It was the autumn of 2017 and the SA Agulhas II is getting ready to set sail across the Southern Indian Ocean to one of her favorite stops – Prince Edward Island group. She will drop her “terrestrial” researchers off at Marion and then set off again with the marine scientists to investigate the Islands and their surrounding waters until mid-May.

A view of the Marion Island Research Base from the helicopter on approach.

Even though this is an annual voyage for the SAAII, the research is continuously developing and advancing. Ongoing research programs such as the Mammal Research Institute’s seal surveys have been running for more than 30 years – one of the longest ongoing surveys of its kind, globally! Other research questions have only emerged recently, with new discoveries in plant genetics and species distribution – where were the glaciers during the last glacial maximum?

Liezel Rudolph
Liezel Rudolph standing on a contact zone between Holocene black lavas and red scoria cones.

A range of universities and institutions are involved in terrestrial and oceanographic research around this pristine environment. The geomorphologists on board from UFH, UNISA and UFS, investigated water quality, wind processes and glacial landforms for signatures of climatic influences on the current landscape. Botanists from UP, RU and SU investigate the response of vegetation to changes in climatic factors and island conditions. They went so far as to vacuum some plant cushions this year to see what the wind transport and where it all ends up.

The Geos
The ‘Geo team’ (l-r): Sbu Sinuka, Werner Nel, David Hedding, Liezel Rudolph, Camilla Kotze.

There is a team of meteorologists who constantly look up into the sky for signs of nasty weather. They warms the rest of us when to rather stay indoors. And the sky is not the limit on Marion! Research programs from SANSA and SKA look beyond the big blue for signals from our sun and beyond to tell us more about the workings of our own galaxy.

This year’s expedition also included a photographic team from USA’s National Geographic Society, doing a story on the life of sea birds. Follow @thomaspeschak and @ottowhitehead on Instagram for their latest release!

SA Agulhas II
The SA Agulhas II in the distance beyond the kelp forest, and Crozet Shags in the foreground on black lava cliffs.

The facilities are maintained by the South African Department of Public Works. Every year during the take-over period, this team works around the clock to ensure the diesel generators are serviced, leaks are fixed and the base remains stable and insulated for the over wintering team who will stay behind once the SAAII returns to Cape Town.

SA Agulhas II
Admiring the SA Agulhas II anchored off Marion Island.

The overwintering team await in anticipation for the return of the mother ship in April 2018, carrying another team of eager take-over personnel who will scrutinise the island for more scientific answers, or more questions.


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