Above picture: Camilla Smyth and Anton Wolfaardt aboard the S.A. Agulhas II on the way to Marion Island; photograph by Maëlle Connan
Eradication programmes, such as the Mouse-Free Marion (MFM) Project, are undertaken to remove species that harm the environment and its native biodiversity, with the aim of restoring native species populations and ecosystems. It is important that the outcomes of these operations are monitored and fully understood. We have previously reported in MFM News on the work underway to collect pre-eradication (baseline) data at Marion Island to establish the ecological condition of the island ecosystem in the presence of House Mice and allow future surveys to assess the ecological outcomes of the eradication operation. The MFM Project is collaborating with Assoc. Prof. Michelle Greve of the Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, University of Pretoria and with the Department of Forestry, Fisheries and the Environment (DFFE) to achieve this objective for plants and invertebrates, important components of the Marion Island ecosystem which are being adversely impacted by the introduced mice.
The plant and invertebrate monitoring forms a component of the overall longitudinal monitoring programme. Ongoing research and monitoring of albatrosses, petrels and avian scavengers at Marion Island by Dr Maëlle Connan (Marine Apex Predator Research Unit, Nelson Mandela University), Emeritus Prof. Peter Ryan (FitzPatrick Institute, University of Cape Town) and Dr Azwianewi Makhado (DFFE) also form important components of the longitudinal monitoring strategy for the MFM Project.
This year’s annual relief voyage to Marion Island that sailed from Cape Town last week on the S.A. Agulhas II provides an opportunity to progress this work. To this end, Camilla Smyth has been appointed as the MFM Project’s most recent research assistant; she will spend 13 months on the island as part of the 80th Marion Island Overwintering Team, continuing the work initiated by Elsa van Ginkel and Vhuawelo Simba in 2022/23. Along with Camilla, MFM Project Manager Dr. Anton Wolfaardt is also participating in the relief voyage to provide orientation, training and to advance various aspects of the longitudinal monitoring programme and project planning.
With just days to go before sailing, MFM News approached Michelle and Camilla for information about themselves, and how they see their roles within the MFM Project.
Michelle Greve writes:
“The 2023 takeover marks 20 years since I first visited Marion Island as an honours student. Even though Marion Island represents one of the most pristine systems in South Africa, it is not without its threats to biodiversity. Invasive species, including House Mice, are amongst the biggest threats to the native species of the island. The mouse is surely the most aggressive of all the invaders currently present on Marion. The eradication of mice is expected to have overwhelmingly positive impacts on the island’s ecology. However, in addition to eating the native plants and invertebrates, mice also feed on some of the alien species found on Marion Island. Therefore, their eradication may be beneficial to some of the other invasive species. The longitudinal monitoring that we are implementing will be particularly useful to assess if other non-native species benefit from mouse eradication and will inform the need for any additional management actions. From a more scientific point of view, we will also be able to establish whether Marion Island will return to a system similar to that which existed on the island prior to the introduction of mice, or whether it will take on a completely new successional trajectory.”
Camilla Smyth writes:
“I am incredibly excited to be going to Marion Island with the MFM Project and to be involved in the preparatory field work for the mouse eradication. I will be spending 13 months ashore collecting baseline vegetation and invertebrate data, which will ultimately be used to help determine the impacts of the mouse eradication on the island’s ecology. I will also be conducting bait trials, which will provide information on the period and extent of bait availability in different habitats and altitudinal zones on the island.
I completed a BSc in applied biology and genetics and an LLM (Masters of Law) in marine and environmental law, both at the University of Cape Town. My passion for the Antarctic/sub-Antarctic regions was sparked at the end of 2019 when I went on a takeover voyage to SANAE IV (South Africa’s research base in Antarctica) as a volunteer for the South African National Space Agency. The pristine beauty of the Antarctic region that I experienced during the expedition left me in awe and with a strong desire to return to overwinter at an Antarctic or a sub-Antarctic research base.
The planned mouse eradication for Marion Island is an incredibly worthwhile project, which, if successful, will contribute greatly to the conservation of seabirds, as well as to the restoration of the ecology of the island. This would have a hugely positive impact for both the island and the sub-Antarctic region as a whole. It’s very inspiring and encouraging that projects such as this are being undertaken, and I am much looking forward to contributing to the ecological restoration of Marion Island and learning more about the intricacies of island eradication projects.
Without access to any normal amenities such as shops, one needs to be well prepared, but one also needs to be adaptable and able to find creative solutions to unexpected circumstances. I’m looking forward to experiencing this very different kind of lifestyle, to living with a small team of scientists and base personnel and getting to know the M80 team members better. I have heard that the weather on Marion Island can be extremely cold and windy, but as I partly grew up in Canada my previous experience in a cold climate will help me adapt quickly.”
MFM News will report on the 2023 relief voyage and activities ashore once Anton, Elsa and Michelle have returned safely to Cape Town late next month. Until then, bon voyage!
Anton Wolfaardt, Mouse-Free Marion Project Manager, 18 April 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.