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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter, January 2007

(To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

Out With the Old, In With the New

A new day and a new year dawning on KEP and Grytviken. Photo by Ainslie Wilson

Residents of KEP and Grytviken were joined by the crew of FPV Pharos SG to farewell the old year and welcome in the new. The Pharos arrived in swirling snow that continued on into the evening but failed to dampen spirits. A fine BBQ, good music, lots of dancing and great company in the transformed boatshed, ensured that everyone had a great night. By the time the sun rose at 3.30am the snow had stopped and 2007 dawned bright and sunny. Welcoming in 2007 at Hope Point with a spectacular sunrise and sitting in the warm sun eating spit roast lamb over at Morrison’s made for a memorable new year.

 

Stoic New Year revellers shelter from the snow, wind and sleet for a New Years Eve BBQ. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.   2007 dawns bright. Photo by Ainslie Wilson.


Grytviken Signage Complete By Alison Stewart, South Georgia Heritage Trust (www.sght.org)

 

Examples of the new visitor information signs placed around Grytviken Whaling Station    

A set of signs containing images and text relating to the whaling station buildings at Grytviken have been erected around the station site.

The whaling Station at Grytviken, the oldest and most important of the industrial sites on the island, was in a hazardous condition by the mid 1990's. The station had deteriorated through exposure to the harsh South Georgia climate - to the point where it was too dangerous to allow visitor access.

After an extensive clean up and remediation work done in 2004, it became safe once more to enter the Whaling Station at Grytviken. However, once the work was complete, much of the industrial equipment that was previously hidden was brought into view. Ships that had sunk into their moorings alongside the crumbling jetties were pulled up onshore and preserved.

It was felt that some explanation of the building layout and processes that went on in the Station was needed. In 2005, a proposal was put forward to create information signage to enable the visitor to interpret what was left on the site, and to understand the scale and context of life in a whaling station.


More information about South Georgia Heritage Trust activities can be found at www.sght.org.

 

Royal Visit

Richard McKee leading HRH the Princess Royal and Rear Admiral Timothy Laurence aboard FPV Pharos SG

On the 14 January HRH the Princess Royal and Rear Admiral Timothy Laurence visited the South Georgia Fishery Patrol Vessel PHAROS SG in Stanley.

The Princess Royal was visiting the Falkland Islands whilst en route to the Antarctic Peninsula to visit the BAS Base at Rothera before embarking on HMS ENDURANCE. HRH’s visit to the PHAROS SG was particularly special as she was able to renew her association with the vessel, which previously she had visited regularly around the Scottish Coast in her capacity as Patron of the Northern Lighthouse Board.

During the course of her visit, HRH and Admiral Laurence met Richard McKee and Darren Christie from South Georgia Government as well as Stephen Clifton of Byron Marine and Capt Ken Whittaker and the Officers and crew of the ship. The Royal couple were given a presentation by SG Fishery Officer John Adams on the role of the South Georgia Fishery Protection Vessel. HRH and Admiral Laurence were particularly interested to learn about the measures in place to protect seabirds within the fishery and the proposals for habitat restoration on the island.

New “Mapping” Stamp Issue

Scanned copy of First Day Cover

A new stamp issue was released on January 5th. The four stamps which accompany the First Day Cover, depict various forms of mapping associated with this island.

The four stamps are
• 50p, a map of the Neumayer Glacier 1958,
• 50p, a satellite photo of the Neumayer Glacier 2003,
• 60p, a theodolite kern
• 60p, landsat 7 satellite.

The First Day Cover, which costs £3.00, features a map of South Georgia. Mint stamps are in sheets of 20 with a central gutter that features an outline of the Island.

Stamps of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands may be obtained from:
The Falkland Islands Philatelic, philatelicbureau (at) townhall.gov.fk
Sovereign Stamps, allen.price (at) crownagents.co.uk

 

A Comet’s Tale

Comet McNaught caught on camera over Brown Mountain. Photo by Helen Taylor

A comet discovered in early August 2006 by Robert McNaught, has brightened the sky over South Georgia this month. Rob McNaught, has created a page about the comet, detailing its discovery, its visibililty from the southern hemisphere and information about the comet: (http://www.mso.anu.edu.au/~rmn/C2006P1.htm)

More information is also available on these sites: http://www.ast.cam.ac.uk/~jds/ or
http://www.popastro.com/sections/comet/p1mcnaught_charts.htm.

 

Farewell RRS Ernest Shackleton

Early morning stillness at KEP reflects RRS Shackleton

The “RRS Ernest Shackleton” has made her last visit to South Georgia for 3 years. The “Shackleton”, which has served the BAS stations from the Falkland Islands since 1999 will now be working out of Cape Town, South Africa, while the Halley six build and the removal of Halley five takes place. Because the BAS station Halley is built on the Brunt Ice Shelf, it needs jacking up every year to keep above the accumulating ice. When it can be jacked up no further, it is then replaced. Halley Five came into operation in 1990. Halley Six has been designed to be moved further away from the coastline by dragging when the need arises.

The “RRS Ernest Shackleton” was built in Norway in 1995 and was originally named “MV Polar Queen”. It was leased by BAS in August 1999, renamed and re-registered in the Falkland Islands. The ice strengthened ship’s main role is to provide logistic support to BAS operations, transporting cargo, people, food and supplies to South Georgia and Antarctica. The ship also has a scientific capability and a small research team works on board.

 

BAS personnel and ship crew were kept busy while “Shackleton” was alongside refuelling the base, loading outgoing cargo and nearly a years worth of waste for recycling in the UK. Their final job, as they left King Edward Cove was to drop a new mooring for scientific vessel “Quest”.    

Some of the locals accompany “RRS Ernest Shackleton” out of King Edward Cove.
All photos by Ainslie Wilson

 

Shipping News

January has been a busy month for all those involved with shipping. There have been visits from 14 cruise ships, 4 fishing trawlers, 1 Navy ship, 1 RFA ship, 1 BAS ship and 2 yachts as well as FPV Pharos SG patrolling the Island.

The busiest day, 7th January, provided quite a sight for locals as “HMS Edinburgh , fishing trawler “Dongsan Ho”, “Pharos SG” and yacht “Kotick” were photographed all together in Cumberland Bay.

Crowded shipping lanes in Cumberland Bay. “HMS Edinburgh”, trawler “Dongsan Ho”, FPV “Pharos” SG and yacht “Kotick”
Photos by Ainslie Wilson

Cruise ship “The World” made its inaugural visit to South Georgia on a very calm and sunny day with passengers having most of the day ashore visiting Grytviken, KEP and Maiviken. Former Museum Curators Tim and Pauline Carr were members of the expedition team and offered passengers guided walks around the local area. Government Observer Ainslie Wilson departed with the ship for 2 days to observe landings and ship procedures at St Andrew’s Bay, Gold Harbour, Drygalski Fjord and the Fortuna Bay to Stromness section of the Shackleton Walk.

The World comes to South Georgia. Anjali Pande

 

Four fishing trawlers arrived targeting Mackerel Ice fish within the South Georgia Maritime Zone (SGMZ). All trawlers reached their Total Allowable Catch (TAC) within a couple of weeks and departed the fishing grounds.

Yacht “Wild Rose” arrived at the end of the month direct from King George Island. Having left Sweden 18 months ago in their 33ft yacht, sailors Johan Hammarlund and Kristian Persson have sailed south down the Atlantic ocean, down the coast of South America and into the Antarctic – Deception Island, Livingstone Island, King George Island and the following Shackleton’s route from Elephant Island to South Georgia. The journey has provided them with many adventures, including being accompanied by a great variety of wildlife, being capsized off the coast of Argentina losing all cooking utensils and footwear over board and navigating in fog and ice without radar. They plan now to spend a few days in Grytviken walking and exploring the local area while waiting for settled weather to begin their long journey back to Sweden, via Salvador in Brazil.

Johan and Kristian, moored at Tijuca jetty in Grytviken. Photo by Ainslie Wilson

 

Bird Island News
Report by Robin Snape who is the Zoological Field Assistant at the BAS base on Bird Island.

Firstly I should start with some major events occurring at the end of December which I do not think Helen had chance to include in last months newsletter.

Christmas came and went and shortly afterwards followed former newsletter columnist Helen Taylor on the JCR. She came to the end of her stint here as penguin field scientist on Bird Island, but will remain on South Georgia for another few months. During January she has been enjoying herself in good company at KEP, where she is finally getting a good look at the interior of the island as until now, like many Bird Islanders, she has only had the privilege of a distant view across the sound that separates us from the mainland. Helen will be spending two months in a field camp at Hound Bay where she will be working with a variety of penguin species, alongside other BAS scientists, before heading back to the UK via Ascension Island for a break that has been very well earned over the last two and a half years.

Looking across Bird Sound from BIs highest point.

Along with Helen went the last of our American compliment Kiersten and also Kevin, who after a farwell to Helen at KEP spent New Years Eve on the JCR as it cruised back to the Falklands. We were then left with a base compliment of five to see in the New Year, which we did with plenty of festive cheer.

By Jan 10th Jan the Wandering Albatrosses had finished laying and all month I have been out on daily rounds marking the recently laid nests. It took me with the help of the other bird islanders until 30th Jan to mark every single nest and the total came to 799. This is down by 52 nests on last years figure and 128 nests on the year before that. It goes without saying that this rate of decline is extremely worrying for the Wandering Albatross they really are in danger. Helen mentioned in last month’s newsletter that chicks from the 2006 season had regurgitated an enormous amount of long line fishing debris such as hooks so the continued decline came as little surprise. Despite this, most of the chicks survived and fledged in November-December, with a few stragglers hanging on until late Jan, they really are very hardy.

By the time the Wanderers had finished laying, all of the Black-Browed and Grey-Headed Albatrosses, having laid in October-November, were now sitting on fluffy little chicks and by the end of the month the chicks, now appreciably bigger, had been left alone to fend for themselves by projectile vomiting on anything that approaches. This makes my weekly check of the colonies slightly more unpleasant, as the warm fishy red oil really stinks, but if I move amongst them slowly I generally come away unscathed at least until they are bigger still. I’m not sure what is worst, the projectile vomiting of the chicks or the pecking of the incubating parents. Either way it’s a small price to pay.

 

Comfortable incubating Wanderer with red nest stake and number (right).

On Jan 15th I checked the Light Mantled Sooty Albatross census area to see how many eggs had failed to hatch and of the 83 nests that I recorded only 51 were still active with chicks. It’s quite typical for a lot of Sooty nests to fail, as they are very poor breeders. Overall, they are doing very well this year compared to last season when there were only twenty nests to begin with and of these just three chicks fledged!

LMSA chick. LMSA Adult

In the seal department, pup births were really slowing down towards the end of December and on 2nd Jan the last pup was born on SSB, the Special Seal Beach (for special seals). So in the days that followed, as it became obvious that the season was drawing to a close, daily rounds of SSB were no longer needed. On 8th Jan the first annual pup weighing session of 2007 was held and between Don, Jaume, Tony, Fabrice and myself we weighed the standard 100 pups. On the way over to Main Bay where the puppy weighing is traditionally held, we came across a Sub-Antarctic Fur Seal. Strikingly different in appearance and with a more high-pitched call than it’s resident Antarctic cousin, we couldn’t miss it.

 

Sub-Antarctic Fur Seau (Jaume)  

Blonde puppy. Something like every one in 1000 are born blond rather than black.

Donald’s radio tracked ladies have been coming and going to and from freshwater beach on repeated foraging trips that enable them to produce the rich milk that is so vital for the pups survival during this month. By the end of the Jan the pups with unsuccessful mothers had been mostly picked off by Skuas and Giant Petrels leaving mostly fit, fat and healthy looking critters. In February we will return to Main Bay to weigh another 100 pups only this time they will be twice as heavy and we will have to search further to find them. Later in Jan around the time that the pups start moulting their black puppy coats for more dense silvery swimming fur, Don and Jaume began tagging. The surviving pups will return later in life, hopefully with the tags still attached to their flippers. As a back up in the event of tag loss, each pup also received a microchip tag that can be scanned to reveal the individual’s identification, place and year of birth.

Other interesting things that happened this month pulled from Base Commander Ali’s diary:

• 4th Jan - The Golden Fleece pulls into Jordan Cove and drops of Tony Martin.
• 5th Jan – Ali takes down the Christmas Decorations L
• 7th Jan – Robbo cuts Ali’s hair.
• 10th Jan – A hatching trio nest is discovered in colony P. Trio partnerships occur rarely in Black-Browed Albatrosses and only as a result of two pairs using the same nest or two females being fertilised by a single male, resulting in two eggs in one nest, a female can not lay two eggs in one season. Normally both eggs fail, maybe because they are not fertile or more likely because they are not incubated at a high enough temperature, the albatrosses brood pouch is built for a single egg rather than two. Occasionally one egg will hatch but for both to hatch is very rare indeed.
• 11th Jan – In the morning “The World” sails past our window, the largest cruise ship we have ever seen. From on board via VHF radio we catch up with our Canadian friend Geoff who visited us last year with a film crew on the yacht SEDNA. In the afternoon HMS Edinburgh drops in with gifts of fresh food and three Navy personnel are treated to a whistle stop tour of Wandering, Grey-Headed, Black-Browed Albatrosses, penguins and seals.
• 14th Jan – Two healthy little chicks in colany P trio nest.
• 16th Jan – Robbo and Tony spend a night in the Fairy Point Hut venturing onto the meadows in the small hours to catch and ring South Georgia Pintail and enjoy the feeling of being surrounded by hundreds and thousands of Prions and Petrels.
• 17th Jan – We have a BBQ in the sunshine and enjoy a few beers on the walkway.
• 18th Jan – FPV Pharos drops of Dirk Briggs in a landing craft that resembled Shackleton’s James Caird. Over the next few days much preparation is made to organise waste and other cargo to be sent aboard RRS Shakleton.
• 21st Jan – RRS Shakleton arrives and all hands are employed to load waste via the Shakletons landing craft. Donald, Myself, Ali and Fabrice go onboard the Shak, catch up with some familiar faces and have our teeth examined by the dentist. I sneak in a full English Breakfast afterwards. Later, some of the Shakleton’s passengers and crew come ashore and enjoy a tour.
• 22nd Jan – A GPS tracking device is deployed on the mother of a rare tabby pup. This female, already tagged was coincidentally deployed on with another device 10 years previously.
• 26th Jan – The first pup to be born on SSB this year was opportunistically captured on a neighbouring beach, identified by a bleached number on its fur, and tagged. That evening we stay up particularly late to see the comet that has been bright in our sky this month.
• 27th Jan – Tony Martin rings the 400th South Georgia Pintail.
• 31st – Jan – One of the chicks in col P trio nest is found dead. It was only a matter of time. Hopefully the remaining chick will fledge.

 

South Georgia Snippets

Kings claiming new breeding territory at Penguin River. Photo by Ainslie Wilson

It’s now the height of summer with dry and snow free conditions. Much of the wildlife from around KEP and Grytviken has left the beaches. Remaining are just a few fur seals and their pups and a large group of moulting King Penguins who regularly camp outside the Government Officer’s house, trumpeting all night and setting a 4:30am alarm call most mornings. Everyone misses the ellie weaners, lying like fat roly-poly sausages on the track to Grytviken and of course without the fur seals littering the track, the walk around the bay is now uneventful. Amid the scruffy moulters at Penguin River, four King Penguins are now incubating eggs. In recent years the odd couple of penguinshave laid an egg and set about brooding it, but sadly the chicks die when the harsh winter arrives. The lack of other breeding birds around may add to the reduced survival chances of the chicks. Locals are hoping for them to be successful, as in order to see breeding Kings, it is necessary to make a long journey by sea and then overland to the vast colony at St Andrews Bay.

Yet more new faces arrived to stay at King Edward Point as old ones left. Early January saw BAS scientist Helen Taylor ex Bird Island and KEP Facilities Engineer Richard Borthwick arrive on the JCR. Falkland Islands Government Auditor Peter Holland arrived for a short stay to audit the two Government offices on the Island. Under a cost sharing process Peter, like many of his colleagues, has a dual role in managing the finances of the two Overseas Territories, Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Mid month brought another two arrivals, Les Whittamore the BAS KEP Logistics coordinator and Lindsay Morse to be another museum assistant. South Georgia Science coordinator Mark Belchier arrived on the cruise ship Hanseatic to work with the science team.

At the end of the month, farewells were said to Les, Richard and four Morrison personnel who departed with FPV “Pharos SG”. Total residents now number 22. An unexpected visitor to South Georgia was the C130 Hercules based at Mount Pleasant Airport in the Falkland Islands. The flyby was so unexpected and over so quickly that nobody on base was able to get a photo. However, those on board must have had a super view down onto the island from a sunny blue sky.

 

    C130 Hercules flying low over KEP in 2005. Photo by Dave Peck.

 

 

A two man EOD team arrived onboard “HMS Edinburgh” to dispose of outstanding ordnance. Some local people were invited to attend the disposal of a 2” mortar above Grytviken. After the EOD had departed, several more pieces were found in the mud flats around Gull Lake as the water level went down. Fortunately these posed no threat to Morrison personnel working near the dam.

 

 

Members of EOD prepare for and take cover from exploding ordnance. Photo by Melanie d’Souza

 

Also on board “HMS Edinburgh” were members of the Resident Infantry Company (RIC) from the Falkland Islands, A Company Royal Welsh (The Royal Welsh Fusiliers). Although based in the Falkland Islands for six months, they were visiting South Georgia to undertake patrolling exercises.

The Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Photo by Ainslie Wilson

 

It is not uncommon for a fur seal to come up on a beach nearby with a piece of net or loop of plastic caught around it’s neck. Over time, the loop moves down the body and starts to cut in and in most cases it will eventually kill the animal. If the seal is of manageable size, it can be caught and the netting cut loose. A young fur seal was recently found at Grytviken with netting around it’s neck, and was rounded up by a group of brave people and the rope cut loose.

 

Dave Peck trapping the seal while Helen Taylor cuts loose the rope.   The exhausted seal recovers. The indentation from the rope is clearly visible. Photos by Melanie d’Souza

The Morisson FI Team have had another busy month putting themselves ahead on the works schedule. Gull Lake has reached the lowest level thought possible and is now self draining through an existing pipe in the dam. Work on the Museum and Drukken Villa has finished and both buildings look splendid with new roofing and fresh paint. The team has been reduced in size with four members leaving on FPV “Pharos” SG.

 

View of the Month

The View of the Month will be available shortly on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website

 

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