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South Georgia Newsletter, December 2006

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Dismay at Rat Discovery

The crew of yacht Golden Fleece, managed to land on Saddle Island recently and to their dismay found rats on it. Saddle Island 103 hectares, lies at the south entrance point to Wilson Harbour on the Island's South Coast. It is separated from the rat-infested mainland by a 250 m wide channel that up until some time within the past 20 years has been an effective barrier against invasion of rats. When the island was first surveyed in November 1986, it was found to be rat-free with a very large burrowing petrel population throughout all suitable tussac areas,with nesting pipits and wanderers. On December 8 2006 while censusing the island's giant petrels and white-chinned petrels during the South Georgia ACAP Petrel Survey on board Golden Fleece, abundant rat sign was found - droppings, burrows, skull fragments and fur - in all areas surveyed and no pipits. However, the tussac is still honeycombed with occupied petrel burrows, and although the birds are no doubt being heavily predated on by rats, it will probably be some years before they are wiped out. Maybe long enough to plan and implement an eradication attempt and to solve the problem of re-colonisation from the adjacent mainland.

 

‘Nicholls’ and ‘Poncet’ Newest South Georgia Names

Two new place names have been approved by the Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Poncet Island lies at the most easterly of the Kupriyanov Islands at the entrance to Diaz Cove. It is home to a wide selection of breeding Antarctic birds. The island is named after Jerome and Sally Poncet who have made outstanding contributions to science, support and knowledge on South Georgia for over 30 years.

Nicholls Peak is one of the Wilckens range which form an arc around the northern margin of the Kohl Larsen Plateau. It is named after Brigadier David Nicholls a former Commander of British Forces in the Falklands who dedicated his working life to South Georgia after his retirement from the military.

David Nicholls

Brigadier David Nicholls: February 23, 1949 - July 4, 2006

In December 2003 David Nicholls, founder of SGHT, lead a group of young explorers from the British Schools Exploring Society expedition to South Georgia. During this trip, thanks to David’s leadership abilities and mountaineering skills, four new peaks in the Wilckens range were ascended by David with BSES.

After David’s premature death in July 2006, his many friends and colleagues agreed that naming one of these peaks after him would be a fitting tribute. In November 2006 David Munro, vice-chairman of SGHT and Director of RSGS made an application to the Antarctic Naming Committee with input from BSES on the location and features of the peaks climbed. The Committee then accepted the name of Nicholls Peak for the highest of the four peaks.

 

Our Nearest Neighbour

David Nicholls

Our friendly local ‘berg’. 28.12.06 Photo provided by Met Office, MPA, Falkland Islands.


HMS ENDURANCE Working in South Georgia

 

HMS Endurance conducting surveying operations

  Establishing GPS positions ashore

In December 2006 HMS ENDURANCE completed her second of five Antarctic work periods in and around South Georgia.

During this time, two Lynx helicopters operated extensively and also assisted the BBC Planet Earth Team film the follow on from the “Ice Worlds” programme. The impressive Gyron high definition camera, fitted to one of the Lynx helicopters, was utilised throughout helping to capture the beauty of South Georgia and assist the BAS team with their fur seal study.

Boat Camps and Tidal Camps were established in King Haakon Bay. The Ship’s survey motor boats surveyed the shallow inshore waters while HMS ENDURANCE, utilising her state-of-the-art multi beam echo sounder (MBES), conducted surveying operations in the bays and waters of South Georgia. Various Geodetic teams, together with Royal Marines, were also put ashore to establish GPS positions. This enormous data gathering exercise was coordinated by the Charge Surveyor and once cleansed the data is turned around into modern day survey charts helping to keep the waterways of Antarctica safe in navigation.

This first ever large-scale photographic survey of fur seals on South Georgia was carried out from 9-14 December 2006.

For many years HMS Endurance has facilitated filming trips by BBC Natural History Unit playing a crucial role helping to raise public awareness of the polar habitats through series such as ‘Life in the Freezer’, ‘The Living Planet’ and ‘Blue Planet’.

Planet Earth viewers around the world saw ground-breaking aerial footage filmed in January this year of humpback whales bubble-net feeding in Antarctica and the first high-definition aerial footage of the Antarctic Peninsula scenery.

 

Antarctic Fur Seals Caught on Camera (Press Release from HMS ENDURANCE)

A remarkable digital snapshot of massive numbers of Antarctic fur seals is helping British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists carry out a wildlife census on the subantarctic island of South Georgia. It is estimated that up to 4 million fur seals, 95% of the world’s population, breed on this small island in the Southern Ocean.

In a unique collaboration between the Royal Navy’s ice patrol vessel, HMS Endurance, BAS and the BBC Natural History Unit, a scientific research survey has been supported using the Gyron high-definition aerial camera system pioneered for the highly acclaimed series ‘Planet Earth’.

It is the first time that this state-or-the-art technology has been used to gather information for an assessment of fur seal numbers - information that is crucial to the management of Southern Ocean fisheries. Once back in the lab the BAS scientist will use the photographs to count the number of seals.

Both whales and seals of the Southern Ocean were severely exploited in the early part of the 20th Century but are now protected. Fur seals, once hunted to near extinction have made a dramatic recovery, particularly in the last decade. Whale populations, however, have been slow to recover. This has a marked effect on the Antarctic marine ecosystem.

HMS Endurance Captain Nick Lambert said:
‘Despite persistent bad weather and occasionally difficult flying conditions our Lynx helicopter pilots were able to survey 380 seal breeding beaches covering 200 miles of rugged coastline. South Georgia hosts up to 4 million fur seals each breeding season - an awesome sight. I’m delighted to be involved in this successful collaboration.’

David Nicholls

HMS ENDURANCE with a Lynx helicopter carry out filming.

 

 

BSES Expeditions – Antarctic Recce 2006 - by Pat Parsons

 

South Georgia (2 Dec 06 – 14 Dec 06)

Following the successful BSES programme on the Antarctic Peninsula and battlefield tours on the Falkland Islands, the new group of 6 recce leaders (they lost 3 and gained 1 in the Falklands) went ashore for a 2 week period on South Georgia. On 2 December a boat transfer to the “Manager’s Lodge” at Husvik was made, the first plan was to head south west towards the Neumayer Glacier to check safe access to the Kohl Plateau and the Wilckens Peaks. This proved fruitless due to appalling weather and, on day three, having climbed to Dogtooth Pass above Guldbrandsen Lake and viewed the Konig Glacier area, their attention was switched to that route. This was subsequently crossed and suitable base camp locations were found for next year’s expedition.

The morning of 5 Dec 06 was spent assisting Sally Poncet with a White Chinned Petrel survey and then, during the afternoon, a camp was positioned overlooking Fortuna Bay. From there the approaches to Admiralty Peak (and beyond) were found to be a safer and more pleasant option than from the heavily crevasses Neumayer glacier. The rest of the time at Husvik was spent carrying out recces of routes to Carlita Bay, Stromness and Lieth Harbour and Kelp Head (en route to Jason Harbour) as well as “ground truthing” the aerial seal count figures. All this activity was in preparation for next year’s BSES Gap Year expedition which Endurance is supporting. 12 places will be available for youngsters aged between 18 – 22 years old.

Finally, following a boat transfer via Grytviken, a recce was undertaken of the Barff Peninsula using Corral Bay as a base. From here it was possible to establish a somewhat steep and dangerous route to Rookery Bay via the bay containing Alert Rock and a much safer route to Godthul Bay. All of these areas were brimming with wildlife interest and may be potential sites for future expeditions beyond next year. This unique series of expeditions is set to run annually with Endurance for a 5 year period.

With time getting short and the weather closing in the team rejoined the Ship on the evening of 14 Dec 06. See above for some of the images of this recce.

 

Shipping News

Eight cruise ships have visited this month. Also visits from HMS Endurance, Pharos SG RRS Ernest Shackleton and James Clarke Ross.

Yachts Pelagic Australis and Golden Fleece also visited KE Cove this month.

 

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

 

December on Bird Island sees the island at its very best and very busiest, with new life everywhere! The 8th of December saw the peak fur seal birth rate and the season is shaping up to be one of the most productive on record. These adventurous pups are now exploring their local surrounds; the walkway in front of the base front door is a popular playground and care must be taken not to accidentally tread on tiny flippers.

Puppies playing on the walkway

 

The majority of the wandering albatross chicks are now successfully fledged. An alarming number of longline hooks and other dangerous man-made debris has however, been discovered in the regurgitation of mainly indigestible squid beaks that chicks expel just before taking to the wing. The parents pick up these hazards whilst foraging outside of the South Georgia Maritime Zone, where the fisheries are not as well regulated, and unwittingly feed them to the chicks.

 

Fishing hooks found on Bird Island this season

 

 

The next generation of wanderer eggs are being laid, whilst the long incubation of the mollymawks (Black-Browed and Grey Headed albatross) is over with the first chicks of the season just in time for Christmas. The Gentoo chicks are growing well with both parents taking turns to make daily foraging trips around the local coastline to provision the ever-hungry mouths.

David Nicholls

One parent guard the chicks whilst the other is out at sea foraging

The resident Macaroni penguins are also celebrating the hatching of their single egg whilst the Giant Petrel chicks have grown so well that they are larger enough to be left alone for short periods whilst the parents both go to find food.

David Nicholls

A Giant Petrel tends to his chick

The more mobile South Georgia pintail ducklings can be seen scurrying through the tussock and once large enough, will be ringed so that important information about lifespan and distribution of this endemic species can be learned.

 

 

 

A South Georgia Pintail duckling

 

Amongst all of these new lives, the base members are looking forward to a very enjoyable festive season and I am coming to the end of a very privileged 21 months living alongside some amazing wildlife in a beautiful environment.

 

December at South Georgia Museum - by Niall Cooper

I arrived on South Georgia in early October, when the Island was cloaked in deep snow. As the weeks progressed Tim and Pauline Carr, the outgoing curators of the Museum, gave me a thorough hand-over regarding the Museum, church and whaling station. They also gave a few telemark skiing lessons to my two assistants and me, enabling us to get out and explore our beautiful surroundings.

By the start of December the snow had gone and we had settled in on South Georgia. An eventful month lay ahead of the new team. Nine cruise ships, three yachts, two BAS ships and HMS Endurance were to visit during the month. Additionally we had a busy programme of work in the Museum and around Grytviken. Morrison the building contractors renovated the Pete Prince natural history room, which necessitated taking down and then reinstating the delicate exhibits. The neighbouring Jarvis Room, with its administration and military history display, was also put back together. While the objects were off display I took the opportunity to photograph some of them and improve our collection records.

The graveyard was weeded and strimmed, its wooden fence painted and some lead letters on Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave were reattached. In the middle of the month we decorated the Whalers’ Church for Christmas, with the help of people from King Edward Point. We also found time for a few walks: over to see the gentoo penguin colony at Maiviken, with the fat and fluffy chicks eagerly being fed by their harassed parents; up Orca Peak and Mount Hodges, with their stunning views down to Grytviken and across Cumberland Bay; along to Cornice and up Petrel Peak with panoramic views of the Thatcher Peninsula.

We have a very full month of ship visits and work in and around the Museum during January. Miriam, Serita and I will be kept on our toes but in such a setting every day offers interesting and enjoyable experiences.

Church Decorations - by Miriam Iorwerth

 

Christmas is a time that brings everyone on the island together, so it seemed appropriate to all meet in the church and decorate it together, ready for the coming week's festivities. Mulled wine and mince pies were provided by museum assistant (and local baker) Serita, which helped everyone get into the Christmas spirit. Soon every available surface was covered in candles and the huge tree assembled in the corner (no real trees here of course!).

Our first service of the season was held on the 18th December by the crew and passengers aboard the 'Explorer'. The church looked beautiful in the candlelight, and provided just enough light to read the words of the carols. There were two pianists aboard the ship so they provided accompaniment on the harmonium for the enthusiastic singers. The evening concluded with hot chocolate and cookies - most welcome on a wet and windy night.

The church was used again on Christmas Eve by the crew and passengers of 'Hanseatic', followed by a midnight service for the 'locals' of the island. Mel, the BAS doctor, organised a lovely evening of carols and readings, which was attended by people from BAS, Morrisons and the Museum. After a quick drink at Morrisons, we all walked back along a very dark track to King Edward Point for a good night's sleep before the excitement of Christmas Day!

 

 

 

Bells Ring on “Love Island”

 

South Georgia has lived up to its reputation as the original “Love Island” once again with the marriage of Dr Sue Dowling and Nigel Blenkharn. The church bells at Grytviken rang out on Saturday December 9th at the same time the couple were getting married in the UK.

Sue and Nigel met in South Georgia in 2003. Sue was the BAS Doctor at KEP when Nigel was part of the team working on the Grytviken Remediation Project. Sue took pity on Nigel, as he stood out on cold mornings on the long job of filling the fuel bowser from the fuel tanks in KEP, and would take him a cup of coffee and biscuits. At the time both were renowned for their somewhat unconventional hairstyles. No surprise then perhaps that Nigel had arranged a somewhat unconventional transport to take them away after the marriage!

 

Sue climbs up to join Nigel in the cab of the wedding tractor.

   

During the service Suzi Hawkins read out a section from a sermon, called “If Job had lived at Grytviken” that had previously been delivered in the church at Grytviken by Reverend Paul Sweeting.
The wedding reunited many old friends with South Georgia connections.

“If Job had lived at Grytviken…”

Do you know when the reindeer give birth?
Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Do you count the months until they bear?
Do you know the time they give birth?

Who lets the Fur Seal go free?
Who allows it to roam around?
Who delights in the Elephant Seal in his wallow?
Who sees it dive to the darkest depths?

The wings of the Albatross sweep over the ocean;
It swoops and soars with a knowing smile:
The Giant Petrel scoops the waves in its wing;
It ranges the empty miles.

Will the Humpback Whale consent to serve you?
Can you possibly know its thoughts?
How will you question it
Or learn its wisdom and grace?

You smile at the Gentoo and laugh at the King,
But beyond your gaze it arrows the water,
While above the Tern flutters and dives,
The Prion dabs and darts.

Do you sculpture the iceberg?
Do you send it across the Southern Ocean?
Will the one who argues with the Almighty correct him?
Let those who question God answer him!

Rev. Paul Sweeting, former Rector of the Falkland Islands
(Based on Job Ch.39)

 

Sue and Nigel were known for their unconventional hairstyles whilst working “south”

 

South Georgia Snippets

December, especially the Christmas period, has been a time of reasonably settled weather. This has provided wonderful opportunities for everyone on base to enjoy what the local area has to offer. The quiet work period has provided a good opportunity for all the base personnel to get to know each other and relax. Most people have made the most of the break and good weather to head into the hills for walks, or into the boats for recreational trips.

 

SG Harbour Patrol vessel…., and passengers enjoy smoko in front of the Geikie Glacier on Boxing day   Walkers from KEP above Hound Bay

December has been a month of farewells and welcomes. Government Officer Emma Jones arrived back accompanied by new Postie Ainslie Wilson. Base members Dr Charlotte Routh and scientists Jamie Watts Sarah Clarke and Wil Reid departed, as did electrician Adrian Hosey. Although Steve Artis has left BAS, he hasn’t moved far. He is currently working for Morisson (FI Ltd) at Grytviken. Helen Taylor has arrived from Bird Island for a short holiday at KEP before heading to Hound Bay for 2 months field work, and Richard Borthwick, facilities engineer is here until early February carrying out various maintenance around KEP.

 

An afternoon farewell teaparty for Jamie Watts.   GO Emma Jones and Postie Ainslie Wilson arriving on the island on FPV Pharos SG

 

Government Officer Emma Jones took advantage of minimal shipping and good weather and painted the leading marks in Grytviken. They are both now highly visible in their bright orange and white colour scheme.

 

 

 

 

Emma takes pole dancing to new heights.

 

     

Summer solstice is always a time for weird and wonderful unexplained things to occur and this was certainly the case for 3 intrepid campers at Hound Bay recently. Martin, Charles and Ainslie were enjoying a beautiful solstice evening, around their campstove, when they were aware of another presence. Turning around, sure enough, their visitor made himself known. He didn’t have much to say, turned down the last of the mulled wine and slowly slipped back into the shadows from where he came.

 

The first sighting of the South Georgia Solstice Hobbit

 

 

Morisson Update: It has been a busy month for Morisson (FI Ltd). The syphons and pontoon has been positioned in the lake just beside the Dam at hopefully the deepest part of the lake and this has been a successful operation since the afternoon of December 12th. So far the lake level has dropped by about 3metres which is a huge amount considering the syphons are only 300mm pipes and the weather has been adding fresh water to the lake throughout this time. The dam structure can now be seen and a survey due to start of the exposed upstream dam face so that this face can be excavated to find out exactly what makes up the dam structure. Now the water level is down, spoil built up in the dam chambers can be removed and an inspection of the internal workings and pipes carried out.

Water has dropped dramatically showing dam structure and new low level around lake.

The other part of this season’s scope of work is the museum refurbishment. Old roof materials have been removed right back to the original rafters and true line, level and square have been re-established by adding new timbers to the main rafters,new perlins,roof board, felt and battens and tin sheeting. New soffits and barge boards, dorma valley flashings and gutter trays for rain water have also been added which only leaves new ridge and barge flashings to be added to again make the roof water tight and complete the job.

The internal refurbishment has begun also, by removing the old floors in the staffroom and toilet/shower room and Prince room and digging out all the spoil that has built up over the years, new floor foundations have been laid and new floors put into place. The layout of these rooms has been changed to allow better access to the facilities and this has included the removal and replacement of certain walls and services.

The yacht quayside has also been added to at Grytviken and repairs have been made to the road from Grytviken to KEP in preparation for next season.

Museum Update: (from Museum Staff) In early December the museum team made the most of ship-free sunny days to work in the graveyard. We repainted the fence, strimmed the grass, weeded the graves and reattached some loose lead lettering on Sir Ernest Shackleton's grave. The maintainence of the graveyard and the museum forecourt is an ongoing task throughout the season and we'll hopefully make the most of any opportunities in January to get out gardening gloves on and our paint brushes out!

On Wednesday 13 December we were joined by folk from KEP for a fun afternoon decorating the Grytviken church for Christmas. With mince pies and mulled wine to sustain us in our labours, everyone contributed to making the church look really good for the festive season. The cruise ship "Explorer" was the first to hold a Christmas service on 18 December, and the passengers and crew were very pleased with their atmospheric candle-lit surroundings. On Christmas Eve the "Hanseatic" also had a carol service, followed by a midnight service organised by KEP doctor Mel for the residents of the Island.

 

Andrew Chase provided music for Christmas Service.   Midnight service in the church on Christmas Eve

Morrison (FI Ltd) completed their renovation work in two of the Museum's display rooms, the Jarvis Room (military and administration) and the Prince Room (natural history). This allowed the museum team to put both displays back in place. Two other display areas will be renovated later in the season. The staff kitchen and toilet are in the midst of work and are due to be ready for our use very soon. Great progress has been made renewing the roof of the Museum and the scaffolding is around the "Drukken Villa" ready to start replacing its roof.

 

View of the Month

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

 

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