At the beginning of the 19th century, Ascension was densely populated with huge colonies of sea birds. In 1815, rats had been accidentally introduced by the first settlers of the island who then made the mistake of bringing in cats in a view of eliminating the rodents. However, the immigrant cats soon realized that the birds and their fledging were far easier preys. The cats and the rats had thus thrived on and at the same time, had annihilated the colonies.
At present, only the Sooty terns are living on the island as they stay back solely during their reproduction time. At Mars Bay, 20’000 specimens can be observed at a certain period. Other species have found shelter in the most inaccessible places of the island, mainly on Boatswain Island and Pillar Bay where there is no risk of coming across predators. Frigate birds, boobies, white terns and petrels are regularly seen in these spots as well as the Red-billed tropicbird nicknamed "Boatswain Bird".
No mammal was living on the island before the arrival of Man. The latter brought goats and sheep that later on were killed so as to provide passing ships with fresh meat. Donkeys were also brought into the island as means of transport for carrying water and construction materials. Today, sheep and donkeys roam in the wilderness of the island. However, the goats did not survive the shooting exercises practiced in the 1940s by the Army. The guides talk of wild cats, but we did not have the opportunity to observe even one of them.
The ocean which borders the island abounds in sharks, barracudas, bonitos, marlins and in myriad of "coral" fishes (see "Diving" link). At seaside, we find the "grapsus" crabs that are particularly well adapted to life on the waves-swept rocks. But the main attraction of the island undoubtedly remains the green turtle. From December to June, after a tiring trip from Brazil, they come to lay their eggs on the beaches. During this period, the turtles can be seen each night on all the beaches of Ascension.
Amidst all these animals, we must not omit the land crabs that possess either a yellow or crimson shade. They were among the first to colonize the island. They live in the mountains and go back at seaside solely to reproduce and lay their eggs on the beaches. They drag themselves out of their holes and crawl by millions to the coast, surging down the streets, as if beckoned by a mysterious instinct showing them the way to the sea. In April 1997, there was a great invasion of crabs and some even ended up in houses!
Text: © M.Chabod / F.Bettex • Photos: © Fabrice Bettex / Mysterra