Above picture: From left, Anton Wolfaardt, Camilla Smyth and Elsa van Ginkel afield near Ship’s Cove on Marion Island; photograph by Anton Wolfaardt

On 18 May 2023, South Africa’s Antarctic research and supply ship, the S.A. Agulhas II, returned to Cape Town following its annual relief voyage to Marion Island (click here).  The Mouse-Free Marion (MFM) Project Manager, Dr Anton Wolfaardt, and MFM Project Research Assistant Elsa van Ginkel, were amongst the passengers returning from the island.

As a member of the 79th Marion Island Overwintering Team, Elsa has spent the last year on the island conducting preparatory field research for the MFM Project. This involved, amongst other activities, a series of bait trials, weather monitoring and the collection of baseline data on plants and invertebrates, the last being undertaken in collaboration with Associate Professor Michelle Greve of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences,  University of Pretoria.  The collection of baseline (pre-eradication) data forms an important component of the long-term monitoring programme which aims to assess the ecological outcomes of the mouse eradication initiative.

MFM Research Assistants Camilla Smyth and Elsa van Ginkel conduct seed counts (seed is important food for the invasive House Mice); photograph by Anton Wolfaardt

The annual relief voyage provided a valuable opportunity to review the work completed during the preceding year, to provide training and orientation to Elsa’s successor, Camilla Smyth (80th Marion Island Overwintering Team) and to finalise the MFM Project research and monitoring plans for the year ahead. As part of the training and orientation, Anton, Elsa and Camilla completed a ‘round-island’ excursion, overnighting in the coastal field huts along the way. A number of vegetation plots were visited and surveyed as part of the long-term monitoring programme, and some additional bait trial transects were established.

The S.A. Agulhas II arrives in Cape Town Harbour from Marion Island with the 79th Overwintering Team aboard on 18 May 2023; photograph from the South African Polar Research Infrastructure

Remote trail cameras were re-deployed at Lou-se-Kop in the north of the island, Swartkop Point in the west, and at Grey-headed Albatross Ridge in the south, to monitor via time-lapse photography the cloud base and visibility during the winter months. Observation and recording of specific weather phenomena during the corresponding period to the baiting work will contribute to project planning, by providing information on suitable weather conditions for baiting, even though weather patterns can vary significantly from year to year.

Back at the research station, time was spent on training, conducting vegetation and invertebrate surveys, analysing invertebrate samples in the laboratory, and fine-tuning the various monitoring protocols.

It is not all field work: training continued in a well-equipped laboratory in the research station, as MFM Research Assistants Camilla Smyth (left) and Elsa van Ginkel sort invertebrate samples; photograph by Anton Wolfaardt

The visit was productive, helpful and hugely enjoyable, reinforcing what a truly magical and awe-inspiring place Marion Island really is. The visit also served to highlight the importance and urgency of the mouse eradication project. Eradicating House Mice from Marion Island will help secure a favourable future for a living wonder of the world.

In the snow and above the vegetation line. Elsa van Ginkel (2022/23 MFM Research Assistant) and Camilla Smyth (2023/24 MFM Research Assistant) climb Red Hill on their way to the Katedraalkrans field hut in the high interior of Marion Island; photograph by Anton Wolfaardt

Reflecting on her year on Marion Island, Elsa writes: “I’m truly grateful that I had the opportunity to form part of such a large-impact conservation initiative, such as the Mouse-Free Marion Project. If I had to summarize the year’s fieldwork and the privilege of observing and experiencing the life cycles of a such a wonderful array of sub-Antarctic wildlife, then perhaps Edward Wilson of the Antarctic Heroic Age has described it best: ‘A happy life is not built up of tours abroad and pleasant holidays, but of little clumps of violets noticed by the roadside …’. It is only when you spend a few minutes each day to appreciate where you are and what you are achieving (as an individual and as part of a bigger whole), that you feel truly content.”

All in the family. 2023/24 MFM Research Assistant Camilla (left) meets up with her sister, Lucy, who spent the 2022/23 year on the island studying seabirds with the 79th Overwintering Team; photograph from Elisabeth Moss

The collective determination and efforts by colleagues at BirdLife South Africa, the South African Departments of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) and Public Works and Infrastructure (DPWI), the many scientists conducting globally important research at Marion Island, some for many decades, and the members of the various advisory and management structures for the project, have been absolutely fantastic, and will certainly stand the project in good stead. I’d like particularly to thank Shiraan Watson, the DFFE Co-ordinating Officer for the relief voyage, for his leadership and support throughout.

Dr Anton Wolfaardt, Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager, 23 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.