Introduction to Round Island (week 1)
I arrived on a choppy sea - making for a slightly tricky offload to the 'landing rock' - at Round Island on Wednesday 9th Oct - a steep uninhabited island formed by the remaining half of an old volcanic crater, about 1km by 2km in size (and curiously not at all round) and 20km offshore Mauritius. The small field station, housing between 3 to 7 staff and researchers within it and some surrounding tents, will be my new home for the majority of the next 6 months. It's quite some place - geographically, plant-wise (we have our own nursery for propagating native species, while on the west coast there is the one and only remaining wild mature endemic hurricane palm) and with the array of semi-tame wildlife: charismatic Telfair skinks everywhere (dish cleaning/prowling for crumbs/jumping on your foot/generally skinking about the station in a rather comically villainous manner), friendly lumbering giant green tortoises some of which swing by for a good neck scratch (there are 100's resident on the whole island), big eyed ornate geckos, Durrell night geckos, lovely relaxed nocturnal Round Island boas to survey and tag, gloriously red and white tailed tropic birds, swooping nesting petrels and the simply incredible sounding shearwaters, which spend the night inhabiting their burrows and filling the entire island with their other-worldly howling impressions of packs of dogs, wolves, squeaky toys or a windy kind of whale song in a most unbird-like fashion.
Days are disappearing fast and have so far involved plant care and watering (in the nursery and all over the island slopes where saplings have been planted out), invasive weed searches, nocturnal reptile surveys, petrel tagging, helping create camera trap stands and various other assorted tasks, with some time for a little rock-pool swimming and occasional bucket shower on a precious few litres of fresh water a week!
This week we harvested pollen from the last wild Hurricane Palm Dictyosperma album var. conjugatum on Round Island.
Warden Jo: "Two weeks ago Dr Phil Lambdon, the new Island Restoration Flora Officer, spotted male inflorescences on the tree. Male and female flowers of this species do not bloom at the same time to prevent self pollination. To preserve the genetic diversity of this rare variety Phil recommanded harvesting the pollen. We will preserve it and try to manually pollinate the female flowers when they will show up. Some pollen will be sent on the mainland to pollinate the trees found at Gerald Durrel Endemic Wildlife Sanctuary (GDEWS). These trees were planted from seeds collected on Round Island.
Several indidivuals have been planted on Round over the years but none has reach maturity yet. About 120 seedlings coming from seeds collected at GDEWS are currently slowly growing in our nursery and most of them will be ready to plant in 2020."
Mauritian Wildlife Foundation/Durrell, week 2 and spending it in this beautiful small island nature reserve just a few hundred metres off the mainland: Learning about endangered endemic plant species in the nursery here, in preparation for my first trip out to Round Island where many are being restored. Also getting familiarised with giant tortoise husbandry, skink rearing and the incredible native bird species of which a number are being brought back from the edge of extinction. Olive white eyes are here, currently the most endangered bird in Mauritius with about 250, and plenty of lovely and cheeky re-established Mauritian fodies. Over on the mainland are Mauritian kestrel programs, the most incredible rescue act of all - about 500 now, up from just 4 of which only 1 was a breeding female, 40 years ago!