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Prince Edward Islands

Prince Edward Islands
Map of Prince Edward Islands
Orthographic projection centred on the Prince Edward Islands
Location Indian Ocean
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] 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 1
    • Climate 1.1
  • Flora and fauna 2
  • History 3
  • Legal status 4
  • Amateur radio 5
  • Fiction 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
    • Notes 8.1
  • External links 9

Geography and geology

The island group is about 955 nmi (1,769 km; 1,099 mi) south-east of Port Elizabeth in mainland South Africa. 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 () 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).[3] 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.[4]


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 8.3 °C (46.9 °F) and in August (midwinter) it is 3.9 °C (39.0 °F).[5][6]

Climate data for Marion Island
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 23.8
Average high °C (°F) 10.6
Daily mean °C (°F) 7.2
Average low °C (°F) 4.8
Record low °C (°F) −1.4
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: NOAA [7]

Flora and fauna

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[8] and penguins.[9] The waters surrounding the islands are often frequented by several species of whale, especially orcas, which prey on penguins and seals.[10]

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.[11] 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 Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne.

The first recorded landing was either in 1799 by a group of French George Nares in 1873.

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. 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.[19]

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

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 Fairburn.[17] 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 2006 this is ward 55 of the City of Cape Town.

Amateur radio

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.[20]


Prince Edward Island features 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


  • LeMasurier, W. E.; Thomson, J. W. (eds.) (1990). Volcanoes of the Antarctic Plate and Southern Oceans.  
  • "Marion Island".  
  • "Prince Edward Island".  
  • Jenkins, Geoffrey (1979). Southtrap.  


  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.  
  3. ^ Peakbagger - Van Zinderen Bakker Peak, South Africa
  4. ^ "Marion Island".  
  5. ^ General Survey of Climatology, V12 (2001), Elsevier
  6. ^ GISS Climate data averages for 1978 to 2007, source - GHCN
  7. ^ "Marion Island Climate Normals 1961-1990".  
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Southern Indian Ocean Islands tundra". Terrestrial Ecoregions. World Wildlife Fund. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ 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.  
  13. ^ a b "Marion Island, South Indian Ocean". 29 June 2003. Archived from the original on 2012-07-29. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  14. ^ 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. 
  15. ^ James Cook
  16. ^ Mills, William J. (2003). Exploring Polar Frontiers: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 531.  
  17. ^ a b "Marion Island - History". Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  18. ^ Wreck of the troopship Richard Dart
  19. ^ "Google Maps". 1 January 1970. Retrieved 2012-10-09. 
  20. ^

External links

  • South African Research station on Marion Island - Official website
  • Facebook Pages - Marion Island team publications
  • Facebook Groups - Marion Island team discussions
  • Marion Island seal research - Official Marion Island Marine Mammal Programme website
  • Marion Island killer whale research - Marion Island's unique killer whales
  • No Pathway Here - An account of the annexation of the islands
  • Earth Observatory - Image of the Day 18 October 2009
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