South Georgia Newsletter, March 2009

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Royal Visit

HRH The Princess Royal has visited South Georgia in her capacity as Patron of the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT). This is the first royal visit to the Island since her father, the Duke of Edinburgh, visited in 1957.


She flew to the Falkland Islands, where she carried out several public engagements, before joining the small tour ship "Grigory Mihkeev" on March 25th. The ship was undertaking a special cruise for the SGHT. The Princess Royal was welcomed aboard by SGHT Chairman and former Commissioner Howard Pearce.


The Princess Royal officially opening the Hydroelectric Station. Photo John Ashburner.
The Princess Royal officially opening the Hydroelectric Station. Photo John Ashburner.

Their first call at South Georgia was to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research station at Bird Island on March 28th. Here HRH got a taste of winter, light snow fell whilst she toured the station and heard about the science programme undertaken there.


The last day of the visit was especially busy. GSGSSI Chief Executive Officer Harriet Hall was already waiting on the Island to greet the royal party. HRH toured the research station at King Edward Point (KEP) and visited the dam at Gull Lake and the new turbine house and officially opened the new Hydroelectric Station.


Museum Curator Elsa Davidson gave the visitors a short tour of the whaling station at Grytviken before the Princess Royal officially opened the Carr Maritime Gallery. The Royal party then boarded FPV "Pharos SG" for the return journey to the Falklands. The Princess Royal was accompanied by her husband, Vice-Admiral Timothy Laurence.






There will be a fuller report and more photographs in next month's newsletter.




Fishing And Shipping News

"Bark Europa" at Maiviken. Photo Ainslie Wilson
"Bark Europa" at Maiviken. Photo Ainslie Wilson
"HMS Manchester" in Cumberland Bay
"HMS Manchester" in Cumberland Bay














Ten cruise ships visited the Island in March, the last month of the main tourist season. These included the unusual and beautiful 38-passenger sailing ship "Bark Europa". One ship had a expedition group aboard who successfully completed the Shackleton Crossing from King Haakon Bay to Stromness. Visitor numbers this month were boosted by the crews of three military vessels, "HMS Clyde" (see report below), "HMS Manchester" and "RFA Black Rover".


Four yachts were around the Island this month.


A toothfish longliner was inspected and licensed on March 18th before sailing to join the one other vessel in the South Sandwich Islands fishing area. The other vessel completed its TAC there before the end of the month.




Topflight Wedding

The happy couple couple and the crew of Pharos SG who attended the wedding
The happy couple couple and the crew of Pharos SG who attended the wedding


An unusual location was chosen by GSGSSI Chief Executive Officer(CEO) Harriet Hall and her partner Simon Johnson for their South Georgia wedding. They were married outside on the helideck of the South Georgia FPV "Pharos SG" by Government Officer/Registrar Emma Jones. Fisheries Officer Roy Summers and GSGSSI Building Supervisor David Peck were the witnesses. The helideck is high at the back of the vessel so it was only a short walk from there to the reception held in the ship's 'Commissioner's Lounge' on the top deck where the couple were toasted in champagne and the wedding cake was served to the guests and ship's crew.


The marriage plans were a well kept secret, so parents and friends were surprised to hear that the wedding had been held on March 27th while the couple were visiting the Island. Harriet said that being able to get married in South Georgia made their day very special.




"HMS Clyde" Visits Spectacular South Georgia

"HMS Clyde" recently completed her third patrol of South Georgia. The ship spent five days patrolling the Island in a visit described as "far more spectacular than anyone had expected." The vessel arrived in KE Cove on March 9th and berthed for two days at the KEP jetty, giving the ship’s company the opportunity to explore Grytviken.


For many of the ship’s company it was a first visit to the Island and for others it was a return after many years. Mr George Jameson, an ex RN engineer aboard, remembered visiting Grytviken in the years directly after the Falklands conflict when “you could just walk in as if the whalers had left yesterday. Tools still in the racks, and stores in the cupboards”.


The vessel sailed on March 11th to land a shore party at Fortuna Bay to do the Shackleton walk to Stromness where they were picked up before the ship sailed on to Gold Harbour. Here the crew marvelled at the sight of a beach packed with wildlife against the dramatic backdrop of the over-hanging Bertrab Glacier.


More dramatic scenery ensued as the ship threaded a careful passage up the Drygalski Fjord. Plunging rock faces dripping with glaciers surrounded the ship as huge icebergs cluttered the water. Drifting fog and cloud lent the entire scene an ethereal air and added to the sense of awe.


Picking its way through the ice along the south coast of South Georgia "HMS Clyde" made a brief visit to King Haakon Bay, conducting a recce by seaboat of Rosita Harbour, the site of Shackleton’s landing in 1916, before finally calling at Bird Island.


Info: Media Ops, MPA


"HMS Clyde" seen from Mt Duse. Photo Tom Marshall.
"HMS Clyde" seen from Mt Duse. Photo Tom Marshall.
Ship's company on "HMS Clyde" at Gold Harbour. Photo Media Ops
Ship's company on "HMS Clyde" at Gold Harbour. Photo Media Ops



















Whaling Station History Examined

Remains of the whaling station at Prince Olav Harbour. Photo LASHIPA 6 Expedition.
Remains of the whaling station at Prince Olav Harbour. Photo LASHIPA 6 Expedition.

Prince Olav Harbour contains the remnants of a British-South African whaling station. For several years it has been the last remaining major whaling station on South Georgia which had not been surveyed by industrial archaeologists. This month, as part of an International Polar Year Project, four researchers arrived aboard a tour ship to fill the gap. They transferred at Grytviken to the support yacht "Seal" which took them straight to Prince Olav Harbour.








The project, known as the 'LASHIPA 6 Expedition' was seeking out new knowledge about one of the most controversial chapters in the history of the polar areas – the Antarctic whaling industry of the 20th century. A permit for the project was issued by GSGSSI following the submission of a thorough asbestos safety plan for working in the vicinity of the former station.


The project was carefully timed to avoid the large numbers of Fur Seals that inhabit the site in the main breeding season, which can make landing impossible. The researchers were pleased to find, on their arrival at the station on March 13th, that there did not seem to be as many seals left as they had feared, but the animals still featured largely in their regular diary entries, along with some severe weather. Neither hazard prevented the success of the project. The archaeologists had special equipment to accurately map the remains of buildings and structures, which were also described, drawn and photographed. Special attention was given to the many areas where asbestos was present as the information may be useful for future management of the site.


After more than two weeks the expedition moved on to research the remains of a smaller station at Ocean Harbour and also visited the station at Grytviken. The researchers will leave the Island on a tour ship on April 2nd.


For more information and to read the diary of the expedition visit LASHIPA 6 Expedition.



Video of the three whaling stations in Stromness Bay.




Opening Of The Carr Maritime Gallery


The Princess Royal officially opened the new Carr Maritime Gallery on March 30th. The preparation of the gallery has been the main project for the South Georgia Museum team this summer. The gallery, housed in a building alongside the main museum, has exhibits including two entire small boats, one of which is a replica of Shackleton's lifeboat "James Caird". Other displays are on the whale catcher "Dias"; the bow section of the survey vessel "Alert"; artefacts from various vessels associated with the Island, and a taxidermy display of a Wandering Albatross in flight.


The gallery is called the Carr Maritime Gallery after Tim and Pauline Carr who worked for 14 years, first as caretakers then as curators of the South Georgia Museum. The SGHT say that it was "their deep fascination with and knowledge of the Island that led to the museum becoming a remarkable educational resource which inspires all who visit. With their love of the sea and dedication to the museum we thought it was fitting that the new Maritime Gallery should be named in their honour."


Darren and Chris in the museum workshop preparing the bow of the "Alert" for display.
Darren and Chris in the museum workshop preparing the bow of the "Alert" for display.
Chris Moore did much of the work getting the boat section ready for display. Photos Ainslie Wilson.
Chris Moore did much of the work getting the boat section ready for display. Photos Ainslie Wilson.




















Memorial To Frank Wild

Frank Wild's name is strongly associated with the heroic era of polar exploration. He took part in five polar expeditions between 1901 and 1922. Many though know him mainly from the part he played in the rescue of the "Endurance" expedition, when Shackleton and his men took to the ice, and then the lifeboats, after their ship was crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea. Having conned one of the three lifeboats safely to Elephant Island, he was then left in charge of the remaining men there whilst Shackleton and five others sailed "James Caird" to South Georgia to fetch help.


Considering the part he had played in the exploration of the Antarctic, it is surprising to realise that when he died in South Africa in 1939 he was a broken man who was all but forgotten. If there ever was a plaque to mark his last resting place then it disappeared years ago.


Because of the connection to her home country, South African historian Angie Butler was inspired to learn more about Wild and later decided to design and make a memorial plaque. South Georgia seemed the natural place to put it, the Island where he and the other members of the "Quest" expedition had raised a memorial cairn to their deceased leader, and where his friend Shackleton was later buried.


Angie, travelling as a special guest aboard the expedition ship "Professor Multanovskiy", arrived with the plaque on March 3rd. About forty passengers and locals were welcomed to the a ceremony in the church at Grytviken by Museum Curator Elsa Davidson. Angie unveiled her plaque and celebrated the successful completion of her project with a tot of rum to toast the great man, Frank Wild.


Angie Butler and Museum Curator Elsa Davidson with the unveiled plaque.
Angie Butler and Museum Curator Elsa Davidson with the unveiled plaque.



















Bird Island News

Derren Fox, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island.


The start of the month saw the entire base heading out to Main Bay to weigh another 100 Fur Seal pups for the final time this season. This is always the most challenging/fun weighing as the pups are much bigger and a real handful. Unfortunately, as with last month, the weights of the pups were very low compared to previous years, in fact the lowest for 20 years, a sure sign that the mothers were struggling to find sufficient Krill to feed on to provide milk for the growing pups. Undeterred by this the young pups continue to frolic in the sea, honing their swimming skills.


Some huge seas and strong winds in the month took their toll at SSB (the Special Study Beach where in-depth seal demographic studies are carried out). A section of the scaffold walkway was badly damaged and will have to be replaced before the start of next years study period.


The Northern Giant Petrel chicks continue to grow, most having fledged by the end of the month, the Southern Giant Petrels looking enviously on as they have a few weeks to go yet before they too leave the island, not to return for several years.


Northern Giant Petrel Chick
Northern Giant Petrel Chick


After the Macaroni Penguin colonies emptied last month with the young leaving, the colonies were back to their bustling selves as the adults returned to moult, filling the area (and on windy days the surrounding area!) with confetti like feathers. Not to be left out, the Gentoos were also leaving small piles of feathers where they stood still, waiting for their pristine new ones to emerge from beneath the scruffy exterior. The Wandering Albatross chicks, which started to hatch last month, had all emerged from their shells by the last week of the month, and the first few were emerging from under their parents on fine days. Soon these will be left completely unguarded, whilst the parents go off to find food for the chicks. The chicks will grow over the next nine months and fledge at the end of the year.


March was a month of visitors to the island. The "FPV Pharos SG" was here to collect three Japanese scientists and drop off two BAS personal for a short stay on March 13th, and later that same afternoon we were visited by "HMS Clyde".


A visitor of a different kind was seen on March 16th, a White-capped Albatross which should be breeding in the Auckland Islands. It is the same species as the one that has been here for a few years now, which has bred for the last two years with a Black-browed Albatross.


The White-capped Albatross.
The White-capped Albatross.




The Princess Royal and her husband Vice- Admiral Laurence
The Princess Royal and her husband Vice- Admiral Laurence

March 28th saw our most prestigious visitor for a very long time, with the Princess Royal and her husband visiting with a group from the South Georgia Heritage Trust. They enjoyed a short but pleasant visit to see some of the local wildlife and have a tour of the base and facilities, a nice reminiscence for some of the visitors who had been stationed here in the past.















Wildlife at Bird Island, South Georgia.





South Georgia Snippets

As the main tourist season draws to a close, cold and snowy periods through the month heralded the change in season. By the end of the month all but one of the Museum staff had headed north for the winter.


It has been a bad summer for the Gentoo Penguins and not a good one for Fur Seals, so it is encouraging to be able to record that for some Island breeders it has been a good season. The Giant Petrel census at Greene Peninsula on March 1st showed the Northern species have had good chick survival, and things are looking good for the Southerns too.


Field training on the glacier. Photo Angharad Jones
Field training on the glacier. Photo Angharad Jones


The final field party headed out to the Nordenskjold Glacier on March 3rd to train in outdoor skills.


On March 11th the Morrison building team arrived back to start work on a wall section at the Gull Lake dam, to complete works on the KEP jetty and to pack up equipment and take down the temporary builders' camp at Grytviken.


The spraying regime against the invasive Bittercress continued during a visit by the South Atlantic Invasive Species Officer Brian Summers. He confirmed that the plant can now be found extensively along the base of Mt Duse from below the old dam to Hope Point. He also located and sprayed the patch of Bittercress discovered this year on the opposite side of the cove.


Work is almost complete on a small Post Office at Grytviken which will be opened during tour ship visits next tourist season. Time constraints and increasing numbers of Fur Seals have made it difficult for many visitors to reach the main Post Office at KEP. The new Post Office is a room in a modern building next to the Museum.


The locals put up a team for an eight-a-side football match against "HMS Clyde", though two local ladies had to lend their skills to help the Navy make up a full side. It was a gorgeous day for the match, temperatures reached 19°C. The old whalers' football pitch has shoe-removing sections of bog and stands of mature burnette, the burrs of which coated the sportsfolks socks and laces. The locals won 4 - 0.



The footballers experienced some sticky problems on the old whalers pitch. Photos Ainslie Wilson.
The footballers experienced some sticky problems on the old whalers pitch. Photos Ainslie Wilson.

















The after-game social was held aboard "HMS Clyde" where plans were made for a very early climb up Mt Duse the next morning. Seven hardy folks from the ship and KEP were up and ready at five next morning to climb the mountain towering above the ship. The climbers were rewarded with super views and were back on base by 07.45 for a cooked breakfast!


Despite the fine weather the brave Navy folks who joined the 'Sub Zero Club' probably did not think it was warm when they took the plunge and swam in the icy waters of the cove.


Climbing Mt Duse. Photo Tom Marshall.
Climbing Mt Duse. Photo Tom Marshall.


The main Island of South Georgia is usually free of the little brown endemic songbird the South Georgia Pipit. With lots of people getting out and about, either doing field work or making the most of the Island in the last days of summer, and before the seasonal staff had to leave, an extraordinary number of Pipits have been seen locally. Two Pipits were regularly seen flying between the buildings at KEP, and a sighting of one could almost be guaranteed on a visit to the Penguin River area where, on one occasion, three were seen together. Others were seen at Maiviken, St Andrews, Rookery Bay and Corral Bay.


Why are so many South Georgia Pipits suddenly being seen on the main island? Photo Ainslie Wilson.
Why are so many South Georgia Pipits suddenly being seen on the main island? Photo Ainslie Wilson.



Another rare visitor, a Macaroni Penguin, amused the Museum staff by choosing a different door to go and stand by every day or so for the fortnight whilst it moulted. One day it would be at the back door of the museum, another day under the Maritime Gallery verandah, and one day right outside the main door. This last choice coincided with the visit of fishing boat crew who wanted to see the "James Caird III", so they had to be taken in through a circuitous back route to avoid disturbing the moulting bird.


The moulting Macaroni Penguin outside the new Carr Maritime Gallery.
The moulting Macaroni Penguin outside the new Carr Maritime Gallery.



More South Georgia Penguins.




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