Warning: Graphic content, sensitive viewers be warned
Marion Island is the jewel in South Africa’s island crown – it is huge and beautiful, hosts an astonishing array of endemic species and charismatic marine megafauna, and is pristine. Or nearly pristine…
After cats were eradicated from Marion Island in the early 1990s (it remained the largest island on earth cleared of cats for many years), mice were left as the only introduced mammal there. At the time, no thought was given to tackling mice, even though their impacts on invertebrates such as the flightless moths and weevils, plant communities, nutrient cycles, etc., were gigantic. Little did we know that mice could become such a significant threat to seabirds. Work done at Gough Island demonstrated that mice can wreak devastation on seabird colonies, and now they’re attacking seabird chicks at Marion Island, with increasing impacts each year.
In 2016, New Zealand island-eradication expert John Parkes authored a report titled: ‘Eradication of House Mice Mus musculus from Marion Island: a review of feasibility, constraints and risks’. His assessment concluded that there are no technical obstacles to eradication. After approaching the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Fitzpatrick Institute of African Ornithology for collaboration and support, the date was set to undertake an eradication on Marion Island in the winter of 2021.
Operations such as these are not cheap, and this is where we need your help. To raise the necessary funds to purchase the bait needed to cover the entire island, we are offering you the opportunity to sponsor one or more hectares of land on Marion Island. At $90/ha (or R1000/ha), you can aid us in allowing this monumental project to be successful. Once completed, this project will be another world record for South Africa: the largest ever island from which mice has successfully been eradicated. Be a part of history, and sponsor one (or more) hectares of this beautiful oceanic gem.
On a rugged outcrop on the north-eastern coastline of Marion Island, sit two clusters of buildings. One cluster is small, and has been there for quite some time. The other is larger, more impressive, and much younger. These are the old and new meteorological stations maintained by the South African National Antarctic Programme. The older of the two bases has been there since January 1948, erected soon after South Africa annexed and occupied the Prince Edward Islands. At 2160 km south of Cape Town, the islands are also the southernmost part of South Africa, and can only be accessed by boat.
Today, Marion is permanently occupied by a team of 10-12 meteorologists, technicians and researchers, with up to 80 people visiting during the summer months. Each team spends 13 months on the island. The Prince Edward Islands harbour Southern Elephant Seals, two species of fur seals, four penguin and five albatross species, and several other Southern Ocean birds like petrels, gulls and skuas. The new base, constructed in 2008, includes laboratories for biological research in addition to the meteorological facilities.
Conditions on Marion are harsh – constant winds, low temperatures and large amounts of snow and rain make it a rather inhospitable place to live. The vegetation is restricted to grasses, mosses and lichens, and much of of the island’s lowland is marshy due to the high precipitation. Both islands were declared a Special Nature Reserve in 1995 in order to enhance protection of their flora and fauna.