The Prince Edward Islands in the southern Indian Ocean form the first sub-Antarctic Ramsar Site in the sub-Antarctic, designated by South Africa on 22 May 2007 as No. 1688. The larger of the two islands, Marion, supports a weather station with a team that is relieved annually. The smaller island, also named Prince Edward, is uninhabited and rarely visited, and then only under strict environmental conditions to avoid introducing new alien species.
From 14-19 April 2010 a party of six researchers visited Prince Edward Island to undertake research and surveys on birds, seals, invertebrates and historical sites from the sealing era.
As part of the bird work, a near-complete count was made of brooding Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans. The two Prince Edward Islands support approximately 44% of this globally threatened species, at risk from being drowned on longline fishing hooks. A single locality on Prince Edward Island, Albatross Valley, supports 1000 to 1200 annually breeding pairs (based on summer counts of incubating birds in the 2002 and 2009 seasons), representing 12-14% of the world annual breeding population of 8500 pairs. Nearly all these nests can be viewed from a single vantage spot: surely one of the most impressive avian spectacles in the world.
On 15 April 1286 occupied nests were counted in Albatross Valley, most containing either chicks on their own, or being brooded by adults. The scene looked idyllic and no different to what it must have looked before the island’s discovery at the end of the 18th century. But the presence of a section of a longline fishing hook next to an occupied nest elsewhere on the island showed that Prince Edward’s Wanderers remain at risk: as does the species worldwide.
A report by:
John Cooper, Stellenbosch University and Bruce Dyer, Azwianewi Makhado and Leshia Upfold, Marine & Coastal Management, South African Department of Environmental Affairs.