Kerguelen

Here is a brief presentation of Kerguelen so you can have an idea of the context in which I'll be working. It is one of the 5 French Southern and Antarctic Lands; the 4 others being Adélie Land, Crozet, Amsterdam and Saint-Paul. This archipelago is situated in the Southern Indian Ocean, in a triangle between South Africa, Antarctica and Australia. To be more precise, it is located about 1240 miles from Antarctica, 2100 miles from Reunion Island (a French Island near South Africa) and 2980 miles from Australia. We can only get there by boat, and espceially with the Marion Dufresne, the French research vessel I talked about in a previous article. The closest islands are Crozet in the West, Saint-Paul and Amsterdam in the North-East and the Australian Island of Heard et Mac Donald in the South-East. The main island of the archipelago is called la Grande Terre; to give you an idea it covers an area a bit bigger than the state of Delaware, which makes it the biggest French subantarctic territory. There are about 300 other islands and islets. The highest point of Kerguelen is Mount Ross, 6070 feet high. There is also the Cook glacier, on the western side of the main island. As far as weather is concerned, it is fairly cold, windy and oceanic. Weather can change really fast and temperatures barely drop below 32 degrees fahrenheit, but it's quite common to feel like it's way colder because of the wind and rain. Precipitations are often in the form of rain or snow and happen all year round. But I'll tell you more when I'm there! They are no permanent inhabitants on the island, just a scientific base in Port-aux-Français. The island was discovered in 1772 by the French navigator Yves Joseph de Kerguelen de Trémarec, who didn't even set foot on the island. He called this archipelago Desolation Island. James Cook "rediscovered" it, 4 years later. In 1893, Kerguelen officially became French and that same year, the Bossière Brothers, shipowner in Le Havre in France, obtained the right to manage the exploitation of the 3 French subantarctic islands for 50 years. They then had the absolute right to hunt for fur and elephant seals, to create fisheries and businesses and to build mines. They also wanted to breed mountain sheeps, like in the Falkland Islands, but gave up the idea after unsuccessful trials. Whalers also came and started living on the island in 1907 but the Port Jeanne d'Arc Station was deserted in 1922 after the quasi extinction of the big whales of the Kerguelen waters due to overexploitation. Another problematic on the island is the introduction of invasive species. Whether on purpose or not, men have brought with them different species of insects, plants and mammals. Among others, cats, reindeers, rabbits and rats still threaten local and sometimes endemic (which are only found in this location) species. Eradication campaigns and studies did take place and are still going on for some of them to solve this problem. Indeed, Kerguelen possesses a high biodiversity, just like Crozet, Saint-Paul and Amsterdam, that is to be protected. In 1950, the creation of the scientific base of Port-aux-Français allowed the setting up of long-term scientific studies. Ever since, people of different kinds of occupations come over-winter every year (scientists, cooks, doctors, mechanics, people from the army...). Thus, around 50 to 120 people live on site, in winter and in summer respectively. The only activity allowed on the base ever since it was created is scientific research. I also need to mention that since 2006, Kerguelen Islands are part of the French Southern Lands' Protected Area. The last thing I'd like to tell you about is tourism. A few tourists spend a lot of money every year to come on board the Marion Dufresne and set foot on the different islands and discover the local fauna and flora. This activity is very limited (something like 10-15 people a year) in order to protect the fragile ecosystem and limit the impact on local populations. So why not, if you manage to save enough money? I hope this article wasn't too boring but I thought it was important to talk about the place where I'll end up spending six months in in more details! 

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Kerguelen in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands

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Map of Kerguelen

Kerguelen French Antarctic and Southern Lands presentation geogpraphy history

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