Meet the northern rockhopper penguin in the UK’s remotest overseas territory.
Tristan da Cunha is the UK’s remotest overseas territory and home to some of the richest and most diverse concentration of seabirds in the world, truly a place of wonder and mystery. From the compelling human history to the unique flora and fauna, these islands have captured the hearts of many visitors. The northern rockhopper penguin Eudyptes moseleyi, or pinnamin, as the locals call their penguins, is one of Tristan’s most iconic species. The archipelago comprises three main islands: Inaccessible, Nightingale and Tristan da Cunha itself, with Tristan being the only island with a permanent settlement, Edinburgh of the Seven Seas. Nestled at the base of the volcano on the island’s north-west coast, the village is home to about 270 inhabitants; the Tristanians. Gough Island, 380 km south-southeast of the Tristan group, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (together with Inaccessible Island) and the only breeding site for this penguin south of the Subtropical front.
The penguin’s bobbing, yellow hairdo and braying call is a familiar sight and sound for the Tristanians and, since people settled on Tristan in the early 1800s, the penguins have played a key role in the island’s traditions. However, a 90% decline in the population since the 19th century, combined with the penguin’s small breeding range and vulnerability to land- and sea-based threats led to its classification as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2008.
More than 85% of the northern rockhoppers are found on Tristan da Cunha. This claim to fame however comes with some responsibility as it means that just one single catastrophe could prove disastrous to the global population. This message was driven home when the cargo ship MS Oliva ran aground off the north-western coast of Nightingale Island on 16 March 2011. Approximately 1500 tons of fuel and heavy crude oil escaped from the ship, encircling Nightingale and nearby Middle (or Alex) Islands, the breeding sites of almost half the world’s northern rockhopper population. Even though the oil spill had nothing to do with past population declines nor might it be responsible for the fluctuations that followed, what the catastrophe did reveal and highlight in a most striking manner was how little is known about this Endangered species, and that basic but vital information on the species’ general ecology had been almost totally lacking. Spurred on by the unthinkable prospect of losing these charismatic, much loved and ecologically important birds, the RSPB partnered up with the Tristan Conservation Department, the University of Cape Town, BirdLife South Africa, the British Antarctic Survey, the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland and the South African Department of Environmental Affairs and Project Pinnamin was born. Come along to find out more about the project and meet one of the most charismatic penguin species there is.
Let’s go rockhopping!
Date(s) - 17/08/2019
1:30 pm - 1:50 pm
Osprey Lecture Theatre