Prince Edward Islands

Travel Guide Africa South Africa Prince Edward Islands

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Introduction

The Prince Edward Islands are two small islands in the sub-antarctic Indian Ocean that are part of South Africa. The islands are named Marion Island (named after Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne) and Prince Edward Island (named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn).

The islands in the group have been declared Special Nature Reserves under the South African Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, No. 57 of 2003, and activities on the islands are therefore restricted to research and conservation management. The only human inhabitants of the islands are the staff of a meteorological and biological research station run by the South African National Antarctic Programme on Marion Island.

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Geography

The island group is about 1,769 kilometres southeast of Port Elizabeth in mainland South Africa. Marion Island (46°54′45″S 37°44′37″E), the larger of the two, with an area of 290 km2 and a coastline of some 72 kilometres, most of which is high cliffs. The highest point on Marion Island is Mascarin Peak (formerly State President Swart Peak), reaching 1,242 metres above sea level. Boot Rock is about 150 metres off the northern coast.
Prince Edward Island (46°38′39″S 37°56′36″E) is much smaller - only about 45 km2 - and lies some 22 kilometres to the northeast of Marion Island. At the van Zinderen Bakker Peak northwest of the center, it reaches a height of 672 metres. There are a few offshore rocks along the northern coast, like Ship Rock and Ross Rocks. Both islands are of volcanic origin. Marion Island is one of the peaks of a large underwater shield volcano that rises some 5,000 metres from the sea floor to the top of Mascarin Peak. The volcano is active, with eruptions having occurred between 1980 and 2004.

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Sights and Activities

The islands are part of the Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra ecoregion that includes a small number of subantarctic islands. Because of the paucity of land masses in the Southern Ocean, the islands host a wide variety of species and are critical to conservation. In the cold subantarctic climate, plants are mainly limited to grasses, mosses, and kelp, while lichens are the most visible fungi. The main indigenous animals are insects along with large populations of seabirds, seals and penguins. At least twenty-nine different species of birds are thought to breed on the islands, and it is estimated the islands support upwards of 5 million breeding seabirds, and 8 million seabirds total. Five species of albatross (of which all are either threatened or endangered) are known to breed on the islands, including the wandering albatross, dark-mantled, light-mantled, Indian yellow-nosed and grey-headed albatross. The islands also host fourteen species of petrel, four species of prion, the Antarctic tern, and the brown skua, among others seabirds. Four penguin species are found, including king penguins, Eastern rockhoppers, gentoos and macaroni penguins.

Three species of seal breed on the islands, including the southern elephant seal, the Antarctic fur seal, and the Subantarctic fur seal. The waters surrounding the islands are often frequented by several species of whale, especially orcas, which prey on penguins and seals. Large whales such as southern rights and southern humpbacks, and leopard seals are seen more sporadically, and it remains unclear how large or stable their current local populations are, though it is thought their numbers are significantly down compared to the time of first human contact with the islands. The area saw heavy sealing and whaling operations in the nineteenth century and continued to be subject to mass illegal whaling until the 1970s, with the Soviet Union and Japan allegedly continuing whaling operations into the 1990s. Currently, the greatest ecological threat is the longline fishing of Patagonian toothfish, which endangers a number of seabirds that dive into the water after baited hooks.

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Weather

The islands have a tundra climate. They lie directly in the path of eastward-moving depressions all year round and this gives them an unusually cool and windy climate. Strong winds blow almost every day of the year and the prevailing wind direction is north-westerly. Annual rainfall averages from 2,400 mm up to over 3,000 mm on Mascarin Peak.

It rains on average about 320 days a year and the islands are among the cloudiest places in the world; About 1,300 hours a year of sunshine occurs on the sheltered eastern side of Marion Island but only around 800 away from the coast and on the wet western sides of Marion and Prince Edward Islands.

Summer and winter have fairly similar climates with cold winds and threat of snow or frost at any time of the year. However, the mean temperature in February (midsummer) is 8.3 °C and in August (midwinter) it is 3.9 °C.

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Getting There and Around

The only way to travel to the islands is as a team member on a South African research vessel. Communication is served by the ship S.A. Agulhas that travels Cape Town-Marion Island once a year. Research team members remain on the island for 14 months, but it is also possible to visit the island as part of the relief team.

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Eat/Drink/Sleep

Mostly on board.

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This is version 3. Last edited at 13:14 on Jul 21, 17 by Utrecht. 1 article links to this page.

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