South Georgia Newsletter, March 2008

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Massive Iceberg Splits Close to South Georgia

Splitting iceberg captured by 'Envisat'.
Splitting iceberg captured by 'Envisat'.

The break up of a massive iceberg close to South Georgia has been captured by the European Space Agency.


The iceberg 'A53A' calved off the Larsen Ice Shelf in late April 2005 and has since been tracked as it moved northwards to its current position about 150km north of the south-eastern end of the Island.


A huge fissure was spotted running south to north through the berg on March 1st and radar images indicated the berg was unstable and likely to split. Just days afterwards, on March 4th, the break was captured. The resulting two bergs are estimated to measure around 30 km in length. As a reference, South Georgia (which can clearly be seen in both images) is approximately 180 km long.



Splitting iceberg captured by 'Envisat'.
Splitting iceberg captured by 'Envisat'.

Numerous smaller icebergs will now calve off the two icebergs. When similar large icebergs have broken up close to the Island these smaller bergs have caused considerable hazard for shipping in the area for a long while afterwards and large bergs have choked the bays around the Island.










Seabed Survey by Argentina

The Argentine Navy’s oceanographic vessel “Puerto Deseado” has been commissioned to collect scientific and technical data on the seabed to the north of the Falklands and all the way to South Georgia.


Information gathered from the survey would be used in Argentina’s presentation before the United Nations to have its continental platform border and rights extended from 200 to 350 miles. 'Mercopress' reported that the Falkland Islands Acting Governor Paul Martinez confirmed that neither the Falklands nor the UK government had been informed of the intentions of the “Puerto Deseado”, nor had the Argentines made any official request to operate within Falkland Islands or South Georgia waters.



South Georgia Surveys Fieldwork Ends for the Season

By Sally Poncet


19th Century sealers’  trypot at Ocean Harbour, “Porvenir” at anchor in the background. Photo Sally Poncet.
19th Century sealers’ trypot at Ocean Harbour, “Porvenir” at anchor in the background. Photo Sally Poncet.

Single-handed sailor Ken Passfield left King Edward Cove on March 1st on his 31-foot steel sloop “Porvenir” bound for Stanley, Falkland Islands, after two and a half months at South Georgia. Ken provided logistical support for 'South Georgia Survey’s' (SGS) 2007-08 summer field season, working with Sally Poncet in the Bay of Isles initially, and then moving down the coast to the Barff Peninsula and Stromness Bay areas in February. SGS carries out annual Wandering Albatross censuses at Albatross and Prion Islands (see Jan. newsletter), in addition to baseline surveys for invasive species distribution and historic sites.










Possible foundations of a navigation beacon at Godthul. Photo Sally Poncet.
Possible foundations of a navigation beacon at Godthul. Photo Sally Poncet.

Following on from last summer’s preliminary historic sites survey for SGS, Ken completed photo-surveys of the early whaling station sites at Ocean Harbour, Godthul and Husvik, and of various lighthouses and navigational beacons dating from the 20th century.


More details at http://www.southgeorgiasurveys.org









More Help for Albatrosses

South Georgia albatrosses like these Light-mantled Sooty Albatross may be safer in future. Photo Pat Lurcock
South Georgia albatrosses like these Light-mantled Sooty Albatross may be safer in future. Photo Pat Lurcock

Two million pounds has been committed by the two organisations 'Royal Society for the Protection of Birds' (RSPB) and 'Birdlife International' so they can double the number of countries they are working in to reduce seabird mortality in offshore fisheries.


New research from Namibia, Uruguay and Argentina highlights that albatross and other seabirds are dying in large numbers in the longline and trawl fisheries operating in these countries’ waters. A recent report shows that Namibian longline fisheries alone kill over 30,000 seabirds, including albatrosses, every year. All three countries represent globally important hotspots for albatrosses, especially those that breed on South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha.


The money will be used to extend the work of the 'Albatross Task Force', a team of experts advising fishermen at sea and on shore about ways to reduce seabird deaths by making fishing techniques more albatross friendly.



Dr Ben Sullivan, the Global Seabird Programme Co-ordinator, said: “One of the most heavily affected areas is the South Atlantic where albatross populations are suffering the steepest declines, particularly on the UK overseas territories of South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and Tristan da Cunha. For example, for every 100 pairs of albatross nesting on South Georgia, we are losing four every year. These declines are not happening around the Island, where fisheries adopting albatross-friendly fishing have brought albatross bycatch to zero, but they are happening largely in the South Atlantic, especially off the coasts of southern Africa and South America.”


Info: Fishupdate.com March 28th



Fishing and Shipping News

As March ended so did the tourist season for the summer of 2008.


The second week of the month was especially busy with a ship a day visiting King Edward Cove. Twelve cruise ships visited during March. “Fram” and “Corinthian II” made their first ever calls at South Georgia, and in line with normal government practice a Government Observer was aboard “Corinthian II” for part of her visit.


“Corinthian ll” anchored at Prion Island. Photo: Ainslie Wilson
“Corinthian ll” anchored at Prion Island. Photo: Ainslie Wilson


Cruise ship “Minerva”, had visited several times this season already under the name “Explorer 2”. It is expected that “Minerva” will be the name used for this ship in the future.


Most of the late season cruise ships were heading north after they left South Georgia on repositioning cruises before they start the summer season in the northern hemisphere.


“Minerva” in Cumberland East Bay. Photo: Ainslie Wilson
“Minerva” in Cumberland East Bay. Photo: Ainslie Wilson


Four yachts visited the Island this month, all had left by the end of the month. One yacht “Wanderer III”, is due to leave Stanley, Falklands, soon to overwinter on the Island.


After good catches the Icefish trawler “Betanzos” finished her Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and handed in logbooks at King Edward Point (KEP) on March 3rd. There is currently no other fishing in the zone.



Summary of the 2007/08 Tourist Season

“Le Diamant”  landing passengers at Grytviken. Photo Charlie Keating.
“Le Diamant” landing passengers at Grytviken. Photo Charlie Keating.


Sixty-four cruise ships visits were made to South Georgia this season, bringing just over 8000 passengers.


Six of the 70 cruise ship visits booked were canceled, four due to mechanical problems and two when the cruise ship “Explorer” sank in the Antarctic.


Twenty two yacht visits have been made so far this season, bringing a total of 122 passengers and crew. Two yachts were supporting Government projects, 7 were on charter and the rest were on private visits.


A more detailed analysis of the 2007/08 tourist season will be published later in the year.



Prion Island Boardwalk Work Completed for the Season

Passengers from “Corinthian ll” use the newly constructed boardwalk on Prion Island.  Photo: Ainslie Wilson
Passengers from “Corinthian ll” use the newly constructed boardwalk on Prion Island. Photo: Ainslie Wilson

Work has finished for the season on the new boardwalk on Prion Island in the Bay of Isles.


The four-man 'Global Boardwalk' team has spent two months at Prion Island assembling prefabricated boardwalk sections that lead from the beach up to viewing platforms higher up. The boardwalk is part of the visitor management on the island and will help reduce visitor impact due to vegetation trampling whilst allowing access to the higher areas of the island where the Wandering Albatrosses nest.





Although work progressed well, bad weather slowed the work in the later stages and the lower jetty section was not constructed. The materials for this remain on the island.


The yacht “Pelagic” was used to provide accommodation and support during the project.



Bird Island News

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


At the beginning of March, like the previous two months and for the last time this summer, the entire base was called up to beat the 2008 record of Fur Seal pup weighing. After two hours and 110 pups lifted the new record was established: 1395 kg!! But it wasn’t very difficult to beat the last month record; the pups are still being fed to complete their growth and store fat or energy before they leave Bird Island some time next month.


Chris Martin arrived on the 8th with the “Pharos SG”, the only ship call this month. He was just in time to blow out the candles on his birthday cake, the day after he arrived. Chris, who’s staying a little more than one month here, will give to the base an environmental touch after he put in a solar water heating system on the roof, work in progress…


Wandering Albatross brooding its chick.
Wandering Albatross brooding its chick.



During that time on the meadows all around the island lots of eggs hatched. It has started at the end of February and now one month later there are chicks of Wandering Albatross in all the nests. While some of them, still very small, are lying down under the adult hiding and staying warm between the brood patch and the feathers, the others are already too big to stay under cover. The adult has to sit on one leg astride the nest and on the other side you can see the chick with its head outside watching you and wondering what is this hairy animal with orange jacket! Is it not crazy to hatch just at the end of the summer when all the other birds try to leave the place before the winter?


The first flying birds to have a go were the Northern Giant Petrels with their freshly new black coat. Using the dominant wind they’ve started their journey to the Australian waters and beyond. The mollymawks, which have been getting more and more real feathers, are still flapping their wings on their nests.


Giant Petrel chick in its black coat.
Giant Petrel chick in its black coat.
Grey-headed Albatross chick.
Grey-headed Albatross chick.





Even if the weather in March has been mild, the first signs of the winter have been noticed by all of us on base. The daylight has considerably reduced. Now the first light appears around 8 o’clock in the morning and it’s dark at 9 in the evening. With the length of the night increasing the temperature has dropped and we had the first morning frost on March 24th, which froze the water of the stream and the ponds for one day. Also snow showers and sleet have been more frequent at the end of the month though the snow melts in few hours . After a few weeks without seeing any, the icebergs are back and are drifting around the island. And the last sign of the end of the summer was the closing of Cave Crag camp-site after one month monitoring Black-browed Albatrosses foraging trips in the southern oceans.


Icebergs off Jordan Cove. All photos Fabrice Le Bouard
Icebergs off Jordan Cove. All photos Fabrice Le Bouard




South Georgia Snippets

March announced it’s arrival by throwing every conceivable type of weather down on SG residents; rain, wind, snow, sleet and a spectacular thunder and lightning storm right over KEP, which had those caught outside diving for cover. In between there was the odd sunny, warm and calm day that were so beautiful that the last 10 terrible ones were forgiven and forgotten!


One day of good weather was put to good use by the boat crews, taking both harbour launches “Prion” and “Pipit” on a training trip round into Cumberland West Bay. Museum and Government staff went along for the ride. The highlight of the trip was spotting a large Leopard Seal basking in the sun on top of an ice floe. Consensus was that it was a ‘she’, and had probably hauled out to digest a recent meal.



Photo: Ainslie Wilson
Photo: Ainslie Wilson
Up close and personal to the sleeping Leopard seal. Photo Steve Massam
Up close and personal to the sleeping Leopard seal. Photo Steve Massam
















New navigational markers have been placed around KE Cove. The four new 'leading marks' are fitted with lights to aid entry to the cove at night.


An exciting birth announcement was made on March 10th. Assistant Scientist Charlie Main was excited to find a baby skate had hatched in the aquarium from an egg-case collected on the 'Groundfish Survey' in Sept 2007. The 17cm fish is the first skate hatched in captivity in South Georgia and may soon have company as a further four egg-cases are still ripening.


Easter was snowy, but too warm for the snow to hang around. Several Museum and Government Staff enjoyed an Easter Sunday treat, joining the beautiful three masted “Bark Europa” at Maiviken and sailing round to KE Cove. Those left on base tucked into a fine Easter brunch prepared by Mairi, the Base Commander.


The crew and passengers of “Bark Europa” swelled the numbers at the Easter church service held that evening – very lovely with candles, a solo by a visitor from up in the gallery and a talk on peace by another passenger basing his talk on working in war torn Angola. Afterwards we walked by candlelight to the cemetery to pay respects to Ernest Shackleton. “Bark Europa” was tied up at Tijuca jetty and with the deck lit by party lights, a memorable party ensued, dancing on the deck as the snow fell.


“Bark Europa” under sail entering Cumberland Bay East. Photo: Emma Jones
“Bark Europa” under sail entering Cumberland Bay East. Photo: Emma Jones


The Morrison FI Ltd workers have closed up camp and left the Island for another season. They had a frantic couple of weeks leading up to their departure finishing last minute jobs and tidying away machinery. The turbine house was made weather tight, the tsunami shelters at Gull Lake were tinned and roofed, the refurbishment of a section of the KEP jetty finished and the builders' camp closed down for winter.


The last of the prized Double Decker bars leave with the Morrison team on “Pharos SG”.
The last of the prized Double Decker bars leave with the Morrison team on “Pharos SG”.


“James Caird III”, a replica of the lifeboat used by Shackleton and his men to reach South Georgia after their ship “Endurance” sank in the Weddell Sea, reached the Falkland Islands at the end of the month. The boat will be the main exhibit in the new Maritime Gallery in the South Georgia Museum and should complete its journey to the Island at the beginning of next summer season. Shipped from North America in a container, it should soon be unpacked and plans are being made for it to be exhibited this winter at the Falkland Island Museum.


King Penguins are trying to breed at Penguin River again.
King Penguins are trying to breed at Penguin River again.

Once again several pairs of King Penguins are trying to breed at Penguin River. Three tiny chicks have been hatched so far and there is still one egg being brooded.
















A mystery seal hauled out at Grytviken had everyone scratching their heads. We are unsure if it is a Weddell Seal or possible a Crabeater.


The mystery seal
The mystery seal


Brian Summers, the 'South Atlantic Invasive Species' Project Officer returned to the Island to assess the effectiveness of the various sprays used during his last visit to combat the Bittercress at KEP. He and Ainslie Wilson made a concerted effort to spray remaining plants. With winter arriving no more can be done this season, but Brian will now make a plan for continuing the campaign over the next few summers.


Painting of Larsen House was completed after several months work. The next big painting project will be the Fuel Farm.


Ainslie Wilson handed over the SG Post Office to Steve Artis and has now headed back to New Zealand with high hopes of returning soon.


The remaining members of the Museum Team, Morrison builders and all other short term visitors left at the end of the month on “Pharos SG”. Suddenly KEP feels very quiet with just the nine core members of the BAS team and two GSGSSI employees making up the winter population of eleven!



The South Georgia Half-Marathon 2008

By Anjali Pande


Busy-ness, apathy and a lot of vacillating meant the half-marathon almost didn’t happen this year, but for the sake of tradition at very short notice we did end up organising it after all. So on March 9th it was foggy and drizzly, but we went ahead as planned. The original route around the back of the football field was re-instated making it slightly longer than last years half-marathon. Also the start and finish line was by the Jail – the idea being that the finishers could warm up in the Sauna and still rush out to greet all comers-over-the-line!….


The fog caused a lot of people to get at least momentarily lost and slowed proceedings up, especially on Brown Mountain where even a marshal got lost!! However, there were a few people straying further east than they needed to in the general vicinity of Maiviken Lake also. Wet rock and tussac made for slippery conditions and it was more like skiing than running in places. Fortunately that’s what marshals are there for...to ensure it all runs smoothly despite adverse conditions! (Excuse the pun!)


It ended up being a very enjoyable day despite the wetness. Not being a very big field one can mention almost everyone. Steve Massam and Charles Swift – the only two walkers this year finished in a time of 4:29:44. Out of the runners, Tim Hudson and Andrew Chase came over the finish line together in a time of 3:07:23, being narrowly pipped at the post by Rachel Hadden who completed in 3:03:28. Jenn Lawson and Bob Pratt finished together in equal third place in a time of 2:35:10. Greg Aagard celebrated finishing second in 2:29:04 with a cigarette!! Anjali Pande coming over the line first finished in a time of 2:12:04. A sterling effort from everyone!


Competitors scramble down from Brown Mountain.
Competitors scramble down from Brown Mountain.
Greg receiving his prize for second place.
Greg receiving his prize for second place.

















Museum News

Report by Shop Manager Miriam Iorworth


Taxidermist Steve Massam putting finishing touches to a Wandering Albatross. Photo: Ainslie Wilson
Taxidermist Steve Massam putting finishing touches to a Wandering Albatross. Photo: Ainslie Wilson

After a busy start to the month, with a cruise ship every day to remind us just what it was like at the start of the year, things started winding down for the end of the season.


'Stuffing' Steve, the taxidermist, finished his beautiful Wandering Albatross, but there were a few worrying moments when John went to measure the height of the maritime gallery ceiling, its new home. Luckily there were a couple of centimetres spare and 'Alby' will be moved at the beginning of next season. Just to finish his couple of months here, Steve made quick work of a Snow Petrel, another beautiful specimen.









Saturday March 22nd saw the “Minerva” arrive for a brief visit and to take away our Curator, Elsa, along with John and Steve. Sarah and Miriam are left for the last week to close the museum and villa up for the winter. They’ve hoovered, mopped, counted and locked and are looking forward to the arrival of the “Pharos SG” to take them home.

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