South Georgia Newsletter, August 2004
Huge icebergs cause difficulties for the Fishing Industry
A very large iceberg, originally fifty miles long and up to thirty miles wide, has been grounded off the northeastern coast of South Georgia since the end of last year. The vast berg originated from the Ronne Iceshelf. A satellite photographs taken in April shows the grounded berg was more than half the size of the Island. Since then smaller pieces have been breaking off and floating north-west, carried by current and wind. As a result, smaller bergs have choked the Island's bays causing problems for the fishing industry and other shipping.
Fish and krill caught around South Georgia is often transhipped to large reefer vessels in Cumberland Bay East (CBE). Several times ships were unable to anchor because of bergs on both the main anchorages.
On August 28th, there were so many icebergs choking the entrance to Cumberland Bay, that the transhipping vessels could not get in, even the small boats trying to take the Marine Officer out to board the ships found it difficult to find a route through the mass of icebergs.
Fishing for scientific purposes has also been affected. Normally the British Antarctic Survey Fishery Science team set gill nets in the bay each week to monitor local fish stocks, but fears of bergs carrying away the fishing gear have prevented any nets being set for months now.
Ten krill trawlers have been operating around South Georgia. In previous winters the krill vessels fished to the northeast of the Island, but the superberg is grounded near their usual fishing grounds, forcing the krill vessels to look elsewhere. They ended up fishing mainly to the west of the Island this season.
|Another satellite image taken on August 30th shows the superberg still firmly grounded, though very much smaller than four months ago it is still about thirty miles long, and there is another superberg is approaching the Island from the southwest.
New House will have one of the best views in the world.
A new three-bedroom house is being built on King Edward Point this summer. The new accommodation will house the Government Officer.
The site, between the new Base and historic Discovery House, will have superb views across to Mt Paget, South Georgia's highest mountain. The lounge, dining room and kitchen will all enjoy this stunning view, looking south through large windows.
The three bedrooms, each with an en suite bathroom, will ensure Government visitors have a comfortable stay. The main living area, a large room partially divided into dining and lounge areas, will allow plenty of space for entertaining larger numbers, whilst also making a super home for the Government Officer and their partner.
Toothfish Season ends early
The toothfish fishery was closed 10 days early on August 21st.
Higher catches than expected outside the SG Maritime Zone caused the allocated quota for the year to be taken early.
CCAMLR, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources, sets the TAC (Total Allowable Catch) for the rectangular block of South Atlantic Ocean in which the best South Georgia toothfish fishing grounds lie.
Thirteen longliners were licensed to fish for toothfish in South Georgia waters this winter. Each licensed vessel was allocated its own TAC of between 235 and 440 tonnes. All but one of the licensed vessels had finished fishing by the time the season was closed.
All toothfish caught in South Georgia now has to be transhipped either in South Georgia or in the Falkland Islands. The South Georgia Fishery is a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified fishery. Close overseeing of transhipments ensures the license vessels do not exceed their TAC, and aids tracking of legally caught toothfish through the MSC scheme. MSC certified fish fetches premium prices, and the scheme helps combat pirating of fish stocks in other parts of the world. (See www.msc.org for more details about the Marine Stewardship Council Certification Scheme)
For the first time an Assistant Marine Officer was employed to assist the South Georgia Marine Officer through the busy fishing season. Several vessels chose to tranship in South Georgia mid season, keeping the fisheries team very busy. At the end of the season though, all the vessels chose to tranship in the Falklands, so the Assistant Marine Officer caught a lift out with one of the departing vessels to help oversee transhipments there.
As normal, all toothfish vessels fishing in South Georgia had a Government Observer aboard for the whole season. Once again incidental catches of birds on the longlines have been kept to almost nothing by the implementation of good fishing practices, and use of bird scaring devices, on all the licensed vessels.
Tourism visits level out
Ship borne tourism to South Georgia and the Antarctic has been steadily growing for the last fifteen years. Provisional figures for the coming tourist season show growth continues in the Antarctic, but in South Georgia tour ship visits have levelled out at around 40 visits per season.
Twenty different tour ships may visit South Georgia in the coming season, starting in mid-November. Most ships make two or three visits between then and season end in mid-March.
For the last two seasons, about 3,500 passengers per season were landed in South Georgia. Though the number of ship visits stays the same, there is the potential for 1,000 more tourists to come this season if all the ships are fully booked.
The Antarctic figures tell a different story. Last season 180 ship visits landed 15,000 tourists, mostly in the Antarctic Peninsula region. For the coming season there, they may expect 30 more ship visits, with the potential for more than 23,000 tourists to be landed.
The coming South Georgia season will be fairly steady throughout, with about one ship calling every three days to visit Grytviken and King Edward Point. Grytviken is an old whaling station and visitors can visit the Museum, the whaler's church and the grave of Island hero Sir Ernest Shackleton.
King Edward Point is the seat of the Island administration and has some historic buildings, as well as the Post Office and a memorial to Shackleton, which was built by his crewmates on the hill above.
The provisional schedule for the coming season has an odd gap in December through to early January. This period is usually as busy as the rest of the tourist season, but this season only one tour ship is expected in the whole month long period.
Recycling of waste improved
More waste materials are being separated for recycling from the rubbish generated on South Georgia.
Since the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) returned to man the base at King Edward Point in 2001, various wastes have been separated for different methods of disposal and recycling. Residents have got used to separating aluminium drinks cans, batteries, waste oils and the like from the rubbish destined for landfill.
New access to recycling schemes in the UK now means residents in South Georgia can also separate food tins, domestic plastic bottles, cardboard, glass and paper.
Once the separated rubbish reaches the UK, waste paper will be pulped and recycled, much of it into newspapers. Drinks cans and food tins will be recycled, probably into new cans. The recycled plastics will have a variety of uses such as in building materials, outdoor furniture and new plastic containers. Glass may end up resurfacing roads in the UK or recycled into new glass containers, and cardboard will be composted or recycled as cardboard.
Island residents are well motivated to the new scheme, and keen to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. Now though, with the number of bins in kitchens and waste rooms having risen from three to seven, there are a few moments of head scratching to be done, as you confront all the bins, trying to work out which one to put each item of rubbish in.
Summer in winter
It has been a very odd winter here in South Georgia. The Island has remained green much of the time, frustrating skiers and snowboarders looking forward to a good covering of snow for the winter months.
South Georgia normally enjoys a metre of snow at sea level in winter. Early season snowfalls were promising, but after each fall, warm winds quickly stripped the white back to green. On August 12th, temperatures reached 13 degrees Celsius, which would be warm for a summer day here.
The only piece of road on South Georgia, a one kilometre rough track from King Edward Point to the old whaling station at Grytviken, has remained passable to vehicles almost the whole time. Usually snowfall and avalanches, from the steep slopes above, fills in the flat track leaving a 45 % slope of snow which only melts in later spring.
While human residents have been resentfully walking everywhere in summer boots, the wildlife has been making the best of it. Ducks gather in large flocks to feed on the grassy areas. The reindeer are in prime condition as there has been plenty of grass for them too, and fat fur seals have been hauling out in almost summer numbers, to rest in the tussock behind the beaches.
Now the big male elephant seals are starting to haul out to lay claim to the best breeding beaches, ready for the females to start arriving in mid September. These early bulls are so fat that on land the blubber squidges out from underneath them to give them an almost triangular cross section.
The tussock grass has started to sprout new season seed heads, and residents have already picked enough new growth dandelion for a salad or two.
In the middle of winter King Edward Point is in the shadow of Mt Duse and gets no direct sun. At the beginning of August the sun peeps through over the ridge, and as the weeks follow, the sun reaches more of the Point each day. Residents took advantage of a calm day to hold an impromptu picnic at the boat shed where the sun hits first.
Discovery Investigations Celebrated
The Project Atlantis team have been invited to install in Discovery Point, Dundee, an interactive display on the scientific Discovery Investigations. The Discovery Investigations were established in 1926 to carry out scientific research aimed at the preservation of the whaling industry in the Falkland Islands Dependencies, which was showing signs of overexploitation. The scientists' work was primarily concerned with the biology of whales in order that informed decisions could be taken to preserving the whaling industry by managing and conserving the whale stocks in the southern oceans. They also had a wider remit to undertake scientific research to better understand life in the Southern Ocean, and to investigate the general economic development of the Dependencies. Discovery Investigations spanned some 35 years and resulted in a significant leap forward of scientific understanding of the Southern Ocean environment.
The interactive display was developed using black and white images from the Discovery Investigations collection at the Southampton Oceanography Centre for Discovery House on South Georgia. The display is an interactive book with both still and moving footage. Discovery House was commissioned in 1924 to house the marine laboratory and living accommodation for scientists studying the whale carcases brought into Grytviken. It was a prefabricated timber framed kit that was erected by Norwegian crews from Grytviken in 1924, and was fitted out and ready for use in 1925. Discovery House was in use until 1931. GSGSSI hope at some time in the future to establish an exhibition centre in Discovery House for visitors. The exhibition would celebrate the achievements of the Discovery Scientists, explain in some detail on going fisheries and other research on South Georgia and how GSGSSI manages and conserves South Georgia.
South Georgia Plants doing well in Dundee
|The indigenous vascular plants brought back from South Georgia to the University of Dundee's Botanical Gardens in January by the British Schools Exploring Society Expedition are flourishing. Under the care of Alasdair Hood, the garden curator the plants are being kept in isolation at the moment. The long-term aim is to create a South Georgia Garden. Alasdair is keen to have samples of plants that grow at a similar latitude on the on other side of the world.
The idea came from Doctor Deirdre Galbraith who led the project to collect the plants and bring them back to Dundee. She also collected DNA samples of each plant for the DNA Data base at the Royal Botanical Gardens at Kew. In addition she has made up some Herbarium vouchers of each plant for the museum on South Georgia, Falklands Conservation and for Kew.
The plants are currently adjusting to the reversal of seasons in the northern hemisphere. Spring is now approaching down south. It will be interesting to see how the plants to our spring in 2005.
New Photographic Book about Grytviken
The new hardback book contains stunning black and white photographs taken by a Swedish Carpenter in the period 1923-32 of life at Grytviken Whaling Station. The book has been beautifully designed and published with high quality printing and paper.
Stig-Tore Lunde took the initiative with funding from Frederik Paulsen's Institut Minos to publish this valuable collection of high quality images. Proceeds of the sale of the book will go to the South Georgia Heritage Trust, which is currently being established.
Howard Pearce, the Commissioner GSGSSI, wrote the forward and said; "The whaling station at Grytviken was the first to be established on the remote South Atlantic Island of South Georgia some one hundred years ago. For the following sixty years Grytviken was home to a remarkable community, of which by far the largest part came from Norway. Some came for a short time; others lived much of their working lives in this extraordinary environment. What was life like for these intrepid men (and a few women), so far from home and so isolated from the outside world? The photographs in this book provide some fascinating answers to that question. Many of these pictures have never been seen before. They are of remarkable quality, given the period and circumstances in which they were taken. They show the whalers at work and play, and the magnificent natural surroundings, which formed the background to their lives. I congratulate my good friend Stig-Tore Lunde in bringing these photographs and the remarkable skills of the Swedish photographer, Theodor Andersson, to a wider audience."
The book "Grytviken seen through a camera lens" "Institut Minos" can be purchased from the Scott Polar Research Institute and Bluntisham Boooks. Its ISBN is 9 788230302217