Expedition blogs and news from the Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Team Member Drew Avery

Drew Avery is a satellite communications engineer who returned to Ascension 2 years ago after an extended career in remote locations such as the Chagos Archipelago, Greenland and the Middle East. An amateur naturalist and wildlife photographer he has contributed to the Smithsonian Institute Encyclopaedia of Life and written species articles for Arkive, an on line data base of rare and endangered species. His most current project has been compiling a complete library of natural science research done on Ascension for the Ascension Heritage Society. A part-time student he is currently enrolled in Oregon State University Masters in Natural Resources program and will be shortly completing a post –graduate certificate in Sustainable Military Lands Management form Colorado State University.

Since returning to Ascension he has been fortunate enough to be able to volunteer with a number of diverse projects, including lichen surveys on Green Mountain, a variety of bird studies and the ongoing Overseas Territories Environment Green Turtle research Program.

Drew likes long walks and beer

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Team Member Caz Yon

[caption id="attachment_311" align="alignleft" width="199"] Caz Yon

Caroline (Caz) Yon has been living and working on Ascension Island for the last 20 years and currently manages the ESA Telemetry Tracking Station at North East Bay.  For her day job, Caz is a communications engineer but as with a lot of people on a small island wears many hats on a voluntary basis.

She gave up being a Justice of the Peace after 13 years of service and is now a legal advisor assisting people with various criminal and civil issues.

Caz also runs the Ascension Island Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offering front line and emergency veterinary services as well as overseeing the import/export of pet animals.  Caz is also a First Aid and PADI Dive Instructor and offers courses in both on the island.

Rare moments of spare time are always spent in the water away from telephones and emails!  Having always lived next to, surrounded by or on the sea it is only natural she has a love of the underwater world.  After years of slightly bewildered but nonetheless real admiration and appreciation of the marine environment, she is really hoping to gain greater insights and knowledge by being involved in the survey.

She feels this is a fantastic opportunity to kick start education and awareness of the inshore waters of Ascension and will hopefully lead to a long term conservation commitment thus ensuring the health and vitality of the marine life for generations to come.

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Team Member Jolene Sim

[caption id="attachment_298" align="alignleft" width="168"] Jolene Sim
Ascension Island Government Conservation Department

Jolene Sim is the Assistant Conservation Officer for Ascension Island Government. Her interest in conservation started when she was a young girl. Jolene was inspired by her father’s respect for the fauna and flora of St Helena, both terrestrial and marine. He feels a special kinship with creatures of the sea. As a result, Jolene developed a passionate interest in St Helena's wildlife. Her personal experiences and observations gained from voluntary work on St Helena has provided not only knowledge, but a fascinating insight into the work involved in ecological restoration of remote islands.

In 1996 Jolene left St Helena for the UK where she joined the Merchant Navy as a Deck Cadet and progressed to the position of 1st Officer. Her 10 year career at sea meant she had long vacations where she could spend much time doing what she enjoyed most. Her natural desire to learn more about South Atlantic Islands meant she spent some of her free time visiting both St Helena and Ascension Island, where she carried out voluntary work with the Ascension Island Conservation Team, and St Helena’s seabird monitoring and underwater surveys (Fisheries Section of Agriculture & Natural Resources Department).
Jolene has a great appreciation of what Ascension Island has to offer, and it is her natural desire to learn more about the Island’s environment, to safeguard and restore native species and habitats, and to promote awareness of conservation, particularly through the schools.

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Team Member Pieter Van West

Pieter van West (Professor/Principal Investigator, University of Aberdeen) is the Microbiology Programme Leader in the School of Medical Sciences at the University of Aberdeen. He graduated as a molecular plant pathologist (MSc, Cum Laude & PhD) at the Wageningen University (1988-1993 & 1994-1998), which was followed by a post-doctoral project at the University of Aberdeen (1998-2000). He was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship to study “Fundamental molecular processes in Oomycete pathogens” (2000-2008) and became a Lecturer (2004), a Senior Lecturer (2005), a Reader (2009) and currently holds a Chair in Oomycete Biology (2012).

[caption id="attachment_223" align="alignleft" width="200"]Peter van West Prof. Peter van West
University of Aberdeen

His current research programme in the Aberdeen Oomycete Laboratory focuses mainly on oomycete biology. Oomycetes, or water moulds, are a distinct group of eukaryotic microbes with often a fungal-like morphology, but with a much closer genetic similarity to brown algae and diatoms. Pathogenic oomycetes infect a wide range of organisms including crop plants, weeds, ornamental plants, trees, fish, humans, insects, crustaceans, brown algae, nematodes, fungi and even other oomycetes.

In the Aberdeen Oomycete Laboratory, several economically and environmentally important water moulds are studied at most disciplinary levels (taxonomy, ecology, epidemiology, biochemistry and cellular and molecular biology and especially host-microbe interactions). The most important animal pathogenic oomycetes under investigation are Saprolegnia parasitica, Saprolegnia australisSaprolegnia diclina and Aphanomyces spp. The plant pathogenic species include Phytophthora infestans and several Pythium spp. and the marine algal pathogenic species include Eurychasma dicksonii and Anisolpidium spp.

He has conducted and participated in expeditions and field trips with a scope in oomycete research, notably to the Falkland Islands, the Canadian Arctic, and Ascension Island.
Within the framework of the research expedition to Ascension, Pieter is particularly interested in collecting biological samples from fresh-water and salt-water for the presence of oomycete and fungal pathogens. In particular oomycetes that may infect algae or crustaceans, and fungi that attack sea turtle eggs.

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Team Member Phil Thomas

Phil Thomas has been living and working in the Falkland Islands for 12 months as a Senior Project Manager for Interserve Defence Ltd, starting in August 2011 on a 2 year tour.

[caption id="attachment_213" align="alignleft" width="224"]Phil Thomas Phil Thomas
British Forces South Atlantic Islands

Phil has been diving since 2001, diving in various locations around the world such as Egypt, Malta, Croatia, Thailand and the UK from the bleak inland quarry sites to the stunning South Devon coast. A keen UK diver enjoying the beautiful shore dives that the South Devon coast has to offer, concentrating on the smaller marine life amongst the gulley’s, rocks and kelp forests; on a sunny day with the play of light and shadows through the Kelp forests, the UK rivals any dive site in the world.

Since arriving in the Falklands Phil has been diving regularly with the Falkland Islands Sub Aqua Club (FISAC), officially the most Southerly dive club in the World! Enjoying some very challenging, yet rewarding dives in the cold South Atlantic waters

A BSAC Sports Diver, working towards his Dive Leader & Boat Handler qualifications. Phil is thrilled to be part of such an important research project in a challenging and remote marine environment.”

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Team Member Stedson Stroud

Stedson Stroud - Saving Ascension’s wildlife

Although he now heads up efforts to protect the wildlife of the British Overseas Territory of Ascension Island, Stedson Stroud. MBE has had an unusual journey into formal conservation.

[caption id="attachment_208" align="alignleft" width="300"]Stedson Stroud Stedson Stroud. MBE.
Conservation Officer - Ascension Island Government.

Born on the remote South Atlantic island of St. Helena, Stedson developed an interest in the natural world at an early age. “My mum and dad, with a family of 10 children, brought us up on St. Helena living off the land with an organic and sustainable attitude towards biodiversity, so they were a real inspiration to me,” he explains. The interest that Stedson developed in horticulture, beekeeping and the natural world would stay with him throughout his life, and would play an important role in shaping his priorities.

During several nomadic years working throughout the world, Stedson took the time to speak to Naturalists, Conservationist, old farmers in many countries also beekeepers at Buck fast Abby, Devon UK , learning and recording their skills. When he returned to St. Helena as a trained beekeeper, field Vet, and tracker in 1991, Stedson made a remarkable discovery. One day, whilst following some bees up a gorge, Stedson came across a plant he had never seen before. Taking samples, he began to investigate and, working with St Helenian Botanist George Benjamin and the Royal Botanic gardens at Kew, discovered that it was an endemic bastard gumwood tree (Commidendrum rotundifolium), a plant long thought to be extinct. “Discovering a lone plant which was thought to have been extinct for over a hundred years spurred me into helping to propagate it, and get more of its kind back into the wild. Conservation became special to me.”

Some years after this first discovery, Stedson made another astonishing find, yet another endemic plant long thought to have gone extinct, the St. Helena endemic boxwood (Mellissia begonifolia). “Then I truly knew I had a career in conservation!” says Stedson.

Finally in 2003, Stedson made his way back to Ascension, initially as the Assistant Conservation Officer for the Ascension Island Government. As a member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s South Atlantic Island Plant Specialist Group, Stedson faced many challenges. “Ascension’s endemic plants were uncared for. All of them were on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, some were extinct and some were on the brink of extinction, mostly due to the threats imposed by alien invasive plant species. We’ve set about clearing and restoring sites where invasive species have taken over, which is no easy task!”

Through careful propagation of the threatened endemic species, stable captive populations of many of these plants have now been established and efforts are underway to reintroduce more of them to suitable parts of the island. A few years ago Stedson and Botanist Dr Phil Lambton rediscovered the Ascension Endemic parsley fern Anagramma ascensionis on the south side of a steep cliff on Green Mountain this fern was on the IUCN Red List as extinct, it is now being cared for on Ascension and RBG Kew.
The island’s endemic plants were not the only species suffering from the impacts of invasive species. When it was first discovered, Ascension was thought to house around 20 million seabirds, with species including fairy terns, masked boobies, and the endemic Ascension frigate bird. But over the years this number dwindled to just a few thousand nesting on shore ledges and offshore stacks, mainly because the birds were being eaten by feral cats. To tackle this problem, Stedson helped with a feral cat eradication programme, which has led to several hundred pairs of seabirds returning to the mainland to nest for the first time in over 100 years. These pairs continue to breed successfully, and are re-establishing viable populations once more.

Despite these successes, Stedson remains concerned for the future of Ascension’s fragile wildlife, marine and terrestrial. Invasive species are still a major problem, and left unchecked threaten the survival of native plants, birds and animals. Human development is also a problem, with large parts of the island unprotected and vulnerable to damage. He and his team face a constant struggle to preserve what is left of Ascension’s unique environment, and to try and restore what has been lost.

Stedson has never lost sight of the beauty of the nature he works so hard to protect. “Seeing female green turtles slowly making their way up the beaches to lay their eggs after their long journey from Brazil, or watching the land crabs making their lengthy and dangerous trek from the top of Green Mountain down to the shore to deposit their eggs are hugely inspiring. Ascension boasts a wonderful array of biodiversity, from the turtles to sooty terns to our very own endemic shrimp found in larva pools. More than ever, conservation is needed to ensure the survival of these species."

Stedson looks forward to Paul Brickle and his Shallow Marine team and to be involved in this very important Darwin project.

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