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South Georgia Newsletter, February 2007

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Lazy Hazy Days of Summer Long Gone

 

Flood Waters   Snow covered peaks above KEP and Grytviken from Corral Bay. Photos by Ainslie Wilson

Visitors during the glorious sunny warm weather of December and January are no longer mistaking South Georgia for a tropical isle. February has been a month of extreme weather with overall temperatures and sunshine hours dropping and rain and snowfalls becoming the norm.

Early February the barometer dropped and a rain warning was issued. When the rain started, it poured solidly for 19 hrs, turning the mountainsides around the bay into waterfalls, flooding the streams and washing out the track round the Cove. The little red avalanche hut halfway round the track to Grytviken was left clinging to it’s foundations with raging torrents on either side, and all the streams at the back of Grytviken burst their banks flooding torrents of brown muddy water through the old whaling station. Pintail ducks and seal pups’ alike thought the overflowing ditches and streams were filled specially for them.

 

South Georgia Half Marathon

 

Runners synchronise watches as they leave the start line.   Gareth, Mel and Serita cross the finish line

The fourth annual South Georgia Half Marathon took place on Sunday 18th February. Eight runners and four walkers took part over the gruelling 13-mile course and were encouraged along the way with drinks and chocolate bars by the marshals. The course followed a route over Brown Mountain (332m), through Grytviken to Maiviken Hut, which involved a further climb from sea level of approximately 200m up and over Deadmans Pass before returning the same way to KEP.

Base Commander Andy ‘long legs’ Barker blasted through the finishing tape in a time of 1 hr 56. Charlie Main placed second with a time of 2 hrs 09 with Anjali Pande’s time of 2 hrs 10 putting her in third place. Record holder Martin Collins was silently praying from his office in Cambridge that his time of 1 hr 48 achieved in 2006 would not be broken.

Walkers Serita, Mel and Gareth tumbled over the finish line in a time of 3 hours 33. This year’s half marathon was organised by scientist Charlie Main. The inaugural half marathon was held in 2004 organised by BAS doctor Jenny Corser and had an impressive 35 competitors.

2007 Half Marathon winner Andy Barker is presented with his trophy by Gordon Liddle. Photos by Ainslie Wilson

 

SGSSI Operations Manager Visits the Island (By Gordon Liddle, Operations Manager for GSGSSI)

"In eighteen years of living on and visiting South Georgia I had never spent more than two years away from the island until recently. It was, therefore, with some excitement that I boarded our new Fishery Patrol Vessel MV Pharos SG in Stanley last month for my first trip to the island for 26 months.

The start was not auspicious with 36 hours spent at anchor waiting for storm force winds to abate. When we eventually left, the crossing was lumpy but not unpleasant and the Pharos SG showed herself a very easy ship on which to travel. We arrived first to Bird Island where I had first spent two and a half years working as a research scientist for the British Antarctic Survey and then continued on to King Edward Point later that day. Jan Harland, one of our passengers had an unfortunate accident whilst boarding the launch at Bird Island, so she and her partner Chris Luker, the head of our construction partners Morrison (Falklands) Ltd. returned almost immediately to Stanley. Chris did, however, have time to make an assessment of the old Gull Lake dam which we intend to refurbish as part of the reintroduction hydro electric power to the island.

The following week or two seem now seem to be a blur of work and wonderful if somewhat excessive socialising by yours truly. The Museum staff, the BAS staff, the Government staff and the team at Morrisons could not have been more helpful and generous to me. It is a considerable comfort and pleasure to know that the spirit which has made the island so special, still exists in all those who go there to work. There were some people missing who I have known on the island for a long time, Tim and Pauline Carr, of course no longer at the Museum and Pat and Sarah Lurcock on leave from their Government duties, but Emma Jones as Government Officer and Ainslie Wilson in the Post Office are also old chums from the Falklands and it was good to see them both in SG.

A highlight of the trip was the half marathon, an epic of mountain and scree running that is not for the fainthearted. For the second time in three years I took some refreshments to Deadman's Cairn and cheered on the runners and walkers as they passed by.

The last two days have been spent in putting up more warning signs around Leith harbour, Stromness and Husvik former whaling stations. They are filled with asbestos and other hazardous materials and it is imperative that visitors do not enter them. It was hard work carrying the signs and posts into place but fortunately the soft ground made driving the posts less onerous than we had expected. Mark Belchier the BAS scientist in charge of all fisheries biology on the island and Steve Waugh the Fishery Officer, generously joined the Morrison's team and I to spread the work load.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my recent visit to the island, I have learned a lot and had the chance to do a lot of necessary work there, particularly relating to the hydro project. I have lost weight (not difficult at my size) and gained enthusiasm. It has been my last visit to the island as Operations Manager and the next will I hope be in October in my new role as a Research and Consultancy Director at the University of Dundee. The final evening on the island was quite emotional especially when my close friend and colleague Darren Christie made a rather moving speech and presentation of gifts from those on the island. My South Georgia role is changing but my passion and love for this remarkable island is not. My final thanks are due to Trevor Betts, Captain of the MV Pharos SG and all her officers and crew. They and our partners at Byron Marine in the Falklands, from whom we charter the ship, have been as helpful and professional as ever. It is a pleasure to be aboard and sailing along the coast of the world's most beautiful island as I tap out these words. I'll be back."

 

‘Team Fish’

 

Scientific expertise provided by scientists at King Edward Point, locally known as ‘Team fish’, is being used to advise the GSGSSI on management of sustainable commercial fishing. Anjali Pande (head scientist) Jen Lawson and Charlie Main work from a specially built laboratory, overseen by Mark Belchier from BAS Cambridge.

Mark, the scientific coordinator for the applied fisheries research station visited KEP for a little over 4 weeks. The main purpose of the visit was to ensure that the handover between the old and new science teams (Team Fish 3 and 4) had covered all of the necessary areas and to ensure that the applied fisheries science programme will continue to run successfully and meet the needs of the GSGSSI over the coming year.

‘Team Fish’: Anjali Pande, Mark Belchier, Charlotte Main and Jen Lawson.    

 

All aspects of the science programme were covered including age determination of toothfish to assist with stock assessments, the long-term larval fish sampling and the setting of nets to monitor the presence of toothfish and icefish within Cumberland Bay. In addition, work got underway on ageing skate (by counting annual bands on their vertebrae) with the aim of providing information on which to base a stock assessment of these vulnerable species that are caught as bycatch in the longline fishery for toothfish. Mark will be returning in September for a month , participating with the KEP science team on a trawl survey of abundance of South Georgia’s demersal (bottom living) fish populations.

Team Fish regularly venture out into Cumberland Bay in research vessel ‘Quest’ to carry out sampling of the commercial species. The weekly plankton trawls are to investigate the spawning patterns of the inshore fish, counting and measuring the larvae recorded. Particular attention is paid to the numbers of larval mackerel icefish. The icefish are known to spawn between Feb and June in coastal waters and the larvae start to appear in the plankton from September onwards. However due to the icefish fishery being unpredictable at times, monitoring the larvae is a good indicator as to what is happening with the stock. Catching toothfish in a set net enables the scientists to get an indication of on and offshore migration patterns of the toothfish. Patagonian Toothfish has the highest commercial value of species caught in South Georgia, at $US75 per kg; are on average 90 – 100cm long and live at a depth of 500 – 1000m.

 

Scientist Jen and Museum assistant Serita with the first toothfish of the season.   Scientists Jen and Anjali remove a Blackfin Icefish from netting. Photos by Ainslie Wilson

Team Fish also maintain a temperature controlled facility to carry out growth studies on Lithodid crabs which are an important bycatch species of the longline fishery. There is currently little interest in a stone crab fishery as it is not considered economically viable, but the work KEP scientists are doing is to investigate the possibility of the stone crab becoming a potential commercial fishery and/or a candidate for aquaculture. Hence knowledge about growth rates and spawning cycles are particularly important. So far they are proving to be so slow growing that both aquaculture and a commercial fishery is not looking viable.

 

Shipping News

February has been a quieter month with visits from only 8 cruise ships, FPV ‘Pharos SG’ and yacht ‘Adele’.

SY ‘Adele’, one of the world’s finest sailing yachts, arrived to anchor in King Edward Cove in the middle of the heaviest rainstorm the island has seen for some time. ‘Adele’, the dream of owner Jan-Eric Osterlund, combines the classic lines of early 20th Century J Class yachts with a contemporary rig and underbody, ensuring fast ocean passages and admiration from all who see her. Long and elegant, she measures 55m and is topped with a 62m tall ketch rig.

 

    ‘Adele’ anchored Godthul Harbour

Having sailed from New Zealand round Cape Horn with a stopover in the Falkland Islands, Jan-Eric Osterlund and his guests were entertained with drinks at Carse House and were taken on a guided walk to view the Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross chicks. Before leaving South Georgia for the warmer climes of Rio de Janeiro they visited Prion Island, Salisbury Plain and Godthul.


More information about ‘Adele’ can be found on www.syadele.com

 

February at the South Georgia Museum (By Niall Cooper, Curator South Georgia Museum)

 

As part of the extensive renovation work done by Morrisons at the museum, the Fullerton Room (Shackleton and expeditions to South Georgia) had a new floor fitted and was repainted. Following this work, the displays underwent a redesign, giving the room a fresh, modern look that shows off the artifacts to their fullest. Items from the South Georgia Surveys in the 1950s have been displayed in a "habitat" style, using a campsite recreation that incorporates a tent, sleeping bag, skis, anorak and sledge. Next to this display is the recently acquired bust of Duncan Carse, leader of the South Georgia Surveys. The South Georgia Association donated the bust, by Jon Edgar, to the museum. There will be an official unveiling of the bust on 7 March 2007 by Alec Trendall, a veteran of the South Georgia Surveys.

Items from South Georgia Surveys in the1950s displayed in the Fullerton room.    

Residents of South Georgia had the opportunity to see the redecorated and redisplayed museum on 22 February, when South Georgia Museum hosted an open night. Curator Niall Cooper held a guided tour of the museum where he pointed out some of the most interesting artifacts and spoke a little about the history of the museum and the island. Guests also enjoyed drinks and a buffet dinner provided by museum assistants, Miriam, Serita and Lindsey.

In preparation for the April visit of the Commissioner of South Georgia and veterans of the 1982 South Atlantic Conflict, a new display was installed in the Jarvis Room featuring shields from military units that garrisoned the island and Royal Navy ships that have patrolled here. The shields are mounted on display boards specially made by Morrisons.

Continuing with one of the main aims for the season, work has continued on improving the collection records of the museum. A collections management policy is a means to establish ownership, maintain excellent records, and hold supplemental information and aid research. South Georgia Museum is now on track to be in accordance with accepted UK best practice as recommended by the Museum Documentation Association. Although there are several more seasons of work needed to complete this policy, a vital start has been made.

 

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

FPV Pharos picks up Jaume and Tony during stormy weather

February has seen the fewest ship calls to Bird Island since the summer season began back in October. Jaume and Tony our visiting scientists were picked up by FPV Pharos at the end of January and with the island population down to five the base developed a quiet and relaxed atmosphere similar to that experienced during the isolated winter months. We’ve seen cold, wet, windy and overcast weather day in and day out, each of us having had a good few days in the field where a thorough soaking to the skin has been unavoidable. We can’t really complain as we had a season’s quota of sunshine in January.

The focus of most of my work this month has been on the wandering albatrosses who laid their eggs at the beginning of January. I’m making repeated trips to nests all over the island recording the ring numbers of incubating birds on the nest. By the end of the month I had most of the partners at each of the 800 or so nests and the first eggs were starting to hatch. It’s now a race against time for me to get the last partners before the chicks are big enough to be left on their own and the parents are off to sea, only returning briefly now and again to feed their chick. This data collected every year provides information on pair bonds and success rates of pairs throughout their lifetime. Occasionally long established breeding pairs are split as a result of a fatality and it can take many years for a widowed bird to find a new partner and then longer still for the new pair to become successful breeders. At the end of February a breeding bird was found with a long-line fishing hook in its bill, which was successfully removed luckily for the bird and its partner. The decline of the population that we are seeing is directly attributable to such incidents.

Hooked wanderer on nest

Meanwhile the black-browed and grey-headed albatross chicks have been getting very podgy, their parents now repeatedly returning to regurgitate to them a meal of fish, krill and squid. Some are beginning to get their adult feathers although they won’t be leaving until April.

Grey-headed albatross chicks awaiting a meal.

The chicks of the gentoo penguins seemed to disappear in a flash. One moment they were little fluff balls running around in mobs chasing and begging off any unlucky adult that happened to be passing by en route to its chick. Then very quickly they had adult feathers almost indistinguishable from their parents and they were gone. Before they left we weighed 100 of them on Johnson beach. This involved rounding them up, chasing them through slurry and getting a face full in the process, it was great.

 
The gentoo weighing party minus Ali who was taking the photo.   Ali savouring the delights of macaroni penguin weighing.

Fabrice the penguin field scientist witnessed a near miracle when whilst working in Big Mac, Bird Island’s largest macaroni penguin colony, eight birds passed him and Donald all carrying light level loggers called geolocator devices that were attached last season. Thirty six devices were deployed last year as the birds were leaving for winter and they proved so difficult to find amongst the 42,000 pairs returning to breed this spring that not a single one was retrieved and we were beginning to loose hope. For eight of them to hop by in an afternoon was therefore very pleasing! Geolocators record sunrise and sunset events over time as the animal travels and from this latitude and longitude can be derived. This find will provide valuable data on the little known movements of these birds during their inter-breeding winter period.

Later in the month 100 macaroni chicks were weighed to give an indication of their condition and microchip tagged so that when they return we will know who is who.

In the seal world we’ve seen the beaches clear out a little more as most of the males have left and females continue to return from foraging trips to suckle their pups that are now spending a lot of their time splashing about in the sea or up above the beach in the tussock. Its amazing how far their mothers will go to feed the exploring pups and even more shocking how they manage to find them. It’s increasingly common to find pups and mums in the highest reaches of the tussock among the wanderers. We weighed 100 pups on Main Bay, the penultimate pup weighing session, which was fine as they were still fairly small, but we are dreading the final session of March 8th which traditionally takes the form of a “Worlds Strongest Man” contest. The pups by this time are big, strong and distended with milk and fewer and further between than at any of the previous sessions. The result is that you have to search longer and carry them further. By around pup number sixty you’re sliding around a bog struggling to hold on to the things in your fatigued condition, as both you and them are usually well lubricated in mud.

Donald has been busy retrieving radio transmitters from females that have been used to record the duration of individual foraging trips of females whilst they raise their pups. He has also been deploying GPS loggers to track females to their foraging grounds during trips and at the end of the month he deployed geolocators on young adolescent males to be retrieved in future seasons.

Inquisitive pups on the jetty.


New Stamp Issue (additional information carried over from last month)


SOUTH GEORGIA & THE SOUTH SANDWICH ISLANDS - MAPPING

British Antarctic Survey has been mapping remote areas for many decades. Increasing temperatures have resulted in major changes to the extent of South Georgia's glaciers over the past 50 years and the improvements in global positioning shows that the original detailed surveys of the 1950s had not positioned the island very precisely on the surface of the Earth.

Tourism and research on the island are increasing every year and the 1958 map was unsuitable for continuing use. The Government of South Georgia commissioned a new map from BAS based on revised positional data, with satellite pictures and digital topography. This l:200,000 map was prepared by the Mapping and Geographic Information Centre (MAGIC) at British Antarctic Survey.

The 1958 map was the first detailed one of the island and South Georgia issued a magnificent set of stamps in 2005 celebrating the life of the late Duncan Carse, leader of the surveying expeditions. The contrast between the Carse Map and the new Satellite map shown on these stamps illustrates the way the way mapping techniques have changed over time.

The Carse map is based on field surveying involving many weeks of overland travel and exacting theodolite measurements and was an outstanding achievement for its time. The 1958 map was in use during the 1982 Falkland Islands conflict. In contrast the new map is entirely based on satellite-derived information; the Landsat 7 mosaic for coastline, ice/rock/moraine classification etc and Space Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM) data for elevation.

The theodolite shown on the stamp design is a Kern DKM1 that was used for the 1951-52 survey expedition and equipment used during the 1955-56 survey was, according to the survey report ' much the same as in 1951-2 and 1953-4'. Acknowledgement : The Mapping and Geographic Information Centre (MAGIC), British Antarctic Survey - for their invaluable assistance and provision of reference material

Technical details:
Release Date: 5 January 2006
Designer: Ross Watton
Printer: BDT International Security Printing Ltd
Process: Lithography
Stamp Size: 30.56 x 38mm
Sheet Format: 20 (2 x 10) Line work map of SG in sheet gutter
Watermark: CA Spiral
Perforation : 14 per 2cms
Values & Designs: Se-tenant pairs ;
2x50p - Map of Neumayer Glacier 1958 and Map of Neumayer Glacier 2003
2x60p - Kern DKM1 with 1958 map in background and Landsat 7 Satellite
and curvature of earth
First Day Cover - Map of South Georgia

 

South Georgia Snippets

The population on the Island plummeted at the end of the month. ‘Pharos SG’ departed with 9 passengers on board. Leaving the Island was Gordon Liddle, Mark Belchier and Lindsey Morse. The last 6 members of the Morrison FI team have closed up camp for the winter and following 3 days work erecting signs in Stromness, Husvik and Leith will return to the UK.

 

Morrison FI Team   Gordon Liddle and Mark Belchier leaving KEP

Locals are following the progress of seven Light-Mantled Sooty Albatross chicks nesting on tussac-fringed ledges near Grytviken. Sooty albatross usually nest in single pairs and are generally very poor breeders so to have a group of seven healthy chicks within close proximity is most unusual. Tim and Pauline Carr recall a year when they found five in a row, a wingtip apart. They watched them until all five fledged in early June. One interesting thing was that in May, winter had set in and there were long icicles hanging down over their ledge and one icicle went right into one nest so the bird had to move closer to its neighbour who was clearly not amused or very welcoming!

 

Sooty Chick   Flying adults and chicks. Photos by Ainslie Wilson

Sadly, all four breeding King Penguins at Penguin River are no longer incubating eggs. It’s thought that the floods of Early February could have forced the Kings to abandon their eggs.

 

Darren ‘hair-no-more’ Livermore sacrificed his Santa Claus beard at the Museum Open Evening in the name of raising money for the South Georgia Heritage Trust (http://www.sght.org/environment.htm). Fortified by a generous amount of Guinness and encouragement from onlookers, Darren was slowly relieved of his whiskers and in doing so raised over £300.

 

Darren farewells his Santa Claus whiskers with a pint of Guinness.

 

 

View of the Month

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

 

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