We love sharing stories that are close to our hearts, and today, we are thrilled to share with you an extraordinary conservation project that has recently come across our desk written by Robyn Adams and BirdLife South Africa. As conservationists ourselves, we couldn’t help but feel moved by this project. This story reflects our own passion for the preservation of our planet’s wildlife and its most remote and untouched landscapes. As caretakers of the natural world, we are constantly inspired by projects that seek to harmonize human efforts with the untouched beauty of our Earth. Join us as we uncover the story behind this remarkable endeavour, where conservation, dedication, and the undeniable allure of the wild converge to breathe new life into an island paradise.
South Africa is privileged to be home to some of the most breathtaking landscapes and the most incredible wildlife. However, not many people know that South Africa has an oceanic territory, located halfway between Cape Town and Antarctica, known as the ‘Gem of the Southern Ocean’. Marion and Prince Edward Islands are South African possessions situated directly in the middle of the turbulent region of the Southern Ocean known as the ‘Roaring Forties’. These cold and windy islands are uninhabited by humans, except for a weather and research station on the larger Marion Island. In contrast, the magnificent landscape of steep cliffs, black volcanic sand beaches and grasslands teem with wildlife. Pinnipeds, including fur seals and elephant seals, whales, penguins and other seabirds occur in large numbers and are reliant on the highly productive waters surrounding the island.
To protect the millions of seabirds and other wildlife calling the Prince Edward Islands (PEIs) home, the islands are designated as South Africa’s only Special Nature Reserve with the surrounding waters a Marine Protected Area. Twenty-nine seabird species breed on the two islands including albatrosses, petrels, penguins, skuas, terns and others. The PEIs are a stronghold for albatrosses; half of the global population of Wandering Albatrosses breed on these two islands. With their wingspans reaching up to 3.5 m, the largest of any living bird, these iconic seabirds are frequently seen welcoming the South African Antarctic research and supply vessel, the S.A Agulhas II, as it arrives on its yearly visit to resupply the research base. The most abundant albatross species on Marion is the Endangered Grey-headed Albatross, which nests in colonies on the island’s steep cliff faces. Two closely related and similarly threatened island species are the Sooty and Light-mantled Albatrosses; known for their intricate aerial courtship displays.
The beaches of Marion Island are the rowdiest part of the island. Huge penguin colonies, as well as fur and elephant seal colonies are found here. King, Gentoo, Macaroni and Eastern Rockhopper Penguins all breed on Marion Island. These seabirds and seals all need to come ashore to breed and rest. With less than 2% of the ocean between 40˚ and 60˚ South comprising land, the island is one of the handful of landmasses and breeding sites in the vast Southern Ocean, and so hosts an abundance of wildlife.
Prince Edward Island, the smaller of the two islands, has always been a predator-free haven for breeding seabirds. Unfortunately, Marion Island has not been as lucky. House Mice were inadvertently introduced by seal hunters in the beginning of the 19th century and these small interlopers rapidly spread across the entire island. With no natural predator control, the mouse population has boomed. Climate change has made the usually rainy and cold climate warmer and drier, which has allowed the mouse population to increase even further. After reducing invertebrate populations on the island to a fraction of what they used to be, thereby fundamentally altering nutrient cycling and the island’s ecological integrity, hungry mice have resorted to eating the eggs, chicks and increasingly even adult seabirds of Marion Island alive. After millions of years without a single land predator, these seabirds are incapable of adopting any defences to repeated mouse attacks.
The seabirds of Marion Island face an uncertain future. Without urgent intervention to remove the threat posed by the invasive mice, 19 of 28 seabird species that breed on Marion face local extinction. However, there is still hope that the island’s threatened seabirds can be saved. BirdLife South Africa and the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment have teamed up to plan the restoration of this critical island ecosystem. Using international best practices and the lessons learned from hundreds of similar projects, restoring the safe nesting grounds of millions of seabirds can be accomplished with a single, meticulously planned intervention.
The restoration of Marion Island is planned for 2025 but cannot happen without significant public support. We have raised approximately US$7M of the US$25M project cost, and if you want to see a future for Wandering Albatrosses please donate to make this critical bird conservation project a reality.
To find out more about the Mouse-Free Marion Project, or make a donation, visit their website at www.mousefreemarion.org or contact Heidi Whitman, Chief Philanthropy Officer at Heidi.firstname.lastname@example.org