Above picture: Cover of the July 2022 issue of The Wanderer, Newsletter of the 79th Marion Island Overwintering Team
South Africa annexed Marion Island, then uninhabited, in 1947. Ever since then, and without break, it has occupied the island as a site for weather recording and for research into the natural sciences. A series of annual (initially six-monthly for a few years) overwintering teams have lived and worked on the island, isolated from civilization relatives and friends ever since. In the early years communication with South Africa was limited to Morse code. When I first started going to Marion in the late 1970s to spend a couple of weeks ashore conducting seabird research as part of relief voyages, I was able to send short messages of just a few words home once a week by Telex. On receipt on the mainland these were printed out and posted to one’s home using addressed and stamped envelopes deposited in advance. There was not much privacy with messages sent to loved ones, although the radio operators who received our hand-written messages were expected to keep what they had transmitted to themselves. Weekly short-wave radio calls were also an option, although I rarely used them.
Move forward to the present day and communications have changed markedly – although over-winterers still remain isolated on the island for 12 months at a time. Nowadays, team members and relief visitors alike can phone home via satellite, using a designated booth in the meteorological base for privacy and, if the heavens (and satellites) are willing, they can also communicate via e-mail, attaching their island photos to messages. With access to computers and suitable software, team members are now able to put together a well-designed newsletter, illustrated in colour with their own photographs. Initially produced just for friends and relatives and starting quite modestly, The Wanderer (named after the island’s threatened Wandering Albatrosses) can be downloaded by all interested in reading it from the website of the Antarctic Legacy of South Africa (from where back issues can be accessed) and also from the South African National Antarctic Programme (SANAP).
Each overwintering team decides how often to issue the newsletter (sometimes monthly, sometimes less often) and chooses its editors from among themselves. The current team (M79), which arrived on the island in April, has so far produced two issues. There are two co-editors, one of whom is the Mouse-Free Marion Project’s own field researcher Elsa van Ginkel.
The latest issue of The Wanderer, for July 2022, carries an article by Elsa in which she describes her work on the island. This will be of interest to project supporters, of whom no less than 1750 in South Africa and around the world have supported it financially through the “Sponsor a Hectare” campaign, which has so far raised 5.4 million Rands towards the project’s costs.
Other articles in the 30-page July issue introduce team members and discuss the island weather (always an important topic for conversation ashore!). There is also a regular photographic section where team members display their best island photos. I am sure you will enjoy reading The Wanderer and to learn a little about what it is like to live for a year on a special island.
Terauds, A., Cooper, J., Chown, S.L. & Ryan, P. 2010. Marion & Prince Edward. Africa’s Southern Islands. Stellenbosch: SUN PReSS. 176 pp.
John Cooper, Mouse-Free Marion News Correspondent, 27 September 2022
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.