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SA Agulhas II sails for Gough Island

04 September 2014

 

The Department of Environmental Affairs’ SA Agulhas II embarked on her annual voyage to Gough Island today, Thursday 4 September 2014.

 
 
Deputy Director-General,  Dr Monde Mayekiso delivering his speech during the sending off of the SA Agulhas II to Gough Island.

The Gough 60 over-wintering team will spend approximately 14 months on Gough Island and will be joined by members from the Department of Public Works, Starlite Aviation, and officials from the Department of Environmental Affairs.

In his farewell speech to the expedition team, Dr Monde Mayekiso, Deputy Director - General of Oceans and Coasts, noted that “Gough Island is one of the most important weather observation platforms in the world because of its unique geographic position as it lies between the African and South American continent. It is of particular importance to South Africa for adverse weather focus or prediction. In that respect, South Africa's weather observations on Gough Island are some of the longest and most complete in the world. The route between South Africa and Gough Island has become increasingly important to the understanding of the global climate and the critical role oceans play as a controlling mechanism.”

Gough Island is of particular importance to South Africa for adverse weather focus or predictions. South Africa's weather observations on Gough Island are some of the longest and most complete in the world. Long time data observations are crucial to pick up climate change impacts and flunctutions. In this regard, 10 drifting weather buoys would be deployed en-route to Gough as part of an international agreement.

The route between South Africa and Gough Island has become increasingly important to the understanding of the global climate and the critical role oceans play as a controlling mechanism. The exchange of ocean waters from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean cross this line and South Africa, together with other nations like, Brazil,  and have invested in infrastructure to measure this exchange as it is an important point to understanding how the oceans around South Africa influence the weather and climate experienced globally.

There are a number of oceanographic research projects that would be conducted during this voyage. One being the towing of the Continuous Plankton Recorder in order to measure the distribution and concentration of plankton in the Atlantic basin. Another project is monitoring of the exchange of ocean waters (e.g heat and salt) between the two oceans, that is, from the Indian Ocean into the Atlantic Ocean. The other continuous project is the monitoring of seabirds population, distribution, foraging and so on, as an indicator of climate change patterns.

The expedition team will also be joined by a team dedicated to work on eradicating the Sagina procumbens on the island.  Sagina procumbens is an alien and invasive plant which was first observed at Gough Island, in the immediate vicinity of the South African meteorological station during the late 1990s by Christin Haenel, an environmental inspector at the time. The Sagina procumbens is a small, creeping turf-forming plant that is commonly known as the Procumbent Pearlwort. It is native to Europe and is listed as one of the “One Hundred of the World’s Worst Invasive Alien Species.”

The eradication programme began in 2000 and a combination of mechanical removal, treatment with boiling water, chemicals herbicides, pre-emergent seed killers and direct heating of rock crevices to kill  the seeds have been used to try and eradicate the plant. In the area of infestation it is likely that Sagina  procumbens has primarily spread via the movement of seeds along water course and possibly on boots or clothing of station personnel.

To date efforts to prevent the plant from spreading to new areas have been successful this has been achieved by being meticulous with proper cleansing of the gear/clothing after working in the infected area and contained to the coastal cliffs adjacent to the South African weather station. Sagina procumbens is currently known to occur along an approximate 400 m stretch of coastline adjoining the weather station. The main areas of infestation are along the edge of the coastal cliffs and in areas of bare rock and thin soils.

Attempted Sagina procumbens eradication on Gough has been ongoing for over 10 years and to date it appears to have been successful at restricting the plant to a small area of coastal cliffs. These efforts have probably prevented Sagina procumbens from becoming established in mountainous areas of the island where it is likely to spread rapidly and cause most ecological damage which can significantly alter the structure and functioning of native ecosystems.

Eradicating this plant requires dedicated work especially during summer when plants can grow to maturity and set seeds in a matter of weeks.

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Zolile Nqayi
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