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South Georgia Newsletter, September 2006

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Biggest Ever September Ozone Hole

Ozone

Ozone chart showing vast ozone hole extending over South Georgia on September 20th. NOAA

This year’s ozone hole is the largest on record for September.

On September 19th Jon Shanklin, Head of the Meteorology and Ozone Monitoring Unit at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), warned us that ozone levels over the Island would be low for the next few days. We receive daily prediction charts for ozone levels. When ozone levels are low we are more at risk from solar radiation that can cause sunburn, skin damage, and increase the risk of developing skin cancers.
Ozone levels across Antarctica had dropped rapidly in mid September. Lower than normal temperatures within the Polar Vortex (a natural cyclone of super-cold, super-fast winds over the Antarctic area) have allowed stratospheric clouds, that are key to ozone destruction, to form over a larger area than normal. The ozone hole grew rapidly from mid-August, reaching just over 27 million square kilometres around the September equinox, one of the largest holes on record.

A prediction made at the Scientific Committee for Antarctic Research (SCAR) conference in Hobart in July suggested that the 2006 ozone hole was likely to be one of the larger and deeper ones (perhaps 28 millions square kilometres).

The World Meteorological Organisation says that severe Antarctic ozone losses will very likely continue to be observed for at least the next 10-20 years because of the slow decline of ozone depleting gases. Estimations of when ozone levels over the Antarctic may return to pre-1980 levels have recently been revised upward as it was realised that the air circulating in the Polar Vortex is older than that at lower latitudes.

There is some good news though; Global Atmosphere Watch says there is clear evidence of a decrease in atmospheric burden of ozone-depleting substances, as a result of the success of the Montreal Protocol, and there are some early signs of stratospheric ozone recovery. In the last decade, the depletion of the global ozone layer has not worsened.

The World Meteorological Organisation states that the ozone layer over the mid-latitudes should recover by 2049, whereas the layer over the Antarctic should recover by 2065.

 

South Georgia’s Toothfish Fishery Passes Marine Stewardship Council Audit

MSC Customer Licence Code MSCI0322

The South Georgia Patagonian Toothfish Fishery had its annual audit this month to check it continues to comply to the standards required to remain a Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) registered fishery. A fishery certified to the MSC standard allows traders and consumers to be reassured that the fish they are buying comes from a well-managed fishery. Andrew Hough of Moody Marine Ltd has just spent a week in Stanley, Falkland Islands, auditing the South Georgia Patagonian Toothfish Fishery. This annual audit scrutinises all aspects of GSGSSI's management of the Toothfish Fishery over the past 12 months, including the Group Chain of Custody Scheme. There were also meetings in August with the Marine Resources Assessment Group in London to audit the data collection procedures for the fishery, and the management of the Chain of Custody database.

Whilst in Stanley, Andrew also had meetings with local fishing companies that have signed up to the MSC Group Chain of Custody scheme.

At the end of the audit a few minor points were identified as requiring attention and these will be highlighted in the audit report, to be published early 2007.

Birdlife International, the global partnership of conservation organisations said "The South Georgia longline fishery for Patagonian Toothfish is one of the best managed in the world*Birdlife International acknowledges that the seabird bycatch mitigation techniques used in this fishery make it the premier example of best practice to which other comparable longline fisheries around the world should aspire."

On September 18th, the organic supermarket "Whole Foods Market", with 180 stores in America, Canada and the UK, announced that it was the world's first supermarket to offer MSC certificated Patagonian Toothfish. The popular fish was last stocked in its stores in August 1999.

The MSC was set up in 1997 to promote solutions to the problem of overfishing. Its' distinctive eco-label can now be found on more than 400 seafood products sold in retail chains in 26 countries. 21 fisheries have been certified as sustainable to the MSC standard so far.

The MSC website is www.msc.org.

 

The South Georgia Top-Level Internet Domain (.gs) Reclaimed
By Paul Shafi, Atlantis North Ltd

It's probably a little know fact that South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has had its very own top level domain name(TLD) for the last 10 years. A TLD is the letters that follow the final dot of any domain name. Common examples would be .com or .co.uk. South Georgia was allocated .gs

Previously, a company in Cambridge had operated it. However, over the last 2 years, Project Atlantis had been busy negotiating the handover and organising a technical solution to operate the .gs registry. A new company, Atlantis North Ltd, has been formed to operate the registry and act as the trustee on behalf of South Georgia.

Importantly, a new Acceptable User Policy has been developed to ensure that .gs domain names and websites do not tarnish the reputation and interests of the territory.

Currently new domain names can be registered through a number of resellers. In the next few weeks a new Atlantis North website will also start accepting registrations and renewals. Details will be posted at www.nic.gs.

 

Valuable Research Equipment Recovered by Krill Trawler

BAS Ship

 

KEP Jetty

The recovered buoys and instruments on KEP jetty. Photo by Pat Lurcock   The mooring was originally deployed from a BAS ship. Photo BAS

An escaped seafloor mooring carrying valuable scientific equipment almost evaded searching ships. The 100-metre tall mooring, made up of various buoys and recording instruments, had been anchored to the seafloor in 300 metres of water off the coast of South Georgia. Suddenly a satellite beacon on the top-most buoy started transmitting, a sign that somehow the instrument array had come loose from the mooring and was now floating on the sea surface.

Scientists receiving the positions of the escaped equipment forwarded them to South Georgia Fisheries, who alerted shipping in the area asking if they could help search for it.

The possibility of the research mooring breaking loose had been identified in the design phase of the moorings, so a satellite tracking beacon and a VHF signal transmitter had been incorporated into the design. Indeed, three years ago a similar research mooring came loose, probably hooked on fishing equipment. A fishing vessel later recovered it.

With less shipping in the area this time, it was a few days before the Fishery Patrol Ship “Sigma” was able to search for the kit. A first attempt was halted when storm conditions made searching too difficult, then for some reason the satellite beacon stopped transmitting. With two-day-old positions and calculated-guesses based on wind conditions and local sea currents, the Patrol Vessel spent a day doing box searches in the mooring’s likely location, but without success. If they had got close the VHF signal, if it was still working, should have helped them find the main buoy from a distance of about five miles. Again the search was called off as the Patrol Vessel had to return to port.

Recovery of the equipment was now looking unlikely, but suddenly the satellite beacon started transmitting again and BAS scientists were able to give a very accurate position fix. The VHF transmitter would work for only about ten days in total; it was now a week since the mooring had come adrift. A krill trawler entering the South Georgia Maritime Zone (SGMZ) from the north agreed to try to intercept it. At four in the morning on September 8th, the trawler “Saga Sea” managed to hook onto the mooring and lift it aboard, delivering it to KEP later that day.

Relieved scientists at BAS Cambridge were pleased to hear the equipment had been recovered, and though there was damage to outer casings, the expensive recording kit looks undamaged.
The seafloor moorings project, with the somewhat unwieldy project title “Bottom Moorings to investigate intra-annual variability in krill abundance and water-mass physical characteristics at South Georgia”, has been operating since October 2002. Equipment on the two current moorings in the area includes a CTD (Conductivity, Temperature and Depth) recorder, which monitors temperature and salinity in the water, and an ADCP (Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler) which detects the presence of plankton, krill or fish and allows scientists to assess the water current.

The moorings started out as a three-year project, but the success of the experiment has meant it was adopted as part of the long-term BAS programme. Two new moorings will be deployed in two other areas in the Scotia Sea in the next few months. The moorings have provided the first view of how krill abundance at South Georgia changes throughout the year. The only other way to record the data obtained by the moorings would be to have a research vessel on station in the area year round.

To help prevent accidental unseating of the equipment from the bottom moorings, fishing vessels within the SGMZ are given maps and positions, and are banned from fishing within two miles of the moorings. When moored, the highest part of the array is still 200 meters below sea level, which should keep it out of the way of most icebergs.

 

New Patrol Ship

A new ship, “Pharos SG” has been purchased to replace the “Sigma” as Fishery Patrol Ship for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

The new ship has been bought by Byron Marine Ltd from the Commissioners of the Northern Lighthouse in Scotland, and will be on long-term charter to GSGSSI.

The new ship has several advantages over the ship she replaces. It is a more modern vessel, and has greatly increased logistical capabilities, including the ability to carry shipping containers. “Pharos SG” has a fully operational helideck and is extremely manoeuvrable. Her primary task will be as Fishery Patrol Ship but she will also be able to perform other important tasks for the Government.

 

Fishing News

Saga Sea

Krill trawler “Saga Sea”, Mt Duse behind. Photo by Pat Lurcock.

The last of the toothfish vessels left the SGMZ at the beginning of the month after the seasonal closure of the Toothfish Fishery at midnight on August 31st.

A trawler fishing for Icefish also left when its licence finished at the end of September. A second krill trawler “Saga Sea” came in for inspection and licensing on September 8th, and returned later to meet up with reefer “Adam” to tranship stores, fuel and crew.

Both krill trawlers finished fishing and left the zone at the end of the month.

 

Bird Island Remains Rat-free
By Dr. Kevin A. Hughes, BAS Environmental Office.

“We’ve found a dead rat washed ashore by the jetty” reported Matt Jobson on the phone from the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

Rats are common on South Georgia; sealers and whalers probably accidentally introduced them in the 19th century. Rats have had a significant impact on bird life on the South Georgia mainland, where Pipits and ground burrowing birds in particular are vulnerable to rat predation.

Bird Island is a breeding site for Pipits and a number of threatened bird species such as Petrels and Albatrosses. Until recently, no rats (dead or alive) have ever been found on the island. The arrival of rats would be a disaster for the local bird population and the associated BAS science. Extensive procedures to prevent accidental introduction of rats to Bird Island were already in place for the high-risk period during the recent base rebuild. Measures included bait stations, rat-free cargo tick sheets and awareness posters.

Immediately following Matt’s phone call the Rat Response Plan kicked in. Poison bait stations and gnawsticks were positioned around the buildings and local area. At BAS Cambridge, the news was passed on to senior management and others with relevant expertise within the Biological Sciences Division. Meanwhile, an autopsy showed the rat to be a rather skinny non-pregnant female of breeding age. The stomach contained a mixture of partially digested beetle casings and tussock grass, suggesting it had come from the local area rather than a passing ship. The fact that the rat was intact, and had not been taken by a scavenging sea bird, meant it was probably discovered only shortly after being washed ashore.

Further advice and expertise were sought internationally. Darren Christie (South Georgia Habitat Restoration Officer) provided useful information on rat behaviour and habitats. BAS records showed that rats did live on the mainland across the sound from Bird Island, while meteorological information revealed that there had been strong winds and storms just prior to the discovery. Ocean currents in the area were unpredictable, so the origin of the rat was unclear. The question still remained: had the rat been washed ashore from the mainland, 500m away across Bird Sound, or was it from Bird Island itself?

Advice from Andy Cox, a world expert on rat eradication from the New Zealand Department of Conservation, suggested that rats on an island seldom remain in one location and can travel widely. The only way to know if the rat had come from a small community established on Bird Island, or from the mainland, was to implement an island-wide rat-monitoring programme. The Bird Island team rolled out the nine-week programme, which involved making, deploying and checking 50 additional bait stations around the island. The stations were baited with chocolate as it can easily show signs of gnawing and is non-toxic to native wildlife. The bait stations were checked weekly, despite deep snow making travel around the island difficult.

To date there have been no reports of gnaw marks at the bait stations, no tracks in the snow and no rat droppings found. In short, we are happy and relieved to report that there has been absolutely no sign of any live rats on Bird Island. Monitoring will now continue indefinitely, and will provide an early warning of any future potential rat invasions.

The BAS Environmental Office would like to thank everyone on Bird Island, at BAS Cambridge and internationally, for the speed and willingness with which they offered and delivered their help and expertise.

 

More Ships, Fewer People, in the Coming Tourist Season

Applications for tour ship visits to South Georgia for the coming season are probably all now in. There will be slightly more ships than last season, but most likely a small fall in the number of cruise passengers visiting.

Fifty-one ships have so far applied, two more than visited last season. Opening the cruise ship season will be “Nordnorge”, visiting Grytviken on October 26th. Total passenger capacity between the ships is just under 5500. Last season 5427 cruise passengers visited, and occupancy was very high at 97.5%. In the coming season occupancy would have to be almost 100%, or more ships would have to apply to visit, to beat last seasons record number of passengers.

Three ships that have not previously visited are on the list: “Ushuaia”, capable of carrying 75 passengers, makes two calls; “Le Diamont”, 200 passengers, visits Grytviken on Christmas Day; and “The World”, 250 passengers, visits in January. The cruise ship season is due to finish in mid March 2007 with the last of three visits by “Grigoriy Mikheev”.

Several yachts have also applied to visit, some carrying expedition, research or filming parties. The first yacht, “Valhalla”, is due on October 5th.

 

Bird Island News

Report by Helen Taylor who is a vet and one of the resident scientists at the BAS base on Bird Island.

Albatross Chicks

 

September sees the close of a very successful and fun winter on Bird Island. The Wandering Albatross chicks have all been ringed, allowing us to gauge how many are surviving to return to the island and breed. The chicks have grown well over winter and we are on track for one of the highest fledging successes on record, though the number of adults returning to breed on the island continues to show a worrying decline.

 

The Wandering Albatross chicks have abandoned their nests due to the deep snow.

In other ringing successes, Robin has been busy with the local South Georgia Pintail duck population, now with nearly 300 carrying a unique ring number that allows us (plus other South Georgia residents and tourists!) to observe their movements. Very little is known about this charismatic little duck and vital information can be gleaned from observing their movements, which may be important should rat eradication measures be employed on the mainland.

September also sees the Bird Island spring back into life, with the arrival of the Grey-headed Albatross and the first of the Giant Petrels braving the cold and snowy conditions to lay their single egg. With a very busy summer approaching and the first BAS ship bringing new faces and supplies at the start of October, we are all going to be dutifully employed with the dreaded end-of-winter scrub out of the base!

SG Pintail

 

Grey-headed Albatross

A South Georgia Pintail sporting her numbered ring for easy identification.   One of the first Grey-headed Albatross to return to the island to defend his nest. All photos by Helen Taylor


Dinner Raises Funds for the Shackleton Centenary Expedition

A dinner organised by the James Caird Society, to raise funds for the Shackleton Centenary Expedition, was held at the National Maritime Museum in Falmouth, UK, on September 9th.

The Museum is currently holding the “Endurance and Survival Exhibition”, which includes the historic lifeboat “James Caird” which played such a large part in the survival of Shackleton and his crew after their ship “Endurance” was crushed in the ice of the Weddell Sea. The dinner was also open to members of the South Georgia Association.

The Shackleton Centenary Expedition plans to mark the centenary of Shackleton’s Nimrod Expedition by recreating the journey that took Shackleton, Adams, Wild and Marshall to the furthest south, just 97 miles from the Pole. And, just as Shackleton and his men were aiming for the Pole, the Centenary Expedition plans to continue to that goal. Expedition members are all descendants of the original Nimrod Expedition members including Shackleton’s great grandson, two of Jameson Adam’s great grandsons, the great great grandson of Charles Dorman (Shackleton’s father-in-law) and Henry Worsley, who appropriately is the expedition navigator.

The Shackleton Centenary Expedition will depart from Cape Royds on October 29th 2008. They will man haul sledges and hope to arrive at Shackleton’s furthest south, exactly 100 years later, on January 9th 2009, then on to the Pole.

The “James Caird” will return to its normal home at Dulwich College next month. The Shackleton Centenary Expedition website is www.shackletoncentenary.org

 

Shackleton: The Boat Journey and Mountain Trek 2008

A new attempt is being planned to recreate the journey, made by Shackleton and a few of his shipwrecked crew of the “Endurance”, from Elephant Island to South Georgia.

Fundraising is currently underway to enable Expedition Leader Steve Bull, and a team of five others, to make their attempt in November/December 2008. They plan to launch a replica “James Caird” from the position in the Weddell Sea known as Patience Camp, then sail to Elephant Island before launching off again for South Georgia, and crossing the Island. Where practical they plan to use similar clothing and equipment to that used by Shackleton and his men.

The Expedition needs to raise around £100,000. Their website is at www.bullexpeditions.com

 

'Taxi to the Snow Line' - Mountain Adventures on Nordic Skis

Taxi to the Snow Line

'Taxi to the Snow Line' - Mountain Adventures on Nordic Skis by Guy Sheridan

Just out: a 416 page book including 151 colour photographs and 14 colour maps by Guy Sheridan.

The book includes 'Letter from Grytviken' - the author's personal, factual account as Commander of the Land Forces that repossessed South Georgia in April 1982. It also includes a chapter titled 'Storms in South Georgia' - an account of an attempt to climb Sheridan Peak with the late David Nicholls during the SG winter of 1999.

The book can be ordered direct from Guy Sheridan by post to - Comus, 11340 Espezel, France or e-mail GuySheridan

Cost per single copy is £30 or €44. P&P In the EU £4.50 or €6.60
To USA/Canada £6.40 or €9.40
To Australasia £7.40 or € 10.85

Payment can be either by a UK Bank cheque or a French Bank cheque in Euros.

 

 


Fringe Benefits

Jamie Watts

 

Jamie Watts

Hair today….   …gone Sept 1st.

Persistence paid off, and hair came off, for Jamie Watts when his comb-over was judged to have reached the other side of his bald patch.

Jamie accepted the challenge to grow the comb-over in November last year, when offers of donations to “Save the Albatross” charities became too high to ignore. At last, on September 1st one of the main sponsors agreed the challenge was met, as were the sides of Jamie’s hair, and another sponsor who was paying for the privilege took clippers to his head.

A relieved Jamie said “It’s difficult to explain, but this stunt, this comb-over, the awful apparition that’s been greeting me in the mirror, had been taking its toll.” But he is more than pleased with the £1750 final result. The funds are being sent to Projecto Albatroz in Brazil and Birdlife Namibia to assist their efforts in reducing Albatross and Petrel mortalities in the fisheries off their shores.

 

South Georgia Snippets

Elephant Seal

An early Elephant Seal bull hauls out next to Shackleton Villa.

 

September is the month when the Elephant Seal season kicks off, but with two large snowfalls midmonth, adding 30cm of snow, there is more snow at sea level than there has been for the past couple of years. Bulls started hauling out, melting grooves in the snow atop the beach, and establishing pecking orders, as soon as the month began. By midmonth the females were starting to join them, two obligingly hauled out in front of the webcam, and the first four pups had been born across the Cove by September 23rd. KEP residents have been skiing, or walking round at low tide, regularly since then to see how the colonies are progressing. The KEP colony is always a little later to start and at the end of the month just four females were up, with a couple of guarding bulls.

The accumulated snow from drifts and roof falls had residents digging out windows again, and the JCB spent several hours forging a path through deep walls of snow to improve access to the base and the medical centre in Larsen House.

 

Steve in the JCB digs through one of the big drifts.

 

JCB

A night time boat training exercise, to hone navigation and boating skills in the dark, was opportunely held only days before it was necessary to take the boats out late at night to bring in a medical patient from one of the fishing ships.

Herculean efforts were made to carry and drag heavy batteries, needed to power the VHF repeater, up the snowy mountainsides. In summer the batteries are topped up by a solar panel, but the batteries occasionally need changing and it is easier to haul them on sledges over the winter snow, than carry them in summer. It took two teams of people two days to get the batteries to the ridge. Three people harnessed themselves to the sledge to pull it up the slope, but at the steepest sections ropes, belays and pulleys were set up, with ice-anchors in the snow, to haul up the heavy load. The repeater enables VHF communications with the small boats in the blind spot behind Mt Duse.

Lots of people have got away for trips, making the best of last opportunities, as they are aware their contracts are coming to an end, and the busy summer season is starting soon. The first Skuas of spring were seen at Carlita on September 11th, and at KEP on the 14th. More big haul outs of Gentoo Penguins were seen on the Husvik side of the Busen Peninsula, with thousands of birds covering the beach and inland hillsides and hillocks.

A large iceberg with a smooth saddle proved tempting to returning Chinstrap Penguins, about 70 of the birds hopped up its icy inclines to rest on September 29th.

The flag was flown at half-mast on September 12th to mark the death, a few days previously, of the King of Tonga.

KEP’ers had been encouraged to enter some of their craft items in the Falkland Island Craft Fair. A jewellery set of earrings and pendant necklace made from reindeer antler; a photo album embroidered with burnet and dandelion plants; crochet; tapestry and home-framed paintings all won prizes, and we understand that in the end of Fair speech it was mentioned that having checked to be sure South Georgia entries qualified, and encouraged us to join in, the organisers were not now sure they had done the right thing!

Ozone

“Alert” in front of the iceberg with about 70 Chinstrap Penguins roosting on it. Photo by Pat Lurcock

 

View of the Month

Check out the View of the Month on the South Georgia Heritage website

 

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