Bookings for the 2015/16 cruise ship season show a new record year is expected. Seventy-two cruise ships are already booked to visit the island between late October 2015 and early April 2016, so it is likely that the number that actually come will exceed the previous highest number when 70 cruise ships visited in 2008-9. Of course, bad weather, breakdown and other factors can mean some booked vessels do not actually visit the island.
Following a record year for passenger numbers last season, when 8,142 cruise ship passengers came, next season should reach a new high. The passenger capacity of the booked vessels (if they are fully booked) is just under 10,000. Occupancy aboard the fleet visiting South Georgia last season was high so, if booking levels remain good, tourist numbers next season could well exceed 9,000.
Between 11th and 15th of July GSGSSI’s Environment Officer, Jennifer Lee, joined members of other UK and Overseas Territory (OT) Governments, conservation workers, scientific researchers and NGOs at a conference on conservation sustainability held in Gibraltar.
The conference was organised by the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum and the Government of Gibraltar, with support from the Gibraltar Ornithological and Natural History Society. Seventeen UK territories were represented, several up to ministerial level, as well as nine other countries, and there were more than 100 participants.
Topics covered at the conference included implementing biodiversity action plans, conservation and sustainable use of terrestrial and marine resources, renewable energy, securing EU funding and environmental education and awareness. The conference provided a great forum to share the recent experiences from the eradication projects on South Georgia including the South Georgia Heritage Trust rodent eradication project and the Darwin funded weed management project. There was also opportunity to discuss planned monitoring of habitat recovery and the importance of rigorous biosecurity protocols.
Outside of the main sessions, the conference hosted a number of workshops including the Southern Ocean working group which was chaired by former SGSSI Commissioner Nigel Haywood, and a Multilateral Environmental Agreement “sign-up” workshop where SGSSI’s recent experiences in extending the Convention on Biodiversity were shared as an example of how to initiate this process in an OT.
Sharing examples of best practice and learning lessons from other OTs is vital in ensuring SGSSI biodiversity is protected and the Territory remains at the forefront of environmental management best practice.
After over six years as Chief Executive and Director of Fisheries Martin Collins left GSGSSI at the end of July. During his tenure Martin has overseen a number of significant developments in South Georgia.
These have included leading the Government’s efforts in the restoration of South Georgia’s native habitats including the reindeer eradication project, designation of the Marine Protected Area and transformation of the fishery which led to the recent unconditional re-certification of the toothfish fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council making it one of the best managed fisheries in the world.
He was awarded an OBE in the 2014 New Year’s Honours list in recognition of his services to science and conservation in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. We’re quite sure that Martin’s commitment to, and enthusiasm for, South Georgia will see him return in the future in one guise or another. We wish him every success for his future endeavours.
What seemed like unusually high levels of seismic activity were recorded in the South Sandwich Islands during July. This is known to be a seismically active area and does have regular earthquakes, but in July twelve significant earthquakes (of 4 magnitude or greater) were recorded by the US Geological Survey (USGS). Four of the earthquakes were of magnitude 5M or higher.
The island arc of the South Sandwich Islands, which are to the south-east of South Georgia, follows the edge of two tectonic plates. The islands that make up the South Sandwich chain are volcanoes that have been generated as a result of the tectonic activity as the two opposing plates move against each other.
The biggest of the dozen earthquakes in July was on July 13th; it was centred 106km north-west of Visokoi Island, the northern-most of the South Sandwich Islands, and measured 5.3M. This was also one of the earthquakes closest to South Georgia. Seven of the earthquakes were close to this area, with the other five in the southern half of the island chain. It is worth remembering that each level of magnitude is ten times bigger, so a 5M earthquake is ten times stronger than 4M one.
You can see all the earthquake positions on the map below. The red lines mark the edge of the tectonic plates. The yellow dots were the earthquakes that occurred in the last week of the month.
So is this level of seismicity unusual in this region? Looking back at data for a whole year, the USGS recorded 454 earthquakes, an average of 38 a month, making July 2015 look like a relatively quiet month for earthquakes in the region!
What about the more powerful earthquakes, those of 5M and more? In the previous year 53 of these occurred, a monthly average of 4.4, so no, the four 5+M earthquakes were therefore less than average. The largest earthquake in that period was a 6.9M and was centred NNW of Visokoi Island on June 29th 2014. Three earthquakes that year were of 6M and higher.
Just in case that year was exceptionally shaky, we checked out the year before; 380 earthquakes of 4M+ (an average of 31 a month) were generated, 44 of which were 5M+ and the biggest of which was 7.3M. It would seem that the South Sandwich Islands are just a very shaky place!
Balloons deployed from King Edward Point (KEP) are being used as part of a £1.4 million research project to investigate an important, but not very well understood, weather phenomenon known as lee waves. Dr Corwin Wright from the University of Bath has twice spent time recently on South Georgia to conduct research as part of the ‘The South Georgia Wave Experiment‘ (SG-WEX). He describes his work below.
As an isolated, dramatically mountainous island in the Southern Ocean, South Georgia has a meteorological impact much greater than its small area would suggest. The rugged topography of the island’s mountainous spine, the Allardyce Range, is the key to this.
Running straight along the island, the mountains are perfectly shaped: a vertical knife-edge right in the face of prevailing winds that have run right around the globe at sub-Antarctic latitudes. This makes South Georgia a massive source of atmospheric ‘lee waves’. These waves, which have a major influence on weather and climate, are well known by amateur and professional pilots as they can be a great danger to aircraft. Currently, weather models poorly simulate these waves, so understanding how and when South Georgia produces the waves will lead to significant improvements in weather models. More accurate models will be particularly important for accurate predictions of future climate change worldwide.
To investigate the lee waves, Bath University, in co-operation with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), is carrying out a major programme of radar and balloon measurements, working with computer modelling teams at the UK Met Office and Leeds University.
I have now spent two months (January and June 2015) based at KEP, launching meteorological balloons to measure the waves. This has been an amazing opportunity not only to contribute to vitally important scientific research but also to explore a remote and starkly beautiful place. Several times a day I was releasing balloons carrying instruments which then sent back information on the atmosphere the balloons travelled through. Each balloon flies for between one and three hours and travels up to 40km upwards, and as far as 200km downstream. The data collected gives us information at a resolution other methods, like satellites, cannot match. The data will now be analysed by myself and colleagues at Bath and BAS over the next year, and our conclusions will be used by our modelling colleagues at Leeds and the Met Office to improve their weather and climate models .
But it’s not all been work! During my summer visit in January, I was able to get off base regularly between balloons launches and explore Grytviken, Cumberland Bay, Penguin River and Maiviken, all the while dodging fur seals and photographing penguins. My solo visit during winter was even more spectacular, with more than two metres of snowfall during my stay and a boat trip out to the Neumayer glacier. Watching hundreds of terns feed in front of a pure blue glacier will, I am sure, remain a permanent career highlight. For different reasons, the sudden snowstorm on the second day of my stay, which wreaked havoc on my initial poorly snow-proofed launching station, will also stick in my memory!
Our thanks to the UK Natural Environment Research Council for supporting our research, and I would also personally like to thank the BAS/GSGSSI staff at for all their help during my stay – the work would not have been possible without their support.
Photographer Jamie Grant will be the Artist in Residence at the South Georgia Museum this coming summer. His visit will result in a book.
Jamie worked as a photojournalist in Bolivia for three years before settling in Scotland in 2000. Since then the majority of his commissioned work has been with NGOs, including WWF and the Scottish Wildlife Trust. A previous project also resulted in a book. Entitled ‘Winter of Glen Lyon’ the stunning book of black and white landscapes was voted the runner-up for Scotland’s favourite photo nature book 2014.
Jamie will arrive in South Georgia in mid-November for about six weeks. He does most of his photography using a digital camera but also likes to shoot using an old Leica M6 and then hand-printing the resulting black and white landscapes, a type of photography he describes as “the most simple and rewarding – nothing more, or less, than a luminous glimpse into our fleeting world”.
Jamie said, “I’m absolutely thrilled to be given this opportunity to photograph one of the wildest corners of the world. I’ve long been fascinated by South Georgia’s landscapes, wildlife and history since my Dad read me passages from Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ‘South’ as a child. I am beyond excited about getting the chance to be the first photographer Artist in Residence for the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT). I will first and foremost be concentrating on the landscapes and wildlife of South Georgia. But with my background in photo-journalism I am also interested in capturing an impression of day to day working life on the island for both the museum staff and the people working at King Edward Point.
During my time on South Georgia I am also looking forward to taking an active part in island life and playing a role in the day-to-day work of the South Georgia Museum.”
The work resulting from Jamie Grant’s Artist in Residency and visit to the island will be published in a book by ‘Watermill Bookshop’ which should be available from in mid-2016. Profits from the book will support the SGHT.
Alison Neil, Chief Executive of SGHT said, “Jamie Grant will be the first photographer that we have invited to be Artist in Residence on South Georgia. We are confident that he will be able to capture not only the beauty of the island, but its rich heritage as a flagship for intrepid exploration and its industrial past. South Georgia is not easily accessible to the public, so Jamie’s book will help to bridge the gap between this tiny island steeped in history, and the rest of the world.”
How do you go from a life where you are constantly around many other people, going from one place to another, to a life where you have only 3 other people with you in a place which is your home, workplace, library, coffee shop, bar, friend’s house, the only place to spend your time.
July has to be one of the few months where little outside of the general routine happens. We had our midwinter celebrations in June, and we have the 48hr film festival in August, so just how were we spending our time this month?
Although the wildlife may have quietened down a lot by this point there’s still plenty of work to do. All of the ordering for next season has had to be finalised and double checked. Alastair and Lucy have been in the lab examining the various samples that were taken over the summer months. Siân continues to carry out the leopard seal round every day, and has had a flurry of sightings which have been very exciting. I have been replacing the dated fire alarm system with a type that can be programed to be much more reliable and reduce false alarms. We also had a visit by the fisheries patrol vessel which brought us in some mechanical spares, eagerly awaited mail, and also some delicious fresh fruit and veg.
Outside of work, nothing makes the time wiz by quicker than getting stuck into a hobby. Currently 75% of the population here are into knitting! Arm warmers, blanket patches and even penguins have been knitted as gifts for people back home. Naturally photography is also a station favourite; there is certainly no shortage of things to photograph. There is also equipment here for various other hobbies such as carpentry and exercise, which is great for getting the blood flowing again, especially if people have been looking down a microscope or working at a computer all day. Whether Bird Island attracts creative people or creates them I don’t know, but it’s seems that everyone has their moments of creative genius. People have invented their own games, filmed and edited wildlife and music videos, written songs and painted pictures.
One area of creativity you’re always going to get on BI is cooking. You have to be resourceful with the ingredients in the stores and it leads to some truly original and delicious dinners.
So as you can see, with all the things to do down here the time really does speed by, although I’m not sure that’s a good thing. Meanwhile we still hope for some winter snow so we can get the sledges out.
Small Petrels Carving It Up: A study of four species of small petrels at Bird Island has allowed scientists to work out how the different birds divide up the available resources to reduce competing with each other so they can co-exist successfully. During the non-breeding (winter) period, all the birds are feeding primarily on krill or other zooplankton.
The scientists studied 25 birds of each of four species at Bird Island – the blue petrel, Antarctic prion, common diving petrel and South Georgia diving petrel. The results showed that each species had a different strategy, spending the winter in different places, eating different things and having different preferred habitats; all things that reduce the inter-species competition for the valuable resources.
The results of the study were recently published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports. You can read the paper here.
Spotlight on the James Caird: For years the lifeboat James Caird, which was key to the rescue of the shipwrecked men from Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, has been on display at Shackleton’s old school, Dulwich College. Until recently the boat has been displayed on a pebble bed with her sails up and positioned to the side of a room. Now, in time for the centenary of the boat’s extraordinary voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia, the historic craft has been moved and redisplayed in a much more modern way. She is now in pride of place in the middle of the new James Caird Hall, which forms part of the school’s state-of-the-art new science and arts block. You can walk right around the small wooden lifeboat, which is under-lit in a way that makes a striking impact.
You can arrange to see the James Caird, by pre-booking to visit on a Tuesday between 9.30 and 11.30am and 2.00 and 4.00pm.
To book contact Reception at Dulwich College: email email@example.com or phone on 0208 693 3601.
A hundred years ago Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was underway and so most of the events highlighted in this section relate to Shackleton Centenary events. Shackleton had strong links with South Georgia and is buried at Grytviken.
A Cinema in South Georgia: A new play based entirely on first-hand accounts of whalers. It aims to bring to life the experiences; bitter, hilarious, rueful and heart-warming, of some of the last men to follow the millennia-old tradition of hunting the whale. It is a celebration, in words and song, of four Eyemouth men, who, at differing points in their lives, in different ways and with differing attitudes and outcomes risked their lives among the Antarctic ice floes. Written by Jeffrey Mayhew (Swift, Bright is the Ring of Words) and Susan Wilson (daughter of whaler William Watt). Edinburgh Fringe, Beside – Pleasance Courtyard, August 5th – 30th.
More information here.
The Yorkshire Ones in Antarctica: An exhibition to commemorate Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition through art and to commemorate the Hull locals involved in the expedition. The artists, whose works include textiles, ceramics and metal works are also mainly local. The exhibition is running until the end of October at the Hull Maritime Museum. Open daily.
By Endurance we Conquer: Shackleton and his men: The Polar Museum at Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge will host a centenary exhibition to commemorate all the men that sailed with Shackleton aboard the Endurance. The men in the Ross Sea Party who laid the supply depots for the planned crossing of the Antarctic continent, three of whom lost their lives, will also be commemorated.
The exhibition opens on September 22nd and will run until June 18th 2016.
Penguin City Weekend: A Shackleton themed weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland is being organised by the South Georgia Association (SGA) and is open to everyone.
Edinburgh has many links with South Georgia and to Sir Ernest Shackleton. The two-day meeting will be centred on Edinburgh Zoo.
The weekend event is on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st October 2015 and is expected to be popular. Numbers are limited so apply early, Closing date to sign up is August 31st. email firstname.lastname@example.org (Please note that the email contact address was incorrect in earlier editions of this newsletter, so if you attempted to get in touch and did not get a response please write again to the email address above.)
For further details of the weekend go to the SGA website here.