Above picture:  A Wandering Albatross broods its downy chick in the Goney Plain long-term monitoring colony on Marion Island; photograph by Michelle Risi

Back in the early 1980s, along with the help of colleagues, I set up three long-term monitoring colonies for Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans on Marion Island’s east coast (click here).  The three areas are named after local geographical features as Goney Plain, Sealer’s Beach and Macaroni Bay.  Every year since then, annual teams of researchers have visited the colonies year-round, collecting breeding data.  At roughly weekly (in summer) to monthly (in winter) visits, occupied nests are staked and GPS-recorded at the beginning of each breeding season.  Attending adults are checked for metal and colour bands (and unmarked birds are banded).  The presence of eggs is noted, and hatching chicks recorded and followed through to failure or fledging, allowing for the calculation of breeding success.  Large chicks are metal banded before they leave the island to establish a population of birds of known age.  In recent years, such regular checks have revealed the worrying attacks made by introduced House Mice on Wanderer chicks, giving impetus to the Mouse-Free Marion Project.

Lucy Smyth checks a staked nest on Goney Plain; photograph by Michelle Risi

MFM News has recently received a suite of photos taken by one of the 2023/24 ‘birders’, the experienced Michelle Risi, on a day trip she and 2022/23 ‘birder’ Lucy Smyth made to check occupied Wanderer nests in two of the study colonies, Goney Plain and Sealer’s Beach, situated to the north of the meteorological station.  Michelle arrived on the island last month for a 13-month stay with the annual relief voyage, which later this month will bring Lucy back to Cape Town after her year-long sojourn.  Working together during the three-week relief period ensures study protocols are faithfully passed from one overwintering team member to the next, thus avoiding errors creeping into a decades-long data set.  During the recent check, 107 chicks were present on Goney Plain and 88 in the Sealer’s Beach colony.

Michelle Risi’s photographs will give an idea of the sheer grandeur of the island on a good-weather day and the iconic nature of one of the world’s largest flying birds.  They should also help explain why the Mouse-Free Marion Project team is so determined to help conserve the island and its majestic albatrosses.

This chick on Goney Plain’s nest No. 114 is getting a little too big to be brooded and will soon be left unattended; photograph by Michelle Risi


By April, chicks may be guarded by parents sitting next to the nest and not continuously brooded, as they become able to thermoregulate on their own; photograph by Michelle Risi

This Wanderer chick in the Sealer’s Beach study colony is old enough to be left on its own so both adults can be at sea foraging for its meals; at this stage it is at risk from attacks by mice. Photograph by Michelle Risi

Lucy Smyth (left) and Michelle Risi pause while heading back at the end of the day for a ‘selfie’ on Skua Ridge. They are carrying nest markers removed from failed nests. Made from lengths of plastic electric conduit piping with large plastic flags fixed with cable ties, they are durable, non-polluting, and most importantly light! Photograph by Michelle Risi

Over the years, information collected in the three study colonies has resulted in several MSc and PhD degrees being awarded to deserving researchers, adding to the body of knowledge for the species.  The use of cameras at night has also shown the continuing attacks by House Mice on Wanderer chicks (click here and here).

Three non-breeders, likely young birds, display in what is known as a ‘gam’ within a study colony; photograph by Michelle Risi


Research on Wandering Albatrosses on Marion Island is currently co-directed by Maëlle Connan (Marine Apex Predator Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University) and Peter Ryan (FitzPatrick Institute of African Ornithology, University of Cape Town).


After a long but productive day, Lucy Smyth, with albatross crook in hand and a backpack loaded with marker poles, heads back to the meteorological station visible in the distance above Transvaal Cove; photograph by Michelle Risi


With thanks to Michelle Risi.

John Cooper, News Correspondent, Mouse-Free Marion Project, 09 May 2023



The Mouse-Free Marion Project is a registered non-profit company (No. 2020/922433/08) in South Africa, established to eradicate the invasive albatross-killing mice on Marion Island in the Southern Ocean.  The project was initiated by BirdLife South Africa and the South African Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment.  Upon successful completion, the project will restore the critical breeding habitat of over two million seabirds, many globally threatened, and improve the island’s resilience to a warming climate.  For more information or to support the project please visit mousefreemarion.org.