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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter November 2005

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

Flight to Check on Volcanic Eruption

Mount Belinda on Montagu Island in the South Sandwich Islands is erupting. The RAF plans to fly a maritime patrol to the remote island from the Falklands as soon as the weather allows to investigate the scale of the eruption. A representative of the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands plans to go on the flight to see first hand the effects of the volcano, including changes to the coastline in the areas in which seabirds normally breed. From the satellite images it seems that the major colonies are unaffected as they lie on the far side of the island.

The four and a half thousand foot mountain was thought to be inactive until RAF patrols and satellite imaging four years ago showed low level activity, with ash staining the snow covered mountain top. For the past two years the volcano has been erupting more forcefully, and a recent satellite image shows a large, fast moving lava flow, 90 meters wide, which is reported to be adding 50 acres a month to the island.

The South Sandwich Islands are made up of a volcanic arc of eleven islands in the Weddell Sea, and together with South Georgia, they form one of the British Overseas Territories.

 

Toothfish TAC increased for the 2006 Season

The TAC (Total Allowable Catch) for Toothfish in the South Georgia Maritime Zone (SGMZ) has been increased by more than 15% for the coming Toothfish season.

The TAC for Toothfish this year is 3546 tonnes, which will be allocated during the current licensing round. The TAC is set by CCAMLR (The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) who have just held a meeting in Hobart, Tasmania, to set this year’s TACs for the whole of the Antarctic region. South Georgia Operations Manager Gordon Liddle attended the meeting on behalf of GSGSSI. The increase in TAC is due largely to more accurate stock assessments using a tagging procedure. This is so successful that it is being adopted in several other fisheries in the Southern Ocean
A further 100 tonnes TAC has been set for CCAMLR subarea 48.4, around the South Sandwich Islands, up substantially from the 28 tonne TAC in the same area last year, this is again to allow a larger tagging programme and will show very much more clearly the size of stocks in this area and their distribution.
The season for longliners will run from May 1st to the August 31st 2006, but there is no seasonal restriction for fishing for Toothfish with pots.

 

Fastest Circumnavigation for Templar Films Kayak Team

Thirteen days is all it took the four person Templar Films kayak team to complete the circumnavigation of the Island, despite bad weather preventing them paddling on three days. The expedition started their attempt to circumnavigate in fine weather on the afternoon of November 17th. The paddling team of three British men, Peter Bray, Nigel Dennis and Jeff Allen and an Israeli woman Hadaz Feldman were hoping to beat the time of 18 days set last month when the journey was first successfully completed by the Graham Charles “Around South Georgia Expedition”.
The Templar films kayak team launch their boats at KEP.  

The Templar Films team are all professional kayakers, Nigel holds the record for the fastest circumnavigation of Great Britain, Pete was the first to paddle across the North Atlantic and the other two team members have similarly impressive kayaking experience. Aboard the yacht their team manager Jim Rowlinson kept an eye on the logistics and updating of the expedition website.

The expedition had taken a year to plan. The boats they are used were unmodified except for camera mountings, between them the team had two handheld and two boat mounted cameras and were making a film as they go, and updating a website. They were supported by the charter yacht “Pelagic Australis”, but had everything they needed aboard the kayaks to be self-contained for seven days if necessary. Each boat also carried an EPIRB and flares in case of emergency. They camped ashore at night, sometimes finding it hard to find a spot to put up their tents because of the fur seals on the shore. Before setting out they said they thought the fur seals would be their second biggest challenge after South Georgia’s weather.

As with the previous team they chose to go anticlockwise as they felt this would be best for winds and weather, and had a target of 20 miles a day, though said they could do 40-50 miles a day if they had to. They made good progress for the first few days, despite some high winds. According to their website Pete took a roll in heavy seas on the 20th. Later, increased winds and big sea conditions prevented them paddling on at least two days. They got the weather break they needed to tackle the exposed south coast, and rounded the northern point of the Island by the 26th. There were more icebergs on the southern coast, and they enjoyed rarely seen views of carving glaciers and even saw a breaching whale. After a fast three-day leg down the exposed coast they rounded the southern tip and started back up the north coast, reaching Cooper Bay by the 28th.

On the evening of the 30th, in a snow blizzard, they completed the last leg of the journey and re-entered King Edward Cove to be greeted by the impressed locals with Union Jack bunting and an Israeli flag. A well-deserved party was held on shore that night to celebrate their success. The celebrating paddlers wanted to say thanks to the sponsors and friends and crew of “Pelagic Australis” who had all helped them on their successful expedition.

The teams website is www.templarfilmssouthgeorgia.com]

 

The kayakers finish their record breaking journey at 10pm in a blizzard. Saxophonist Nick Atkinson gives them a musical reception as a flare lights up the boats on the water.

 
The jubilant team.

 

Five Licences for Icefish

Five vessels have been offered licences for the 2005/6 Icefish season which started on November 15th.
A total of 2,244 tonnes of potential Icefish catch has been allocated between the five vessels, and the ships are expected in the SGMZ in December.

Last season’s Icefish catch was very poor, but fishery data shows that bad years have often been followed by good years for Icefish in the past.

 

The South Georgia ACAP Petrel Survey Underway

Field work started this month, for the two year long South Georgia ACAP Petrel Survey, with the arrival of two yachts “Tara” and “Golden Fleece”. Researchers aboard both vessels are counting petrel burrows and nest around the Island’s coast and on the off shore islands. For this first season field work involves a distribution and abundance survey of southern and northern Giant Petrels and White-chinned Petrels. The programme is lead by Sally Poncet of South Georgia Surveys who is aboard charter yacht “Golden Fleece”, she is working in collaboration with Tony Martin and Richard Phillips of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). A total of eleven field workers are on the two vessels.

Most of the censusing will be done on day visits to the Petrel breeding sites, but Leiv Poncet and Bob Powell, will establish field camps ashore at selected sites on both the north and south coasts.
In early December “Tara” returns to Stanley in the Falklands Islands to collect some new field workers for the later part of the field season in South Georgia, including Dame Ellen MacArthur who will census Wandering Albatross on Albatross Island with Sally in the first two weeks of the new year.

(For further background on this survey see the August 2005 newsletter)

 

Farewell to BAS Captain Chris Elliott

 

Retiring BAS Captain Chris Elliott holds a goodbye drinks do in his dayroom.

 
The KEP residents gave Chris and his ship the “RRS James Clark Ross” a special farewell.

Flares, a big banner and Mexican waves were employed to see off retiring BAS Captain Chris Elliott in style on his last port call to King Edward Cove. Chris, who has worked for BAS since 1967, worked his way up the ranks to become Master of the “RRS John Biscoe” in 1975, and has been Master of “RRS James Clark Ross” since 1990. He was awarded an MBE in the Queens Birthday Honours this year.

Chris has a keen interest in South Georgia and we feel sure that, despite his retirement, he will find another way to visit the Island soon.

 

Bird Island Redevelopment Update (by BAS Base Commander Vicky Auld)

The new look Jordan Cove with the new base constructed and the old one removed.

Freshwater beach has seen a further step change this month after the return of Morrison contractors to Bird Island and a visit from the RRS James Clark Ross. A team of 11 BAS and Morrison staff arrived in late October, bringing the short winter to a sharp end for the 4 wintering BAS staff. A hectic 3 week schedule of works has since been completed, which has included the demolition of old Prince House and the completion of final details of the new facility. While nostalgia filled the air as the foundations of the old building were removed, there is a grateful appreciation of the new adaptable laboratories, the comfortable living facilities, and the hot, powerful showers – bring on the rain and long may it continue to fill our collection tanks!

The RRS James Clark Ross has recently uplifted the industrious Morrison team and their temporary camp and building tools, and they now head to KEP to complete their next contract. Much as the talented team will be missed, we are pleased to see the beach has now returned to being the residence of obstinate bull fur seals, a few pregnant ladies and the first fur seal pup, born on November 17th. The large but neat pile of waste on the beach edge now awaits uplift by the RRS Ernest Shackleton in February.

Meanwhile, the BI summer season is in full swing. The JCR delivered 2 communications engineers (currently installing a 24 hour internet system) and a further 4 scientists to the new station. We are also pleased to welcome 2 new wintering zoological assistants, Robin Snape and Donald Malone, among the new arrivals and wish them fulfilment from the next 2 years they will spend on the island.

 

Canadian Film Crew Visit

Sailing ship “Sedna IV” entering King Edward Cove. The vessel will over winter in the ice of the Antarctic this winter.

A Canadian film crew are visiting and filming in South Georgia using the sailing ship “Sedna IV” as transport and accommodation. The experienced team’s current filming expedition is called ‘Mission Antarctica’ and will last 16 months. It follows up on their successful award winning 5-part documentary series ‘Arctic Mission’ which was broadcast in Canada, Japan and several European and other countries.
“Sedna IV” is an ice strengthened 51 meter long, three masted sailing ship, and is equipped with an editing suite, a dive centre and up to the minute communications technology.

The 8.5 million dollar project plans to produce a 90 minute documentary for cinema release, and three hour-long science documentaries, as well as an IMAX documentary and another 13 part television series.
The team will be focusing on climate change and its impact on sub-Antarctic and Antarctic marine ecosystems. Once they leave South Georgia in late December they will sail to South America to re-provision before heading south to deliberately trap the ship in the winter ice of the Antarctic.

 

Growing a Bobby Charlton to Save the Albatross

Remote locations are always a good place to try out a more daring hairstyle, as evidenced by the collection of artistic black and white hairdos sported by the Morrision FI Ltd team who recently arrived at Grytviken from Bird Island.

A long way to go…

For Jamie Watts a dinner time jest became a serious fund raising effort when money was pledged if he grew a ‘Bobby Charlton’, a hairstyle where the hair one side of a bald pate is grown long and combed over the top to meet the hair the other side, as made famous by the historic football player.

Jamie, who usually all but shaves his head, has chosen ‘Save the Albatross’ as the charity to benefit from his hairy challenge, and already has several hundred pounds pledged, payable when the comb-over reaches the hair the other side of his head. We hope to keep you updated on the progress of Jamie’s growing challenge.

 

South Georgia Snippets

Life at KEP is set to change with the arrival of the Internet. A BAS IT specialist made the final connection at the end of the month. We are now connected to a permanently open satellite link. On the first night the connection was made, several people were stuck in their offices surfing the internet and buying things on ‘e-bay’. A webcam is on its way down from Project Atlantis, which will soon be connected to give updated views of the Point every few minutes.

Ten cruise ships have already passed through South Georgia as the days lengthen and summer becomes established. One ship put a party of adventurers ashore with a guide in King Haakon Bay to do the Shackleton route. About three cruise ships a season offer this mountaineering trip. Participating tourists are vetted and trained by experienced guides before undertaking the journey as conditions in South Georgia can be trying. However the first crossing of the season was completed in fast time and good conditions. Most of the cruise ships came towards the end of the month, but the early part of the month saw six yachts passing through.

BAS Field Assistant Tim Burton spent three weeks here updating the BAS teams outdoor skills, including winter-skills such as ice axe arrests and avalanche transceiver recovery, but finding ice and snow to practice on meant climbing into the hills or taking a boat to drop them off near the edge of the Nordenskjold Glacier. They also practiced their local search and rescue skills by recovering a supposed casualty from a steep hillside on the far peninsula. Once recovered to KEP an unusual sort of ambulance, the bucket of the JCB, was used to transport the splinted patient on a stretcher from the boat to the Medical Centre.

 

The JCB makes an unusual ambulance for the supposed casualty in a local search and rescue exercise.

Officers on the “FPV Sigma” called at the chinstrap colony at Cooper Bay. The colony and surrounding area has been closed to visitors since an outbreak of avian cholera there last year caused many deaths amongst the nesting birds. A visual check of the colony gave no cause for further concern about the disease outbreak, but the colony remains closed to visitors until further test results come from the UK. The results have been understandably delayed as the UK laboratories are currently focussing their efforts on testing for Avian Flu.

Pods of Killer Whales were encountered twice in one week in Cumberland Bay East. On one occasion the whales came to within a few metres of the boat.

 

Elephant Seal weaners on the beach.

 
A fork lift truck is offloaded from the “RRS James Clark Ross”

The last female elephant seal to breed on the KEP beach left on November 28th, but surprisingly there were only days old pups behind Hope Point as late as November 19th. The weaners are now spread out all along the shore and spend the early evenings and mornings play-fighting in the shallows, sleeping most of the rest of the time in the tussac grass or on the beach. The returning Morrison FI Ltd builders have had to watch out for them on the only road on the island as they move the vast quantity of stores, mostly aggregate and cement for new building works at Grytviken, around the bay. The RRS James Clark Ross was alongside the KEP jetty for a few days offloading the building stores and much of the cargo for the station, such a food, fuel, stationary, and clothing for the coming year. It also took the rubbish away, much of which is destined for recycling in the UK.

One over adventurous elly pup manoeuvred itself over the edge of the jetty and into the inflatable launch “Alert”. To get it out again two of the boats sponsons had to be deflated so the heavy pup could be rolled over the side into the water.

The Ozone hole opened up over the Island again, catching some walkers unawares, and sunburnt faces were once again in evidence.

Sports Masseur Christine Kraayvanger is working as summer staff at the Museum this season, but agreed to teach some massage skills one weekend. At first there were more volunteers to be practiced on than to learn to massage, but soon everyone was participating fully, pummelling, kneading and stroking to Christine’s expert tuition. Over a full days course she taught back neck and head massage techniques.
The new Government Officer Emma Jones arrived at the end of the month. She has a few weeks handover with Government Officer Patrick Lurcock before he goes away on his annual leave. The two Government Officers will then be on the Island together from April until August for the busy fishing season.

Sarah Lurcock has written the newsletter from South Georgia for the past eight months, but she is now going on four months leave and Javier Fernandez will be taking over until she returns in April.

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

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