South Georgia Newsletter, December 2007

From South Georgia Website

Jump to: navigation, search

- Disclaimer: This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.

- To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

- Archive of previous newsletters here.


Fishing and Shipping News

“Discovery” made its first ever call to South Georgia.
“Discovery” made its first ever call to South Georgia.
“Hans Explorer” carries just twelve passengers.
“Hans Explorer” carries just twelve passengers.



December is the quietest month for cruise ships during the five-month long tourism season. Twelve cruise ships visited this month. Four of them, “Discovery”, “Ocean Nova”, “Spirit of Adventure” and the little twelve-passenger “Hans Explorer” were making their first ever calls at South Georgia. A Government Observer accompanied each of them for part of their visit. GSGSSI has a policy of putting an Observer on vessel making their first ever visit to South Georgia to observe ship procedures and policies and passenger management.


Though quiet for much of the month, the period over Christmas was very busy. Five yachts sought the shelter of King Edward Cove to avoid an approaching storm. Four large cruise ships (150+ passenger capacity) visited over the two days of December 24th and 25th. Several used the church for Christmas celebrations. “Bremen” was due on the 26th, but by then the storm had hit with gusts well over one hundred miles an hour, and it could not get in. The four ships around the Island sheltered in the deeper bays waiting for the weather to die down. Despite forecasts showing the wind should abate, it was two days later before it calmed enough for “Bremen” to make a landing at Grytviken.


One charter yacht brought in a Japanese film crew making a film about penguins and Fur Seals.


The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) vessel “RRS James Clark Ross” (JCR) came alongside and stayed overnight on the 22nd to offload fuel and cargo.


The Russian research vessel “Yuzhmorgeologiya” has been operating in South Georgia waters setting out autonomous hydrophones. The hydrophones will record seismic activity, ice noise and whale vocalizations and will be deployed for a year.


The recent CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) meeting in Hobart set the Total Allowable Catch (TAC) for the Toothfish and Icefish Fisheries around South Georgia. The total Toothfish TAC is 3920 tonnes, 366 tonnes up on last season. The total Icefish TAC is 2462 tonnes, 1875 tonnes less than season. The Commission sets the TACs at conservative levels using a number of indicators such as: tagged fish returns; catch per unit effort; historic data; and scientific survey work.


Five longliners took up all the berths at FIPASS (Falklands) when they went in for catch verification at the end of the last SG Toothfish Season. Photo Jack Fenaughty, Sanford Ltd
Five longliners took up all the berths at FIPASS (Falklands) when they went in for catch verification at the end of the last SG Toothfish Season. Photo Jack Fenaughty, Sanford Ltd




Hydroelectric Progress and Building Works

Work has started on the Gull Lake dam.
Work has started on the Gull Lake dam.


Work on the dam at Gull Lake has progressed well since the arrival of the Morrison FI Ltd team last month. The dam, originally built by the whalers eighty years ago, was stripped back to the remaining good structural concrete, and then strengthened. It is now being reskinned with a fresh skin of reinforced concrete, and the cap of the dam is being raised by 30 centimetres to create a bigger catchment of water to feed the hydroelectric turbines.


A new track was dug below the dam to improve access to the works, and another created to access the site where the turbine building will be erected near sea level.


The lower water levels in Gull Lake during the dam works have revealed three more pieces of suspected unexploded ordinance, including mortars. A military EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) team is due to visit in January and will deal with the munitions.


The river running through the centre of Grytviken has been redirected to improve safety. Old culverts had collapsed and were causing a hazard to pedestrians visiting the whaling station. Work was completed on the Bonner Room in the South Georgia Museum.


A project to strengthen and support the wall at the northern end of the jetty at King Edward Point has been started. Gabion baskets are being filled with local rock in order to blend in with the local area. Other works include preparing and repainting the church.


Reskinning the dam with fresh concrete. Photo Pat Lurcock.
Reskinning the dam with fresh concrete. Photo Pat Lurcock.
The start of works to reinforce the KEP jetty.
The start of works to reinforce the KEP jetty.















Chief Executive Visits the Island

South Georgia Chief Executive Harriet Hall made her second visit to the Island this year. She arrived on December 5th on the cruise ship “Kapitan Khlebnikov”, accompanied by her partner Simon. Her previous visit had been in winter and she was keen to see the contrast of the summer tourist season.


During her ten-day visit she inspected the Morrison FI Ltd works at Grytviken, visited the South Georgia Museum and toured the KEP Base, having meetings with the various people and agencies working here. In particular she chaired a meeting on Disaster Management and Emergency Response.


She was also able to visit Husvik and Bird Island on her way out aboard the Fishery Patrol Vessel “Pharos SG”.




Dias’ Ship’s Bell Returns to South Georgia

by Alison Neil


The original ship’s bell belonging to the whale catcher 'Dias' arrived in South Georgia in December, to form part of South Georgia museum’s display on South Georgia’s maritime past. The museum which is run by South Georgia Heritage Trust, is opening the new Carr Maritime Gallery, named after Tim and Pauline Carr, this season. The 'Dias', built in Hull and formerly known as the Viola, was reunited with its ship’s bell courtesy of Elsa Davidson, the museum’s curator. The 'Dias'/'Viola' is the last remaining steam trawler from the Hellyer Boxing Fleet. Most of the Fleet was destroyed in the Great War after being requisitioned by the admiralty. The 'Dias'/'Viola' is now the oldest surviving steam trawler in the world with her steam engines intact.






The bell and a model of the ship have been loaned to South Georgia museum by the Hull Maritime Historical Studies Centre, Hull Maritime Museum and Hull Fishgate market. They will be on display in the Carr Maritime Gallery for this season before returning home to Hull. To find out more about the 'Dias/Viola' and other aspects of South Georgia’s maritime history that will be on display in the Carr Maritime Gallery, visit http://www.sght.org/projects.htm.





You can now purchase more South Georgia items online at the SGHT shop here. You can buy from a range of warm clothing, embroidered with the South Georgia coat of arms, guaranteed to keep the winter weather at bay and to look great.




Glaciers Reflect Climate Change at South Georgia

By John Gordon, Valerie Haynes, Alun Hubbard. With thanks to the South Georgia Association Newsletter.


Recent visitors to South Georgia, and particularly those on return visits, will have noticed that many of the Island’s glaciers are visibly retreating. This is especially evident at places like St Andrews Bay and Gold Harbour. At the latter, the lower section of Bertrab Glacier has disappeared entirely, forming a lagoon and exposing a 40m high rock step which 30 years ago was covered by a spectacular icefall.


The Bertrab Glacier at Gold Harbour in 1964. Photo Bill Vaughan.
The Bertrab Glacier at Gold Harbour in 1964. Photo Bill Vaughan.


The same glacier forty years later. Photo Bob Burton
The same glacier forty years later. Photo Bob Burton


Some small corrie glaciers have shrunk drastically and are now close to disappearing (e.g. Hodges Glacier, behind Grytviken). These changes are related to climate warming, particularly since about 1950. Interestingly, however, they have not affected all of South Georgia’s glaciers equally; some of the largest tidewater glaciers have changed comparatively little over the past few decades and one of the largest, Novosilski Glacier on the south coast, has actually advanced. The behaviour of these calving glaciers is more complicated because they are partly floating, but if the climate warming continues, then they too may retreat dramatically. As part of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society’s Scotia Centenary Expedition to South Georgia in 2003, we conducted a study of glacier changes over the last 100 years or so, using a variety of documentary and geomorphological records, including historical photographs. We have looked at a sample of 36 glaciers in different parts of the Island. Of these glaciers, two are currently advancing, 28 are retreating and six are stable or show a complex response.


Most glaciers on the north-east coast of the Island attained more advanced positions during the late-19th century. Since then, smaller mountain and valley glaciers have progressively receded. Larger glaciers that have higher accumulation areas in the Salvesen and Allardyce Ranges generally remained in relatively advanced positions until the 1980s. However, a threshold appears to have been crossed on the north-east side of the Island, to the extent that most of these larger glaciers are now receding, their delayed responses possibly reflecting the locations of their accumulation basins in areas of higher orographic precipitation. Some of these retreats have been dramatic. The response of the glaciers can be related to the direct effects on glacier mass balance of sustained climate warming that began in the 1950s. Our observations indicate that glacier recession on the windward south-west coast, where precipitation is significantly higher, is less widespread. Glaciers here, experiencing a harsher, cooler and wetter climate, display a more complex response, with smaller, lower elevation glaciers retreating, but the higher elevation glaciers stabilised or even advancing slightly.


As well as being an indicator of recent climate trends, glacier changes are of wider environmental concern. Significant glacier recession, especially where former calving glaciers become land-based, may allow range expansion of introduced species, notably reindeer and brown rats, with consequent increased degradation of vegetation and predation of important breeding populations of ground-nesting and burrow-nesting birds.


We are continuing to build up a wider picture of historical glacier changes on the Island and are modelling future glacier responses under different climate scenarios. To help with this study, we would like to appeal for information about any historical photographs of the Island’s glaciers that readers may have or know of in private collections, particularly from the early 1900s to the 1970s, perhaps taken by themselves, or by parents or grandparents involved in the whaling industry or by other expeditions to the Island.


If you can help please contact John Gordon. They would ideally like digital copies of glacier images that could be permanently archived and will be attributed.




South Georgia Wedding

Mitey and Volker took their vows in Carse House.
Mitey and Volker took their vows in Carse House.

A couple visiting the Island on a cruise ship chose to get married in South Georgia. The wedding was performed in Carse House on December 28th, two days later than planned due to a big storm which prevented the ship “Bremen” landing as scheduled.

Volker Abel and Mitey Samsel are penguin enthusiasts and chose to marry on King Edward Point where they hoped there would be some wildlife present at the ceremony. On the day, though calm at last, it was also cold, with a skim of ice on the water in the Cove. The couple chose to be married indoors and luckily a group of five King Penguins were stood outside of the front of the house where the couple could easily see them whilst making their vows.








The wedding party in the wedding Zodiac.
The wedding party in the wedding Zodiac.

A surprise laid on by the ship was a ring bearer dressed up as a penguin. There was champagne and canapes for the guests afterwards whilst the couple posed outside with the real penguins for memorable wedding photos. A Zodiac decked out with white ribbons and silk flowers and a “Just Married” banner collected them to return to the ship afterwards.


Many people, including the couples’ family back in Germany, were able to share the event from afar by watched a webcam set up for the event.




Mitey and Volker’s Wedding (Adobe Flash player required: here).



Historic Painting Returns

Bob Headland presented the painting to the Museum Curator Elsa Davidson.
Bob Headland presented the painting to the Museum Curator Elsa Davidson.
Bob Headland presented the painting to the Museum Curator Elsa Davidson.
Bob Headland presented the painting to the Museum Curator Elsa Davidson.














A historic watercolour painting of Grytviken in the 1920s was presented to the South Georgia Museum on December 5th.


The painting, of Grytviken Whaling Station as seen from King Edward Point, may have been painted on the occasion of the first ever visit to the Island of a Governor of the Falkland Islands and their Dependencies, in August 1927. The ships alongside at Grytviken are depicted dressed overall in celebration. The artist is unknown, but some believe the Governor himself, Sir Arnold Wienholt Hodson, painted it.


Ken Richard found the painting some years ago at a car boot sale. He recognized the view having traveled through South Georgia when working for the British Antarctic Survey. The South Georgia Association (SGA) purchased the painting from him and presented it to the South Georgia Museum.


SGA Committee member Bob Headland is working aboard the cruise ship Kapitan Khlebnikov as a historian and took advantage of the ship’s call at Grytviken this month to present the painting, on behalf of the SGA, to Museum Curator Elsa Davidson.




Fly Rocks Geologist’s Theories

The wingless fly causing the geological debate. Photo BAS
The wingless fly causing the geological debate. Photo BAS
An apatite grain showing the damage tracks caused by the spontaneous decay of Uranium within the mineral's crystal lattice which is used to age the rocks.
An apatite grain showing the damage tracks caused by the spontaneous decay of Uranium within the mineral's crystal lattice which is used to age the rocks.













The latest geology project in South Georgia is the result of a conversation in the canteen at BAS Cambridge six years ago.


A biologist studying the genetics of wingless flies in the Scotia Sea region asked geologists how old the island of South Georgia was. From its topographic appearance and plate tectonic setting the geologists postulated the Island was quite young, less than 10 million years perhaps. The biologist challenged that the presence of a wingless fly, which has been a separate population from others in the region for about 40 million years to be as genetically different as it is, questioned this. Unless there had been other landmasses on which the fly had managed to survive until South Georgia emerged, then the presence of the wingless fly surely meant the Island must be at least 40 million years old!


Now Dr Mike Curtis and Field Assistant Rob Smith are spending more than three months camped on the Island collecting rock samples to try and solve the mystery. The samples will be analysed to date the uplift of the Island. A technique called 'fission track thermochronology' is able to date when rocks cooled as they were lifted to the earth's surface to emerge as the Island. Different minerals within the rocks are analysed to see the number of 'fission tracks' created by the decay of small amounts of naturally occurring Uranium. These ‘tracks’ are preserved and only appear after the rock has cooled below a known temperature specific to the mineral type, so counting the number of tracks gives an accurate date for when the rock cooled below its 'blocking temperature'. Working with different minerals that accumulate 'fission tracks' at different cooling temperatures also allows scientists to calculate the rate of uplift and how it changed over time, information that is likely to be indicative of the whole Island.


The field party are collecting rocks from the coast to the highest points they can reach, which will allow them to build up detailed picture of how and when the Island emerged. Disappointingly samples collected in the Cumberland Bay area two years ago proved unsuitable for this dating technique as the rock type is low in the target minerals zircon and apatite that record the fission tracks well. However one rock sample collected from over 700m altitude provided a date which indicated the Island is about 34 million years ago, much older than the geologist expected, while two samples from the Royal Bay area indicate the presence of a younger uplift at 14-12 million years ago. This time they are concentrating their efforts on the Greene and Barff Peninsulas, the rocks of which are, from experience, better suited for the work. Greene Peninsula is also one that has not been geologically mapped in detail before, a gap this current project will fill.


The collecting is proving pretty exhausting. Mike said working in South Georgia is much harder than he is used to. He has previously worked on the Antarctic where skidoos and other vehicles can be used to reach sample sites and to transport the 3-kilo samples back. Here he and Rob have to walk and climb many kilometres to collect samples then carry up to three three-kilo samples each back to the camp. They have worked out that if they keep up their current rate of climbs to collection sites, over the whole period they will gain 28-29,000 metres of height, about three times the height of Mt Everest.




‘Georgia Sat 2007’ Successfully Traverses the Island

The ‘Georgia Sat 2007’ expedition on the Helland Glacier. Photo Georgia Sat 2007
The ‘Georgia Sat 2007’ expedition on the Helland Glacier. Photo Georgia Sat 2007

The three French mountaineers making up the land party of the ‘Georgia Sat 2007’ expedition successfully completed a traverse of the Island this month. The party were dropped at Elsehul by the support yacht “Ada 2” in late November and set out on the 27th to attempt the second traverse of the length of the Island.








The three mountaineers made very quick progress along the northern end of the Island, glad to climb above the beaches to avoid the Fur Seals, which they described as “pitbull seals”. En route they met up with the boat in various bays, changing gear to suit the terrain ahead. They used pulks (small sledges) on the glaciers, and backpacks on steeper more difficult ground where pulks would be difficult to handle. On December 2nd they climbed Mt Worsley, a 1104-meter peak between the head of King Haakon Bay and the Trident Ridge.


The team took a very different route from that taken by the first traverse group in 1999. The ‘Georgia Sat 2007’ team chose to stay on the southern side of the Allardyce range. A disadvantage of this side of the Island is the regular fog as the humid air from the sea hits the land. Luckily good GPS based maps have been published in recent years, making it possible to continue travelling in almost nil visibility using ‘way points’. Not all the attempted routes worked out and at times the team had to double back and find an alternative route to move south. When the weather cleared they were treated to some stunning views of extraordinary peaks at the southern end of the Island. Views few people, if any, have seen before them. By December 17th the team had completed the traverse, having used just eleven travel days to complete the journey.


With a few days left before they left the Island, two of the team decided to make another attempt on Mt Sugartop. The mountain eluded them, a target for a visit in the future perhaps.


“Ada 2” was in Grytviken to meet the cruise ship “Le Diamant” on Christmas Day. A journalist joined the yacht to discuss a forthcoming book about the whole expedition, and two of the mountaineers joined the ship, so avoiding the long return yacht journey they had found so hard at the beginning of the expedition.


The expedition can be followed in French on the website at http://yannick.michelat.free.fr/GeorgiaSat.htm. Press the news button at the top of the page.




South Georgia Museum News

By Curator Elsa Davidson


It has been a very busy and exciting few weeks here at the South Georgia Museum. We had the pleasure of welcoming Howard Pearce, Chairman of South Georgia Heritage Trust, to the Museum when he arrived onboard the “Discovery”.


New acquisitions include a watercolour of Grytviken, dated 1927, which was very kindly donated by the South Georgia Association. The painting will be on display in the Museum very soon.


We are in the process of redisplaying the Bonner Room (main entrance hall) following re-panelling earlier this month. We hope to heighten the profile of South Georgia Heritage Trust and the history of South Georgia Museum in this development.


The extended period of good weather has allowed the Museum assistants John and Sarah to begin outdoor work which has included the painting of the cemetery fence and also treating and painting the maritime exhibits in the forecourt.


Display and structural work in the new Carr Maritime Gallery are ongoing and we have received two new loans from Hull Maritime Research Centre. The bell from the “Viola” (now re-named “Dias”) and a model of the vessel will go on display as soon as the gallery is ready. A replica of the “James Caird” will hopefully arrive in February and this will also be displayed in the new gallery.




Purple Penguins

Tagging work on King Penguins at Hound Bay continues this year. A three-person BAS field team camped in Hound Bay for ten days to work on the small King Penguin colony there. Four satellite tags were deployed on female birds that had just laid eggs. The tags will record the birds’ track whilst they forage at sea, and time/depth recorder elements will give detailed information about the birds’ foraging dives.


This season the scientists deliberately targeted the female birds returning to sea after laying. The females will be at sea for two to three weeks before returning to relieve their male partners left brooding the egg. Another BAS field party will recover and redeploy the tags in mid January. Male birds will then be heading to sea to feed. The scientists are interested to see if the male and female birds have different foraging behaviour and/or use different feeding grounds. Purple stockmarker was sprayed onto male birds on nests, marking them as potential candidates for the January tagging. The scientists were keen to ensure birds from different nests were used for each tagging deployment to minimise any negative impact the tags may have on survival of chicks.


The research ship “JCR” will follow the bird’s tracks and then take samples in the same areas to see what the birds are eating.


The scientists predict that the samples taken from the research ship may show that Myctophids, the main food for King Penguins, are at shallower depths at the Convergence, the place where the cold waters of the Antarctic mix with warmer waters further north. It has been noted that penguins from South Georgia go north to this zone, whilst those from the Falkland Islands come south to it. They postulate that the Penguins go there to feed as they don’t have to dive so deep to find food, so conserving energy.


The tagging team also deployed ten satellite tags on newly fledged King Penguins at St Andrews Bay for the Antarctic Research Trust. These tags have been sponsored by individuals who have special access to a website showing where ‘their’ penguin is. Sponsored penguins can be named, and the tracks show birds such as Ursual, Dixi and Tankini having swum about three hundred miles north of St Andrews Bay.


The BAS field party in mid January will also deploy satellite tags on Fur Seals at Hound Bay. Much work has been done on Fur Seals at Bird Island at the northern end of South Georgia, and also from Cooper Bay in the south. The work at Hound Bay, with its fairly central position on the northern coast of the Island, will help fill the gap in knowledge about where Fur Seals in more central areas of the Island forage.


For information about the Antarctic Research Trust, including how to sponsor a penguin, go to the website at http://www.antarctic-research.de/


Chart showing the movements of the tagged King Penguins.
Chart showing the movements of the tagged King Penguins.




‘An Artist in South Georgia’ - Book Review

By Howard Pearce. (Former Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands)


There was a touch of inspiration about the award to Molly Sheridan of a Shackleton scholarship. By enabling her to spend three months on South Georgia, it not only extended the family connection with the Island (Molly’s husband, Guy, had led the forces which returned South Georgia to British control following the short-lived occupation in 1982), but more to the point it gave Molly the opportunity to use her artistic talents to record images of South Georgia in pastel and crayon, oil and watercolour. This book, published nearly five years later, provides an opportunity for a wider audience to enjoy the results.


I had the privilege of meeting Molly on my own first visit to the Island in February 2003. She was clearly excited by what she found, and her enthusiasm was palpable. I admired her readiness to suffer discomfort and take risks to secure the images she wanted. Not every artist would readily bounce around in a small boat on the southern ocean swell or locate a studio in cramped quarters above a set of noisy generators. But for Molly this was all part of the fun.


South Georgia provides an extraordinary range of raw material for the artist: splendid land and sea-scapes, spectacular wildlife, the drama of the decaying whaling stations, and the ever-changing light. Molly’s pictures draw inspiration from all of these, and delight in the way in which man-made relics coexist with the natural. While there is an ugliness and brutality about the whaling stations, nature seems to have found a way of assimilating even these symbols of human exploitation and they have taken on a beauty of their own. I found particular pleasure in Molly’s paintings of Fur Seals making their homes in the abandoned buildings (“Rusty playground – fur seals in Husvik” and “The Leith lot – fur seals in a boiler house”), while in “The pier at Leith” and “Sealers Albatros and Dias from the Grytviken track” the whaling stations and associated relics share the aesthetic honours with the natural landscape.


In addition to their aesthetic quality, these paintings also serve a valuable purpose in recording scenes which, as a result of the depredations of the climate or (in the case of Grytviken) Government’s clean-up programme, are fast disappearing.


In her pure landscapes, Molly’s painting has a solidity and a power which convey the awe-inspiring character of the scene. “Bertrab Glacier, Gold Harbour”, “Entrance to Cumberland Bay at the Right Whale Rocks” and “Hanging Glacier – Drygalski Fjord” use almost cubist techniques to express this quality. “Fortuna Bay” and “Wild South Georgia – Fortuna Bay” convey the sheer majesty of the landscape and the terrible power of South Georgia’s volatile climate.


The wildlife pictures are, by contrast, a delight. They capture their subjects in characteristic pose with skill and wit, and communicate the pleasure which Molly found in their quirks, character, and sheer beauty.


In short, this volume, while displaying one artist’s response, should provide pleasure to anybody who has been seduced by the South Georgia magic.


ISBN 2-9525255-1-X. Available from the SGHT shop here.

“Small whalers’ cemetery in the middle of Leith”, Oil on board.
“Small whalers’ cemetery in the middle of Leith”, Oil on board.




The Four Mountains Tribute Completed

The ‘Four Mountains Tribute’, to mark the 25th Anniversary of Liberation, has been successfully completed.


Andrew Chase on the summit of Ellerbeck Peak. Photo Anjali Pande
Andrew Chase on the summit of Ellerbeck Peak. Photo Anjali Pande

Twenty years ago, in 1987, the Antarctic Place Names Committee elected to name four mountains on the Island after individuals who had played a leading role in the Island’s liberation. The ‘Four Mountains Tribute’ aimed to get all four mountains climbed in the 25th Anniversary of Liberation year.








In October Skip Novak and the ‘Insubrica Expedition’ climbed the 1263-meter Stanley Peak. A party from King Edward Point climbed Mills Peak, 627 metres, in November. The challenging 955-meter Sheridan Peak was also climbed that month by the “Georgia Sat 2007” expedition. That left just Ellerbeck Peak, 684 metres, to be climbed.


On December 8th Andrew Chase and Anjali Pande set out on a windy morning from their campsite close to the snout of the Nordenskjold Glacier. The weather improved to become a glorious sunny afternoon by the time they summited. The climb was mostly easy, with a bit of rock scrambling as they approached the summit. They were rewarded with superb views to Hound Bay, over the Barff Peninsula and over the Nordenskjold Glacier toward Mt Paget. The pair plan to return to traverse the whole ridge, including the main summit, that backs a corrie lake near the top of the mountain.


Earlier this year Guy Sheridan and Keith Mills marked the 25th Anniversary of Liberation year with a return to South Georgia when they attended the unveiling ceremony of the new monument at King Edward Point on which is the simple inscription: “From the sea freedom.”




BSES South Georgia Visit a Great Success

The BSES group getting ready to sleep under the stars. Photo Helen Turton
The BSES group getting ready to sleep under the stars. Photo Helen Turton

The BSES expedition had some fabulous experiences during their fortnight on the Island. The group arrived on two yachts at the end of November and spent most of their time in the Fortuna Bay area.


By the end of a week the YEs (Young Explorers) had honed their camp craft and were enjoying living amongst thousands of seals, penguins and albatrosses. Smaller camps were set up in areas where they had various projects, Cape Best for work surveying a King Penguin colony, and one night up at Breakwind Ridge when looking for Shackleton’s discarded stove. This was a memorable night bivouacking in the snow with an amazing sunset to watch, and later, shooting stars. It was the first time most of them had slept under the stars. Most of them managed to stay warm throughout the night.



Crossing a snow slope. Photo Ade Harris.
Crossing a snow slope. Photo Ade Harris.

Breakwind Ridge was also chosen as the appropriate spot to scatter the ashes of David Nicholls, a previous leader of a BSES group to South Georgia. Mount Nicholls, named for David after he and a previous BSES group made a first ascent of the mountain in 2004, can be seen from Breakwind Ridge.


The group enjoyed mainly good weather during their visit. They climbed Best Peak and its satellites. The climb was described as “exposed” and required them to be roped to ascend a snow gully where they used in full the ice and snow travel techniques they had practised in readiness for the expedition.



A project to collect weather data was short lived as Fur Seals demolished the weather station just a day after it was erected. The expedition also surveyed the fronts of the Konig and Fortuna Glaciers, collected plants and generally had a busy, energetic and fascinating time. The YEs were described by the Expedition Leader Pat Parsons as “enormously enthusiastic and buzzing with the excitement of all these new activities.” When it was approaching time to go he said “We have all come under South Georgia’s spell and are sorry to be leaving.”


Hunting for spiders. Photo Helen Turton
Hunting for spiders. Photo Helen Turton

The group moved to Husvik for the last couple of days where they enjoyed a goodbye dinner in the Manger’s Villa before splitting into two groups, one going out on the yacht “Pelagic Australis” the other headed to Grytviken to await a lift to the Falklands where they would soon meet up again for the final Falkland phase of the expedition.

The group of two YEs and two leaders who came to Grytviken had a further four days on the Island which they spent doing beach cleans, collecting spider samples and exploring the Thatcher Peninsula.






Bird Island News

By Robin Snape, Zoological Field Assistant and winter Base Commander at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Base at Bird Island.


Seals at the jetty
Seals at the jetty

December has seen the Fur Seal team Donald and Ewan run off their feet, with two long shifts at the seal study beach every day to monitor breeding activity, and barely time for a cup of tea between shifts. By mid-December the beach outside the station was heaving with seals. It was around this time that we waved goodbye to Rob Dunn the wintering technician and welcomed the new wintering technician Felice Prospero-Porti and Ben Tullis from BAS IT department delivered to the jetty by JCR. And what a welcoming party it was as we picked our way through the crowds of seals to reach Ben and escort him safely to the station.




Incubating wanderer.
Incubating wanderer.

Later in December the Wandering Albatrosses began to lay their eggs and soon Derren and myself (the bird team) were busy marking nests and recording breeding birds by their ring numbers. At this stage it looks to be a reasonably good year for the wanderers, who have in recent years declined dramatically. We will continue to mark nests until the end of January, at which point we will census the whole island to establish the total breeder turn out. More next month on the results of the census and fingers crossed until then.




Meanwhile the Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatross chicks have begun hatching, as have the Macaroni Penguin chicks in Big-Mac and Little-Mac keeping Fabrice on his toes. The Gentoo chicks are now big enough to be left alone. Claire Waluda has been experimenting with the latest dive data recorders deploying loggers on Gentoo Penguins during foraging trips, during which the birds are diving around South Georgia collecting provisions for the chicks. These tiny loggers are simply taped to feathers on the back of the penguin and will log dive data for multiple trips over a number of days, after which they are retrieved and downloaded.


Christmas day began early as we opened presents on the turn of midnight and celebrated in the small hours. During the big day the zoologists spent some time on essential field work and we all gathered at the seal study beach in the afternoon for mince pies and mulled wine as is the BI Christmas tradition, before returning to base for turkey and trimmings.


On 30th December we greeted seabird biologist Ewan Wakefield and database manager Helen Peat. Ewan will be spending the remainder of the season on BI working with Black-browed Albatrosses using advanced GPS logging devices to study albatross flight behaviour in relation to foraging during the breeding season. Helen will be with us until mid-February when Helen, Claire and I are due to be uplifted by “JCR”.


We were glad of the extra numbers for new years eve, when we saw in the new year with bubbly amongst the Fur Seals on the jetty, with the sound of Big Ben (streamed over internet) barely audible from the lounge window over the howling seals. Quite a party with eleven on station, the most people BI has accommodated in two years.


The Bird Island team at Christmas. All photos Robin Snape.
The Bird Island team at Christmas. All photos Robin Snape.




South Georgia Snippets

There have been plenty of posh dinners and celebrations this month, starting with a slightly belated St Andrews dinner of haggis, trout and crowdie on December 1st.

Government Officer Emma Jones returned to the Island after her holidays on December 9th. Also aboard the “Pharos SG” were three more Morrison FI Ltd workers and a BAS field party.


Les Gareth and Andy left this month. Photo Bob Pratt
Les Gareth and Andy left this month. Photo Bob Pratt

The ship collected outgoing passengers before returning to the Falkland Islands on December 13th. A sudden change in plans had brought the date forward a day, so two planned goodbye parties for outgoing winterers had to be combined into a fun filled night where the base members dressed up for a Bond themed dinner party before walking across to Grytviken to “Olaf’s” nightclub, set up in one of the old whaling station buildings, to dance the night away. The next day a slightly bleary eyed Generator Mechanic Gareth Wale, and Base Commander Andy Barker accompanied the Logistical Co-ordinator for South Georgia, Les Whittamore onto the ship and were subjected to the traditional Mexican Wave from the beach by those they were leaving behind.


Charlie and Martony went across to Hound Bay to assist the Field Party with tagging work. Many others got out and about during the month on camping trips. Those who headed over to Rookery Bay to visit the Macaroni Penguin colony had snow for almost three days. It started shortly after they were dropped on the beach at Corral Bay, fell thickly overnight, covering the tents set up near the Gentoo colonies, and continued wetly as they walked the next day to the Macs. The penguins, sitting on nests incubating their eggs, looked as wet and cold as the walkers did. There was no sign yet of chicks, whereas the Gentoos had chicks ranging from newly hatched wobbly-headed tiny chicks to substantial chicks finding it hard to push their bulk under the warming bodies of the parent birds.


Gentoo and Macaroni Penguins in December (Adobe Flash player required: here).



Ex-Commissioner Howard Pearce and his family were working on the cruise ship “Discovery” which called in on December 7th. Other notable visitors were Ex BAS Captain Chris Elliot and his wife who were working aboard the cruise ship “Spirit of Adventure”. This ship brought in Ainslie Wilson, returning as Government Observer and Postal Assistant.


Field Assistant Tom Marshall had been working at Hound Bay and was picked up by “JCR” and delivered to KEP in late December. He is now taking base members out for field training including ice and snow skills, an opportunity for them to get out on local glaciers whilst there is an experienced guide with them.

The geological party returned to KEP to join in the Christmas fun. Government workers and Museum staff were kept busy with the several large ships in during that period, and had to join in when they could.


Decorating the church for Christmas.
Decorating the church for Christmas.

On December 24th the ‘Georgia Sat 2007’ expedition team gave a presentation at KEP on their traverse of the Island. It was followed by the midnight service in the church at Grytviken. The church had been decorated on December 16th and looked really pretty lit only by candles and the Christmas tree lights.








Andy Chef dismembering Christmas turkeys. Photo Emma Jones
Andy Chef dismembering Christmas turkeys. Photo Emma Jones

‘Andy Chef’, the chef at the Morrison’s camp spoilt everybody on Christmas Day with homemade croissants for their breakfast and an invite to Christmas dinner at 4pm. Six others were invited to have their Christmas dinner aboard “Explorer 2” that evening. The ship had generously sent ashore a case of champagne to help with festivities, but it was kept for New Years Eve.








Christmas dinner at the Morrison’s camp. Photo Rachel Hadden.
Christmas dinner at the Morrison’s camp. Photo Rachel Hadden.


Despite the vile weather on Boxing Day, eight hardy swimmers braved the sea, warming themselves up in the sauna afterwards.


“Pharos SG” returned to KEP on December 31st, bringing in two botanists, Rebecca Upson and Brian Summers. Brian is looking at introduced plants, and working to eradicate bittercress on King Edward Point. Rebecca is looking at the effect of Reindeer on native plants.


“Pharos SG” also dropped Sally Poncet of ‘South Georgia Surveys’ at Albatross Island in the Bay of Isles where she will be surveying the Wandering Albatross colonies and other seabirds. Ken Passfield on his yacht “Porvenir” is supporting her during the project.


The New Year was seen in with a fusillade of popping corks and a party in the boatshed.


Crazy Christmas swimmers. Photo Ainslie Wilson
Crazy Christmas swimmers. Photo Ainslie Wilson



View of the Month

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

  • © Copyright GSGSSI 2013.