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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter, November 2006

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New Fishery Patrol Ship

 

The new Fishery patrol Vessel “Pharos SG” on her first visit to King Edward Cove.

  “Pharos SG”’s foredeck crane offloading aggregate bags.

Fishery Patrol Vessel “Pharos SG” made her first visit to South Georgia this month. The 80-metre ship, built in 1993 as a multi-purpose lighthouse tender, has been purchased by Byron Marine Ltd to replace the “Sigma” and is on long-term charter to GSGSSI as Fishery Patrol Vessel for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

When the ship first set sail from Stanley, Falkland Islands, for South Georgia, she sailed up Stanley Harbour past Government House to dip the ensign to the Commissioner. The Government House flag was dipped in response to the salute.

The new ship has already made good use of her improved cargo and passenger capabilities. In two trips this month she brought in seven members of the new British Antarctic Survey (BAS) team and the Morrisons FI team, as well as assisting with passenger movements in and out of the BAS station at Bird Island. The 20-tonne crane on the fore deck was needed to offload vehicles, containers full of building materials, and many bags of aggregate for the Morrison FI works this summer.

“Sigma” was given a fond farewell when she made her last visit to King Edward Cove in September. She has patrolled the SGMZ over the last six years, almost exclusively for the last two, and has been a regular and welcome visitor to the Cove, bringing in mail and fresh supplies. A party was held on board to mark her departure, and a framed print of a watercolour, showing “Sigma” passing research fishing vessel “Quest” at the entrance to the Cove, was presented to the King Edward Point Base.

 

Waving a final goodbye to “Sigma” in September.

  The print that was presented to the KEP base to mark “Sigma”’s final departure.

 

Work Starts on the Hydroelectricity Project

 

Work started on the road up to the dam at Gull Lake within days of the Morrison FI team arriving back on the Island.
The nine-man team arrived, along with vehicles, a small boat, materials to make a raft, siphons and tonnes of aggregate on “Pharos SG” earlier this month. The road, which follows a ridge up to the west of the lake, will allow vehicles to move easily up to the work site on the old dam. Shortly siphons will be set up to drain the lake so the dam can be refurbished next summer. If all goes to plan the penstock (water pipe) will be put in and the new hydroelectricity generators will start working by the end of next season. The road will be filled in and landscaped once the project is finished.

The road up to the dam was completed soon after the Morrision FI workers arrived back on the Island.

   

The Morrison FI team, working under Works Manger Charlie Keating, and overseen for the Government by David Peck, has several other projects to work on this season. Scaffolding now encompasses the Museum buildings again, and work has started on strengthening and re-roofing the Old Managers Villa and Curators cottage. Inside the Museum, work continues from last season on replacing the floors and windows.

 

Re-roofing the Museum.

  Is this the first ever car on the Island?

 

Shipping News

 

The tour ship “Ushuaia” made her first ever call to South Georgia in November.

  Two of the “Pelagic Australis” group on the Shackleton crossing. Photo by Skip Novak

Ten cruise ships have visited this month, though the 50-passenger “Professor Molchanov” did not manage to land at Grytviken due to high winds on November 12th and 13th. Overall occupancy has been very high on the ships, they have almost all been full.

Nivel Marven’s “Image Impact” film team continued filming and overcame some of the problems they had been experiencing editing the films. They were very relieved to get some of the footage away with a ship returning to the Falkland Islands, from where it was be flown to the UK ready to have finishing touches done before broadcast in the next few weeks (see October newsletter).

They returned to Bird Island to complete filming there before sailing on their support yacht “Le Sourire” for more filming in the Falkland Islands, then flying home to the UK.

Two groups of expeditioners successfully completed the Shackleton Crossing from King Haakon Bay to Stromness Bay. A large Irish group made the crossing earlier in the month (see below), and a six-man crossing-party from the yacht “Pelagic Australis” skied across in three days after being dropping in King Haakon on November 25th. Conditions on the route for this group were generally good, though they camped on the Trident Ridge in a white out the first night, had mixed conditions on the second day when they camped just below Breakwind Gap, before completing the journey on a gorgeous day, skiing almost down to the beach at Fortuna. There they were met by the yacht with welcome tea and biscuits, and could drop their heavy gear before popping over the last pass to finish and be picked up at Stromness.

Amongst the group were some very experienced mountaineers including the yacht’s owner Skip Novak, and Dave Hahn, who was attempting the crossing for the sixth time (he has successfully completed it four times now). Dave said this was his best crossing so far and he was especially pleased as he felt the group had followed the truest line to match the journey undertaken by Shackleton, Worsley and Crean when they were rescuing their shipwrecked comrades.

 

New “Communications” Stamp Issue and Postage Rate Rises

The new Communications First day Cover.

A new stamp issue was released on November 30th to coincide with an increase in postage rates.
The four stamps, with an accompanying First Day Cover, depict various forms of communication throughout the last century with this remote island.

Designed by Ross Wardle, the four stamps are:

  • 25p, an RAF Hercules dropping a package by parachute over Cumberland Bay East. There were regular airdrops of mail and other items for the British Army Garrison at King Edward Point (KEP) between 1982 and 2001.
  • 50p, the KEP radio/wireless room circa 1980.
  • 60p, “MV Sigma”. The Fishery Patrol Vessels continue to regularly deliver mail and cargo to KEP during their patrols.
  • £1.05, “SS Fleurus” was the first regular carrier between Stanley, Falkland Islands and South Georgia. Built in the United States in 1919, she was contracted jointly by the Tonsberg Whaling Company and the Falkland Islands Government to provide a mail service between 1924 and 1933. She was later renamed “Thorodd” and was in the service of the Norwegian Navy during WW2.

The First Day Cover, which costs £3.20, shows KEP in the 1940s when the huge radio masts were a feature of the Point.

Mint stamps are in sheets of 20 with a central gutter that features the SG Radio call sign “ZBH” and the Post Office sign.

The cost of posting an airmail postcard in South Georgia is now 50p, and for a 20g airmail letter is 60p. An “inland” letter to the Falklands or British Antarctic Territories costs 25p to post.

 

Government Visitors

Richard McKee of the South Georgia Operations team, who is usually based in Stanley, Falklands, made a quick visit to South Georgia this month. Richard is the tourism specialist within the Government, so the trip down with tour ship “Akademik Sergey Vavilov” gave him the opportunity to refresh his experience of tour ship operations, talking to expedition staff and passengers on this and other vessels, as well as visiting some of the key visitor sites on the Island.

During his two day stay at KEP he also had a chance to: liase with Government personnel based on the Island; see how the Morrison FI Ltd projects were progressing; meet with the outgoing and incoming BAS teams manning the base at KEP and hear their concerns and answer questions about the running of the Island.

 

The Chief Executive Officer of the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT), Alison Stewart, also visited for twelve days. It was her first visit to the Island, having joined the SGHT in June. Her main role within the SGHT is administration and fund raising. SGHT now runs the SG Museum. Other projects include development of the Discovery House project, rat eradication and the continued refurbishment of the Manager’s Villa at Husvik.

Both Richard and Alison also visited the historic hut at Jason harbour, Manager’s Villa at Husvik and the new BAS base at Bird Island.

 

Richard McKee, Alison Stewart and Richard Johnson leaving on the “Pharos SG”    

For further information on the SGHT see www.sght.org where you can also see the web diary Alison kept during her visit.

 

South Atlantic Regional Invasive Species Project

A £1.3 million pound grant has been awarded by the European Commission to support a regional project aiming to protect the rich native biological diversity of the South Atlantic by reducing the threat of introduced invasive species. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds will manage the project, which covers South Georgia, Falkland Islands, St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

The project, which started operation on October 1st, will appoint two Project Officers, one to be based in the Falkland Islands and the other in St Helena.
(info: Penguin news)

 

Follow the Progress of the ACAP Petrel and Prion Survey

Olly Watts of the RSPB has started a web diary covering his visit to South Georgia as part of the South Georgia ACAP Petrel Survey. By the end of the month Olly had already posted several entries following their arrival at Bird Island with the rest of the field team aboard charter yacht “Golden Fleece”, and the start of their survey work on Giant Petrels and other species on the northern end of the Island. Within four days the field team had already found and plotted more than 1500 Giant Petrel nests.

Some heavy snowfalls forced them to wait for a thaw before they could start work on the burrowing petrels. The team are expected to reach King Edward Point in the first few days of December where they will rendezvous with HMS Endurance to pick up another member of the team.

In the November 28th entry Olly describes the hazards of looking for nests amidst thigh-high tussac clumps interspersed with fur seals! The diary is being updated every four days or so on the “Save the Albatross” website.

 

The Carrs Say Goodbye

Tim and Pauline Carr, who have lived and worked in South Georgia as curators of the South Georgia Museum, left the Island on the tour ship “Explorer II” on November 21st. Before they left they wrote:

"After fourteen fantastic years in South Georgia we look back at this privilege with great pleasure. Looking forward into the future is also exciting, with plans to return to South Georgia in January 2007, as expedition staff on "The World", and, in October 2007 with Cheeseman's Ecological Safaris - for eleven days on the Island.

The South Georgia Heritage Trust is also arranging a series of lectures on the east coast of the United States during February and March 2007 - venues include the American Museum of Natural History in New York, the Smithsonian in Washington DC and Mystic Seaport. Eventually our plans are to reach New Zealand and then probably look for another sailing boat. Whatever we do, we are happy to have new horizons and challenges which will hopefully involve a lot of sailing, skiing, kayaking, climbing etc while we are still fit and healthy. And also to have time to appreciate some of the other things in life - like trees and flowers!

 

    Tim and Pauline Carr in front of Mt Sugartop. Photo by Charlotte Routh

We handed over to an enthusiastic Niall Cooper at the beginning of November and wish him all success, along with his excellent and efficient assistants Miriam Iorwerth and Serita Suman.

We are proud of what we have left behind and appreciate the statement from Government House that the Museum's layout and style, with its displays and exhibits, will generally be kept as it is now. With substantial new funding from the passenger landing fees, and booming shop profits, this should be guaranteed. We have one main wish. The Museum is surrounded by the evidence of exploitation from whaling and sealing, and it is important that this should be represented. However over the years we have worked to portray the more positive aspects of the island - natural history, discovery, expeditions - including Shackleton of course, government and military history, as well as providing current information for visitors. We hope this balance will be maintained.

The Museum has had wonderful support and encouragement from all parts of the world, and a whole host of excellent people have worked tirelessly to help it reach its current status. It has always been a team effort and the local community help has also been tremendous. We would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has contributed to its undoubted success.

During our fourteen years, the Government of South Georgia has made great strides in conservation - addressing environmental issues and working to protect its fishery and wildlife. Watching this ethical approach developing, and even on occasion influencing it, has been one of the rewards of living here.

Our involvement with South Georgia is now going in several new and interesting directions - so, happily, this is not a last goodbye."

KEP residents waved Tim and Pauline off with flares and torches as the ship sailed out in the dark.

 

Fur Seals Provide their Own Answers

The camera on a male fur seal. Photo by Bill Hagey

A team of three American researchers have been working for six weeks at Bird Island, putting electronic tags and cameras on Fur Seals to record their foraging behaviour.

Fur Seal populations on South Georgia continue to increase, so it is important for researchers to understand how they fit into the ecosystem, but it is difficult to observe and track seals as they travel, forage and feed underwater.

Randall Davis of Texas A and M University first worked on Bird Island thirty years ago when he was helping to deploy mechanical time/depth recording tags on Fur Seals. At the time this new technology helped to change the face of marine biology. He feels the tags they are deploying this time, which have a more comprehensive set of sensors than have ever been deployed before, are revolutionary and may equally lead to a leap in the ability of researchers to understand the behaviour of marine mammals. Bill Hagey of “Pisces Designs” has been developing the new tags, they include 14 different sensors including a video camera, audio, GPS and temperature and depth recorders.

Working with Fur Seal specialist and BAS employee Ian Staniland, the team were capturing male Fur Seals to attach the tags. The equipment is too large for the smaller female seals.

The work proved very challenging, and teething troubles with the tags had to be overcome in the field. One problem they encountered was that the tagged seals did not always leave land after being tagged, but after some early success they are hopeful that the three tags that are still deployed will provide some good data. Randall and Bill are now on their way home, but the third member of the team, Kiersten Madden, a three-dimensional modeller from the University of Texas, will remain on the island for another two weeks. She will help to recover the tags, which have a remote release to avoid having to capture the animal again, and then analyse the resulting data. It should help to answer questions about how and where Fur Seals hunt and how they capture their prey.

The team have worked with seals all over the world and will be working with Stella Sealions in Russia next year. Asked what his main impression of Bird island was, Bill said, “There is nothing subtle about Bird Island: Seals they’re everywhere; birds, you are in the middle of ten major bird colonies; cliffs, watch out…it’s an unbelievable place.”

Kirsten is writing a web diary of the project and her time on Bird Island. It has fabulous photographs of all the wildlife there and gives more background on the work, with links to the resulting three-dimensional modelling she specialises in.

http://www.utmsi.utexas.edu

 

 

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

 

A bull Fur Seal weighing up to 200kg.

  A wanderer chick tests his wings. All photos by Helen Taylor

November has been a busy month, with the return of the large adult male Fur Seals to defend territory on our beaches as the females return home and give birth to their pup. The puppies are arriving at a steady rate, though peak puppy production will be in December so the beach still had some room on it for a group photograph as we said goodbye to Vicki until next year and hello to Ali, our new Base Commander following 2 years at King Edward Point.

The Wandering Albatross chicks continue to grow well, and regular practice wing flaps, accompanied by jumps, ensured most had successfully fledged from the island by the end of the month.

The Image Impact film crew returned to Bird Island for the second time and were lucky enough to capture the departure of one of the wanderer fledglings, which might not be seen again on the island for another 7 years, on film.

The Macaroni Penguins have also been busy pairing up and laying eggs and the once empty Big Mac colony is now home to around 40,000 breeding pairs. As the first to lay on the island, the Northern Giant Petrels have started to hatch the first chicks of the season, so summer has definitely arrived on Bird Island!

 

Macaroni Penguin pair in prime breeding condition

  The Bird Island Team. All photos by Helen Taylor

 

“Beyond Endurance”

The all-Irish “Beyond Endurance” expedition had probably the largest group yet to attempt the Shackleton Crossing in the footsteps of Shackleton and his men. 31 people successfully completed the crossing in just two days. The crossing was just part of a larger ship based expedition in memory of Irish Explorers such as Sir Ernest Shackleton, Tom Crean, Robert Ford, the McCarthy brothers and Patrick Keohane.

First conceived by Expedition leader Pat Falvey and Fergus O’Gorman at a Tom Crean Society dinner, the expedition attracted a lot of attention from the Irish media and was heavily oversubscribed. Places were awarded on a first come first served basis, though applicants had to undertake a years training, including field training in Norway, before being accepted for the crossing party.

Two Norwegian ski specialists joined the party to scout the route ahead, whilst the others followed on snowshoes. They camped the first night on the Crean Glacier, where severe winds damaged four of the twelve tents. Winds were also high whilst the group were moving, at one point five on a rope of six people were blown over. The group pushed on to Fortuna Bay by the end of the second day where their support ship “Ushuaia” met them and delivered two new tents so they could camp on the beach.

One young man, Clifford Reid, had an especially notable adventure. He had been with friends in Shackleton’s home village of Kilkea when they heard of the proposed expedition. They decided one amongst them should go, and clubbed together to raise the funds. Clifford was the lucky lad nominated, but having done nothing like it before, he struggled with the training and found he had to give up smoking and drinking to get fit enough to make the grade. Even once he joined the ship his participation was in doubt as he was unable to afford the specialist clothing required and was told without it he would not be going. He managed to borrow what he needed from others aboard, and was in one of the tents that blew down the first night. At the top, overlooking the end point of the journey, I doubt he was the only one to have a tear in his eye.

All the other passengers on the ship, bar 5, joined them for the final leg over to Stromness Bay.
The whole process, including early training, was being filmed by “Panache Productions”. An hour-long “Beyond Endurance” programme will result and be broadcast in Ireland. Cameraman Stephen O’Reilly also underwent all the training and completed the crossing, with others on the team helping him carry all his gear.

I asked serial expeditioner Pat Falvey if, with the over subscription for this trip, he thought he would repeat the crossing with another group. Pat has led many expeditions all over the world and says he lives under canvas eight months of the year, but he thinks they have done it now and there are other places to go. I note from the website www.beyondendurance.ie that he hopes to pick three from this crossing to join him and two others in a attempt to reach the South Pole next southern summer, on the same track Shackleton intended, and continue from the Pole to the other side of the Antarctica as Shackleton also had planned to do.

 

South Georgia Snippets

 

One of the first Fur Seal families in the Cove area. Photo by Rick Johnson.

  One of the first local pups. Photo by Rick Johnson.

We have heard the very good news that, subject to final approval, the Antarctic Place-Names Committee has accepted a proposal to name one of four mountains climbed by David Nicholls, and others of the BSES team he was leading, after him. We will give you more details of Nicholls Peak when we hear them.

The first of the old BAS KEP team left this month, and the new team arrived. Rick Johnson the Senior Boat Officer handed over to Martony Vaughan on November 1st, and left the Island aboard “Pharos SG” at the end of the month. Martony is the only one of the old team staying on, he is just starting his second year here, whilst the others have just completed their one or two year contracts. “Pharos SG” also brought in seven of the new team, with Chief Scientist Anjali Pande arriving a couple of days later on a cruise ship. Field Assistant Ash Morton has been doing some training with them on snow patches and local glaciers, whilst the boatmen have started training them in the use of the various boats here.

Fishing research vessel “Quest” made a break for freedom early one morning. Luckily the Patrol Vessel was alongside and the early watchman noticed “Quest” slowly floating out of the Cove. At first he thought it was the scientists off for a very early fishing session, but then it dawned that the boat was unmanned so he alerted us and a boat crew was woken and scrambled to retrieve her. A shackle pin on her mooring had broken. It was lucky it was an unusually calm morning otherwise she would soon have been up on the beach.

The Elephant Seal colony on the Point, still 163 females strong at the beginning of the month, had dwindled to nothing by November 25th. The dominant bull Splitnose hung on right to the last. Only the fat weaners are left now, snoozing on the beaches during the day and jousting in the shallows through the night.

Fur Seal bulls started bagging their spaces in the prime breeding areas at the beginning of the month, with more seals hauling out as the month went on. The first local pup was seen on November 22nd at Susa Point.

 

 

  How can something that looks so cute grow into a snarly adult Fur Seal?

A large barbeque was planned for November 18th. A lot of people were expected as Morrisons were invited over and the Patrol Ship had been expected in with the new folks aboard, but was delayed by severe weather. In the tradition of all the best Barbeques here temperatures were below zero and it snowed! We were luckier with the weather for a lunchtime picnic at the church to say goodbye to Tim and Pauline. A fantastic spread was laid on, and the champagne corks flew to wish them all the best for their new adventures ahead. A Skua joined in, stalking unwary picnickers plates and posing for a good photo with one of the champagne corks in its beak. It wasn’t exactly sunny and warm, but at least the snow held off until after the food had been packed away again!

 

The picnic by the church to say goodbye to Tim and Pauline.

  The skua got in on the act saying goodbye to the Carrs

 

View of the Month

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

 

'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.

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