South Georgia Newsletter, February 2009

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

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HRH The Princess Royal To Visit South Georgia

HRH The Princess Royal will visit South Georgia next month.


HRH is the patron of the South Georgia Heritage Trust and will visit the Island at their invitation. She will travel via the Falkland Islands where, on March 24th and 25th, she will carry out a number of public engagements. She will then travel aboard ship to South Georgia, arriving at Grytviken at the end of the month where she will officially open the new Hydroelectricity Station and Carr Maritime Gallery. The Princess Royal will be accompanied by her husband, Vice Admiral Timothy Laurence.



New Senior Executive Officer Announced

Dr Martin Collins has been recruited as Senior Executive Officer and Director of Fisheries for GSGSSI, in succession to Harriet Hall.


Dr Martin Collins
Dr Martin Collins

A graduate in zoology from Reading University, with a PhD on squid ecology, he worked in the Falkland Islands as a Fisheries Observer before joining the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) in 2002 to work on the Scotia Sea ecosystems. In this capacity he has often visited South Georgia and has been involved in South Georgia fisheries as a member of the UK delegation to the Scientific Committee of the Commission on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Dr Collins will take up his appointment in May.






Fishing And Shipping News

February was another busy month for shipping in South Georgia.


An Icefish trawler was inspected and licensed on February 4th, bringing the Icefish fleet to four. Fishing was good. One vessel completed its Total Allowable Catch and left, the other three broke off fishing to fish elsewhere and will return later in the season.


A Toothfish longliner arrived at Kind Edward Cove on February 27th for inspection and licensing before sailing down to the South Sandwich Islands area to fish.


Fourteen cruise ships visited this month, though several had their landing activities hampered by strong winds.


Three of the larger ships did not manage their planned landings at Grytviken. Tourists aboard the 500-passenger "Discovery" were especially disappointed when they failed to land on February 19th as this was their only scheduled landing at South Georgia. The ship could not wait for better conditions as they had to sail by midnight to make their next landfall at Tristan da Cunha. High winds also prevented "Bremen" landing at Grytviken on the 23rd.The two National Geographic ships "NG Endeavour" and "NG Explorer" met up in Jason Harbour on the evening of February 23rd. This was the last visit of "NG Endeavour" to the Antarctic region; she will now operate around the Galapagos Islands. After dinner that night Zodiacs were run between the two vessels to give passengers and staff the chance to view the new vessel or say goodbye to the old one.


The "NG Endeavour" is off now to a new sailing grounds around the Galapagos Islands.
The "NG Endeavour" is off now to a new sailing grounds around the Galapagos Islands.


Two research ships also visited. On February 1st the South African Research Ship "SA Agulhas" came alongside the jetty at King Edward Point (KEP) to unload four weather buoys. These will be collected, and periodically deployed during the next year, by the South Georgia Fishery Patrol ship "Pharos SG". "SA Agulhas" had also called at Southern Thule in the South Sandwich Islands to replace the automatic weather station there. Scientists and crew enjoyed an opportunity to stretch their legs ashore during the visit to KE Cove.


The BAS ship "RRS James Clark Ross" came into KE Cove on February 12th to give the on board scientists a run a shore whilst cargo work was done.


South African research ship "SA Agulhas" in KE Cove.
South African research ship "SA Agulhas" in KE Cove.


Four yachts were visiting the Island this month. The family yacht "Tevakenui" waited until the end of the month for a good weather report before they sailed for Ushuaia after more than three months exploring the Island.



Book Launch At New Zealand House

Author Robert Headland with the New Zealand Commissioner. Photo Bob Burton.
Author Robert Headland with the New Zealand Commissioner. Photo Bob Burton.

The new book ‘A Chronology of Antarctic Exploration’ by Robert K Headland was launched at New Zealand House on February 20th. The author addressed invited guests in the presence of the New Zealand Commissioner.


This substantial book, which covers the history of the Antarctic region, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, has 722 pages and costs £110 and is published by Bernard Quartich Ltd, ISBN 978-0-9550852-8-4.












Buoys From The Deep

Five sub-surface buoys were recovered from their deep ocean moorings by "Pharos SG". The buoys were deployed 90 to 160 miles apart in waters south of South Georgia about a year ago by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Moorings dropped to the sea floor held the buoys in place to gather information on seismic activity and whale vocalisations.


NOAA chartered the "Pharos SG" for the period taken to recover the buoys. Once on station near a buoy a sound signal was broadcast to trigger the release mechanism. The buoy then surfaces but can still be difficult to locate as they are only a meter wide and bad weather conditions made spotting and capturing them difficult. Once located the ship had to winch it and around 3 Km of line inboard. The 4th buoy was nearly lost, it took eight hours to locate it when it surfaced further away than expected.


One of the buoys is winched aboard "Pharos SG"
One of the buoys is winched aboard "Pharos SG"



New Coin Commemorates The "Nimrod" Expedition

The latest South Georgia coin commemorates Shackleton's Nimrod Expedition, also known as the British Antarctic Expedition.


Four years after he returned home from being a member of Scott's "Discovery" Expedition, Shackleton presented his plans for an Antarctic Expedition to the Royal Geographic Society (RGS). Shackleton’s main focus for the expedition was to reach the South Pole and the South Magnetic Pole. He had planned to do this using dogs, ponies and a specially designed motor vehicle. This was to be the first use of ponies and a motor vehicles in the Antarctic. With plans in place, Shackleton went on to buy his ship, "Nimrod". Although not his first choice of ship, with a few repairs "Nimrod" was ready to sail and it was even reported that Shackleton had become extremely proud of the sturdy little ship.


"Nimrod" departed New Zealand for Antarctica with all its crew on New Years Day 1908 and arrived at their destination 29 days later. The southbound march began on 29th October 1908. The explorers never reached the South Pole but managed to set a record at the time for coming within 100 geographical miles of the South Pole. It took them 73 days to get within 97 geographical miles of the South Pole, whilst a second party did reach the Magnetic South Pole and claimed the area for the British Empire.


The new "Nimrod" coin.
The new "Nimrod" coin.

The Coin design depicts the great ship "Nimrod", with explorers Shackleton, Marshall and Wild, next to the Union flag. The design has been approved by Buckingham Palace and the obverse of each coin carries a fine effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS FSNAD. It is available from Pobjoy Mint in Uncirculated Cupro Nickel and Proof Sterling Silver. http://www.pobjoy.com











Last Call Of "Prinsendam"


The last ever visit of the large cruise ship "Prinsendam" to South Georgia was marked with a ceremony at Grytviken on February 8th.


The vessel first visited in 2006, after a section of the Tijuca jetty was refurbished enabling it to be used by the ships tenders. Landing fees from that visit paid for the jetty improvements.


During their visit earlier this month 775 people were landed at Grytviken from the ship, 639 of whom were passengers. Due to a change in Government policy only ships carrying a maximum of 500 passengers will be allowed to visit the Island in future.


"Prinsendam's" last visit was toasted with champagne and Captain Halle Thon Gundersen presented Government Officer Emma Jones with a Holland America plaque and a photograph of the ship, and was presented in turn with a South Georgia plaque.




(Photo Left: Captain Halle Thon Gundersen and Government Officer Emma Jones exchanged plaques to commemorate the last visit of "Prinsendam". Photo Joanne Gowing, Image Creator Manager, "Prinsendam".)





Bird Island News

By Stacey Adlard, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island.


February was a busy month for the wildlife and field assistants on Bird Island as young rapidly grew and Wandering Albatross eggs started to hatch.


After several months of noise, created by the 80,000 Macaroni Penguins breeding at Big Mac, the colony finally emptied and became quiet. Throughout February, the chicks have been moulting their fluffy grey and white down, to reveal the tidy miniature blue-grey penguins underneath. Many birds could be seen supporting a variety of weird and wonderful hairstyles as they moulted. Once moulted, the young birds climbed down the rocks, and jumped into the sea for their first swim. After a few moments of panic, they soon realised they were able to swim and dive and disappeared into the waves. It is a little sad to see them go, and the colonies so empty, but it is good to know they have made it this far and in a couple of weeks the noisy adults will return to the colonies to moult.



Macaroni Penguin chicks, (right: moulting chicks, left: first jump into the ocean.
Macaroni Penguin chicks, (right: moulting chicks, left: first jump into the ocean.


The Black-Browed and Grey-Headed Albatross chicks are growing well, through continued feeding by dedicated parents. Many are now starting to grow their first flight feathers. Despite being older and maybe wiser, they are still equally as keen to vomit fishy smelling oil on anyone or anything that gets too close.


Towards the end of February, after being incubated for 2½ months by their parents, the first Wandering Albatross chicks started hatching. It can take 5 days from the first signs of the egg hatching to the young birds emerging fully. The first chick in the study area was seen on February 28th, with more new chicks emerging each day.


Newly hatched Wandering Albatross chick.
Newly hatched Wandering Albatross chick.


The young Fur Seals are growing rapidly, shedding their black puppy fur to reveal beautiful soft grey coats. Most have now realised that they are able to swim and their aquatic displays, gracefully twisting and turning in the water, are lovely to watch. At the start of the month, some of us were lucky enough to see the unusual sight of a blonde female Fur Seal with a blonde pup. As only about 1 in 1000 pups are born blonde, the chance of seeing a blonde mum with a blonde pup is pretty rare.


Blonde Fur Seal mum & pup.
Blonde Fur Seal mum & pup.


Life on Bird Island has continued in its usual busy way, with many hours spent in the field, attempting to keep up with the rapid progress of all the wildlife on the island. Despite this, we had a couple of birthdays on the island, and somehow still managed to find the time for celebrations and cake.


A moulted pup becomes more difficult to distinguish from adult seals.
A moulted pup becomes more difficult to distinguish from adult seals.


Vast numbers of Fur Seal pups on Husvik beach, now moulting into their adult fur.




South Georgia Snippets

An earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale was recorded to the south-south-east of Bristol Island, the southernmost of the South Sandwich Islands, on February 28th.


It is always wise to make the best of good weather at South Georgia. Whilst stormy days made landings difficult or impossible for some tour ships this month, there were better days, including one where temperatures reached 23°C. Government Officer Emma Jones used the dry warmer weather to repaint the mooring markers around KE Cove and the flagpole at KEP.


Lowering the KEP flagpole ready for painting.
Lowering the KEP flagpole ready for painting.


The KEP BAS personnel have been undergoing field training on the Nordenskjold Glacier. Base Commander Tom Marshall was previously employed by BAS at Rothera as a Field Assistant so is qualified to teach techniques used in climbing, glacier travel and mountaineering. He took small groups for a couple of nights camping and ice travel.


Three happy looking learners on the icewall.
Three happy looking learners on the icewall.



Work on the biosecurity building at KEP progresses well with the walls up and roof mainly on by the end of the month. The inside has been divided into three main spaces and clad and painted.

Roofing the biosecurity building.
Roofing the biosecurity building.
Work starts on decorating the interior.
Work starts on decorating the interior.













Photographer Mark Hannaford and his assistant Mary Patterson made an unconventional arrival on February 19th, on the tour ship "Discovery". High winds prevented the ship from lowering its tenders and the only way they could get the two ashore was to seek a lee from local mountains to enable them to drop a Zodiac and land them on a narrow strip of beach under the precipitous slopes of Mt Duse. Most of their luggage was secured on the beach and picked up by boat the following day. Mark is taking photographs for the Scott Polar Research Institute and South Georgia Heritage Trust.


During a short trip to assess the condition of field huts on the Lewin Peninsula, the Government Buildings advisor David Peck and Government Officer Pat Lurcock took the opportunity to climb to a vantage point above the Neumeyer Glacier to photograph the glacier's retreat. Mapping of the glacier front shows massive retreat in recent years, as seen below on a map taken from the GSGSSI GIS (http://www.sggis.gov.gs). The shocking change to the glacier is apparent below, where the photo they took is compared to one taken approximately ten years before. The blue triangles indicates the same point on both photos.



Map showing the retreat of the Neumayer glacier front. GSGSSI GIS.
Map showing the retreat of the Neumayer glacier front. GSGSSI GIS.



Then (late 1990's)
Then (late 1990's)
...and now.
...and now.













Success at last!....The much watched and last remaining King Penguin chick at Penguin River is the first chick hatched there to survive to adulthood. In recent years several eggs have been laid, and chicks hatched, at the nascent colony but the young birds have previously all succumbed to severe weather or predators. As this first successful chick moulted into its adult feathers, several pairs of Kings had laid eggs again.


The first chick at Penguin River moults its last bit of chick down. Photo Emma Jones
The first chick at Penguin River moults its last bit of chick down. Photo Emma Jones


Elephant Seals are returning in greater numbers to moult piled up in foetid wallows behind the beaches. By the end of the month some of the large males were also returning after a couple of months at sea feeding up after the end of the breeding season.




Elephant Seals pile up in a wallow.




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