Class Afloat Students Set to Arrive at Ascension Island!

Posted on 17 March 2017 @ 4:07pm

"We know we live on a rock, but the poor people at Ascension live on a cinder." Mr. Dring, from the diary of Charles Darwin

After a short sail (700 miles to be exact) from the sister island of St. Helena, Class Afloat students will be anchoring on Friday, March 17th in Georgetown, the main settlement of Ascension Island, a volcanic island located in the South Atlantic with a population of less than one thousand.

The island was discovered by Portuguese seafarer João da Nova Castella in 1501 but is said to have been “found again” two years later on Ascension Day by Alphonse d’Albuquerque, who gave the island its name. Ascension covers 34 square miles and is, alongside St. Helena and Tristan da Cuhna, part of a British Overseas Territory that has its own constitution and is internally self-governing.

You can read more about the history and early days of the island on the official Ascension Island website.

Student Agenda – Day #1: Preserving the nesting ground for endangered Green Turtles

Every year, Green Turtles, an endangered species of sea turtles and the largest of this species in the world, lay between 6,000 and 15,000 nests on Ascension Island. According to the Ascension Heritage Society, it is the largest nesting colony of this species in the Atlantic Ocean, second only to Costa Rica.

Class Afloat students will spend Saturday morning volunteering with the Ascension Island Government Conservation Team working to remove invasive species from turtle nesting beaches. 

There are several species of invasive, salt-tolerant plants found on or near the beaches that are increasingly encroaching on nesting beaches and threaten to reduce the extent of suitable nesting habitat. Dense growths of weeds and shrubs can directly obstruct nesting activity and alter substrate composition, consolidating the ground and contributing to soil formation which further facilitates the invasion process. The work being done by Class Afloat students will consist of weeding and bagging any invasive plants growing on the beach. 

Check out this great video produced by Bryony Stokes, explaining more about conservation efforts happening across the island to preserve the incredibly diverse array of wildlife, including the sea turtles!

Student Agenda – Day #2: A Hike Up Green Mountain

Saturday afternoon will include a guided hike of Green Mountain, a trip that will allow Biology 12 students to make some interesting connections to their ongoing course material - and here's why.

Charles Darwin first visited Ascension Island on the HMS Beagle in 1836 during which time he found the island to be arid and treeless, with nothing near the coast and only sparse vegetation inland. In fact, it was so dry that the inhabitants had to carefully manage the springs and cisterns which provided drinking water. Several years after Darwin's visit, the botanist and explorer Joseph Hooker visited the island. Hooker and Darwin worked to advise the British Royal Navy on a long-term plan that involved shipping trees to Ascension Island in order to assist with rain capture and improve soil conditions. Botanical gardens in Argentina, Europe and South Africa all supplied vegetation that was delivered to the island starting in 1850.

Today Green Mountain is a tropical cloud forest with Norfolk pines, eucalyptus, bamboo, banana trees and dense invasive vegetation. This project has challenged ideas around the co-evolution required for complex ecosystems but is also highly controversial among many ecologists.

This fascinating article published at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, reveals more about the gradual introduction of vegetation introduced to the island of Ascension starting in the mid-1800s.

Sunday and Monday will be shore leave days and the crew will spend Monday night at Anchor before leaving early Tuesday morning. 

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