'Special breed' of SA researchers monitor climate change on sub-Antarctic islands

Cape Town - Over 2 000km from the sunny shores of South Africa, local researchers are patiently recording and bearing witness to what are suspected to be the effects of climate change.

South African teams are deployed to Gough Island and Marion Island for more than a year at a time. These two sub-Antarctic islands, south-west and south-east of Africa, are cold, wet and remote.

They house a number of protected seabirds and mammals, as well as bases for weather and research data collection.

Environmental Affairs Deputy DG of oceans and coasts, Dr Monde Mayekiso, said it took a special breed of person to live there.

"I really commend people who go there and stay for 14 months. They are curious and adventurous," he told News24 after the latest expedition team returned to Cape Town from Gough Island on Thursday morning.

They had collected a number of insights over the years.

At Marion Island, there appeared to be a change in the water temperature and the way animals conducted themselves.

"Seabirds at Marion are foraging further and further than before," he said, with a furrow in his brow.

"Their body condition is not as good as it was in the past and even their reproductive success has gone down."

They were beginning to see the impact of what they thought might be the impacts of environmental change.

Mayekiso noted that they had to monitor these environments for many years to pick up trends.

On Thursday morning, the SA Agulhas II brought home the 61st expedition team to spend time in isolation on Gough. 

They were congratulated for their contributions.

'It’s an amazing experience'

A relief voyage, carrying food, supplies and people, takes five days to travel the 2 700km journey from Cape Town.

The relief team spent six weeks on the island. Part of their job was to maintain the base. 

Sazi Gugushe, from public works, was part of this team and was responsible for logistics. 

His wife Charlotte, also in the public works department, waited patiently for him to disembark.

"He’s been doing these trips for more than eight years," she said, as their young children milled around her legs.

"It’s an amazing experience. I normally tell the kids he is going to do maintenance. They watch him and know how to fix things in the house."

Lilitha, 8, Sazi Junior, 5, and Akeelah, 3, buzzed about impatiently and fiddled with their warm jackets.

Charlotte smiled at them and said: "We missed him so much."

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