Marion Islanders are back

2014-05-06 19:01
Lulama Zenzile

Lulama Zenzile

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Cape Town - The Marion Island research team received a warm welcome at the Cape Town harbour on Tuesday after returning from a 14-month stay.

Friends, family and members of the public cheered and held up banners as the team of 20 made their way down the gangplank of the SA Agulhas II.

The team gathered in a circle under clear skies and sang the national anthem before catching up with relatives.

Many said they were glad to escape the icy temperatures of the island and to have fresh fruit and junk food.

Tegan Carpenter-King, 23, a birder, said she feasted on fresh apples and chicken when the ship came to pick them up.

"Everything on the island is frozen meat or canned. We had chicken on the boat because you can't have chicken on the island. The bones carry diseases," she said.

On the island, Carpenter-King collected data on four species of penguins, which she also used for her Masters zoology project.

"We do a lot of counting because it's not invasive or doesn't disturb them. We also collect diet samples every few months to see what they eat and see if it changes over the years. We also put a lot of trackers on the birds to see where they go and where they forage."

Data was also collected on elephant and fur seals.

Hendrik Louw, 26, said he walked to all the beaches on the island to mark and recapture seals.

Tough conditions

"The sealers especially walk very long distances... in wind, snow, ice pellets, and over mountains. We walk roughly 3 000km in a year."

He said he had really missed driving after such tough walking conditions.

The team worked every day except for Christmas, when they decorated tables and cooked a meal together.

Louw said he was chosen to dress up as Father Christmas because his beard was the longest.

"I think it's sort of a tradition on the island where you just let go and you don't shave. Mostly us, the younger guys, we just let it grow and see what happens."

The base is equipped with a kitchen, gym, dining hall, movie theatre, and even a glassed-in braai room.

Researchers used the internet and telephone to keep in touch with people back home.

Logistics officer Sazi Gugushe, of the public works department, spent 35 days on the island to do maintenance and electrical work.

"We wanted to make sure the base can be in a good shape for the team members who are going to be left there," he said.

Gugushe said the most difficult parts about being away were the icy temperatures and missing his family.

"The job has to be done, even if it's cold and snowing. We cannot say because it's cold we're going to sit and wait."

His wife and four young children eagerly awaited his arrival.

Medical emergencies

Medic Irma du Plessis, 36, said the research team felt like family and celebrated special milestones together.

"We make it interesting on the islands and have theme parties instead of just the old plain birthday party," she said.

"We had pirates and Hawaiians on a very cold island which is really funny. There were swimming costumes over warm clothing. I'm not sure all the photos will see the light of day."

Du Plessis was in charge of medical treatment but said she didn't have much to do in the 14 months because her team had been so responsible.

In the past, sealers had been bitten and needed to be stitched up. People had fallen off rocks and fractured various bones. Some even needed to be evacuated from the island half-way into their term.

A new research team was deployed to the island in a month-long handover period before the SA Agulhas II departed for South Africa.

Read more on:    environment

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