The wildlife on offer on Ascension is not comparable to what can be seen on an African Safari or a trek through an Amazon rainforest, but on and around this 34 square miles of volcanic rock there are some amazing creatures to be found…
Ascension is probably best known for it’s Green Turtles, these magnificent creatures visit the island each year between November and June in their thousands. They heave their great bulks up the very same beaches on which they were born in order to lay their eggs. Within a few months, turtle hatchlings begin “erupting” from their nests and scurrying towards the relative safety of the ocean. The journey from the beach to the sea is often perilous for baby turtles, scavenging frigate birds and rats pluck them off the beach. Once in the sea, they are then at risk from the many predators patrolling off shore, however, many do survive and return decades later to breed.
Before people settled on Ascension, the island served as a natural haven for sea birds. Surrounded by an ocean rich in marine life, Ascension was the perfect breeding and feeding ground for countless birds. The introduction of cats and rats saw a massive decline in sea bird numbers on the island, and all except the Sooty Terns deserted the main island and bred exclusively on the neighboring Boatswain Bird Island. Thanks to incredible efforts made by the Conservation team, sea birds have begun to return to the main island to nest and their numbers are on the increase.
The best way to see Ascension’s beautiful sea birds is to take a boat trip to Boatswain Bird Island. This can be arranged with the Marine department. On the way to Boatswain Bird you are highly likely to spot pods of Bottlenose Dolphins, and if you’re really lucky, you might see humpback whales which are believed to visit the island during our late winter and early spring months possibly to give birth. They may travel to our warmer, food rich waters from as far away as the Falklands or Antarctica.
In small pools that lie about 100m inland from the sea, tiny shrimp endemic to Ascension thrive, water to the ponds is fed by underground channels. You can find these intriguing creatures by following a trail through the rocky coastline from the Sooty Tern nesting grounds – the Wideawake Fairs.
Back on land, the largest creatures on the island are the feral donkeys. The donkeys are found mainly in Georgetown and around One Boat, those living in Georgetown are often woken in the early hours by their loud braying. Some are relatively friendly and will allow you to pet them, but they can become rather boisterous and dangerous to road users during mating season. Ascension’s donkeys have developed rather curious eating habits – probably due to the lack of vegetation for them to eat, they’ve acquired a taste for cardboard and will happily devour any boxes left lying around!
Further inland at the Ashpit or Green Mountain, you are likely to come across some rather menacing-looking critters – the land crabs. These orange or purple crustaceans, some armed with large and powerful claws, spend most of their time eating guavas and other vegetation growing on the islands higher slopes. Once a year, they make an epic journey down to the coastline in order to spawn – the Conservation department has just begun to study the land crabs and their habits in more detail.
An insight into the wildlife of Ascension wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the marine life. The pristine ocean around the island holds a wide diversity of beautiful creatures that thrive in our food rich, tropical waters. As the fish of Ascension have never been exposed to commercial fisheries operations, endemic and non-endemic species are extremely plentiful, and can be seen all around the island just off-shore. Snorkeling off English Bay beach offers the best chance of spotting a myriad of species.
This was just a brief glimpse at Ascension’s wildlife – check out our Conservation section for more information.