swimming or snorkelling, the rest of the body has been carefully reversed into a long hole to protect it from any predators or other aggressive eels.  This one had been somewhat caught out by a retreating tide and had taken refuge as best it could here tucked as far in against the rocks as it could manage.  It gave a marvellous opportunity to appreciate the intricate markings all along its trunk.


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