Important Bird Areas: Ascension Island

Important Bird Areas: Ascension Island

Abstract

Ascension Island is a UK Overseas Territory in the tropical South Atlantic that supports regionally and globally important nesting populations of 11 seabird species. Its status as one of the most important warm-water seabird breeding stations in the world is probably linked to its isolated position close to a zone of elevated productivity driven by equatorial upwelling. Prior to human settlement in 1815, it is believed that Ascension was home to millions of seabirds, but the introduction of cats Felis catus resulted in rapid population collapse and the displacement of all but one of the ground-nesting species from the mainland. Breeding seabirds became confined to inaccessible cliff ledges and 14 small offshore stacks. A seabird restoration programme began in 2001 and since the eradication of feral cats, seabirds have resumed nesting on the mainland in significant, and still-increasing, numbers. The Island has three Important Bird Areas. Yet challenges remain: on land, careful management of invasive plants and rodents; at sea, sustainable management of regional fish stocks. The recent establishment of one of the world’s largest marine protected areas is a major landmark for nature conservation on Ascension and will set the backdrop for future research on the island’s seabirds.IntroductionAscension Island (7є57’S 14є22’W) is located in the heart of the South Atlantic, 1,660 km from Africa, 2,250 km from South America, and approximately 80 km west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at the junction of the African and South American tectonic plates (fig. 1). The island is roughly triangular in shape and covers an area of 97 km2, stretching 11.5 km from north to south and 14 km from west to east. Formed approximately one million years ago from the eruptions of an underw

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