Day 69 since leaving the UK back in May, probably about time I shared another update. Gough Island is treating us well, feeding us daily excitement and certainly keeping us on our toes.
A quick reminder of what we’re doing here: delivering a key phase of The Gough Island Restoration Project – eradicating invasive mice using helicopter drops of bait. The mice have been predating on the island’s endangered birds since accidentally being introduced, so unfortunately they must go.
The birds are just incredible, look up and there’s a spectacle every evening as thousands of birds return from sea to roost. Albatross chicks are very cute, not small either.
There’s 30 of us on island working this phase, my role being a mix of GIS and bait-loading. The GIS component kicks in once helicopter operations commence, mapping flight ops as the pilots bait the island. I’m slowly getting used to the rural Kiwi accent, which over radio comms isn’t the easiest to understand! We basically make sure the whole island is baited – we can’t afford to leave any mice behind.
The bait-loading is a very cool job, and involves emptying 25 kilo bags of bait into buckets slung from the helicopters. It’s incredible seeing the heli’s fly in, us getting to work just a few metres below (that down-draft!!), then seeing them pull away with a full bucket of bait to spread over the island. Certainly gets the adrenaline pumping, but it’s knackering work too.
Baiting is very weather-dependent, which means a lot of downtime. There’s a sophisticated aviculture (birds!) operation going on in parallel, so plenty for us to get stuck in to. The bird cages are cleaned on a daily basis to prevent spread of disease.
Here’s a list of things I never thought I’d do:
- Doing the dishes. Mini, bird-sized dishes that is.
- Collecting rocks from the local river.
- Scrubbing and cleaning said rocks.
- Scrubbing bird poo off bird mats.
- Building a lighting installation that better mimics natural light… build wooden stands, drill in bayonets, wire it all up, install, repeat. Did you know old-style incandescent bulbs better mimic natural sunlight than modern LEDs? Useless fact for ya. (Don’t use incandescents, they emit far too much energy – unless you happen to be housing captive birds for a restoration project!).
- Best of all, being part of the Deck Crew unloading a polar research vessel by helicopter. This was very cool.
We do have our own downtime too. The team are a great bunch and we’ve created a full-on social schedule for every night of the week. It’s a lot of fun, and goes something like this:
Monday night is Poker Night. My bright idea, until I realised we had very few chips. Commence a chip-making operation using kitchen foil and a hammer – works very well if you’re ever short on chips! Tuesday night, Knot Club. A key skill when tying up tarps, building random contraptions on the fly, or slinging things from helicopters. Wednesday is movie night. Thursday presentation night. The team have rich and varying experience to show off so this is always fascinating. Friday night is band practice (yes we’ve formed a band!), and finally Saturday night we all head to the bar. We have a pool table and table tennis – win!
The weather is wild. Windy, wet, rarely calm. This makes sleeping in a 10 man tent a bit hectic. 10 lads in the Storm Dorm is fun, but ear plugs are a must to drown out the howling wind. And the snorers. If only they worked for the farters too (sozzer).
Oh and I delivered a new offline, PowerPoint format of The Jolly Geo Quiz on Saturday for a pilot’s birthday. Luckily we all have hard drives packed full of music, movies, tv etc so it was doable. The ‘Food or Fecals?’ (bird poo!) round was a particular hit. It felt so good hosting a quiz in front of actual people rather than virtually on Zoom. The format seemed to work a charm, so look forward to in-person quizzes upon my return (I have made lots of props!).
That’s it from me this month. Couldn’t watch the final but it sounded gruelling! Waking up for work on Monday must have been fun… also hope Covid isn’t still dominating proceedings, for me thankfully a distant memory. Will be interesting to see what I return to.
Sorry I can’t provide pics (data limits), and well done if you’ve made it this far! More updates on Facebook page The Gough Island Restoration.