South Georgia Newsletter, April 2013

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- Disclaimer: This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.

Margaret Thatcher – Her South Georgia Legacy

Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of the UK when the Argentines invaded South Georgia in 1982, has been widely commemorated following her death on April 8th.

The invasion of South Georgia was a key moment in Margaret Thatcher’s political career. Papers released only a few months ago highlighted that it was an immensely worrying time for her, one she described as ‘simply, the worst moment of her life’; but the decision she made then to send a taskforce to liberate South Georgia and the Falkland Islands turned into what was probably her ‘finest hour’.

Margaret Thatcher was not universally loved but was nevertheless a major figure of the 20th Century. Her importance in the history of South Georgia has been recognised for some years already as the peninsula on which Grytviken and King Edward Point (KEP) lie was renamed Thatcher Peninsula in her honour.

She died, aged 87, following a stroke and was given a ceremonial funeral in London, UK, with full military honours - a fitting tribute to the Iron Lady who ensured South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands remain British.

See December 2012 newsletter for ‘Thatcher’s Worst Moment’.

Tributes to Margaret Thatcher left by the ‘Thatcher Drive’ road sign in Stanley, Falkland Islands.
Tributes to Margaret Thatcher left by the ‘Thatcher Drive’ road sign in Stanley, Falkland Islands.


Two officials from GSGSSI attended the recent International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) conference in Punta Arenas, Chile between April 22 and 24th. Chief Executive Martin Collins and Executive Officer Richard McKee took the opportunity of addressing tour operators at the meeting to underline various issues, and highlight coming changes to tourism management in South Georgia.

The address stated that the summer season had been the busiest to date on a number of fronts, with many and various projects. Vessels and agencies that assisted in several ways with the projects, including GSGSSI’s reindeer removal and SGHT’s Habitat Restoration (rat eradication), were thanked: “Without this assistance it would not have been possible to complete these important projects, all of which have the potential to make a very significant and positive contribution to South Georgia’s ecology, heritage management and scientific research.”

For tourism though, there was very little variation in the cruise ships’ figures for the 2012/13 season when compared with the season before. This season there were 51 cruise ship visits carrying 5,792 passengers, but there was an increase in yacht visits.

Tour operators were asked to remain vigilant to the possibility of bird strike on their vessels and to take action to avoid this. Bird strike is likely to become an increasing possibility as the removal of rats from mainland South Georgia will lead to increased numbers of birds breeding on the Island in the future.

There was also a reminder that the doctor at KEP was not available to cruise ships except in “exceptional circumstances” and that “vessels should all be self-sufficient in every respect, including medical care.” The conference were told that in future there is likely to be an administrative charge of £300 if the KEP doctor is called upon to provide medication to visiting ship passengers or crew.

A decision taken in 2008 to limit access to larger IAATO registered vessels will change again following improvements to the major incident response capability at KEP, and stakeholder engagement. IAATO registered vessels carrying a maximum of 850 passengers will be able to return to South Georgia and land passengers at Grytviken. The on-going refurbishment of the Nybrakka Barracks at Grytviken to enable it to be used as a temporary emergency shelter, is part of the planned works to allow larger passenger vessels to land there. The works are being jointly funded by the Norwegian and UK Governments as part of the Scott Amundsen anniversary agreement.

Following the January 2013 inquest into the death of a tourist on the Shackleton Walk between Fortuna Bay and Stromness, GSGSSI informed IAATO of their response to the Coroner’s recommendations and suggested actions. Amongst other things GSGSSI propose to revise the documentation to ensure passengers have been advised about medical evacuation limitations when visiting South Georgia. There will be increased monitoring of tourism landings and use of observers. Failure of operators to adhere to permit conditions could result in operators being required to make KEP their first port of call at South Georgia for briefings, or, in extreme cases, a revocation of a visit permit. GSGSSI will establish a review panel, including representatives of GSGSSI and IAATO and independent experts, to review existing activities and management arrangements (in particular extended walks) and make recommendations. GSGSSI and IAATO will also engage with a medical specialist to conduct a review of current capabilities and medical arrangements on visiting ships. For the season ahead (2013/14) cruise ship visit applicants will be required to provide details of vessel medical facilities and also the capabilities of the on board doctor. All injuries will also need to be recorded in the Post Visit Report.

You can download the whole GSGSSI briefing to IAATO here.

Fishing And Shipping News

A longliner and two research ships off King Edward Point.
A longliner and two research ships off King Edward Point.

The tourist season ended on April 7th with the visit of the last tourist ship Plancius with 53 passengers. This vessel and the one before it, Bark Europa on April 1st, were both heading north from the Island towards Tristan da Cunha.

The month started with two longliners fishing for toothfish in the South Sandwich Islands Southern zone and achieving fairly good catches. Three further vessels were inspected and licensed in the lead up to the early opening of the South Georgia toothfish fishery on April 11th. The South Georgia toothfish fishery officially opens on May 1st, but a conditional 20-day extension allowed licensed vessels that were fully compliant with CCAMLR Conservation Measures during the previous CCAMLR season (2011/12) to start fishing on April 11th. Catches for early season in the South Georgia fishery were very good. The toothfish fishing fleet was at full capacity when the sixth longliner arrived at Cumberland Bay for inspection and licensing on April 28th.

A longliner fishing in the SGMZ.
A longliner fishing in the SGMZ.

There were also visits from two research vessels: the German vessel Polarstern which has been in the area for some weeks conducting research at sea and supporting a field party doing lake coring; and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) vessel James Clark Ross making the final call of the season to KEP.


After many consecutive days of poor weather in March had hampered the SGHT Habitat Restoration (rodent eradication) Project, “the weather gods smiled at last” said Project Leader Tony Martin. A period of good weather in early April allowed a huge leap of progress. “Progress was painfully slow and we were becoming woefully behind schedule”, Tony Martin writes in the latest edition of the project newsletter, but their luck changed on April 8th and they managed to get as much bait out in six days as they had in the first six weeks of fieldwork this season.

The areas where mice have established, at Cape Rosa and the Nunez Peninsua, were a priority and baiting in the areas was quickly completed. They then moved on to complete the rat zones of Cheapman Bay, King Haakon Bay, Salisbury Plain, Prince Olav Harbour and Cape Demidov - leaving just one final zone to be tackled.

The red areas show all the areas baited this field season up to April 16th, with the far Northwest Zone (top left) still to do.
The red areas show all the areas baited this field season up to April 16th, with the far Northwest Zone (top left) still to do.

The vast rodent eradication project will take several years to complete. Baiting was started in 2011 and following this season’s fieldwork, the Project should next return in early 2015 to bait the southern area of South Georgia. This season’s baiting includes baiting over several large king penguin colonies. Techniques to bait over such colonies with minimal disturbance to the birds have been developed in recent years on other sub-Antarctic Islands, including Macquarie Island. The baiting was monitored by GSGSSI officers and observers, who reported that, as expected, there was some movement of birds on the periphery of the colonies before the birds became used to the sight and sound of the aircraft above, but actively breeding birds towards the centre appeared to sit firm.

Poorer weather returned and the far northwest point of South Georgia has since proved a challenge with its notorious foggy weather and gales. The Northwest Zone is the largest one in the area, 173 square kilometres, and will need five full days using all three helicopters to complete. A field camp for 14 people has already been established at Rosita for this area. Baiting in the final area had commenced by the end of the month, and when baiting was not possible, but it was still possible to fly the helicopters, some of the field equipment and stores were moved back to Grytviken in preparation for the end of this season's fieldwork.

Tony Martin said, “Now we have just one more baiting zone to go and, although it’s the single largest of the season, there is every reason for us to be hopeful of completing it before the winter snows arrive and close us down.”

The forward operating base at Peggotty Bluff.
The forward operating base at Peggotty Bluff.

The latest edition of the Habitat Restoration Project newsletter “Project News” was published on April 15th and includes an article about monitoring of the pintail duck populations post baiting. Project News can be downloaded from the SGHT website here. You can also follow the HR Project progress on Facebook and Twitter.

Alec Trendall

Alec Trendall at the unveiling of the Duncan Carse bust in the South Georgia Museum in 2007.
Alec Trendall at the unveiling of the Duncan Carse bust in the South Georgia Museum in 2007.

Alec Trendall, a key person in the first accurate mapping of South Georgia, who documented the South Georgia Surveys in a recent book, has died. He took part in two of four survey parties that made up the South Georgia Surveys under the leadership of Duncan Carse.

Alec Trendall was born in the UK in 1928, spent some of his childhood in India, and in 1949 won a Royal Scholarship to Imperial College, London, to do a geological degree.

He was recruited to the South Georgia Surveys through a distant relation of Sir Ernest Shackleton; Robert Shackleton was Alec’s mentor when he undertook a PhD at Liverpool University. Duncan Carse wrote to Professor Shackleton to ask if he knew of a suitable geologist to join his planned survey team, and Alec Trendall’s name was put forward.

Unfortunately, early on in the first survey Alec fell down a bergschrund (a crevasse at the head of a glacier) at the top of the Brogger Glacier whilst doing some geological work. He lost his footing on the ice below a rock outcrop and slipped into the huge crevasse, falling a long way but landing on a snowbridge suspended a good way above the bottom. Another member of the party was lowered 55 meters into the crevasse to find him. Considering the fall he was not too badly injured, but a dislocated knee meant he needed to be evacuated to the whaling station hospital at Grytviken. For the journey back he was strapped onto a sledge which at times had to be carried by four other members of the party over areas that were not sledgeable. On reaching the coast they were met by a whale catcher ship, but Alec’s stretcher could not be safely hoisted aboard and so he was towed the 8 miles back to Grytviken in a pram dingy behind the catcher. The tow was at speed and was described by Walter Roots, who was with Alec, as “an exciting voyage we will never forget, but the skipper was doing his best to help.”

Two years later, though still lame, Alec had recovered sufficiently from his injury to return for a second survey in the 1953/54 season. This summer of fieldwork covered the north-western and far southern ends of the Island. It was a troubled summer. Even before survey work started one member of the four-man party had to be left at Grytviken due to illness, and interpersonal problems between the remaining party members marred the months ahead, with Alec playing a mediating role between the other two. The troubles were largely about the filming of the survey. According to Duncan Carse’s record, he ended up asking Alec to take over as “No 1” from Gordon Smillie. Animosities continued and Gordon was suspended from the survey. With just Alec and Duncan left, they could no longer undertake major surveying but were still able to land and survey at Annenkov Island and Cape Charlotte, and by joining the sealing vessel Albatros were able to fill in coastal detail. Alec Trendall met his wife Kathleen, a nurse, during his recovery from his knee injury. They married just two months before he left for the second survey. After the previous two field seasons and the various problems encountered, Alec was not interested to join the third survey of the series, though he had some misgivings about that decision, writing: “I felt some sadness at leaving South Georgia, where I had enjoyed some times of exhilarating excitement, and which I never expected to see again.”

Alec’s career continued as Field Geologist for the Colonial Service on a geological survey of Uganda where he moved to a remote wildlife rich area with his family. They later moved to Australia where he worked with the Geological Survey of Western Australia. In 1970 he became Deputy Director of the Survey, and in 1980, Director. He retired in 1989 but continued to work on global geology. He and Kathleen had three children.

Alec Trendall returned to South Georgia in 2007 as a guest of tour ship operators Aurora Expeditions. During the visit he unveiled a bronze bust of South Georgia Survey leader Duncan Carse in the South Georgia Museum.

Duncan Carse had intended to write up the Surveys, but died before the project progressed far. Encouraged by others who recognised the importance of the surveys in the history of South Georgia, Alec took on the task to document them and wrote ‘Putting South Georgia on the Map’, an account of all the surveys which was published 2011.

Knowing he was terminally ill, Alec looked back on his life and said he had had “a long, interesting and enjoyable life”. He died on 5th April.

Seventy-Five Alien Weeds Recorded On South Georgia

Invasive plant specialist Kelvin Floyd has prepared a report on this season’s work to control and eradicate invasive plants.

The seven weeks of fieldwork in early 2013 was spent following up on the control of bittercress and other species undertaken in the previous season, and gathering more information on the island’s weed populations. Though most work was centred on the Grytviken area, weed control visits were also made to Ocean Harbour and Husvik. A visit to the Greene Peninsula discovered smooth meadow grass, a previously unrecorded species for the peninsula. At Stromness the extent of weed invasion was mapped and other field workers were able to check on previously recorded invasive plants in the areas, with some spraying to control them. Kelvin Floyd points out in the report that the removal of reindeer from the Busen Peninsula this summer, as part of GSGSSI’s reindeer eradication project, will have a marked effect on the vegetation saying: “It will be very important to follow up at the Stromness Bay whaling stations next season to ensure previously grazed weed species are controlled before they produce seed.”

Seventy-five alien plants have so far been recorded on South Georgia, with 39 considered to still be present or that have recent records (though a few of these have not been seen for several years). The report states that 30 species should be considered low incidence, and with regular treatment are likely to be successfully eradicated.

The two main weeds that have been targeted in the Grytviken area, bittercress and pearlwort, will require more attention but current results are looking positive. The bittercress areas have reduced from 373 sq m last season (617 sqm in 2010/11) to just 29sq m this year. The herbicides used are providing good control of bittercress, however detection of plants is the biggest issue as plants can be very difficult to locate until the flower heads emerge from the native vegetation.

The total coverage of bittercress in square metres recorded on South Georgia in the last three seasons shows a marked reduction following the introduction of the spraying regime.
The total coverage of bittercress in square metres recorded on South Georgia in the last three seasons shows a marked reduction following the introduction of the spraying regime.

A further three species should be able to be contained within their current distribution, with local eradications possible with more work; these are common bent, sheep’s sorrel and spike trisetum. Common bent was mapped around Grytviken with 6500 sq m recorded, of which 1400 sq m has been sprayed to date.

Smooth meadow grass is widespread in some parts of the Island but could be managed on a site basis, and important areas such as Maiviken and the Greene Peninsula kept free of this invasive plant. Only 3 species; common mouse eared chickweed, annual meadow grass and dandelion are considered too widespread for control.

The report concludes that “Eradication of many of the alien plant species from South Georgia is a realistic objective due to the low risk of reintroduction due to the Island’s location and the biosecurity measures in place. Many of the introduced plants are in relatively small populations and associated with areas of human disturbance, with only a few that have naturalised over much of the Island.”

The ‘Weeds on South Georgia’ (0.7mb) report can be downloaded from this website here.

Bird Island Diary

By Jerry Gillham, Winter Base Commander at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

April has been a month of very noticeable changes. For the majority of species it has marked the end of the breeding season and their departure from Bird Island. For most of us that means a reduction in fieldwork and a shift to the laboratory and computers.

The weather has a distinctly wintery vibe about it, with the streams regularly freezing over and the more regular appearance of snow. There have been some beautiful crisp days though and cold, clear nights - perfect for appreciating the open skies.

The first big storm saw waves crashing into the bay from the south-west, tearing up huge amounts of kelp and other seaweed, piling it upon the beach and forming a blanket stretching out past the end of the jetty. Amongst it was a variety of starfish, sea squirts and giant crustaceans that we’d never normally get to see.

Starfish – Some of the victims of the big storm.
Starfish – Some of the victims of the big storm.

The albatrosses have dominated the fieldwork, with everyone out helping with counting, recording and weighing. The black-browed albatross chicks have started to fledge – many have left and it will be up to eight years before they return to breed, while those still at the colony are stretching out their wings and jumping up and down, feeling the wind blow through them before they make that scary leap. The grey-headed albatrosses are a couple of weeks behind the black-brows, but the larger ones are starting to look more like adult birds and it won’t be too long before they depart too. The wandering albatross chicks are getting bigger, putting on layers of fat and down to help them cope with the oncoming winter.

April is also the month when the giant petrels (GPs) start to depart. The northern GP chicks have all gone, while their southern relatives are just starting their departure. Jerry spent a few days ringing all the chicks in the study area and attaching tiny geolocators to a select few to help us discover where the young birds spend their first three or four years before returning to breed.

Wandering albatross chicks.
Wandering albatross chicks.

For most of the month the macaroni colonies were full of moulting adult penguins replacing their worn out feathers with fresh ones ready for their winter spent at sea. Over a few days the colony at Big Mac went from 80,000 to one lonely penguin (who has now left). The gentoos will continue to return to the island throughout the year and can still be seen coming ashore in the evenings, hanging around their nesting areas.

The beaches around base feel empty as the majority of the seals, particularly all the young ones that slept on our walkways, have headed off to sea. This makes it a lot easier to walk around but it makes looking out the window less exciting. There are still good numbers of seals around though and it’s good to see the females lazing around looking a bit fatter after the stresses of raising pups.

Passing a less relaxed fur seal at Flagstone Pond on a crisp winter morning. All photos Jerry Gillham.
Passing a less relaxed fur seal at Flagstone Pond on a crisp winter morning. All photos Jerry Gillham.

All the monitoring requires an awful lot of data-entry and, although we try our best to keep up with it through the summer season, there is always more to do. This is the time of year when it all gets collated and handed over to CCAMLR – the multinational committee leading the conservation of Antarctic waters. In the lab we have mainly been sorting through diet samples: identifying, sexing, aging and measuring krill, squid beaks and otoliths (the tiny ear bones that can be used to identify fish species).

With more days spent on base we’ve also embarked on our winter fitness regime – with intense interval-training; what started out as the most painful thing in the world has now settled into merely unpleasant but fingers crossed the weekly weigh-ins will show the benefits.

South Georgia Snippets

Winds cause problems: Very strong winds in early April caused several problems. Winds in excess of 100mph drove waves over the top of the Gull Lake dam - the dam that feeds the hydroelectric plant. The lake level was dropped by the permanent removal of the dam barge-boards after concerns that the wave action would cause erosion around the dam. A field party from the German research vessel Polarstern were working in the Jason Harbour area on a lake coring project when they lost a tent to the high winds. Luckily the old hut nearby gave them adequate alternative shelter.

Chef, Gerard Baker
Chef, Gerard Baker

Reindeer Steaks with Calvados, Apple and Cream: Renowned chef, Gerard Baker, has been working on South Georgia with the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project this summer. He has also written a booklet of recipes for South Georgia reindeer meat that can be downloaded here [pdf, 2.4mb].

To whet your appetite, here is the recipe for Reindeer Steaks with Calvados, Apple and Cream.

(Serves 2. Cooking time 10 mins.)


​400g Reindeer loin, at room temperature, trimmed and cut into 2 pieces

​ 1 tbsp Sunflower Oil

​ 20g Unsalted butter

​ 2 Shallots peeled and finely sliced

​ 1 sprig thyme

​ 1 Cox’s apple, peeled, cored and cut into 12 slices

​ 150ml Dry cider

​ 45ml Calvados

​ 150ml Double cream

​ 1tsp Green peppercorns, drained


​1. Preheat oven to 120°C/Gas mark 2

​2. Season meat with salt and black pepper. Put oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and fry the meat until well browned (approx. 2 to 3 mins each side). Remove meat and cover and keep warm.

​ 3. Place half the butter in the pan, add shallots and thyme and cook, stirring, for 2 mins. When the shallots are lightly browned, add the apple slices and cook for 30 seconds, turning them once.

​ 4. Add cider and return the meat to the pan. Cook until all the liquid has evaporated, turning meat occasionally. When the sauce is reduced and sticky, remove the pan from the heat, add the Calvados and flame by holding a match to the edge of the pan. (Be sure you are well clear of curtains etc)

​ 5. When flames have died, add cream and peppercorns, shake the pan and simmer for 2-3 mins. Add remaining butter, shake again. Serve immediately.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with buttered noodles and watercress salad.

Tip: If you can’t get Calvados then a good brandy or smoky, peated whisky will work well instead.

Dates for Your Diary

Exploring Antarctica; The Final Expeditions of Scott and Shackleton: This exhibition will be held in Chatham Historic Dockyard from May 24th – August 30th.

In conjunction with the Royal Geographic Society, the exhibition ‘Exploring Antarctica; The Final Expeditions of Scott and Shackleton’ centres on the ultimate expeditions of both Captain Robert Falcon Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton - charted through the words, photographs and artefacts of those involved. The exhibition includes artefacts from the Scott Polar Research Institute and Royal Museums Greenwich.

Two of the most famous expeditions of the heroic era of Antarctic exploration were Captain Scott’s Terra Nova (1910 – 13) and Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance (1914 – 17) campaigns. These expeditions set out with different aims, but ended up being about survival. The eyewitness accounts of travels and trials are a testament to those who went and those who did not return.

The photography of Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting is prominent. For families there are interactive family activities and a dress-up area.

You can find more information here.

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  • © Copyright GSGSSI 2013.