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.
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.
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).
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).
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.