The R.S. Africana sails today from Cape Town for the sub-Antarctic with a multi-disciplinary team aboard to survey the birds, seals, invertebrates and alien plants of uninhabited and rarely-visited Prince Edward Island over a planned eight-day period spent camping ashore. At the same time a second team will undertake counts of surface-nesting seabirds on nearby Marion Island, working from the weather station and from the eight coastal field huts. The expedition is due back in Cape Town by year-end.
This will be only the second summer survey of Prince Edward Island’s seabirds, following the first conducted in December 2001 (Ryan et al. 2003). Counts will be made to compare with those made seven years previously.
The ACAP-listed species to be counted on both islands are Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans, Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma, Indian Yellow-nosed Albatross T. carteri (breeds on Prince Edward but not on Marion), Sooty Albatross Phoebetria fusca, Light-mantled Albatross P. palpebrata, Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli and Southern Giant Petrel M. giganteus.
In addition nocturnal observations on burrowing petrels on both islands will gain information on the current status of two further ACAP species: White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis and Grey Petrel P. cinerea.
The counts of breeding albatrosses and giant petrels will allow an assessment of trends in their populations over the last near-decade to be made; information that will be fed to ACAP via its Advisory Committee’s Status and Trends Working Group.
As well as conducting the censuses, it is intended to attach satellite trackers (PTTs) to Grey-headed, Indian Yellow-nosed, Sooty and Light-mantled Albatrosses and to females of both species of giant petrels, to investigate their at-sea distributions while breeding.
The expedition is being led by Dr Robert Crawford of South Africa’s Marine and Coastal Management, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism. A link to ACAP is the presence on the expedition of ACAP’s honorary Information Officer, John Cooper.
Ryan, P.G., Cooper, J., Dyer, B.M., Underhill, L.G., Crawford, R.J.M. & Bester, M.N. 2003. Counts of surface-nesting seabirds breeding at Prince Edward Island, summer 2001/02. African Journal of Marine Science 25: 441-451. (see http://www.ajol.info/viewarticle.php?jid=230&id=20693&layout=abstract).
John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 10 December 2008