South Georgia Newsletter, July 2012

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



Plotting Success

By Dr Jennifer Lee, GSGSSI Environment Officer.


You often hear people say that they will give 100% but it is only really in eradication operations where the difference between 99.9% and 100% is complete failure or absolute success of the project. Even just a small remnant population of the target species spells disaster. For the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) Habitat Restoration Project, post-baiting monitoring to detect the presence of rats in the Phase 1 area is particularly important as it is vital to know that the methodology is successful before moving on to Phase 2 at the beginning of next year.


Earlier reports on the post-baiting monitoring on the Green Peninsula said early signs were that the eradication had been successful in this area. However, it is important not to get complacent, so last month, on a GSGSSI initiative, Andy Black and I headed down to South Georgia to look for signs of rats in the largest baiting zone for Phase 1, the Thatcher Peninsula. This peninsula is approximately 5640 hectares of which 1620 are vegetated. Over a 30-day period we placed 119 wax tags in all major areas of coastal tussac vegetation including Maiviken, Harpon Bay and the coast from Sooty Bluff to Discovery Point. In addition, some tags were placed at vegetated inland sites in Bore Valley and around Gull Lake.


Map of where the monitoring tags have been placed on the Thatcher Peninsula.
Map of where the monitoring tags have been placed on the Thatcher Peninsula.


The peanut flavoured tags are very attractive to rats. Trials in Corral Bay, an area that has yet to be baited, have shown that even when rats are at very low densities the tags are gnawed after only a week. This gives us confidence that the wax tags are an effective monitoring tool.


Example of a wooden stake with a red painted top placed in tussac vegetation. The wax tag is not visible and is about 3-5cm from ground level.
Example of a wooden stake with a red painted top placed in tussac vegetation. The wax tag is not visible and is about 3-5cm from ground level.


Example of a wax tag that has been gnawed by rats at un-baited Corral Bay.
Example of a wax tag that has been gnawed by rats at un-baited Corral Bay.


Depending on your perspective, the weather when we were out in the field was either perfect or decidedly sub-optimal as there was snow down to sea-level for the entire period. This made moving between sites more difficult than usual but it provided an excellent opportunity to search for rat tracks in the snow. Happily I can report that we did not find any rat tracks on the Thatcher Peninsula, although whilst searching for rat sign at Maiviken, we saw the tracks of a South Georgia pipit. This species is negatively affected by rats and so indications that individuals are utilising recently baited areas bode well for the re-establishment of breeding populations in the future.


Although it is still too early to declare that the Phase 1 operation a success, the lack of any evidence of rats on both the Greene and Thatcher Peninsulas after 15 months post-baiting is very encouraging. Tags at all sites will be checked again in late spring when numbers of rats in any remnant populations would be increasing.


The 1.4mb, 10-page report Post-baiting rat monitoring on the Thatcher Peninsula by Andy Black and Jennifer Lee can be downloaded here.



Hidden History - Operation Journeyman 1977

A major British military and political event in the South Atlantic has been largely overlooked by the region’s history books. A Royal Navy task force, codenamed Operation Journeyman, was deployed to the waters around South Georgia and the Falklands in 1977 following the occupation of Southern Thule in the South Sandwich Islands by 50 Argentine “scientists”. British leaders, who feared a wider Argentine invasion of other British Islands in the region might follow, wanted Argentina to be aware of the powerful task force, but not the British public, so Operation Journeyman was conducted in intense secrecy. The first public mention of the operation was five years later when Lord Owen, who had been the UK Foreign Secretary in 1977, suggested similar prompt action could have averted the 1982 War.


In the article below Chris Cole, Supply Officer on “HMS Phoebe” at the time, describes what it was like as one of those deployed on Operation Journeyman.


Various events in my life recently, coinciding with the 30th Anniversary of the Falklands War, turned my mind back to October 1977 when, as a Lieutenant RN, I was serving as the Supply Officer of “HMS Phoebe”, a Leander Class Frigate captained by the late Captain Hugh Balfour MVO RN. We were on a goodwill visit to Antwerp, having just completed a Joint Maritime Course Exercise off the north of Scotland, and we were looking forward to a much deserved period of rest and recreation in Holland. We arrived on a Friday morning and hosted the usual arrival cocktail party that evening and were planning a long weekend of enjoyment before sailing the following Tuesday. However, mid Saturday afternoon the Captain received a Top Secret signal and he called in the First Lieutenant and Navigating Officer for a very private meeting. Afterwards I was called in and told the ship would be sailing as soon as all crew had been recalled from shore, and I should make all the preparations necessary to store for war on our arrival in Plymouth on Monday morning. My only question for the Captain was, in accordance with the appropriate manual, what climate am I storing for Sir, hot or cold? (there was a huge difference in the stores outfit required). His reply was that he was sorry but he couldn’t tell me as our destination was top secret. You’ll have to store for both.


“HMS Phoebe” was part of the 1977 task force sent to the South Atlantic.
“HMS Phoebe” was part of the 1977 task force sent to the South Atlantic.


Top Secret preparatory signals sent to Plymouth resulted in a smooth store-ship on the Monday with one exception. The ship was fitted for, but not with, four Exocet missiles. We had put in a demand for 4 missiles but on the day only three arrived at the ship. The Gunnery Officer called the armament depot to ask why and was told that they only had four in stock and they had to keep one for emergencies. Guns persuaded the storekeeper that storing for war might be considered an emergency! We sailed with 4 missiles. Only the Captain and the Navigator knew where we were going, but not for how long. All we were told, and all we could tell our families, was not to expect us to be home for Christmas.


The day after sailing we commenced intensive training, testing every aspect of our responses to possible threats, carrying out major fire and damage drills and generally working the ship’s crew up into a fighting team. Although we had still not been told where we were going or why, the ship’s company deduced we were on a war footing. The main passageways had been filled with extra stores and they were not used to walking over cases of baked beans. In mid-Atlantic we rendezvoused with “HMS Alacrity”, RFAs “Resource” and “Owen” were to join us later, and somewhere beneath us was the nuclear submarine “Dreadnought”. At that stage the ship’s companies were briefed on our mission. We were told that Operation Journeyman had been ordered by the then Prime Minister, James Callaghan, as fifty Argentine "scientists" had landed on Southern Thule in the South Sandwich Islands, prompting fears of an Argentine invasion of the Falklands. Apparently the Argentinians had set up a military base on Thule. Only the officers on the ships were briefed on the rules of engagement which were pretty defensive. They stated: Commanding Officers and aircraft captains are to respond to any aggression with tactful firmness and are to exhibit a determination to meet any escalation, though not to exceed that already carried out by the enemy. All use of force must be governed by the principle of using only the minimum force necessary to achieve the aim. Such force must be used only until evident that the immediate aim is being achieved and must in no way be retaliatory. The submarine commander was told that if attacked with anti-submarine weapons by Argentinian forces he was to surface or withdraw at high speed submerged, whichever will be of least risk to life.


In effect we were sitting ducks, but the Argentinians weren’t to know that! We were to set up a 50 mile security zone and any ships entering the zone were to be asked to identify themselves and state their intentions.


Passing the time; the Padre conducts a sing-along, with Chris Cole playing guitar, on the flight deck of “HMS Phoebe” somewhere in mid Atlantic on their journey to the South Atlantic.
Passing the time; the Padre conducts a sing-along, with Chris Cole playing guitar, on the flight deck of “HMS Phoebe” somewhere in mid Atlantic on their journey to the South Atlantic.


Our main problem was maintaining a discreet presence on station for an indefinite period as nobody had told us when we would be returning to UK. We had enough supplies to survive for 3 months, which, with the help of the RFAs, could be extended by a further six weeks. After that, serious logistical problems could have arisen. Keeping the submarine “Dreadnought” supplied was more problematical as she was only allowed to surface for about 5 minutes a week, during which time our Wasp helicopter had to lower supplies and deliver and collect the laundry (we had a Chinese laundry crew on board) in what was a very short space of time. On one occasion the helicopter was hovering over the conning tower having just dropped off the laundry when a huge swell lifted “Dreadnought” just as the pilot was lowering the aircraft to pick up the next batch of washing. The two collided and the forward starboard wheel of the helicopter became lodged in the conning tower of the sub. As the duty Flight Deck Officer I was privy to the conversation going on between the pilot and the Captain on the bridge. The Captain informed the pilot that the submarine would have to submerge in one minute so he would need to detach himself somehow. “Roger” came the calm reply. The next thing I heard on the radio was the pilot, Bertie Lamb, singing “Three wheels on my wagon” as he turned to approach the ship to land on the heaving deck of our frigate. He had pulled full power on the aircraft and left the wheel firmly lodged in the submarines conning tower. With the help of a hatch cover and some coconut matting and considerable skill he managed to land safely but it was a close run thing.


Christmas loomed and my Petty Officer Caterer came to me with a confession that he had forgotten to order any mixed nuts for the Christmas dinner table. As luck would have it we were due a mail drop by the RAF and a short message to our air force colleagues resulted in them dropping bags of nuts in floating canisters in time for Christmas.


In mid-February we learnt that our presence had been a success. The scientists had apparently gone and the base had been closed. We were to return home having spent just over three and a half months continuously at sea. It had been my first glimpse of South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, albeit not at very close quarters. We were sworn to secrecy and were not allowed to tell anyone, including our families where we had been or what we had done. It remained a secret until the outbreak of the Falklands War in 1982 when David Owen asked the then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher why such a Task Force had not been sent when the Foreign Office first got wind of a likely invasion. Classified documents relating to Operation Journeyman were released in 2005. The operation was assessed as successful and was deemed likely to have prevented a more serious incident/attack on the islands.


By Chris Cole, Commander Royal Navy (Retired)




Last Chance For “HMS Plymouth”

“HMS Plymouth”. Photo http://www.forces80.com
“HMS Plymouth”. Photo http://www.forces80.com


The fight continues to save “HMS Plymouth”. The Type 12 anti-submarine frigate, which was active in South Georgia and the Falklands in the 1982 War, was in the limelight 30 years ago when notorious Argentine Navy officer Alfredo Astiz, who was at Leith whaling station, formally surrendered to British Forces in the ship’s wardroom.


Now, following news that a berth has been secured for the “HMS Plymouth”, there is just three months to raise £400,000. The money is needed by the newly-formed charity HMS Plymouth Trust to pay outstanding berth fees and to fund a release from contract to prevent the ship going for scrap. If the ship can be saved then there are plans to use it as a training vessel for navy cadets. Captain Richard Tyrrell of the Navy Training Corps, and trustee of the HMS Plymouth Trust, said: "We have everything in place except the actual ship and the funds. I think this is quite realistic given the support we have and that the main stumbling block has been finding a berth for the ship. But now we have that secure there is no reason why people shouldn't feel confident donating money to the future of this ship. Hopefully there will be plenty of public support. We now have a berth that is 100 percent secure."


Chris Swift, the HMS Plymouth Trusts marketing consultant, said, “We must pay off outstanding berthing fees and the Turkish scrap dealer’s cancellation terms. We have a three-month window of opportunity while the export licensing is sorted out, which seems a short time to raise £400,000, but we are confident of finding funds and everything else is in place." He added: "She will be much more than just a museum and cadet training ship, a venue which can contribute a lot to where she is located.” To donate to the fund, visit www.mstsblythe.org.uk.


“HMS Plymouth” is currently berthed at Victoria Dock in Birkenhead, UK.


Info http://www.thisisplymouth.co.uk




Fishing and Shipping News

Reefer and trawler in Cumberland Bay. Photo John Schutzer-Weissmann
Reefer and trawler in Cumberland Bay. Photo John Schutzer-Weissmann


It has been a busy month in the fishery in July. The month began with all six longliners licensed to fish for toothfish in the SGMZ. Catches remained reasonably good. On June 8th one longliner sailed for Stanley, Falkland Islands, to make a mid-season transhipment, returning to the MZ on the 14th. Two longliners entered Cumberland Bay on July 9th to transfer bait between the vessels. Towards the end of the month two of the longliners completed their TAC (Total Allowable Catch) and sailed to Stanley for catch verification.


There were two trawlers fishing for krill at the beginning of the month and catches were very good.


Two more trawlers were inspected and licensed, one for krill on July 8th and one to fish for krill and icefish on July 21st; it started fishing for krill. On June 21st one trawler completed fishing and sailed for Punta Arenas.


A reefer arrived in Cumberland Bay on July 4th to tranship krill from two of the trawlers. The reefer remained in harbour for most of the rest of the month taking regular loads from the trawlers and then sailed to the Falklands for bunkers and a crew exchange.


Aboard a krill trawler. Photo Alastair Wilson.
Aboard a krill trawler. Photo Alastair Wilson.





Black-browed Albatross Success Not Reflected In South Georgia

The population of black-browed Albatross on South Georgia is the world's second largest, next to the Falkland Islands. Recent census data indicates a healthy increase in the number of birds breeding in the Falklands archipelago. These data has been submitted to BirdLife International for use in the Red List assessment process. Although the South Georgia population appears to be in decline, because the Falklands' population constitutes such a large proportion of the global population, this is likely to result in the global conservation status of the species being changed to a less threatened category.


The exact reasons for the increase in the Falklands population are not entirely clear, but efforts to reduce seabird by-catch, and beneficial feeding conditions, are likely to have contributed. By-catch of Black-browed Albatrosses in South Georgia fisheries has through the effective implementation of a range of mitigation measures been successfully reduced to negligible numbers. Given the wide ranging nature of the species, and the lack of evidence for threats at their breeding sites, the ongoing decline in the numbers of Black-browed Albatrosses breeding at South Georgia is likely due, at least in part, to the impacts of external fisheries, those operating on the high seas and in the jurisidictional waters of other countries.


Dr Cleo Small, a coordinator of BirdLife International's Global Seabird Programme at the RSPB, said: "When 17 out of the world's 22 species of albatross are listed as threatened with extinction, it is hugely encouraging that black-browed albatross colonies in the Falkland Islands are now known to be increasing. There is still some way to go, with the UK Overseas Territories' other major black-browed albatross population on South Georgia continuing to decline, but this result gives us great hope for turning around the fortunes of other albatross species. By-catch in fisheries is the main threat, and efforts are underway in many longline and trawl fleets worldwide to reduce the number of albatrosses killed. If we can keep this up, there is real hope that the black-browed albatross will set a trend for the future."




Beware Avalanche

Practicing ice axe arrests. Photo John Schutzer-Weissmann.
Practicing ice axe arrests. Photo John Schutzer-Weissmann.


Once the winter snow comes, those moving around outside on South Georgia need to be aware of avalanche risk. With snow accumulating throughout the month, there was enough by July 11th for the Base Commander James Wake, who is field craft trained, to continue winter training by taking people out for practical lessons in winter travel. This included training to assess avalanche risk, and how to locate and recover people who have been caught in an avalanche. This training can be fun, practising ice axe arrests on the steep hillsides, but the risk is real. The Grytviken track was closed several times this month due to avalanche risk.


We received the following message from Ken Ingamels after last month’s newsletter: “I was interested in the report of avalanche training in the June News. It reminded me of the story of Danny Borland, who was a forecaster at KEP for several years before the end of whaling. One morning, arising early, he was walking from KEP to brief the whaling captains of the day's weather when an avalanche swept him off the path into the icy waters of the bay. He struggled out in the dark, carried on to do his briefing before returning to his room at KEP to change from his still sopping wet clothes. They bred a harder breed of meteorologist in those days.”


Less lucky was Magistrate William Barlas who died in September 1941 following a snow avalanche on the same section of track. According to the Coroner’s Report, lodged at the Scott Polar Research Institute, there had been two foot of snowfall the night before and Barlas and a Mr O’Sullivan were carried out into the water by the avalanche. O’Sullivan survived.




All Ale And Hearty

Jeff in his garage brewery. Photo Patrick Lurcock.
Jeff in his garage brewery. Photo Patrick Lurcock.


A microbrewery that has just started production in the Falkland Islands was inspired by locally brewed ale in South Georgia. Jeff Halliday was on the Island as part of a building team 18 months ago. He was already thinking of setting something up in the Falklands after visiting a microbrewery in the middle of nowhere in New Zealand, but any doubt he had about brewing in a remote location dissolved when he sampled the good ales brewed by Pat Lurcock on South Georgia. Pat regularly brews ales using dry kits. Each brew is names after whales: Blue Ale; Killer Ale; Southern Right Ale etc. A case of the ale is often on offer over the bar at KEP, which is where TV chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall sampled it. He must have liked it as he asked for another! Jeff enjoyed it too.


On returning to the Falklands it took Jeff just one year to take Falkland Beerworks from conception to selling his first pint. For now he brews two beers: Maiden Bitter which is a light crisp golden ale; and the slightly stronger coppery coloured best bitter Longdon Pride. Falkland Beerworks currently produces 84 litres of ale every 2 weeks, and can sell it all through just one outlet, the hotel and bar The Malvina House Hotel in Stanley. The brewery is in Jeff’s garage and now he plans to expand it to make up to ten times the amount, and two other ales. Other local businesses like the pubs and shops are keen to sell the beer. And nothing is wasted; after the beer is made the spent grain is sent to the Murrell Farm to feed the chickens.


Jeff said of the new Falkland brewery,” At the moment it is a hobby that pays for itself and gives me some extra cash. However if things carry on as they are there would be great potential in the hobby becoming a viable business. I hope to have my beer in every bar in Stanley, and maybe even start a small bottling plant. Export to South Georgia even!”




Bird Island Diary

By Rob Lord, Facilities Technician at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.


With the island looking very sparse in terms of animals July began in the usual way with the all island wandering albatross chick census, and I am pleased to report that there were only 2 failures despite several storms the previous month. July has also seen a drop in temperature and the odd morning we have been treated to pancake and grease ice in the bay. The Antarctic terns seem to love it as it brings them out in droves.


My role as the services technician means I take care of the general, electrical and mechanical works around base. This includes weekly refuelling, general repairs, generator maintenance and care of the water plant. The recent drop in temperature means that the dam, our regular source of water, is now frozen and water has to be pumped once or twice a week from a stream in North Valley some 40m away. A hole is made in the ice covering the stream and water is pumped through a hose pipe into the main tank.


Rob Lord pumping water from North Valley stream. Photo Jen James.
Rob Lord pumping water from North Valley stream. Photo Jen James.


The penguin and bird work has suddenly now become more lab based with Jen and Ruth analysing krill, otoliths and squid beaks. Jon continues walking the coast to look for leopard seals each day and my work is much the same year round; fixing everything broken by the scientists.


Towards the end of the month our winter base commander Ruth decided we should conduct part one of the Bird Island Search and Rescue Training. This involved familiarising ourselves with the field medical and rescue equipment.


Rob in a basket stretcher. Photo Jen James.
Rob in a basket stretcher. Photo Jen James.


An exceptionally nice day proved the perfect opportunity for the Bird Island winter trip, we downed tools, adjusted microscope-focused vision and headed out for a trip to the south side of the island over the beaches of Main Bay, through the meadows of Dank Fen and eventually to Johnson Cove.


The winterers on the stack overlooking Johnson cove.  Photo Ruth Brown.
The winterers on the stack overlooking Johnson cove. Photo Ruth Brown.


Later on in the day we were able to watch the Gentoo penguins return from their daily foraging trip. This is arguably the best spectacle on the island. We were also lucky enough to spot a lost chinstrap penguin, a rare visitor to the island. The return leg of the trip took us over Top Meadows and we were able to see the sunset, normally obscured by the North Cliffs of the island, before commencing the brisk walk down North Valley back to base.


A chinstrap penguin blends in with the gentoos. Photo Rob Lord.
A chinstrap penguin blends in with the gentoos. Photo Rob Lord.





South Georgia Snippets

Shaken but not stirred: A large earthquake measuring 5.4 on the Richter scale occurred on July 19th at 55.990ーS, 27.739ーW, 85 km NNW of Visokoi Island in the South Sandwich Islands.


Jet boat launch: One of the jet boats was launched, after routine maintenance, on the high tide one calm July morning and Alastair Wilson caught the action in this time-lapse film.


Shackleton signature handover: An original signature by Ernest Shackleton was presented to the South Georgia Museum on behalf of the South Georgia Association on July 24th. Commissioner Nigel Haywood handed the small frame containing the distinctive signature to Sarah Lurcock (SGHT Director SG) who accepted it for the South Georgia Museum collection.


The signature was one of several South Georgia related artefacts collected by Ricky Chinn, who died recently. He was the first BAS (FID) Base Commander at King Edward Point Station when the station was established in 1967/68. The Grytviken Caretaker was soon to be leaving his lonely job looking after Grytviken whaling station, as the station had not been operated since December 1964. Before he left the FIDs were able to buy items from the whaling station from him. In this way Ricky also collected a flensing knife, ship’s clock and ship’s navigation lights. These and other items from Ricky’s collection will also soon be making their way to the Museum.


After accepting the signature Sarah said she was delighted to now carry it down to the Island where it will be on display in the Museum in the case with other Shackleton artefacts, which include his “Nimrod” expedition compass and a walking stick.



Commissioner Nigel Haywood hands over Ernest Shackleton’s signature to Sarah Lurcock who accepted it on behalf of the South Georgia Museum.
Commissioner Nigel Haywood hands over Ernest Shackleton’s signature to Sarah Lurcock who accepted it on behalf of the South Georgia Museum.



Winter playground: Early July was really wintry with temperatures dropping to -8C, and half a metre of new snow which was blown into drifts by the strong winds. Good weather coincided with the weekends and held good for a group heading out for a bigger adventure.


James, Katie and Matt were able to try some more adventurous routes on the Barff Peninsula due to James’ qualification in field craft. They started out on snow shoes and skis from Sandebugten to camp at the foot of the Szielasko ice cap.


Matt and Katie on the way up Black Peak.
Matt and Katie on the way up Black Peak.


The next day they roped up and hiked up the ice cap then climbed Black Peak where they enjoyed breathtaking views over the Island from the 812m summit.


Breathtaking views over the Island from the top.
Breathtaking views over the Island from the top.


On the third day they struck camp and hiked back in to Reindeer Valley, then dropped into Godthul for the last night and were rewarded for all the hard work with a calm and beautiful crisp evening when they sat on the beach to watch the gentoo penguins come in to roost. On the final day they hiked back to Sandebugten for a pick-up by boat to return to KEP.


Gentoos coming out to roost for the night. Photos Matt Kenny.
Gentoos coming out to roost for the night. Photos Matt Kenny.


Enjoy the views from three of the local mountains above Grytviken.
Footage was taken in late summer.






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