"Situated in the middle of the Atlantic, Ascension presents an aspect of desolation difficult to imagine. Whether upheaved from the depths of the ocean, or changed from pristine beauty and fertility, by volcanic agency, it now includes in its circuit of more than twenty miles (with the exception of the summit of the green mountain) an uninterrupted waste of ashes, basaltic rock, scoriæ, &c.; in some places so fantastically piled, that one would think that Titans had been amusing themselves in heaping them up."
- Lieut. William Allen, "Picturesque Views in The Island of Ascension", 1835.
A number of the expedition team who work regularly in the South Atlantic have spent time on Ascension Island as a necessary stopover for refuelling while travelling between the Falkland Islands and the UK on the RAF operated "Air Bridge". Some of us have even been able to enjoy some time beneath the waves during these stopovers. While we've noted an abundance of marine life on these initial dives, the true extent of the biodiversity surrounding this small 88 sq km island remains unrecorded.
[caption id="attachment_39" align="aligncenter" width="584"] A view across Georgetown, the capital of Ascension Island. Georgetown is the main civilian settlement.
We are very fortunate to now have the opportunity to begin documenting the life in the waters fringing this remote volcanic island.
However the island itself has a fascinating history, playing important roles in World War 2 and, more recently, in the Falkland Islands conflict. The location in the middle of the Atlantic made the island a useful stopping point over the centuries for ships and was a stopping point for Charles Darwin in 1836 during his historic voyage on the Beagle.
[caption id="attachment_42" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Ascension Island is surrounded by endless kilometres of open Atlantic Ocean. Large swells at certain times of the year can make diving these waters challenging.
The island is now part of a British Overseas Territory, together with St Helena and Tristan da Cunha. In addition to a British military presence at the Royal Air Force station at Wideawake Airfield, the island is shared with a US military base, both taking advantage of the island's position in the middle of the Atlantic with extensive communications and tracking stations. Ariane rockets launched from French Guiana are also tracked from Ascension.
All the members of the expedition team and their equipment will be transported to Wideawake Airfield by the UK Ministry of Defense operated flights from either RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire or RAF Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands.
[caption id="attachment_40" align="aligncenter" width="584"] Looking towards Wideawake Airfield. A vital link between the UK and the Falkland Islands this long runway also offered an emergency landing site for the space shuttle.