The Prince Edwards Islands are two small islands in the sub-antarctic Indian Ocean that are politically part of South Africa. The two islands are named Marion Island and Prince Edward Island.
Marion Island, the larger of the two islands, lies at latitude 46░54' S and longitude 37░5' E. It is roughly 19 km long and 12 km wide with a surface of 290 km▓ and a coastline of some 72 km, most of which are high cliffs. The highest point on Marion Island is State President Swart Peak, reaching 1230 m above sea level.
Prince Edward Island is much smaller (only about 45 km▓) and lies some 12 nm (19 km) to the northeaest.
The island group is about 955 nm (1770 km) south-east of Port Elizabeth in mainland South Africa.
Both islands are of volcanic origin. Marion Island is one of the peaks of a large underwater shield volcano that rises some 5000 m from the sea floor to the top of State President Swart Peak. The volcano was thought to be extinct, but broke out again in 1980 and is since classed as "active".
The islands were discovered by accident in 1663 by the Dutch ship Maerseveen. In 1772, Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne visited the islands and spent five days trying to land, thinking he'd found the then only conjectured Antarctica. In 1776, his expedition, after the death of du Fresne now headed by his second-in-command, Jules Crozet, met James Cook in Cape Town. Cook subsequently also set sail for the islands, but was unable to attempt a landing due to bad weather conditions.
The first recorded landing dates to 1803 and was made by a group of seal hunters, who did, however, find signs of earlier inhabitation, probably other sealers.
James Clark Ross also visited the islands in 1840, but was unable to land, too. Finally, the island were surveyed by one Captain Nares in 1873.
The British government granted in 1908 one William Newton the rights to exploit guano deposits for the next 21 years, and a 10-year-grant for seal exploitation to a sealing company in 1926.
In late 1947 and early 1948, South Africa annexed the islands and installed a meteorological station on Marion Island. The research station was soon enlarged and today researches the biology of the islands, in particular the birds (penguins, petrels, albatross, gulls) and seals.
In 1949 five domestic cats were brought onto Marion Island to deal with a mice problem in the station. However, the cats multiplied quickly, and by 1977 there were about 3400 cats living on the island, feeding on the burrowing petrels instead of the mice, threatening to drive the birds to extinction on the island. Some species of petrels even did become extinxt on Marion island, and thus a "cat eradication program" was set up: a few cats were infected with a highly specific disease called feline panleucopenia, which reduced the number of cats to about 600 by 1982. The remaining cats were killed by night-time hunting, and in 1991, only eight cats could be trapped in a 12-month period. It is believed that there are no cats left anymore on Marion Island today.
- Official homepage of the research station (http://marion.sanap.org.za/)
- Marion Island (http://www.btinternet.com/~sa_sa/marion_island/marion_island.html)