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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter August 2005

(To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here)

Boatman Richard Johnson and Doctor Jennifer Keys crew the Harbour launch in Coral Bay.

 

Ellen MacArthur to Visit South Georgia

Dame Ellen MacArthur, the famed record-breaking single-handed yachtswoman, is to join the Petrel and Prion Survey team working around the Island this coming summer. Ellen should join the boat and land based team in December to assist with the seabird survey work. Later she will camp on Albatross Island in the Bay of Isles where she will be Field Assistant to Sally Poncet of South Georgia Surveys for the annual Wandering Albatross census.

Ellen is a keen supporter of the “Save the Albatross” campaign and will use her visit to South Georgia to increase awareness of threats to albatross and other seabirds. She will be regularly updating a web page on the fieldwork, which will allow schools to share some of her South Georgia experiences, in the hope of increasing the awareness amongst young people internationally of the issues surrounding seabird conservation.

(For more on the Petrel and Prion Survey see story below.)

 

Incredible Result

No flighted seabirds were caught in the South Georgia longline fishery this winter. Eight ships have been fishing since the start of May, and by applying the compulsory measures such as streamer lines, night time setting, controlled offal dumping, line weighting etc, they have successfully avoided killing any albatrosses, prions or petrels on the longlines.

This is quite an incredible achievement. A lot of hard work has gone into improving the mitigation measures over the years. In the last few years bird mortality has been vastly reduced, and last year was adjudged to be negligible, but this is the first nil-result. Unfortunately one Gentoo Penguin was snagged and killed, but this is not an endangered or near threatened seabird in the sense of petrels and prions at which the mitigations measures are targeted. Hopefully next year will see a completely nil return.

 

Illegal Fishing Vessel “Elqui” to be Sunk

Preparations have been underway in Stanley this month to get illegal fishing vessel “Elqui” ready to be deliberately sunk to form a false reef in the Falklands. The longliner, which was caught fishing illegally within the South Georgia Fishing Zone in March, was forfeit to the court after non-payment of fines.

Salvage expert Lyle Craigie-Halkett has been working on the vessel in recent weeks to ensure the ship was cleaned up ready for sinking.

Brass from the ship has been saved and is to be incorporated into a special South Georgia “Save the Albatross” coin issue.

“Elqui” is due to be towed out for scuttling in early September. It is planned that the military explosives experts in the Falklands will use this as a training exercise and will use small charges to cause her to sink.

 

Director of Fisheries Visits the Island

Harriet Hall, Assistant Commissioner and Director of Fisheries for South Georgia, described her recent visit to the Island as “invaluable”. She was dropped off at KEP by the Fishery Patrol Vessel “Dorada”, and spent eleven days on the Island. This was plenty of time for her get a feel for the work done here by the Government Officer, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) staff, Museum curators etc.

 

Harriet Hall transfers between two ships in the cargo net. Photo by Patrick Lurcock

For most of the time she was here the weather was very stormy, at times severe enough to prevent boarding ships in the bay, or producing enough new snow that avalanche risk stopped movement by land from the Point. But there were enough better weather days too for her to accompany the Government Officer aboard transhipping krill trawlers and reefers and to allow a good look round the area. Using the small boats she was able to visit some of the huts that are due to be transferred to GSGSSI ownership, and to see the continuing destruction of the recent wrecks at the mouth of Moraine Fjord. She also spent one night camping out in the historic hut at Jason Harbour where Reindeer, Leopard Seals, Fur Seals and penguins added to the South Georgia experience.

Her visit was well timed to help her focus on South Georgia issues, as on her return to the Falklands she will be joining discussions about revision of the South Georgia Environmental Management Plan.


Early Results of Norwegian Krill Project Promising

An experimental krill processing plant set up on the Fishery Patrol Vessel (FPV) “Dorada” achieved better results than the four man Norwegian team who designed it had hoped for. Gullvika Ltd, which has been working on the project for two years, have developed a processing technique using a combination of mechanical methods and enzymes to extract the fluorine-free krill protein.

Krill have high levels of fluorine in their shells. Currently most of the krill fished in South Georgia waters is turned into krill meal that can be mixed into other products to make animal fodder. The content of fluorine in animal and fish feeds is closely regulated by EU and USA regulations.

A fluorine-free krill product could be used in greater amounts in the huge fodder market. For example, currently krill meal is mixed in small proportion with fish protein to feed the salmon farming industry. The krill meal makes the food taste good to the salmon and aids the pink colouration of the salmon flesh. Fluorine-free krill meal could be used almost exclusively as salmon feed, which would be better for the environment than the current practice of using wild fish to feed farmed fish.

Until now Gullvika Ltd has been using frozen whole krill to test the new process, but it was important to try it out using fresh krill. They were assisted by GSGSSI to test the plant on FPV “Dorada”, which spent part of the August patrol trawling for krill to feed the experimental plant. Commercial krill vessels fishing in the same area also kindly provided small amounts of krill for the project.

The first results of the plant on “Dorada” showed that processing fresh krill is different from processing whole frozen krill, and adjustments to the plant had to be made. The product obtained after processing was “looking good” but will need final testing. The long-term aim of Gullvika is to build krill processing plants on joint Norwegian and Falkland owned ships to be fishing by June 2007.

 

Fishing News

A very successful winter fishing season has now drawn to a close. The toothfish fishery was closed on August 29th by CCAMLR, but by then all but one of the eight licensed vessels had taken their TAC (Total Allocated Catch), and the final one was within a day of completing its TAC. Catches improved significantly towards the end of the period, a combination of known catch fluctuation and markedly improved weather conditions.

Observers on all the toothfish vessels spent a portion of their time tagging fish and releasing them to aid population assessments in the future. They were also collecting benthic samples: corals, starfish, sea cucumbers etc bought up on the lines. These samples will be returned to the labs at KEP for analysis to improve knowledge of the position, density and makeup of benthic populations in the SG fishery zone. As the vessels finished they sailed to Stanley in the Falklands to have their catches verified, so GSGSSI staff based there are having a very busy time overseeing the process.

Despite krill catches remaining good, the krill trawlers have also all now left the zone.

 

The South Georgia ACAP Petrel Survey

A team of 9 field workers, including Ellen MacArthur (see above), will be taking part in the GSGSSI commissioned South Georgia ACAP Petrel Survey over the next two summers. The team will be carrying out fieldwork from charter yacht “Golden Fleece”, and on land, surveying petrel colonies around he entire coastline and on all offshore islands.

The issue of petrel conservation is one of global concern, and the protection of seabirds is a priority for GSGSSI. Under project leader Sally Poncet of South Georgia Surveys, the team will be identifying, mapping and censusing breeding colonies of Northern and Southern Giant Petrel and White-chinned Petrels to determine each species conservation status. This major census is part funded by GSGSSI and OTEP (The Overseas Territories Environment Programme, which is a joint programme by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Department for International Development Fund) and has project partners in BAS and Falkland Conservation.

International research has shown that many thousands of White-chinned Petrels and Giant Petrels (all listed as vulnerable species) are killed each year by fisheries activities. South Georgia is the most important global breeding site for White-chinned petrels, and research by BAS has shown that between 1981 and 1998 the population at Bird Island decreased by 28%.

Censusing these burrowing birds is not without its difficulties, and the research team will be trailing various census techniques including the use of satellite imagery for habitat analysis. The first field season will start in mid November.

 

New Government Officer Announced

A second full time Government Officer has been recruited to work at South Georgia. Emma Jones has accepted a two-year contract and will begin the new post at the end of the year.

Emma has a long association with the Island and has much relevant experience. She has already worked here on a short contract as Marine Officer (previous title for the Government Officer) in 2000, after which she worked as a Falkland Island Fisheries Officer, a job that brought her back to South Georgia occasionally on the Patrol ships. She has been a Fisheries Observer and Observer Co-ordinator in the Falkland Fishery, summer Museum Assistant in South Georgia, and has worked aboard tour ships in the area as well.

 

Duncan Carse Stamp Issue

The four stamps that make up the coming Duncan Carse stamp issue.

A new issue of stamps is due out next month commemorating the life of explorer and broadcaster Duncan Carse, who had strong links with South Georgia. The four stamps, two 50p, one 75p and a £1.00, and their First Day Cover, will be released on September 26th. The stamps feature paintings by Nick Shewring.

One 50p stamp has a map of the island in the background superimposed with a painting of four men of the South Georgia Survey team taking sightings. Duncan Carse led the South Georgia Surveys between 1951 -1957.

The second 50p stamp is a portrait of Duncan Carse at Undine South Harbour in 1961.

The 75p stamp shows a younger Duncan broadcasting on BBC radio as Dick Barton Special Agent. This much loved radio show ran between 1946 and 1951. Duncan took on the role in 1949.

The £1.00 stamp is a very attractive painting of AMOW House. Duncan called the hut he erected at Undine South in 1961 “All My Own Work”. It was to be his accommodation for a personal psychological experiment in living alone on South Georgia, but only part way through the experiment a freak surge wave swept the hut away, leaving him to survive as best he could for a further 116 days before being rescued.

 

New Spider Species for South Georgia?

It seems likely a new species of spider has been found on South Georgia. Just one of the potential new species was collected amongst nearly 2300 spiders trapped last summer. Unfortunately the spider, a female, was in poor condition, but it was clearly different from the four other species of spiders caught.

Alastair Lavery, who analyses the collected spiders, said it was probably the same genus, Notiomaso, as three of the South Georgia species but is not any of the known species and is not like any described from South America or the Falklands.

Spider trapping in South Georgia will begin again in spring with new vigour as we hope to catch more of this elusive spider to confirm the new find.

 

All Wrapped Up

“Quest” tows “Pipit” through slush ice. Photo by Alison Dean.

Science fishing boat “Quest” has had an eventful month. With the two jet-boats struggling in certain ice conditions, “Quest’s” ability to break ice and operate in slushy ice that blocks the intakes and filters of the other two boats, has been called on several times to help get the jet-boats out of the cove and into ice free water. This was especially important on the 4th when we needed to get one of the KEP personnel out and aboard a reefer that would be taking him out to the Falklands. It took “Quest” and one of the jet-boats an hour and a half to get out to the ship and back through sheets of ice and interspersed slush-ice, despite the ship being close to KEP.

On the morning of the 9th several people had to go to “Quest’s” aid as a large sheet of ice that had formed on the Cove was being blown onto the boat at her moorings, causing her to heel over alarmingly. The pressure was released by using the boat to break the ice and boathooks to raft the pieces away.

On the 11th a rope was wrapped round the propeller whilst the science fishing pot was being recovered, causing a gear plate to break. Since then Boatman Rick Johnson has designed and fitted a special bracket so an outboard engine can be used to power the boat, allowing the core science to continue in a limited way whilst a new gear plate is flown down from the UK and brought across by the next available ship.

 

Wedding Bells Heard

The church bells at Grytviken were rung on August 19th at 9pm to coincide with the marriage of Simon Morley and Stephanie Martin who were getting wed in Rhode Island, USA. Simon and Steph met here in South Georgia when Simon was BAS Chief Scientist at KEP and Steph came through as a lecturer on one of the tour ships.

 

 

Simon and Steph on their wedding day.

 

South Georgia Snippets

This months newsletter marks the first full year of regular monthly submissions to the GSGSSI website newsletter direct from the Island. And so the annual cycle of the Island starts again, now we can look forward to the Elephant Seals returning to the breeding beaches. A small bull and what looked like two females were seen at Horse Head towards the end of the month. Getting out to see what winter wildlife there is has been made easier with better snow conditions and a longish run of nice weather. Four people timed it perfectly for the good weather-break to ski over to St Andrews Bay.

 

 
The small Elephant Seal bull up at Horse Head at the end of the month.

There they were able to watch Leopard Seals hunting in the shallows and photograph the large crèches of fluffy brown King Penguin chicks, which show the King Penguin colony has weathered the winter storms with some success.

 

A King Penguin chick crèche at St Andrews Bay. Photo by Jamie Watts.

  King chicks are not the most beautiful birds in the world! Photo by Jamie Watts.

Less fortunate weather-wise were three who got a boat lift to Harpon Bay, making a difficult and rather wet landing in the little rowing boat, only to be beset by a snowstorm so they had to wait an extra day in the hut before snowshoeing back.

We said “goodbye” to Boatman Bernard Meehan and “au revoir” to base Commander Ali Dean. Bernard will be working at the BAS base at Rothera in the coming southern summer, and Ali is having a couple of months holiday before returning to do a second year as Base Commander. Whilst she is away Generator Mechanic Steve Artis has taken over the Base Commander role. He gave Ali a scare by breaking his hand shortly before she was due to leave, but luckily it is nothing the Doctor here cannot deal with and Ali was able to go after all.

Broken hand or not, it doesn’t seem to have stopped Steve much when it comes to the continued battle to keep the KEP sewage running. No, not a nice subject, but a vital one! Easterly winds and large blocks of ice have regularly pounded the KEP sewage outfalls. Protective gabion baskets have had to be replaced a couple of times, and the spare accommodation block Larsen House has been unusable since the outfall blocked and froze and flooded one of the bedrooms.

With the fishing finished, we can all look forward to a quieter time until the tourists start arriving in October.

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