Gough Island

Gough Island, also known historically as Gonçalo Álvares (after the Portuguese explorer) or mistakenly as Diego Alvarez, is a volcanic island in the South Atlantic Ocean.
It is a dependency of Tristan da Cunha and part of the British overseas territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

It is uninhabited except for the personnel of a weather station (usually six people) which the South African National Antarctic Programme has maintained continually on the island since 1956. It is one of the most remote places with a constant human presence.
Gough Island and Inaccessible Island comprise the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gough and Inaccessible Islands.


 

History

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Gough Island

The details of the discovery of Gough Island are unclear, but the most likely occasion is July 1505 by the Portuguese explorer Gonçalo Álvares. Maps during the next three centuries named the island after him. On some later maps, this was erroneously given as Diego Alvarez. According to some historians, the English merchant Anthony de la Roché was the first to land on the island, in Spring 1675.

Charles Gough rediscovered the island on 3 March 1732, thinking it was Gonçalo Alvares.
It was named Gonçalo Alvarez, after the captain of Vasco da Gama’s flagship on his epic voyage to the east, and under this name it was marked with reasonable accuracy on the charts of the South Atlantic during the following 250 years. Then, in 1731, Captain Gough of the British ship Richmond reported the discovery of a new island, which he placed 400 miles to the east of Goncalo Alvarez. Fifty years later cartographers realised that the two islands were the same and despite the priority of the Portuguese discovery, and the greater accuracy of the position given by them, “Gough’s Island” was the name adopted.
In the early 19th Century, sealers sometimes briefly inhabited the island. The earliest known example is a sealing gang from the US ship Amethyst which remained on the island in 1806–1807.

Gough Island was claimed only in 1938, for Britain, during a visit by HMS Milford of the Royal Navy.

In 1995 Gough Island was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of Gough Island. In 2004 the site was extended to include Inaccessible Island and renamed Gough and Inaccessible Islands.


 

Geography

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Map of Gough Island – Click to enlarge

Geography of the Gough Island consists of the remote, rugged terrain of the isolated island, which is situated between the tip of South Africa and South America.
Gough Island is about 400 km (250 mi) southeast of the other islands in the Tristan da Cunha group, 2,700 km (1,700 mi) from Cape Town, and over 3,200 km (2,000 mi) east of the nearest point of South America. The island is roughly rectangular with a length of 13 km (8.1 mi) and a width of 7 kilometres (4.3 mi). It has an area of 91 km2 (35 sq mi) and rises to heights of over 900 m (3,000 ft) above sea level.

A meteorological station, manned by seven members of the South African National Antarctic programme (SANAP), has operated at Glen since 1963.

One of the remotest islands in the world, Gough Island is in the South Atlantic Ocean. While the central part of the island is a plateau, the western part has a highland with the highest peaks and cliffs rising to 1,500 ft (460 m). Glens cut deep into the inland from the northern and eastern sides. Geological formations on the island are of volcanic origin.

Topographic features include its highest peak, Edinburgh Peak (2,986 ft (910 m)), as well as Hags Tooth, Mount Rowett, Sea Elephant Bay, Quest Bay, and Hawkins Bay.

Surrounding Gough are small satellite islands and rocks, such as Southwest Island, Saddle Island (to the South), Tristiana Rock, Isolda Rock (West), Round Island, Cone Island, Lot’s Wife, Church Rock (North), Penguin Island (Northeast), and The Admirals (East).

The average temperature is 12 °C (54 °F) while the average rainfall is 3000 mm. Snow occurs in the highlands.


 

Climate

The islands have a cool-temperate oceanic climate, and lie on the edge of the roaring forties.
The average annual temperature of 11.5°C is bout 6°C higher than that of Marion. occasionally it becomes quite warm on Gough, with the mercury rising above 15°C. The lower st temperature is approximately 0°C and on rare occasions a degree or two below freezing.


 

Flora & Fauna

Cascading waterfalls, among ferns and mosses on Gough Island
Cascading waterfalls, among ferns & mosses on Gough

Gough Island is a protected wildlife reserve, which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It has been described as one of the least disrupted ecosystems of its kind and one of the best shelters for nesting seabirds in the Atlantic. In particular, it is host to almost the entire world population of the Tristan Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena) and the Atlantic Petrel (Pterodroma incerta). The island is also home to the almost flightless Gough Island Moorhen, and the critically endangered Gough Bunting.

 

Birdlife
Gough has an abundant bird life. There are, for instance, the Wandering Albatross, yellow-nosed Albatross, sub-Antarctic Skua, the flightless Gough island Rail, Buntings, Terns, Petrels and Prions. Rockhopper Penguins are often referred to as the little chaps in dress suits. The rare beaches are packed with fur seals and the occasional elephant seal. Both at Gough and neighbouring Tristan da Cunha there are also excellent crayfish beds.

The island has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International for its endemic landbirds and as a breeding site for seabirds. Birds for which the IBA has conservation significance include:

  • Northern Rockhopper Penguins (144,000 breeding pairs)
  • Tristan Albatrosses (1000–1500 pairs)
  • Sooty Albatrosses (5000 pairs)
  • Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatrosses (5000 pairs)
  • Broad-billed Prions (100,000 pairs)
  • Kerguelen Petrels (20,000 pairs)
  • Soft-plumaged Petrels (50,000 pairs)
  • Atlantic Petrels (20,000 pairs)
  • Great-winged Petrels (5000 pairs)
  • Grey Petrels (10,000 pairs)
  • Great Shearwaters (100,000 pairs)
  • Little Shearwaters (10,000 pairs)
  • Grey-backed Storm Petrels (10,000 pairs)
  • White-faced Storm Petrels (10,000 pairs)
  • White-bellied Storm Petrels (10,000 pairs)
  • Antarctic Terns (500 pairs)
  • Southern Skuas (500 pairs)
  • Gough Moorhens (2500 pairs)
  • Gough Buntings (3000 individuals).

 

Mammals
The island has a large breeding population of subantarctic fur seals.
House mice are currently present on the island.
In April 2007 researchers published evidence that predation by introduced house mice on seabird chicks is occurring at levels that might drive the Tristan Albatross and the Atlantic Petrel to extinction. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has since been awarded £62,000 by the UK government’s Overseas Territories Environment Programme to fund additional research on the Gough Island mice and a feasibility study of how best to deal with them. The grant will also pay for the assessment of a rat problem on Tristan da Cunha island. Trials for a method of eradicating the mice through baiting are ongoing.

 

Pearlwort (sagina procumbens)
In 1998 a number of procumbens pearlwort (sagina procumbens) plants were found on the island which are capable of dramatically transforming the upland plant ecosystem (as it has on the Prince Edward Islands).
Eradication efforts are ongoing but are expected to require years of ‘concerted effort’.


 

Weather Station

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Weather Station on Gough Island

A weather station has been operating on Gough Island since 1956. It is operated as part of the network of the South African Weather Service. Because cold fronts approach South Africa from the south-west, the Gough station is particularly important in forecasting winter weather. Initially it was housed in the station at The Glen, but moved to the South Western lowlands of the island in 1963 where weather observations are more accurate.

Each year a new overwintering team arrives by ship to man the weather station and perform scientific research. The team for a particular year may be termed as “Gough” and an expedition number – e.g. “Gough 58” for 2013 denoting the 58th expedition to Gough Island (the 1956 team were Gough 01). The new team replaces the previous one thereby maintaining a continual human presence on the island.

A team normally consists of:

  • A senior meteorologist
  • Two junior meteorologists
  • A radio technician
  • A medic
  • A diesel mechanic
  • A number of biologists (depending on ongoing research projects)

The team is supplied with enough food to last them for the whole year. People and cargo are landed either by helicopter, from a helideck-equipped supply ship, or by a fixed crane atop a cliff near the station (a place aptly called “Crane Point”).

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