The Crozet Islands (French and very commonly in English: Îles Crozet) are an uninhabited Subantarctic archipelago that makes up one of the five districts of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands in the southern Indian Ocean. The only sign of human civilisation that exists is 1 Alfred Faure, a research station on Île de la Possession.
The volcanic archipelago is remote – the closest other islands are the Prince Edward Islands a little over 1,050 km (650 mi) to the west, Kerguelen around 1,400 km (870 mi) ESE and the Heard Island and McDonald Islands 1,800 km (1,100 mi) to the southeast, keeping in mind that these islands are mostly uninhabited.
The Crozet Islands consists of five volcanic islands and can be divided up into two groups: l'Occidental meaning Western Group and l'Oriental meaning Eastern Group. The Eastern Group consists of Île de la Possession and Île de l'Est, the two largest islands while the Western Group consists of the other smaller islands to the west.
|Île de la Possession (Possession Island)
The archipelago's largest island that's an IBA for its abundance of seabirds and contains the archipelago's only research station, Alfred Faure and sign of human civilisation where there are around 15–60 permanent staff. King, rockhopper and macaroni penguins frequent the island along with various petrel species.
|Île de l'Est (East Island)
Just a few kilometres east of Île de la Possession lies the archipelago's second largest island, also a haven for seabirds. While there are no research stations on this island, there are large penguin and albatross colonies. The island is also home to Mont Marion-Dufresne, the archipelago's highest point with an elevation of 1,090 metres (3,580 ft).
|Île aux Cochons (Pig Island)
The largest island of the Western Group and is the archipelago's westernmost island. It was the world's largest king penguin colony during the 1980s with over half a million breeding pairs, but today, only around 60,000 stand – why? Nobody knows.
|Île des Pingouins (Penguins Island)
As the island's name implies, there's an abundance of penguins on this tiny 3-square-kilometre (1.2 sq mi) island – in fact, there are over a million pairs of just macaroni penguins and when you add the seabirds, albatrosses and petrels in, it really does become a haven for Southern Ocean wildlife – but in France!
|Îlots aux Apôtres (Apostles Islets)
These minuscule islets are rocky for the most part and like the other islands in the archipelago, are filled with seabirds – the only "island" here is the 1.5-square-kilometre (0.58 sq mi) Grande Île. Unlike the other islands, there are few penguins on these islets but that didn't stop petrels, albatrosses and shags from calling these islets home.
The archipelago was discovered on 24 January 1772 by Marc-Joseph Marion du Fresne, who named them after his second-in-command Jules Crozet who claimed the archipelago for France whilst en route towards New Zealand. Unfortunately, much of the crew, including Captain Marion, were cannibalised by the Maori, but Crozet survived and led his survivors back to Mauritius. When Cook set sail for the archipelago, he decided in 1776 to name all of these islands after their two discoverers, Marion and Crozet Islands, but only the name of Crozet was kept. Later, the toponym Marion was used to refer to the western group and Crozet to the eastern – the western group now refers to the Prince Edward Islands administered by South Africa, while the eastern referred to the Crozet Islands.
Like many Subantarctic and Antarctic islands, the Crozet Islands were popular with sealers and had almost exterminated them by 1835; likewise, whalers had also nearly exploited the islands' whale population, which was completely legal – it would take almost a century for conservation efforts to grow. However, as the archipelago's seal and whale population had been near-exploited, the islands were seldom visited until the early 20th century.
France reasserted its sovereignty of the islands in 1923 and between 1924 and 1955, the archipelago was administered from Madagascar (back when it was a French colony) and almost a century after the archipelago's seal and whale population was near-exploited, the islands were declared a nature reserve in 1938. After 1955, the islands became a part of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands and the Alfred Faure research station was set up six years later and is the only human activity on the archipelago where they perform meteorological, biological and geological research.
Flora and fauna
The vegetation is tundra-like, but there is no permafrost. The rich wildlife was partially wiped out in the 19th century, but penguins (golden-crested penguins and king penguins) and seabirds have returned.
The archipelago's climate is generally cold as with many Subantarctic islands and is best visited during summer and fluctuates within the single digits year-round. Keep in mind that winter can get very windy – winds exceeding 100 km/h (62 mph) occur about 100 days of the year.
|Climate chart (explanation)
There is no air service, and only a small landing pier on the main island of Île de la Possession. This is visited four times a year by the support ship Marion Dufresne II, which has berths for 8–12 tourists, for around €9000 per person. The ship sails from Réunion (which has flights from Paris) and takes about 28 days, half of them crossing a wild rough ocean. Research and support personnel always have priority for berths and you could be bumped off the trip at short notice if some urgent situation arose. The itinerary is from Réunion to Crozet Islands then Kerguelen, Île Saint-Paul occasionally (strictly protected and a hazardous landing, so tourists are not permitted ashore there) then Île Amsterdam and back to Réunion.
Tourist berths were suspended because of Covid and in 2023 these have not yet resumed.
The only way to get around is by using the same boat you arrived in – the Marion Dufresne will likely have that organised for you.
See and do
- Wildlife: If you've come this far from pretty much everywhere, it's almost certain you've come here to see the archipelago's pristine wildlife. If you haven't already read the flora and fauna section, most of the islands are filled with penguin colonies and seals can be found on the larger islands.
- 1 Mont Marion-Dufresne. The 1,050-metre (3,440 ft) peak is the highest point in the archipelago, named after Marc Joseph Marion du Fresne.
Île de la Possession
- 2 Baie Américaine (American Bay or BUS). Found on the north of the island, this bay is named after the sealing vessel America, back during the times when sealing was the island's main draw. Today, the only remnants are the two cabins to the northwest of the Moby Dick River.
- 3 Chapelle Notre-Dame-des-Oiseaux, Base Alfred Faure (to the east of the post office). Perhaps the only site of interest at the Alfred Faure research station, this Roman Catholic chapel goes to show that Christianity has truly reached every corner of the globe. It was constructed in 1984, but it is not very large and is probably the size of the average council park maintenance building. The church also has a plaque placed in commemoration of the 13 disappeared sailors on Tamaris who tried to make it to Île de la Possession but never made it.
- 4 Perdu Lake (Lac Perdu). A crater lake on the foothills of the Pic du Mascarin. The lake may potentially be frozen at times, even though its elevation is only 477 metres (1,565 ft).
- 5 Pic du Mascarin. This volcano is the highest peak of Île de la Possession with an elevation of 934 metres (3,064 ft). Surrounding the volcano is the picturesque Vallée de l'Au-delà (L'Au-delà Valley); the valley was named as such because it was difficult to access then, but it's still difficult to access now.
Being an official French possession, the official currency is the euro but there is no economic activity on this archipelago. All supplies must be brought with you.
Eat and drink
As there is no economic activity on the archipelago, all food must be brought with you, but this should be handled by your tour operator – make sure to check with them before leaving. The little food available is usually for the staff working at the research station.
Accommodation should be handled by your tour operator – you'll likely be staying on the Marion Durfense as the few beds and pillows at Alfred Faure are for the researchers only.