Cadets Expedition to South Atlantic

Accompanied by four adult staff members, 12 teenage cadets from Norfolk & Suffolk Wing of the Air Training Corps including TIW affiliated 42F (King’s Lynn) Sqn and II(AC) Sqn affiliated 864 (Watton) Sqn, have just returned from a trip of a lifetime to Ascension, a tiny volcanic island in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean.

Ascension is part of the British Overseas Territory of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha and its isolated position in the equatorial South Atlantic is some 1,000 miles from the coast of Africa and 1,400 miles from South America.

Following a nine hour night flight in a Voyager passenger jet from RAF Brize Norton the group arrived and immediately had briefings and a visit to the Met Office. The afternoon was spent relaxing at a swimming pool in the village of Two Boats. That evening at North East Bay they witnessed the spectacle of hundreds of land crabs migrating from Green Mountain to lay their eggs in the sea. After spawning they head straight back to the mountain.

The next day an early start before daybreak enabled the group to meet local conservation workers and to visit Long Beach, a main Green Turtle nesting site for these majestic endangered creatures, and watch the females returning to the sea after their nocturnal egg laying. Then it was a trek to the top of Green Mountain (2,818 feet) in temperatures of over 33°C. This walk saw the terrain change from barren cinder rock through lava, scrub, banana plantation and eventually, at its summit, dense sub tropical bamboo.

The third day saw the team doing conservation work in clearing on Long Beach, the conservation team on the island having shown the cadets how weeds and roots prevented turtles from laying their eggs. They observed a turtle pit which was obstructed by weeds, which may have meant that the turtle had had to wait another night in order to dig another hole in which to lay its eggs. Other rubbish was which would have prevented the turtles  from laying was also found and removed.

That evening, the team joined a group of islanders, including American service personnel from their base on the island at North East Bay to take part in a traditional American walk called a ‘Hash’. The terrain was very challenging and the rocks and huge boulders were loose and jagged. This was an opportunity to socialise with the different groups currently deployed to the island and made an enjoyable evening that culminated with a group photo with the Air Cadet Ensign.

Numerous other activities filled every waking moment and included completing six ‘letterbox’ walks, visiting Georgetown museum, visiting the USAF base commander and perhaps most memorable of all helping the conservation rangers on their dawn patrols to assist stranded turtles and releasing struggling baby turtles into the sea.

The last full day on Ascension saw a continuation of the conservation work. This time, having been given instruction in the safe use of a machete the cadets were set too clearing ginger and weeds that were encroaching upon Elliot’s Pass a footpath on Green Mountain, a fantastic effort saw them clear over 400 metres.

OC 42F Sqn, Flight Lieutenant Pauline Petch, who was given overall responsibility for the group as Camp Commandant, summed up the week by saying “This was a most memorable camp. The sights and activities that both the cadets and staff have experienced have been awe inspiring. We have all gained so much from this stay on this little island in the South Atlantic.”

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