Ascension Island

Green Mountain and Newer Volcanic Cones

Ascension is another island in the South Atlantic, about halfway between the northern border of Angola, Africa and Recife, Brazil.  Ascension is part of the group of South Atlantic volcanic islands administered by the British, which includes St. Helena and Tristan da Cunha.  The island is notorious for being difficult to land on because of rough currents and swells, and the dock is much worse than on St. Helena.  So the plan was to send out a trial tender to see if landing was possible.  The report came back that the situation was worse than St. Helena, so we opted for plan B, which was to do scenic cruising around the island while people from the island were on board.  The islanders set up a souvenir stand in the atrium on deck 5, which turned into an absolute zoo. They also gave a presentation about the island, which was interesting.  Apparently there are no permanent residents, although there is one town, Georgetown.  There are also military bases on the island, including one with a runway that was constructed as an emergency landing site for the space shuttle.  We arrived around noon, and once the islanders were on board we set out to sail around the island.  The island is very volcanic and is made up of volcanic cones (almost 50 of them!) and lava flows.  They have not had an eruption for 700-800 hundred years but it is still considered volcanically active.  There is one mountain that is green, and the Ascension Heritage Society has been working to reforest it, as well as to save endemic plants.  We did not get to go ashore, but for those of us who are nature lovers, we probably saw a lot more by sailing around than we would have had we gone ashore.  The scenery is mostly rather stark, but it is interesting, and the island is definitely unique.

Our visitors brought a number of representatives of the Ascension Island Government Conservation Team.  After most of our cruise around the island they presented a virtual tour of the island and we feel almost as if we had been on it.  Well, almost.  (The virtual tour was presented in our show lounge, the Queen's Lounge.  It was a 20 minute presentation with lots of pictures.)

The island used to be the home for many nesting sea birds but when settlers came they brought cats.  Some of the cats became feral and you know what they ate.  So the birds pretty much disappeared from the main island.  There is one very large rock off the shore a bit which is quite white.  That is where the majority of birds nest now.  (The white color is testimony to that.)  Several years ago the conservation society managed to eradicate the feral cat population and any domestic pets are neutered so there will not be any more feral cats.  The good news is that birds are beginning to return to the main island to nest again.

We really enjoyed our cruise around the island.  We saw far more wildlife than we expected.  There is an endemic land crab which apparently lives up on the mountain and comes down to the water only to mate and lay eggs.  They also have several endemic birds.  While we were sailing around the island we saw multiple kinds of sea birds, at least a dozen bottle-nose dolphins leaping out of the water, and one sea turtle, probably a green turtle.  Ascension is another place where the green and hawksbill turtles come to nest.  The beach we could see from the  ship is one of the ones used by green sea turtles for nesting.  There is no food for the turtles here!  They come to lay eggs every three or four years according to research, some done by the people here.  They eat plants and so they stock up back near South America (Rio, etc.) and then swim here to lay their eggs.  We’re not sure of the distance but it may be close to 1000 miles each way.

We appreciated the visit from the islanders.  As an exclamation point to the decision to not let passengers try to go ashore we witnessed one of the young visitors fall trying to return to their boat.  Fortunately it appeared she was not seriously hurt.  She was quickly back on her feet and made the step from platform to boat with no trouble the second try.  We wish the people of Ascension Island well.  Perhaps if the water were more cooperative we would enjoy another visit in the future.  

Don’t forget to check out the additional photos in the album.

Farewell to Ascension

© Susan L. Stone 2015