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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter, May 2006

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

Commissioner’s Departure

His Excellency the Commissioner of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, Mr Howard Pearce CVO has announced his final departure date from his appointment. Mr Pearce, his wife Caroline and daughter Suzanna will leave on August 5, which will mark the end of Mr Pearce’s tour of duty. The new Commissioner, Mr Alan Huckle, plans to arrive on August 25, accompanied by his wife, Mrs. Helen Huckle. The Deputy Commissioner at Government House, Miss Harriet Hall, will be Acting Commissioner during the interregnum.  

Howard Pearce

His Excellency Howard Pearce and family.

 

Hydropower Prospects Looking Good

Rocks

 

Gull Lake Dam and Grytviken

GSGSSI is increasingly committed to replacing oil generators by hydropower within three years. In two Government addresses given this month the project was highlighted as one of the major projects being planned.

Work on the Gull Lake dam may begin this coming summer. The lake level will be reduced using siphons, allowing a more accurate assessment of the current condition of the dam, and for structural repairs to begin. Whether or not the hydro project goes ahead, some work will be needed on the dam to ensure it does not collapse and cause a sudden flood that may threaten the historic Grytviken cemetery below’ where Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried.

The costs of reinstalling hydropower will be approximately £1.8 million. At today’s fuel prices that would mean the costs could be recouped within about 18 years, less if fuel prices continue to increase.
An Environmental Impact Assessment for the project has just been completed and will be posted on this website.

GSGSSI feel the prospect of being a carbon free Territory is extremely important in environmental terms. The aim is that within three years King Edward Point and Grytviken will be totally powered by renewable energy sources.

 

GSGSSI Addresses Gathering of Antarctic Tour Operators (by Richard McKee)

The 17th General Meeting of IAATO was held in April in Washington DC and South Georgia Government was represented by Richard McKee. This was an opportunity for the Government to discuss tourism management concerns directly with companies and vessel operators as well as updating members on current issues affecting their operations in South Georgia. The full text of the South Georgia presentation may be found in the Goverment Reports section here, but to summarise, the following issues were covered:

- Further increases in the number of cruise ships visiting South Georgia. There has been a 23% rise in the number of cruise ship visits, and a 44% rise in the number of cruise ship passengers.

- The situation regarding the proposed boardwalk on Prion Island, views expressed by stakeholders during the review of the Environmental Management Plan, why action is urgently required now to protect the Wandering Albatross population, the options facing GSGSSI and the progress of the Initial
Environmental Evaluation.

- GSGSSI's continued commitment to working with IAATO and the importance of Expedition Staff maintaining the same high standards in South Georgia as they do in the Antarctic Treaty area.

- Vessel permitting issues, Expedition Leader briefings and site management issues.

- The large increase in yacht visits and the new Tijuca jetty at Grytviken. The dangerous practice of yachts ignoring their permit conditions and continuing to use the derelict jetties at abandoned whaling stations, despite the serious health risks involved.

- South Georgia Heritage Trust's successful first project at Husvik, proposed future projects and fundraising awareness.

- Current and future Government projects at Grytviken.

Following a lengthy period of discussion and questions that followed the first presentation, a second presentation was also given on the Chain of Custody and availability of Marine Stewardship Council certified Toothfish from the South Georgia fishery. The hope is that some vessel operators will take this opportunity to serve their passengers MSC certified South Georgia toothfish, thereby supporting this conservation initiative and raising public awareness of the management success of the South Georgia Toothfish fishery and the importance of the Marine Stewardship Council accreditation scheme in conserving fish stocks globally.

 

Fishing News


Longliner “Punta Ballena” arrives at King Edward Cove for licensing Government Officer Patrick Lurcock inspects fishing gear

Ten longliners have been fishing in South Georgia waters this month. The Toothfish season started on May 1st. Initial catches continue at the same levels as in recent years.

Some of the TAC (Total Allocated Catch) for the whole fishery is not allocated at the start of the season, so vessels that will reach their quota before the end of the season can apply for more. Allocations of more TAC should be completed by mid June. There will be a larger than normal amount of TAC to be divided amongst the vessels this year as one longliner allocated a license was unable to fish as it was still in dry dock.

On May 14th the last longliner, “Punta Ballena”, arrived at King Edward Cove to be inspected and licensed. This vessel will be setting pots as well as longlines in an experiment to look for alternative ways of catching Toothfish.

 

Environmental Management Plan due out soon

Work on the revised version of the Environmental Management Plan for South Georgia continues. It had been due out in March this year, but a second public consultation round has delayed the final production until June. The finished publication will be called “Plan for Progress – Managing the Environment 2006 –2010”

 

Mouse Problem Bigger than Previously Thought?

The discovery of a dead mouse near Cave Cove, Cape Rosa, may explain an old mystery and confirm mice are more widespread on the southern side of the Island than previously thought.

Sally Poncet of South Georgia Surveys found the dead mouse last summer. The area is known to be rat-free, but a previous visit to the area in 1986 by Sally and biologist Pete Prince noted an unexpected absence of South Georgia Pipits. Mice were not previously thought to have an impact on birds at South Georgia, but this is now being reassessed.

Mice were first recorded at South Georgia in 1976 by a BAS field party camped at Mouse Cove and Holmestrand on the Nunez Peninsula. This area is separated from the newly discovered infested area by a glacier that is presumed to be an effective barrier to rodent dispersal. The discovery of mice the other side of the glacier effectively more than doubles the area known to be infested, or in danger of infestation, by mice, and reduces the safe breeding area of coastline on South Georgia for Pipits to about 200 km.

(With thanks to Sally Poncet and Bob Burton for information.)

 

Rock Fall Closes the Only Road

An impressive rock fall closed the only road on South Georgia to vehicles. A 60-meter long section of the track between King Edward Point (KEP) and Grytviken was scattered with rocks up to half a cubic metre after a section of rock on the ridge above broke off.

 

After the rock fall large rocks littered a sixty meter long stretch of the only road on the Island.

 

Rocks

The two Government Officers discovered the fall as they set off to inspect the summer’s works in the old whaling station. A steel navigation marker planted in a barrel filled with rocks had taken a direct hit and been obliterated. The road was impassable to vehicles until the JCB was used to clear the rocks.
The hillside above the track is renowned for potential rock falls. Increased freeze-thaw action at the start of winter and in spring mean it is not unusual to find new rocks on the track from time to time, but this was the largest rock fall known in this area.

The same section of track is very prone to avalanches when snow covered. It was here in 1941 that an avalanche killed Magistrate William Barlas. He is buried in the cemetery at Grytviken.

Emma Jones, Government Officer, assisted by the Technical Mechanic Steve Artis, constructed and installed a new navigation marker and is in the process of refurbishing all the other markers in the Cove area.

 


Government Officer Emma Jones replaces the obliterated navigation marker. Photo by Steve Artis.   William Barlas, the magistrate killed by an avalanche in the same area in 1941. Photo with permission of the Falkland Islands Government Archive

 

GSGSSI Address to the SGA AGM

GSGSSI addressed members of the South Georgia Association at their AGM on May 19th. A representative of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office read out the address by SG Operations Manager Gordon Liddle.

The address highlighted the fact that though increases in the number of paying visitors to the Island increases income to the Government, it also causes concern about visitor impact. An Environmental Impact Assessment for a proposed boardwalk to be constructed at Prion Island, where visitors land to see breeding Wandering Albatross and South Georgia Pipits, is underway.

Fishing is the major industry in South Georgia and the most time consuming part of Government business. A recent research cruise suggests the biggest stock of icefish for many years. Work continues on technological aspects of krill processing to make it a more profitable commodity and that bodes well for the future. However, better fishing revenue than in the previous year is tempered with increased costs for fuel. The Patrol Vessel now burns over £500,000 worth of fuel a year on top of the circa £1.5 million charter fees.

The full text of the address is available in the Goverment Reports section here.

 

Another Ex-Commissioner Takes Over as Chairman of the South Georgia Association

Richard Ralph, who was Commissioner for South Georgia in 1996-1999, took over as Chairman of the South Georgia Association (SGA) at their recent Annual General Meeting in London. The outgoing Chairman David Tatham is also an ex-Commissioner, he was chairman of the Association since its formation in 2001, and will remain on the Committee.

After the meeting Sally Poncet gave an interesting talk on Duncan Carse who died in 2004. Duncan had a long association with South Georgia starting in 1933 when he passed through on the Discovery Expeditions. He returned several times on geological and surveying expeditions, for filming and for his experiment on living alone that went spectacularly wrong when a tsunami washed his hut away.

 

High Hopes for Penguin Chicks

 


The King Penguin chicks “Jude” and “Steve” seem to be thriving.   The chick’s namesakes, Steve and Jude, on their wedding day last month. Photo by Mr and Mrs Brown.

Two King Penguin chicks have survived longer than any yet at the nascent King Penguin colony at Penguin River. The first egg laid by a King Penguin at Penguin River was seen in 2003 by then residents Jude Dickson and Steve Brown. The small chick that hatched was called “Jude”, and KEP residents eagerly watched its progress, but sadly the chick disappeared while still small.

Two pairs tried breeding in 2005, when two eggs were hatched, but again the chicks did not survive for long (see archived newsletter May 2005).

This years chicks now far exceed the size of previous breeding attempts. The photo above was taken in mid May when both chicks still had one adult in fulltime attendance. By the end of the month the chicks were big enough to be left by both parents. The chicks have been called “Steve” and “Jude” which is especially fitting as their namesakes got married last month.

The Skuas, one of the chick’s potential predators, have now migrated for the winter, so the biggest threat to their survival will probably be the approaching winter snows. Fingers crossed they make it this time.

 

Endurance and Survival

Two of South Georgia’s heroes feature large in a new exhibition “Endurance and Survival” at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, Cornwall. Sir Ernest Shackleton and Dame Ellen MacArthur headline the exhibition of how they and other mariners have endured and survived, in a personal challenge to achieve their goal, often in the face of extreme danger.

Sir Ernest Shackleton famously rescued all of his crew after their ship the “Endurance” sank in the Weddell Sea. The lifeboat “James Caird”, in which Shackleton and five others arrived in King Haakon Bay, is in the exhibition, along with Hussey’s morale boosting banjo and other artefacts from this great survival story.

The “Endurance and Survival” exhibition poster features two of the Island’s heroes, Sir Ernest Shackleton and Dame Ellen MacArthur.

 


Ellen MacArthur, fastest person to sail solo non-stop around the world, visited South Georgia last summer to support the “Save the Albatross Campaign” and assist on the South Georgia ACAP Petrel Survey. Amongst other things the exhibition looks at her sleep and nutritional needs during her solo sail.
Several others, including Sir Robin Knox-Johnson and Tony Bullimore, feature in the exhibition that captures the incredible stories behind their achievements and sometimes survival against the odds.
The exhibition runs until January 7th 2007.

 


Dias’ Original Bell Found

bell

A few weeks ago, the sealer Dias’ original bell was found. In her previous life she was Viola and one of Hull’s most famous steam trawlers. The bell was located on a farm in southern Norway almost one hundred years to the day that the trawler sailed on its first voyage from Hull to the fishing grounds. The ship, which distinguished itself in the U-boat War was sold to Norway in 1920 and was later sold on to South Georgia and renamed Dias. Today she still lies at Grytviken.

The bell was probably removed from the ship when it was renamed “Dias” by the Norwegians and had been hung on a farm near the whaling town of Sandefjord since the early 1920s. The artefact and its survival are quite something. The trawler was part of the fifty strong Hellyer Fleet of trawlers built around 1905/6. By the end of the Great War more than 22 had been lost as a result of weather or war. All the other vessels have long since been scrapped. Later, when laid up at Grytviken, the battle to retake South Georgia in the Falklands War was in the bay where the ex-trawler lay. For additional information see website www.viola-dias.org.

 

Long Overdue Parcel

People living in South Georgia are used to their parcels being miss-sent to other parts of the world, often Georgia in America or Georgia in South-western Asia, but it is more unusual for a parcel destined for South Africa to turn up here.

 

For some reason the despatching company misaddressed the parcel to South Georgia. It arrived badly damaged, but inside was an e-mail address for the correct destination. Ali Dean, the Base Commander, contacted Jacqui Van Zyl in South Africa to find out where to readdress the package which contained brightly coloured metal rings. Jacqui had planned to use the rings to make baby carriers in her home business “BabySlingz”. It had been missing so long Jacqui had given up ever getting it and she had to get someone local to make rings she could use for the first productions. The parcel will be about a year late arriving but is at least now slowly making its way to the correct destination. Ali, who recently became a grandmother, ended up ordering one of the attractive slings for her new granddaughter Chloe.

Jacquie with her baby Zoe in one of the prototype baby slings.    

Incidentally, the South Georgia postcode SIQQ 1ZZ which was introduced in 2003 giving hopes that the South Georgia post would less frequently go winging to other parts of the world, turns out to be largely purposeless as it is not recognised by sorting offices in the UK, or used by the Heathrow Worldwide Dispatch Centre, through which all overseas items pass from the UK.

 

Bird Island News

Bird Island, just off the northern tip of South Georgia, is a wildlife haven and site of a small British Antarctic Survey base. Helen Taylor, a vet and one of the resident scientists, has kindly agreed to send a monthly report on activities on the island. This is her first report:

May is a busy month on Bird Island, the resident Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatross chicks are savouring their last meals before they take to the skies for the first time and have to fend for themselves, whilst the Wandering Albatross chicks patiently wait on their nests for parents to bring meals that will provide sustenance for the harsh winter ahead.

With the Macaroni Penguins away at sea for the winter, only the Gentoo Penguins return to the Island each evening and are no doubt enjoying a rest from an excellent chick rearing season that saw over 5,000 chicks successfully fledged.

The fledging of the Southern Giant Petrel chicks brings to a close an intensive study season for the Northern and Southern populations that included an island wide census to gauge current population size. Using small satellite transmitters, the foraging trips of parent birds were also followed. Some birds were reaching latitudes of more than 70 degrees south in order to provision the rapidly growing and ever-hungry chick.

An isabelline Gentoo Penguin (a rare “blonde” colour variant) and a Yellowed Billed Pintail duck from the Falkland Islands have been unusual visitors to the island but we are still waiting for our first Leopard Seal of the winter!

Black-browed Albatross chick getting fed for the last time. Photo by Helen Taylor.
   

Southern Giant Petrel making its first flight. Photo by Helen Taylor.

 

Bird Island Reunion

50 years of occupation and study at Bird Island (BI) was celebrated at the Bird Island Reunion on April 8th. Seventy-six people with Bird Island connections gathered in Cambridge, including Jenny Bonner who’s late husband Nigel had taken part in the 1958-64 BI Expeditions who constructed the research hut “Bonner’s Bothy” on the island. Jenny’s son Martin was also at the gathering. He visited the island in 1959 when only 20 months old.

Ron Pinder talked about the early years on Bird Island, photographs from the past fifty years were shown and Jane Tanton brought things up to date with an account of life there in recent years.
A live webcam on Bird Island allowed the current BAS team on the island to take part in after-dinner speeches, though, in the usual tradition, communication problems during the darts match between the “post – 1985 Bird islanders” team and the current BI winterers saw the current islanders declared champions by default.

(Info from BAS Club Newsletter No55)

 

South Georgia Snippets

 

The Leopard Seal on an ice floe in Cumberland Bay West. Please accredit photo to Patrick Lurcock.

  The KEP team practise what they would do in the event of a real oil spill.

A month of two halves, South Georgia was a stormy place to live and work until mid-May since when an unusually extended calm has been pretty much uninterrupted, giving a welcome break to longliners. A Fishery patrol in the early half was blighted by the bad weather, Fishery Officer Steve Waugh said it was the worst period of weather he had experienced in many trips down here.

With winters arrival the migrating birds have gone, and a Leopard Seal was photographed on a large ice floe in Cumberland West Bay. Sightings of Leopard Seals become more common in the winter months.
With the nights drawing in and temperatures plummeting several folks took the opportunity to get away camping and hiking before the snows arrive. The storms disrupted some travel plans, with one camping party trapped out an extra night when it was too windy to launch the boats to collect them. The party nearly lost a tent when a big gust tore the pegs out and blew it a long way up the valley, strewing its contents along the way.

An oil spill response practice at the end of the month had everyone brushing up on their skills of what to do if there were a fuel spill in the Cove, and an afternoon beach-clean around Discovery Point removed two boatloads of debris washed up from the shipwrecks in the vicinity.

The webcam was moved this month from the lounge window of Carse House to the Dispensary window in Larsen House a little further up the Point. The move coincided with a communication outage whilst work was done on equipment housed in Cambridge. The view from the new site is almost exactly the same except you can now see a section on the banister on the steps leading into Larsen House. As there is a movement activated light outside the new location it is possible that penguins and seals in the area at night will trip the light and be featured on the webcam!

 

 

On May 29th another party was hosted aboard the Fishery Patrol Vessel “Sigma” to celebrate the Captain Dave Shaw’s 60th birthday.

 

Captain Dave Shaw celebrated his 60th birthday at KEP.


 

Javier Fernandez departed the Island on May 30th, his easy charm will be missed around base. He and Government Officer Emma Jones hosted his goodbye party with a delicious buffet, two different types of cheesecake, a dessert to which Javier became very partial during his stay, and a long karaoke session where everyone sang along late into the night.

 

 

Javier Fernandez just before departing on the Fishery patrol Vessel.

 

View of the Month

A “View of the Month” image (Sarah Lurcock’s good idea) will be displayed each month on the front page of the South Georgia Heritage Trust website here. A link will be included on each new edition of the GSGSSI monthly newsletter. If you have any suitable images you wish to display please contact the Project Atlantis Office, University of Dundee via the mail icon at the top left of this page.

This months view will be of King Edward Cove and King Edward Point with longliner “Polar Pesca 1” anchored in the Cove and the harbour launch “Prion” approaching her side.

 

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