Prince Edward Islands

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This article is about the South African sub-antarctic islands. For the Canadian province, see Prince Edward Island.
Prince Edward Islands
PrEdwIsl Map.png
Map of Prince Edward Islands
Orthographic projection centered on the Prince Edward Island.png
Orthographic projection centred on the Prince Edward Islands
Location Indian Ocean
Coordinates 46°46′23″S 037°51′09″E / 46.77306°S 37.85250°E / -46.77306; 37.85250Coordinates: 46°46′23″S 037°51′09″E / 46.77306°S 37.85250°E / -46.77306; 37.85250
Area 335 km2 (129 sq mi)
Highest elevation 1,242 m (4,075 ft)
Highest point Mascarin Peak
Population 0 (Uninhabited – Permanent)
50 (Research Staff – Non-Permanent)

The Prince Edward Islands are two small islands in the sub-antarctic Indian Ocean that are part of South Africa. The islands are named Marion Island (named after Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne) and Prince Edward Island (named after Prince Edward, Duke of Kent and Strathearn).

The islands in the group have been declared Special Nature Reserves under the South African Environmental Management: Protected Areas Act, No. 57 of 2003, and activities on the islands are therefore restricted to research and conservation management.[1][2] Further protection was granted when the area was declared a "Marine Protected Area" in 2013.[3][4] The only human inhabitants of the islands are the staff of a meteorological and biological research station run by the South African National Antarctic Programme on Marion Island.

Geography and geology[edit]

The island group is about 955 nmi (1,769 km; 1,099 mi) south-east of Port Elizabeth in mainland South Africa. Marion Island (46°54′45″S 37°44′37″E / 46.91250°S 37.74361°E / -46.91250; 37.74361 (Marion Island)), the larger of the two, is 25.03 km (15.55 mi) long and 16.65 km (10.35 mi) wide with an area of 290 km2 (112 sq mi) and a coastline of some 72 km (45 mi), most of which is high cliffs. The highest point on Marion Island is Mascarin Peak (formerly State President Swart Peak), reaching 1,242 m (4,075 ft) above sea level. Boot Rock is about 150 metres (492 ft) off the northern coast.

Prince Edward Island

Prince Edward Island (46°38′39″S 37°56′36″E / 46.64417°S 37.94333°E / -46.64417; 37.94333 (Prince Edward Island)) is much smaller—only about 45 km2 (17 sq mi), 10.23 km (6.36 mi) long and 6.57 km (4.08 mi) wide—and lies some 12 nmi (22.2 km; 13.8 mi) to the north-east of Marion Island. At the van Zinderen Bakker Peak north-west of the center, it reaches a height of 672 metres (2,205 ft).[5] There are a few offshore rocks along the northern coast, like Ship Rock (100 m or 328 ft, north of northernmost point) and Ross Rocks (500 m or 1,640 ft, from the shore).

Marion Island

Both islands are of volcanic origin. Marion Island is one of the peaks of a large underwater shield volcano that rises some 5,000 metres (16,404 ft) from the sea floor to the top of Mascarin Peak. The volcano is active, with eruptions having occurred between 1980 and 2004.[6]


The islands have a tundra climate. They lie directly in the path of eastward-moving depressions all year round and this gives them an unusually cool and windy climate. Strong winds blow almost every day of the year and the prevailing wind direction is north-westerly. Annual rainfall averages from 2,400 mm (94.5 in) up to over 3,000 mm (118.1 in) on Mascarin Peak.

It rains on average about 320 days a year (about 28 days a month) and the islands are among the cloudiest places in the world; About 1300 hours a year of sunshine occurs on the sheltered eastern side of Marion Island but only around 800 away from the coast and on the wet western sides of Marion and Prince Edward Islands.

Summer and winter have fairly similar climates with cold winds and threat of snow or frost at any time of the year. However, the mean temperature in February (midsummer) is 7.7 °C (45.9 °F) and in August (midwinter) it is 3.9 °C (39.0 °F).[7][8]

Climate data for Marion Island (1961–1990, extremes 1949–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 25.6
Average high °C (°F) 10.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 7.2
Average low °C (°F) 4.8
Record low °C (°F) −1.5
Average precipitation mm (inches) 219
Average precipitation days (≥ 1.0 mm) 21 18 19 20 22 23 23 22 21 19 19 20 247
Average relative humidity (%) 83 84 84 84 85 86 85 84 83 82 82 83 84
Mean monthly sunshine hours 160.4 134.7 114.2 90.8 82.1 57.5 65.9 91.7 103.9 137.7 159.1 159.9 1,357.9
Source #1: NOAA[9]
Source #2: Meteo Climat (record highs and lows)[10]

Flora and fauna[edit]

The islands are part of the Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra ecoregion that includes several subantarctic islands. In this cold climate, plants are mainly limited to grasses and mosses, while lichens are the most visible fungi. The main indigenous animals are insects along with large populations of seabirds, seals[11] and penguins.[12] The waters surrounding the islands are often frequented by several species of whale, especially orcas, which prey on penguins and seals.[13] Large whales such as southern rights and southern humpbacks, and other Antarctic seals such as leopard seals are seen more sporadic but their actual presences within the islands have been rather unclear due to biased timing and focused objectives of conducted surveys, aside from declining of each species.[14] For example, mass illegal whaling had been operated until in 1970s or even later by Soviet Union and Japan.[15]

The wildlife is particularly vulnerable to introduced species and one particular problem has been cats. In 1949, five domestic cats were brought to Marion Island to deal with a mouse problem in the station. The cats multiplied quickly, and by 1977 there were approximately 3,400 cats on the island, feeding on burrowing petrels instead of mice, threatening to drive the birds to extinction on the island. Some species of petrels became extinct on Marion Island, and a "cat eradication program" was established. A few cats were intentionally infected with the highly specific feline panleukopenia virus, which reduced the cat population to about 600 by 1982.[16] The remaining cats were killed by nocturnal shooting, and in 1991 only eight cats were trapped in a 12-month period. It is believed that no cats remain on Marion Island today.


Prince Edward, after whom the islands are named

The islands were discovered on 4 March 1663 by Barent Barentszoon Lam of the Dutch ship Maerseveen and were named Dina (Prince Edward) and Maerseveen (Marion).[17][18] In January 1772, Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne visited the islands[19] and spent five days trying to land, thinking he had found Antarctica (then not yet proven to exist). He named the islands Terre de l'Espérance (Marion) and Ile de la Caverne (Pr. Edward).[18] In 1776, his expedition, now headed by his second-in-command, Jules Crozet, after the death of du Fresne, met James Cook in Cape Town. Cook subsequently set sail for the islands, but was unable to attempt a landing because of bad weather. Cook named[19][20] the smaller island after Prince Edward, the fourth son of King George III, and to the larger gave the name of Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne.[citation needed]

The first recorded landing was either in 1799 by a group of French seal hunters of the Sally,[21] or else in late 1803 by a group of seal hunters led by American captain Henry Fanning of the Catharine.[22] These sealers, however, found signs of earlier human occupation, probably other sealers.[citation needed] James Clark Ross also visited the islands in 1840 but was also unable to land. In June 1849 the brig Richard Dart, with a troop of Royal Engineers under Lt. James Liddell, was wrecked on the island; only 10 of the 63 on board survived to be rescued by elephant seal hunters from Cape Town.[23] Finally, the islands were surveyed by Captain George Nares in 1873.[24]

In 1908, the British government, assuming ownership of the islands, granted William Newton the rights to exploit guano deposits for the next twenty-one years. Also in 1908, shipwrecked hunters established a village at the north coast, called Fairbairn Settlement.[citation needed] A ten-year grant for seal exploitation was issued by the British to a sealing company in 1926.

Logo of Marion Island

In late 1947 and early 1948, South Africa, with Britain's agreement, annexed the islands and installed the meteorological station on Transvaal Cove on the north-east coast of Marion Island. The research station was soon enlarged and today researches the biology of the islands, in particular the birds (penguins, petrels, albatrosses, gulls) and seals. Today, the research station is called RSA Marion Station.[25]

On 22 September 1979, the Vela Incident occurred. One of the US Vela satellites used to monitor compliance with the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty recorded an event near the Prince Edward Islands that had the characteristic "double flash" signature of a small nuclear test. However it was never proven conclusively if this was a nuclear test or not, so the event remains controversial.

Legal status[edit]

Marion Island and Prince Edward Island were claimed for South Africa on 29 December 1947 and 4 January 1948 respectively, by a South African Navy force from HMSAS Transvaal under the command of John Fairbairn.[22] On 1 October 1948 the annexation was made official when Governor-General Gideon Brand van Zyl signed the Prince Edward Islands Act, 1948. In terms of the Act, the islands fall under the jurisdiction of the Cape Town Magistrate's Court, and South African law as applied in the Western Cape applies on them. The islands are also deemed to be situated within the electoral district containing the Port of Cape Town; as of 2016 this is ward 115 of the City of Cape Town.


A new research base was built from 2001 to 2011 on Marion Island to replace older buildings on the site.[26] The access to the station is either by boat or helicopter.[27] A helipad and storage hangar is located behind the main base structure.[26]

Amateur radio[edit]

As of 2014, Marion Island, prefix ZS8, was the third most wanted DXCC "entity" by the amateur radio community. By the end of 2014, it had dropped to 27th, after simultaneous activity by three licencees in the 2013/2014 team. However, their activity was mainly on voice. On Morse telegraphy, the Islands remain the second most wanted entity after North Korea, while on Data they are sixth out of 340.[28]


Prince Edward Island is featured as the setting for the climax of the maritime adventure story South Trap (AKA Southtrap) by Geoffrey Jenkins.

The Prince Edward Islands and particularly Marion Island feature prominently in the 1929 novel Mary of Marion Isle by H. Rider Haggard.

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ Cooper, John (June 2006). "ANTARCTICA AND ISLANDS – Background Research Paper produced for the South Africa Environment Outlook report on behalf of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism" (PDF). p. 6. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  2. ^ 1993 United Nations list of national parks and protected areas. World Conservation Monitoring Centre, International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Commission on Natural Parks and Protected Areas, United Nations Environment Programme. 1993. p. 173. ISBN 2-8317-0190-2. 
  3. ^ "Prince Edward Islands declared a Marine Protected Area". Department of Environmental Affairs, Republic of South Africa. 9 April 2013. Archived from the original on 12 July 2016. 
  4. ^ "Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area: A global treasure setting new conservation benchmarks" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 12 July 2016. 
  5. ^ Peakbagger – Van Zinderen Bakker Peak, South Africa
  6. ^ "Marion Island". Global Volcanism Program. Retrieved 2015-04-30. 
  7. ^ General Survey of Climatology, V12 (2001), Elsevier
  8. ^ GISS Climate data averages for 1978 to 2007, source – GHCN
  9. ^ "Marion Island Climate Normals 1961–1990". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved 15 December 2012. 
  10. ^ "Station Ile Marion" (in French). Meteo Climat. Retrieved 11 June 2016. 
  11. ^ "Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme". Retrieved 2016-04-28. 
  12. ^ "Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund. 
  13. ^ "Marion Island Killer Whales". Retrieved 2016-04-28. 
  14. ^ M. Postma, M. Wege, M.N. Bester, D.S. van der Merwe (2011). "Inshore Occurrence of Southern Right Whales (Eubalaena australis) at Subantarctic Marion Island". doi:10.3377/004.046.0112. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  15. ^ Berzin A.; Ivashchenko V.Y.; Clapham J.P.; Brownell L. R.Jr. (2008). "The Truth About Soviet Whaling: A Memoir" (PDF). DigitalCommons@University of Nebraska – Lincoln. Retrieved 2016-03-09. 
  16. ^ K Berthier; M Langlais; P Auger; D Pontier (22 October 2000). "Dynamics of a feline virus with two transmission modes within exponentially growing host populations". BioInfoBank Library. 
  17. ^ Pieter Arend Leupe: De eilanden Dina en Maerseveen in den Zuider Atlantischen Oceaan; in: Verhandelingen en berigten betrekkelijk het zeewezen, de zeevaartkunde, de hydrographie, de koloniën en de daarmede in verband staande wetenschappen, Jg. 1868, Deel 28, Afd. 2, [No.] 9; Amsterdam 1868 (pp. 242–253); cf. Rubin, Jeff (2008). Antarctica. Lonely Planet. p. 233. ISBN 978-1-74104-549-9. 
  18. ^ a b "Marion Island, South Indian Ocean". 29 June 2003. Archived from the original on 2012-07-29. Retrieved 2012-10-09. [dead link]
  19. ^ a b Keller, Conrad (1901). "XXII – The Prince Edward Isles". Madagascar, Mauritius and the other East-African islands. S. Sonnenschein & Co. pp. 224–225. Retrieved 5 October 2010. 
  20. ^ James Cook
  21. ^ Mills, William J. (2003). Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 531. ISBN 1576074226. Retrieved 2014-04-04. 
  22. ^ a b "Marion Island – History". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  23. ^ Wreck of the troopship Richard Dart
  24. ^ Cooper, John (2008). "Human history". In Chown, Steven L.; Froneman, Pierre William. The Prince Edward Islands: Land-sea Interactions in a Changing Ecosystem. Stellenbosch, South Africa: Sun Press. pp. 331–350, page 336. ISBN 978-1-920109-85-1. 
  25. ^ "Google Maps". 1 January 1970. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  26. ^ a b Yeld, John (18 March 2011). "New Marion Island base opens". The Cape Argus (Independent Newspapers). Archived from the original on 18 April 2016. 
  27. ^ "New Base Puts Sa On Top Of The Weather". South African Garden Route. 21 March 2011. Archived from the original on 25 November 2015. 
  28. ^ "Club Log: DXCC Most-Wanted List for April 2016". 2016-04-23. Retrieved 2016-04-28. 


External links[edit]