Thursday, 4 September 2014

The Guano Covered Island of Grassholm

Some island in the world is really awesome to see, just like remote offshore “Grassholm” which is a small uninhabited island, nearly 200 meters across, located 13 kilometers off the southwestern Pembrokeshire coast in Wales. This beautiful small island is home to one of the largest colonies of gannets. Therefore; during the breeding season starts from (April to September), approximately 39,000 pairs of birds, nearly 10% of the world’s population, nest on the northern side of the island. Therefore, this side of the island is well covered with a thick layer of bird droppings, mainly famous as guano, giving the island its characteristic off-white color.

From afar, the island looks extremely beautiful when bun sitting on the ocean with icing sugar on top.  So many visitors when approaches the island by boat, the stench becomes overbearing. The lovely white patch on the island that can be seen from above and off-shore, is neither snow nor limestone rock. These’re birds themselves and their shit. The tiny island is made up of basalt, an igneous rock of volcanic origin. It is well believed by researchers that the island was once a part of Skomer Island before it got loose during the last Ice Age. If you see the history you’ll came to know that during the late 16th century thousands of Puffins inhabited the island but now there are none.

Because the existing soil condition aren’t supported burrows that these birds normally make which is maybe why they’ve moved to the neighboring Skomer and Skokholm Islands. However; Gannets have increased their colonized in the island in massive numbers, perhaps arriving from Lundy Island where they were disturbed. Although Grassholm island covers only 22 acres and there’re more than 80,000 Gannets plus their chicks, colonies of Guillemots, Razorbills, Kittiwakes and Shags.

The gannets were first observed on the island in the mid of 18th of century roughly in between 1860 and in 1872, at that time only 12 pairs recorded as breeding there.  But at the late 18th century somewhere 1890's there were 200 or more birds breed. Therefore; in 1905 Cardiff Naturalists Society recorded 300 more breeding pairs. So Gannet population has been steadily increasing since then and now they’re in countless numbers. The birds live in very near proximity to each other and have evolved a series of vocal and postural messages. They’re always thousands of numbers in the air above the island, and would like to dive fishing from all angles at great heights.

The cacophony of sounds they make is deafening. Moreover; the guano had killed the dense mattress of grass in this island exposing archaeological remains of settlements from the Iron Age and early Medieval periods. So as you approach the island you’ll understand why it is white? And the noise and the smell of Grassholm is really a lifetime experience. The Gannets usually stay on Grassholm from February to October, and after that they’d like to travel as far south as Africa in the winter. The older birds will stay in European waters. Make sure there is no landing on the island but boat trips are run daily, subject to weather conditions.