South Georgia Newsletter, April 2008

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Tsunami Shelters Erected on 'High Risk' South Georgia

Because South Georgia is regarded as a high risk area for tsunami events, two tsunami shelters have been erected as part of the works on the Gull Lake dam.


The need for the tsunami shelters was highlighted by an informal geological opinion that the risk of a massive tsunami event arising from geological events in the neighbouring South Sandwich Islands was high. Almost all the other structures on South Georgia are at sea level.


Professor John Smellie, a Senior Geologist working for the British Antarctic Survey(BAS), explained the risk as follows: “The entire Scotia Sea region is tectonically active, with steep & potentially unstable landmasses; known fault lines cutting across South Georgia and the South Orkney Islands; and numerous active volcanoes in the South Sandwich Islands. Earthquakes are common and occur on a range of intensities. Collapses of the flanks of the South Sandwich Islands and the slopes of mountains on South Georgia will occur at some time, as will submarine earthquakes caused by the collision of tectonic plates at the South Sandwich Trench and along the North and South Scotia Ridges.


Because tsunami will be generated on many occasions, the region can be regarded as at 'high risk'. Such events are inevitable but predicting when they will occur is unknown. It may be tomorrow or centuries may elapse before the next event of significance. They are expected events however, and in the absence of a sophisticated tsunami warning system, the simplest mitigation is to construct shelters well above present sea level.”


The two Tsunami Shelters are containers sited at about 35 metres above sea level on the lakeward side of the hill that rises to Gull Lake. They have been lined, insulated and clad and will be equipped with emergency stores. They will also be used to store maintenance equipment for the dam.



Fishing and Shipping News

Harbour launch heads out to the ships in Cumberland Bay. Photo Steve Artis.
Harbour launch heads out to the ships in Cumberland Bay. Photo Steve Artis.

Two longline vessels were inspected and licensed to fish for Toothfish in the South Sandwich Islands earlier this month. Inspection and licensing was carried out in Cumberland Bay, before the ships sailed on to area 48.4, to the north of the South Sandwich Islands, to fish. A Total Allowable Catch (TAC) of 100 tonnes had been set for the area. One of the longliners caught its TAC before the end of the month, the other completed a set of research fishing lines off Visokoi Island and continues to fish in the area.







The main South Georgia Toothfish season begins on May 1st. Ten longline and one pot licence have been allocated for this season with a TAC of 3920 tonnes for the South Georgia Fishery Zone (SGFZ). By the end of the month several longliners had arrived in Cumberland Bay for inspection and licensing and headed out to the fishing grounds ready for the start of the season.


Longliner “San Aspiring” coming alongside the KEP jetty for inspection and licensing. The Government Officer and Base Commander in the foreground. Photo Steve Artis.
Longliner “San Aspiring” coming alongside the KEP jetty for inspection and licensing. The Government Officer and Base Commander in the foreground. Photo Steve Artis.
Government Officer Emma Jones inspecting a longliner. Photo Anjali Pande
Government Officer Emma Jones inspecting a longliner. Photo Anjali Pande




















Each longliner has been allocated two research transects to fish in shallower waters off the Island's coast. These will be used to explore the shore-ward extent of coral communities, their composition and biodiversity. The aim is to find out whether corals and other benthos, which may be affected by fishing in waters deeper than 500m, also exist in similar amounts and diversity in the shallower waters which are not fished. Each vessel will set three longlines approximately along the 200m, 400m and 600m seabed contour. When the research longlines are recovered the on-board Observers will record the exact position of all coral and other benthos found and take samples for identification and biodiversity analysis.


Several of the longliners have special equipment aboard and may trial the new 'umbrella' fishing system in the SGFZ. This has proved very successful in other fisheries to reduce predation on the longlines by whales and seals. For the 'umbrella system' the hooks are set in bundles on the longline with a buoyant net sleeve on a secondary vertical line above. As the line is hauled the sleeve slides down the line to cover the hooks and fish.


An employee of 'Moody Marine', the company that assesses and certifies the South Georgia Fisheries for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), arrived at the end of April on a site visit. As well as monitoring the Toothfish 'Chain of Custody' and reassessing the fishery management, he will be assessing the Icefish Fishery for possible MSC certification on behalf of 'Seaview Ltd'.


Two trawlers arrived for inspection and licensing to fish for Icefish in the SGFZ.


Government Officer Emma Jones inspecting a vessel's hold. Photo Anjali Pande.
Government Officer Emma Jones inspecting a vessel's hold. Photo Anjali Pande.


Fishing Master Len Featherstone, four scientists from MRAG (Marine Resources Assessment Group) and one scientist from BAS joined the ship in the Falklands. A further two scientists from King Edward Point (KEP) joined the ship when she reached South Georgia. They will be attempting to complete 70 research trawls during the 10-day Icefish Survey.


The trawler “Sil” has been chartered by GSGSSI to conduct research fishing for Icefish. Photo Anjali Pande
The trawler “Sil” has been chartered by GSGSSI to conduct research fishing for Icefish. Photo Anjali Pande


The USA research ship “Nathaniel B Palmer” entered the SG Zone on April 26th and will stay in the area conducting research science until May 5th.


As part of a comparative study of methods for the KEP science team, plankton trawls were once again conducted from FPV “Pharos SG” .


The plankton trawl is deployed and recovered for scientific fishing purposes on a rough day at sea (Flash required for video.].


The yacht “Pelagic”, which spent two months supporting the boardwalk building team at Prion Island, spent a week alongside at Grytviken preparing for the three-week long journey up South Africa. The boat, with a crew of three, sailed for Cape Town on April 11th.


Historic yacht “Wanderer III” left the Falklands en route to winter on South Georgia with a crew of two aboard. Their departure had been delayed whilst they waited for equipment and stores to arrive. They returned to the Falklands two days later after an encounter with a large pod of whales had added to their concerns about their late departure and the onset of winter conditions. They plan to try again in spring.



New GSGSSI Website

You are now looking at the new GSGSSI website. www.sgisland.gs was launched this month. The website has been redesigned, refocused, recoded and relocated.


  • Redesigned: The new website has a fresh new look with easier navigation and stronger design, typography and consistency across pages.



  • Recoded: Website pages are now served up using a modern Content Management System with a database backend. This makes for far superior website management and for easier updating.


  • Relocated: The website has a new URL: www.sgisland.gs. The address suffix .gs is the South Georgia top-level-domain and is far more appropriate location for this website. The old .org address redirects to this new location.


New features on the website include: a second webcam; integrated search; realtime South Georgia weather and tide data; webcam archiving; and a new searchable photographic database system.



'Webcam 2': New Views a Hit with Viewers

'Webcam 2' is mounted high up on the right of the mast. Photo Steve Artis
'Webcam 2' is mounted high up on the right of the mast. Photo Steve Artis

In less than a month since its public launch the second webcam at South Georgia has already had 10,000 hits.


The first South Georgia webcam is a huge success and people all over the world regularly visit www.sgisland.gs to see the latest view from the camera. At times though it has been frustrating that the view from this camera is largely fixed on one, admittedly fabulous, view.


There is so much going on in the area around King Edward Point that we wanted to be able to show you more, and so 'Webcam 2' was conceived.










'Webcam 2' is virtually the same Panasonic model as 'Webcam 1' but is situated outdoors at the top of a mast. To protect it from the environment it is contained inside what looks like an upside down goldfish bowl with heating elements inside to keep it cosy. The picture quality is much clearer than from 'Webcam 1' inside Larsen House, and both cameras send an image to the this website every 3 minutes. The view from 'Webcam 2' will be changing. It is controlled locally from KEP, rotates almost 360 degrees horizontally and can be focussed in on anything of interest. It is ideally situated to catch all the action of the Elephant Seal colony at KEP, and to see ships and boats in KE Cove and Cumberland Bay. Often though it will be pointing across the Cove providing a wonderful view of Grytviken with Mt.Hodges behind.




Summer Building Works Review

It was another very busy season for the Morrison FI Ltd team this summer. The team of up to 15 men worked over a four-month period from mid November. The main project was the installation of a new hydroelectric power station (to be completed next summer), but many other works were achieved. For the hydroelectric project, much of the early work concentrated on the Gull Lake dam. The old concrete facing was stripped back, and the steelwork, control gates and concrete were upgraded and renovated. The dam was also raised 30cm to increase the water capacity of the lake.


Earthworks were needed to give access for the works and the area was landscaped to help it blend in and to minimise possible erosion.


The works on the dam in December 07.
The works on the dam in December 07.


A new turbine building was built on the site of the old 'Asdic Workshop' at Grytviken, and all the equipment has been put in ready for installation next season.


The new water supply pipe from the dam to the turbine building was fitted.


At KEP, a section of the wall behind the generator bays was taken out and one generator removed to allow a huge transformer to be fitted. The first section of the cable that will link this to the turbine a kilometre away, was laid.


A new electrical water heater was also installed at KEP ready for connection next season. This will supply enough hot water and heating for all the KEP buildings.


Works were also carried out to replace damaged gabion baskets forming a section of the KEP jetty. New 'leading marks' with solar powered lights were installed to aid vessels navigating into the Cove. Some repairs were made, and painting done, to the Church, Drukken Villa and Museum at Grytviken. Many containers were sent off the Island and the building team kit reduced in preparation for leaving the Island at the completion of the hydroelectric project next season.


Filling new gabion baskets at KEP jetty.
Filling new gabion baskets at KEP jetty.



Study of the Genetics of South Georgia Reindeer Completed

Following six years of research at Durham University, Fiona Lovatt (nee Hatchell) has finally completed her PhD with a thesis entitled ‘A study of the impact of population bottlenecks on the genetics and morphology of Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus tarandus) on the island of South Georgia’.


Fiona was inspired to her research after visiting the Island in 1999 as part of a BSES Expedition. Her early investigations showed the two separate populations of Reindeer on South Georgia were probably introduced from the same herd in Norway. Because there were such a small number of animals imported to South Georgia to found the herds, this provided a unique opportunity to investigate the effects of a 'population bottleneck' (causing inbreeding and lack of genetic diversity) in large mammals.


The genetics and the physical appearance of the deer in the two South Georgia herds and the source Norwegian herd were studied to establish that the three populations are now genetically unique. The study also suggests both the South Georgia Reindeer herds show the early stages of being less developmentally stable than the animals in the source Norwegian herd.


Most of the research into population bottlenecks has been done in laboratories on fast breeding species such as Fruit Flies and there are very few examples of isolated wild populations of large mammals with accurate historical records. This means the South Georgia Reindeer provide an opportunity for more useful and original research.


Fiona now plans to write up a couple of papers based on her thesis. The source for this article was an article entitled “Genetics of South Georgia Reindeer” in the April 2008 edition of the South Georgia Association Newsletter. It can be seen in full here.


Taking skull measurements. Photo Fiona Lovatt.
Taking skull measurements. Photo Fiona Lovatt.
Photo Patrick Lurcock.
Photo Patrick Lurcock.



















Hundreds of Whales Feed on a Krill Megaswarm

A mass whale feeding event was witnessed during the current Icefish Survey. One of the scientists on the Survey, Jamie Watts, described the scene as hundreds of whales fed near Shag Rocks, to the north-east of South Georgia:


“I’ve just seen something amazing, something that I don’t think can be seen on this scale anywhere else on earth. I’ve just been watching literally hundreds of whales feeding on a Krill megaswarm. This may be the largest spectacle of animal life on earth....Shag Rocks look like black sharks teeth, sticking two hundred feet up out of the ocean in the middle of nowhere, 120 miles from South Georgia. The sea to the north and south is deep and cold, and Shag Rocks sit on a hyper-productive ridge running across to the Island. Krill trawlers get some of their best catches here. Whalers used to find huge numbers of their larger quarry here – before they very nearly wiped them out. We had some hopeful news a couple of years ago – a gathering of perhaps fifty whales of several species, including Blue Whales, was seen by a cruise boat. It had been perhaps the greatest aggregation seen here in fifty years.


We knew this is was good Krill year. We'd seen perhaps fifty whales from a distance a couple of days earlier in this area – more than we’d ever seen before in one place..... “The whales are back” said Martin – they’d started seeing them at about the time we hit the big Krill swarm. We started scanning with binoculars. The grey, slightly unsettled sea and grey sky made for terrible whale-watching conditions. As it turned out it didn’t matter. Gangs of Fur Seals, hundreds of them, porpoised and zigzagged in every direction. Even more frantically energetic than normal. Watching the whale blows around us we slowly became aware of the scale of what we were looking at. Ten to fifteen would blow simultaneously in one small patch of sea, then another tight group of ten in another direction, then again, in yet another direction. They were all around us, some fifty metres away, some a mile or so, yet more right off at the horizon. Looking down over the bow you could see even near the surface there were purplish patches of Krill. This shallow Krill was just patches, though, the echo sounder showed that the real mass was in a dense layer between 100 and 200 metres deep. This thick, fizzing slab of life was what the whales were feeding on.


The whales were not little ones, either. Most were Fin Whales, perhaps sixty to ninety tons each, the second largest whale of all, and they made the Humpbacks look almost small. A couple of Humpbacks were slamming the water with their huge pectoral fins. Close in we saw a couple of the broader, heavyset Right Whales. One Fin Whale surfaced facing us, oozing orangey-pink Krill from its mouth. It is tough to guess how many whales we were looking at. They were spread over a large area, actively diving and spending much of their time underwater. There were certainly hundreds of whales there – how many hundreds I just couldn’t tell you. I’ve seen Krill megaswarms this size before, but neither the seasoned fishermen, the officers or the scientists on board has ever seen whales like this – I’m not sure how many people alive ever have.”



A Lick of Paint in Time?

Three of the huts in Cumberland Bay got some timely renovation.


Harpon hut before and...
Harpon hut before and...
after. Photos Andy Barker and Rachel Hadden
after. Photos Andy Barker and Rachel Hadden













Andy Barker spent a week on a GSGSSI project to improve the condition of some of the huts. Several huts, installed for past research work, are on the coast in the Cumberland Bay area and are now used as refuges and for camping. The majority have not had much maintenance in years. The hut at Sorling got the biggest makeover. Two windows and frames were replaced and it was painted inside and out.


The hut at Harpon was painted, and repairs were made to the door there and at Maiviken hut. Andy was assisted by Rachel Hadden. They hope the work will help keep the huts in usable condition for a few years more.



Bird Island News

By Gorfou, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island


I remember last month writing about the first signs of the winter: icebergs, daylight decreasing, frozen streams… But, contrary to what we were expecting, the first two weeks of April were probably the sunniest weeks for a while and also the least windy, although the temperature was just a few degrees above zero. In a few days we saw more sunsets than during all the summer.


Unguarded Wandering Albatross chick at sunset.)
Unguarded Wandering Albatross chick at sunset.)


It was the perfect time for the growing wanderer chicks to ask their parent to leave the nest, there isn’t enough space for two in the nest. Although they’re only 20 to 30cm tall, maybe a little more, now they feel like they are big enough to stay on their own and defend themselves from the few Skuas hanging around. We saw the first unguarded chicks on April 1st during the 'all-island wanderer census'. Some of them were looking very small and proud on their nest when other big ones were making the most of the adult. Now at the end of the month they are all unguarded waiting for a good meal.


Other albatrosses, other chicks… but these ones, Black-browed and Grey-headed, are ready to fledge if they haven’t done it yet. They hatched four months ago and Derren has ringed more than a thousand of them in the different study colonies. The birds which survive the first year at sea will probably come back in a few years time to the same colony looking for his or her soul mate, which will also take a few more years before their first breeding attempt.


Black-browed Albatross chicks on their nests at Bird Island in April (Flash required for video.]


After the Northern Giant Petrels last month, it’s the turn now for the Southern Giant Petrels to start to fledge. The fledglings from both species looks very similar with their black coat but if you look closer you will see that the tip of the bill is green for the southern and red for the northern. Sometimes, only in the southern species, the chick is entirely white with just a few black feathers, a genetic character inherited form the parents.


White morph Southern Giant Petrel chick ready to fledge. (Compare the green bill on this photo with the photo of the northern chick in last month's newsletter).)
White morph Southern Giant Petrel chick ready to fledge. (Compare the green bill on this photo with the photo of the northern chick in last month's newsletter).)


During the first half of the month, when the Macaroni Penguins were finishing their moult, there were millions of feathers all around the three colonies of the island… covering the ground, trapped in tussac grass or scattered by the wind on the meadows.


Macaroni Penguins moulting.)
Macaroni Penguins moulting.)


What happened during the second half of the month? I am not sure… I left Bird Island on the April 16th with Ewan W and John. For both of them it was the end of their stay on the island; Ewan after a successful summer monitoring the foraging trips of Black-browed Albatrosses and John after his first summer as Base Commander. Was I going on holiday or migrating? No, I had to go to the dentists and try to save some of my remaining teeth!


Two days after we left, the BAS ship “James Clark Ross” came back to Bird Island, the last time this summer. Donald is sailing back to his homeland after two and half year on this “wee island” as he likes to call Bird Island. Yes, two and half years taking care of the most unpopular and misunderstood animals of the island, the Fur Seals. They already miss you Don!


Don, with black gloves at the back of the first boat,  leaving BI. All photos Fabrice Le Bouard.
Don, with black gloves at the back of the first boat, leaving BI. All photos Fabrice Le Bouard.


Two days before the end of the month I came back from Stanley to say hello and in the same time good bye to Chris who was leaving the island after all his work's done… the new fire pump and solar water heating system operational.


What a change on the island in just thirteen days! First I thought it was because I had made a short visit of two and half days to a normal life; streets, cars, shops, credit card, restaurants, pubs and trees… But no, the island was just looking different. The green colour of the tussac grass had partly disappeared under a white blanket and all the pups plus most of the adults Fur Seals had deserted the icy beach and the back of the base, it was very quiet… Just 3 people remained, my three mates Felice, Derren and Ewan E, with whom I am spending the winter. It’s good to be back at home….



South Georgia Snippets

By Anjali Pande


The beginning of April was officially the start of winter with the last of the summer visitors leaving – so the KEP population is back to just eleven. Soon afterwards we also had winter arrive proper – almost overnight it went white and after a solid week of snow it seemed like it was here to stay. Although there have been small melts, regular dumps of snow throughout the month means the snow is still here and (fingers crossed) seems to be forming a reasonably consolidated base layer for winter sports.


A wintry scene across the Cove. Photo Steve Artis.
A wintry scene across the Cove. Photo Steve Artis.


In the earlier part of the month, forced inside by falling snow anyway, most people were found hunched over clipboards in various parts of base doing the dreaded yearly stock-take. We were all pleased when that came to an end!


Now having just said that all the summer visitors had left, we in fact had a whirlwind visit from Andy Barker, Base Commander from last year. He has been working at the BAS base at Rothera but soon felt like one of the family again, and true to old form spent most of his time out in the hills. However, this had been planned, as he had been employed by GSGSSI to do some maintenance on various field huts. Whilst working on Sorling hut they were rewarded with a gorgeous sunset.


Brian Summers, 'South Atlantic Invasive Species' Project Officer, here working on eradication of the bittercress at KEP, gave a slide show on the April 8th. He was a FID (employee of the Falkland Island Dependency Survey, precursor to BAS) working on South Georgia from 1969 to 1971. Although whaling had ceased at Grytviken by then, there was still a Norwegian caretaker and Chilean handyman living and working there and the station was well maintained. It was very interesting to see ships that are now wrecks still floating.


Wanderer census on Prion Island. Photo Anjali Pande.
Wanderer census on Prion Island. Photo Anjali Pande.

Three of us (Emma, Jenn and myself) were taken by the FPV “Pharos SG” to Prion Island on April 11th to continue work on the Wandering Albatross census. There was a lot of work to achieve in the short four-hour visit. The priority was the albatross chick count, to see how many eggs (counted in January) had successfully hatched. We also logged GPS waypoints for the new boardwalk and measured the distance between the boardwalk and those nests visible from it.







Jenn taking measurements on the new boardwalk. Photo Emma Jones
Jenn taking measurements on the new boardwalk. Photo Emma Jones


An attempt was made to take two boats out on a training trip to St Andrews Bay. The purpose of the trip was to practice route finding, resupply the hut stores and for Search and Rescue training. However, there was too much swell to safely complete the journey. Despite this, we were still able to familiarise ourselves with routes into sheltered bays part way there.


The crew of longliner “San Aspiring” did a fine job of beach cleaning at the Greene Peninsula. Having finished fishing in the South Sandwich Islands, they had time to kill before they could start fishing around the Island. The early snow did not help, but despite that they successfully collected several bags of plastic and other waste.


The crew of the “San Aspiring help out with a beach clean in the area of past shipwrecks.
The crew of the “San Aspiring help out with a beach clean in the area of past shipwrecks.


Now that there were no more cruise ships a few of us took advantage of the short break between the tourist season ending and the fishing season starting to get out and about. Andrew and I braved lots of mist and rain to spend three days exploring the area at and around Cape Vakop and Louisa Bay and were surprised by the number of Reindeer and Gentoo Penguin colonies we saw. Charlie and Bob set out on a lovely clear morning to Cobblers Cove via Rookery Bay but found themselves in snow when the weather gave out.


Cape Vakop from the tent.
Cape Vakop from the tent.
Reindeer seen on the Barff Peninsula. Photos Anjali Pande.
Reindeer seen on the Barff Peninsula. Photos Anjali Pande.
















Andrew the Electrician has been engrossed recently trying to fix the food freezer. It has taken a while due to lack of parts, meanwhile the food has been crammed into two smaller freezers. We will all be glad when we no longer have to do grade 25 climbing manoeuvres to find the frozen vegetables!!!


There have been plenty of party nights on base this month. Several birthdays were celebrated, and one notable night had a 'gladiator' theme. Inspired by the movie, the boys on the FPV suggested it- so they arrived attired complete in chain mail armour and breastplates and proudly wielding swords and shields. There was much frantic costume making at the last minute at this end with some remarkable results. What made it a particularly special night is that we had visitors on the FPV too - three lads from Bird Island! Two were on their way out after a summer season (Ewan and John) and Fabrice whom most of the current KEP crew trained with, so it was a happy reunion! Even the food was in keeping with the theme, having a complete roast lamb on the spit!!!


Photo Anjali Pande
Photo Anjali Pande


The King Penguin chicks at Penguin River continue to thrive. The three larger chicks are now on their own as both parents have gone to sea to find food for them, a fourth smaller chick is growing bigger and now only half of it fits under the warm protective folds of its parents brood pouch.


Can we dare to hope the King Penguin chicks at Penguin River will survive to fledge this time? Photo Steve Artis.
Can we dare to hope the King Penguin chicks at Penguin River will survive to fledge this time? Photo Steve Artis.


At the time of writing it's snowing again outside. Snow brings out the kid in everybody, so despite being busy, everyone has been making the time to dust off the skis or ice axes for the first time, warming up to what we hope will be a good snow season.



View of the Month

SGHT View of the Month
SGHT View of the Month

Don’t forget to see this month’s 'View of the Month' on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.








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