SA Agulhas ll is steaming to Marion Island for her third logistic support and scientific voyage.
The Department of Environment Affairs (DEA) vessel left Cape Town last week carrying the Marion 72 expedition team. Included in the team are researchers from Environment Affairs as well as the SA Weather Service, the Department of Public Works and various universities.
Expedition team 72 will be the fourth to occupy the new base, commissioned in March 2011. They will be on the remote island for 14 months.
During the voyage, scientists from the DEA’s Oceans and Coasts Research unit as well as from South African universities will jointly continue to monitor oceanographic processes – both physical and chemical changes in planktic and benthic communities. Also to be monitored are population estimates and assessments of feeding and breeding behaviour of top predators in the Southern Ocean and at the Prince Edward Island group, where marine and terrestrial biological communities have shown responses to climate change.
Despite ongoing research and monitoring efforts, the Southern Ocean is still regarded as a comparatively data-poor area and it is important that South Africa as a party member to the Antarctic Treaty and CCAMLR, carries out its responsibility over its territory and surrounding high seas within the Southern Ocean.
Surveys need to be repeated to characterise changes in diversity and community structure of marine, benthic and terrestrial communities to assess changes possibly associated with the recent climatic shifts, including the presence of invasive species. These surveys also serve as a scientific reference point to monitor further changes and inform future management of the area, one of the objectives of the recently declared Prince Edward Islands Marine Protected Area (PEI MPA).