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Grey lava and scoria cones (Hendrik Fister and Juniors Kop) on the east coast of Marion Island

Early April saw two C·I·B core team members, two C·I·B research associates, four post-docs, five graduate students, and two technicians board the South African National Antarctic programme’s research and supply vessel the SA Agulhas for the annual relief voyage to Marion Island. At the island they joined two other graduate students from the Centre and their field assistant. Travelling along to undertake research in collaboration with this large group from the centre were Dr. Brent Sinclair, from the University of Western Ontario, Bert Ericsson, a Swedish Ph.D. student from the University of Uppsala, and Lize-Marie van der Watt, a doctoral student from the History Department at Stellenbosch University.

The relief period is an intensely busy, high stress period. Not only must work from the previous year be completed by the ‘old team members’ returning, but new work must be established or technicians and students staying with the ‘new team’ must be trained to continue with previous projects. In addition, those down for the takeover only, have to squeeze in whatever work they can in three to four weeks. This includes some assistance with offloading the ship, unpacking cargo, and the stocking of field huts for the next year on the island.

The C·I·B’s programme at the island, undertaken with several collaborators, encompasses a wide range of work, including:

  • Albatrosses as ecosystem engineers (for indigenous flightless moths)
  • Black-faced sheathbill demography and the impacts of invasive house mice
  • Climate change and thermal performance in indigenous and invasive species
  • Distribution and abundance of invasive alien plants
  • Invasive plants and novel ecosystems
  • Long-term environmental change captured by repeat photography
  • Macrophysiology of near shore marine invertebrates
  • Phylogeography of key indigenous plant species
  • Population dynamics of and landscaping by the cushion plant Azorella selago
  • Range limits and the abundance structure of introduced invertebrates

A new collaborative project providing a platform for humanities research in the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP) also commenced with a visit to this one of three research stations that are part of the SANAP.

Having now spent a full week on the island, the group is well ensconced and work is furiously underway. Several parties are out at remote field sites, whilst the laboratory is alive with animals acclimating and performance assessments being made. Several new visitors have also become acclimatized, both to the weather and to close encounters with a growing fur seal population.

With the departure date of 8th May already looming it has been all action, all hours, from the first day.