South Georgia Newsletter, February 2012

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

Vast Marine Protected Area Declared

One of the worlds largest Marine Protected Areas (MPA) has been created around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, waters that are amongst the most productive in the Southern Ocean. The SGSSI MPA, which was declared on February 27th, covers more than 1 million km².

David Attenborough, who recently presented the BBC’s Frozen Planet series, said he was “delighted” and that the marine reserve was “...timely given the dramatic change that the polar regions are currently undergoing” and will “help protect the unique and precious wildlife of South Georgia and Antarctica.”

All commercial bottom trawling is banned from the area, which will protect the benthos on the seafloor. Longlining will be allowed, but only at depths of more than 700m, and will only affect a small area of the MPA and is only allowed under very strict regulation. There are also already three Restricted Impact Areas, occupying 3563km², in which longlining is not normally allowed. They were established to protect vulnerable benthic fauna, protect juvenile toothfish and provide a refuge for large toothfish.

Commissioner Nigel Haywood, who signed the legislation said, “The waters around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are among the most productive in the Southern Ocean, with very high biodiversity. We remain committed to the highest standards of environmental management in this unique and globally important UK Overseas Territory. Whilst today’s MPA announcement represents a hugely significant step in our management of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, we will not rest on our laurels and will continually strive to improve our already excellent management of the Territory.”

UK Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham welcomed the declaration, saying the instatement of the MPA, “demonstrates the UK’s effective environmental stewardship of this unique and remote part of the world.” and that it demonstrates the UK's “ongoing commitment to marine conservation and protection of the globally important biodiversity of our Overseas Territories.”

The MPA includes 'no-take zones' for the first 12 nautical miles around each island, including Shag Rocks. These no-take zones (over 20,000 km² in total) will protect the foraging grounds of many of the Territory's land-based marine predators such as penguins, seals and seabirds and protect the spawning areas of many demersal fish species.

GSGSSI will continue to license fisheries for toothfish, icefish and krill in the MPA (outside of the no-take zones) and use the revenue to patrol the region to prevent illegal fishing and undertake research and monitoring. These fisheries are extremely carefully managed, with both the icefish and toothfish fisheries certified as sustainably managed by the Marine Stewardship Council.

The new MPA enshrines in law much of the existing protection in the SG Maritime Zone and represents an important and significant addition to a global network of MPAs - increasing the area of the world's oceans formally protected as MPAs by almost 25%.

Dr Martin Collins, Chief Executive of the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands said, “South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are remarkable places, supporting an amazing density of wildlife. Establishing the SGSSI MPA is a key part of our long-term stewardship of the islands and demonstrates that, even in a place as special as South Georgia, you can have sustainable fisheries with minimum impact on the ecosystem.”

Dr Phil Trathan, Head of Conservation Biology at the British Antarctic Survey, who advised the Government of South Georgia on the establishment of the MPA said, “South Georgia is a globally important island that deserves the strongest level of protection. I believe that this is a major step forward for conservation, not just at South Georgia, but also for the wider Antarctic.”

The area to the south of the South Sandwich Islands, below the 60° latitude, is not included in the new MPA because it is already a 'no take zone' and GSGSSI does not issue licences to fish in this area, however it does protect the area of its Maritime Zone that lies south of the line.

In future there may be even greater protection within the new MPA as a result of two current projects, one funded by the Darwin Initiative to investigate benthic biodiversity and possible threats to it from the longline fishery, and another, funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Programme, focusing on krill. Both projects will be completed in April 2012.

You can download the MPA and more information here.

Maps showing the extent of the new MPA around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.
Maps showing the extent of the new MPA around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

UK Government Gives £1/4 Million To Eradicate Rats

The UK Government Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) awarded £250,000 to the South Georgia heritage Trust (SGHT) Habitat Restoration project on February 9th. The charity needs to raise £2.8 million by end of 2012 to continue the Habitat Restoration work in early 2013.

Minister for the Natural Environment and Fisheries Richard Benyon said: “I’ve been captivated by South Georgia ever since reading of the plight of Sir Ernest Shackleton as a child. With the centenary of this famous expedition just around the corner, we have a once in a lifetime chance to help return this precious habitat to an even better state than that in which Shackleton would have first discovered it. I’m delighted that the UK Government has been able to offer its support to this valuable work and hope that others may be encouraged do the same.”

Fishing And Shipping News

German research vessel “Polarstern”. Photo Ali Wilson
German research vessel “Polarstern”. Photo Ali Wilson

Seven cruise ships visited South Georgia during February, though one was the very small Hans Explorer with just eight passengers on board.

The German research vessel “Polarstern” made a day visit to Grytviken on the 23rd. With just under 100 people on board, about half of whom were science staff, the vessel has been working sampling deep water benthos and conducting other science off the South Georgia coast. The day ashore was greatly appreciated after a three week science period at sea, and reciprocal visits were made between staff at the science base at KEP and the ship.

Charter vessel “Hans Hansson” was also here supporting a film crew (see below).

Trawler “New Polar” successfully fished for icefish up until February 18th when it left to fish for squid in Falkland Island waters.

TV Chef Filming Focuses On Krill

TV Chef and environmental campaigner Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been filming at Grytviken and Bird Island this month. The well known chef spent just over a week between the two locations filming for an episode for his programme 'Hugh’s Fish Fight'.

Hugh, who campaigns for sustainable seafood by encouraging, for instance, the eating of less popular fish that may be otherwise discarded as by-catch, was focussing on krill whilst he was here.

The film crew, who had already visited the Antarctic peninsula, arrived on charter yacht “Hans Hansson” and were made welcome at King Edward Point (KEP). Hugh, who is concerned about krill fishing, heard about the well managed fisheries at South Georgia. The KEO film crew filmed in the laboratories with British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and GSGSSI scientists, including Chief Executive Officer Dr Martin Collins, who were keen to show them the science behind the fishery management. The TV crew also went on the GSGSSI harbour launches on a filming trip to Maiviken.

On their last evening at KEP Hugh assisted in cooking a meal for everyone which included icefish in a bun. Competitive spirits rose between Hugh and another visiting chef, Gerard Baker, as they tried out recipes using krill. Hugh cooked potted krill (key ingredient mace) and Gerard, a sesame krill toast. Enthusiastic tasters were asked to vote for their favourite. We wont give away the result here.

For more information about Hugh's Fish Fight campaign visit

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (right) with diners at KEP. Photo Ali Wilson.
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (right) with diners at KEP. Photo Ali Wilson.

Invasive Plants Battle Continues

Equipment to continue the battle against introduced plants around Grytviken and KEP now includes a quad bike fitted with a herbicide sprayer, allowing larger areas to be quickly sprayed in the battle against procumbent pearlwort.

Below is a report on this summer's invasive plant fieldwork by Kalinka Rexer-Huber.

Work conducted to eradicate a number of invasive plant species on South Georgia has been very productive this summer.

Bittercress Cardamine flexuosa and the procumbent pearlwort Sagina procumbens are introduced plants, both recognised as problem invasive species elsewhere. On South Georgia work has focused on trying to eradicate them before they become too widespread.

The invasive procumbent pearlwort.
The invasive procumbent pearlwort.

Bittercress and procumbent pearlwort are presently just found at Grytviken and KEP, with one small patch known from Husvik. As most visitors to the Island pass through the Grytviken area before visiting other parts of South Georgia, it is particularly important to manage the invasive species found here.

With the efforts of two plant workers, the Government Officers, and help from a number of volunteers over the course of the summer, it was possible to deal with bittercress and procumbent pearlwort so that few plants flowered and set seed. Control efforts have also started to deal with a number of low-incidence invasive species around KE Cove.

Importantly, significant time was spent surveying for plants outside of the known range. The hillsides around the cove were scoured, along with the most-visited areas further afield.

GSGSSI Maintenance Team Put A Gloss On It

Painting the South Georgia Museum. Photo Patrick Lurcock
Painting the South Georgia Museum. Photo Patrick Lurcock

In a busy few months since arriving here on New Years Day, the six-man GSGSSI building and maintenance team have made a real impact on KEP and Grytviken. They started work installing a new shed to house an electric boiler to produce hot water for the science station at KEP. The boiler will reduce use of non-renewable energy (diesel) as it is powered by hydroelectricity.

The Gaol, the oldest building on the Point, has been given a facelift. It has been reclad in corrugated tin, with new windows and doors. The old cells and other internal spaces have been cleared and repainted and are already being used as storage for the major incident stores, science kit etc.

At Grytviken the Church and Museum have been repaired and redecorated externally with other works indoors to keep the buildings in good condition. Work on the Church has been timed so it will be looking good for the building's centenary at Christmas 2013.

Work has also commenced on the historic building Discovery House which was built as the land base (laboratories and accommodation) at KEP for the Discovery Expeditions. The building, which was stripped some years ago and has since mainly been used for storage, will get a new lease of life as further accommodation. Plans for the building are being drawn up now in the expectation that the work will go ahead next summer.

Many other works have been carried out around Grytviken whaling station including: improved drainage; making safe and shoring up of dangerous structures including the masts and funnels on the three stranded sealing/whaling vessels; asbestos management; maintenance on the navigation markers and much more besides.

Rat Monitoring On Greene Peninsula

Monitoring of one of three peninsulas baited to eradicate rats a year ago has once again found no sign of any surviving rodents.

In late February GSGSSI scientists Kalinka Rexer-Huber and Andy Black spent three days searching the coastal areas and around the white-chinned petrel colonies and other inland areas on the Greene Peninsula, areas that had high densities of rats before the baiting during Phase one of the South Georgia Heritage Trust's (SGHT) Habitat Restoration Project.

Fifty special peanut butter-infused gnaw tags were put out in the same areas. These would be very attractive to rats who would leave sign of their presence by gnawing the tags, leaving teeth imprints. These will be checked over the year ahead and if no gnaw marks are found will give a high degree of certainty that every rat on the peninsula was killed. A period of at least two years post-baiting with no sign of rats is required before Phase 1 (a trial phase) could be considered a success, but so far no sign of surviving rats has been found in the baited areas. If successful, Phase 1 alone will have increased the rat free habitat available to ground nesting birds at South Georgia by 50%.

During the search the two fieldworkers covered a total of 55 km of survey track. Old rat sign were found, (faeces' burrows and rat runs) but they reported there was nothing to indicate that live rats are currently present on the Greene Peninsula. The official report following the survey states: “It is still too early to declare that the eradication of rats from the Greene Peninsula was successful, but it is encouraging that the presence of rats is not evident a year after the bait was dropped.”

They also reported seeing a single sub-adult pipit on Sudan Beach, a similar sighting was reported last year. The report states: “Although pipits have apparently not recolonised the area yet, the presence of young birds in consecutive years bodes well for the future establishment of pipits on Greene Peninsula.”

Bird Island Diary

By Allan Thomson, Base Commander at the British Antarctic Survey Research Station at Bird Island.

Young fur seal.
Young fur seal.

After a busy start last month, the intensity of science activities has increased significantly as the fur seal pups, mollymawk, and gentoo and macaroni penguin chicks, have matured and everyone has been involved in the various censuses and studies to count, weigh, record biometric data and PIT-tag them before they leave Bird Island. In addition, we have also been monitoring all the wandering albatross nests on the island to observe their nesting success. The first wanderer chick has just hatched, and the remainder will follow very soon. Although, albatross non-breeders have not been involved in these censuses specifically, their dramatic and noisy courtship rituals have continued to inspire us as we go about our daily work.

Jenn has been busy with continual nest rounds of all the various species of albatrosses, which is all occurring simultaneously.

Ruth continues monitoring giant petrels and macaroni penguins and has been retrieving logging devices from Antarctic prions, South Georgia diving petrels and skuas. Having organised the all-island gentoo chick survey and penguin weighing, she still found time to collect soil, diet, faecal, feather, and fungi samples for a variety of BAS scientists and other international organisations.

Mick and Jon have been collecting samples from the fur seal pups born at the Seal Study Beach (SSB) and deploying and retrieving GPS and logging devices from fur seal females.

Robert, the Base Technician, has been keeping all the base utilities well-maintained and operating at peak efficiency. In particular he has resolved the problems we had with one of our generators, fixed a number of faults on the Bobcat (excavator) and he and Jon have been dismantling the famous Bird Island Jetty Bog, which they intend to renovate and save for posterity.

The intensity of the science and other work was interrupted by the arrival of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, of River Cottage fame, and film crew for a day. Unusually the weather was good the day they arrived on the “Hans Hansson”. Filming took place in the vicinity of the penguin weigh-bridge at Fairy Point, on the ridge above it, and at Big Mac, the macaroni penguin colony. Ruth and Catharine were interviewed about penguins and Jenn and Hannah about albatrosses and their dependence on krill and fish in South Georgia and the South Atlantic. In the glare of the TV camera, all acquitted themselves well. We were rather looking forward to a four-course meal cooked by Hugh, no such luck but at least he managed to produce an excellent cake which was enjoyed by all.

With all the work that is going on, necessitating early morning and/or late nights, there has been little time for social events. That said, Hannah’s birthday was celebrated in style and for Mick, Hannah and Catherine’s farewell, there was finger food, margaritas, and dancing and fun into the early hours.

Former Winter BC and Seal Assistant Mick Mackey is leaving after over two and a half years here. He has made a huge contribution, both professionally and socially, to BI and has been a regular contributor to this newsletter, especially with his gorgeous photographs that have captured the essence of BI and inspired others to visit. We wish Mick every best wish for whatever the future may bring.

South Georgia Snippets

The “Lyn” broken in three. Photos Patrick Lurcock.
The “Lyn” broken in three. Photos Patrick Lurcock.

Wreck wrecked: A cold snap towards the end of the month reminded us all winter is approaching. Despite calm winds locally, a big swell, generated by a storm maybe hundreds of miles away, caused big breakers at the entrance to Moraine Fjord on February 29th. Waves were breaking across the narrow boat passage so trapping a camping party on Greene Peninsula for an extra day. The surf also hit the wreck of the “Lyn” just west of the entrance, and the power of the waves was enough to break off the front third of the the hull, which was further broken in half and now stranded close to the remains of the wreck. Inevitably there is smaller wreckage; mainly metal, timbers and insulating foam from the freezers, now washing up on the local beaches.

Issue 10 of the 'Macquarie Dispatch' is just out.
Issue 10 of the 'Macquarie Dispatch' is just out.

Last rabbits at Macquarie: The latest edition of the 'Macquarie Dispatch', biannual newsletter following pest eradication efforts on the Australian subantarctic island, hails signs of success. The eradication of cats, followed by the recent blitz on mice, rats and rabbits, has rolled out a welcome mat to burrowing seabirds which are now returning to Macquarie Island to breed. The island was only successfully baited last winter.

Wildlife rangers are encouraged to see the number of active burrows already this summer, at least one species of burrowing petrel is increasing its' population size, though it is too early to quantify numbers of all species winging their way back to their sub-Antarctic nesting ground. An example of the early success is that grey petrels had not been confirmed as breeding on the island for over 100 years. After cats were removed from the island, the first active burrows were found in April 2000 and some chicks fledged that year and the winter breeding bird last winter had the highest breeding success rate (87 per cent) since monitoring began in 2005, and was also found nesting in new locations.

The burrow occupancy of other birds also appears to be higher and blue petrels, which were confined to offshore islets now have hundreds of active burrows on the main island.

Islands Shaking: A strong earthquake measuring 5.6 on the Richter scale occurred in the South Sandwich Island region on February 9th, 91km ENE of Visokoi Island.

An Unusual Day at the South Georgia Museum: Last month we reported on the stranding of the passengers of a small cruise ship at Grytviken when high winds prevented them re-boarding their vessel. That day SGHT Director South Georgia Sarah Lurcock had set out to make a video about a “Day in the life of the Museum” but instead ended up recording how everyone coped with the unexpectedly long visit.

An Unusual Day at the South Georgia Museum.

Where are the Whales: Want to know where the whales are around South Georgia? You can see on a website that is being updated regularly. Whale sightings are plotted on a map and travellers in the area can add their sightings to the website by filling out a simple form with the location, species and other notes about the whales they have seen. Staff from the SG Museum are also adding data logged there in the whale sightings book.

Website user can filter results based on species and date to see the recorded activity. The plot will be an exciting resource for visitors and for cruise operators, as well as capturing useful data for future research.

The web page can be found at:

Baker gives baking classes: Professional chef Gerard Baker was on the Island for a few weeks and found the locals eager to pick up new cooking skills. Baker, who is also a writer and food presenter on radio and television, held two sessions on bread making. We are still eating the results; delicious focaccias with olives, and even ginger and pinenuts, and now everyone is trying to outdo each other baking adventurous breads including the challenging baguette. The secret is a semolina crust!

One of this year's king chicks at Penguin River.
One of this year's king chicks at Penguin River.

Eggs and feathers: A pair of king penguins have made a very half-hearted effort to breed at KEP again this year. Last year the first recorded penguin laying had us hopeful of a colony forming right on the doorstep, but failed after a few weeks. This year we no sooner realised another egg had been laid than it was abandoned.

Things are going much better at Penguin River where the number of breeders has doubled once more, with more than 20 pairs with chicks and eggs. For variety, mixed in amongst them is a handful of moulting chinstrap penguins.

Chinstrap penguin.
Chinstrap penguin.

KEP Locals got a rare close-up encounter with the three old whaling/sealing vessels at Grytviken when they were allowed to go aboard the vessels under the supervision of GSGSSI Building Supervisor David Peck. Rusted decks, rotten timbers broken ladder rungs had to be watched out for, but it was fascinating to wander round the decks, looking into port holes and round the old galleys and climbing up to the open bridges of the vessels.

Looking round “Dias”.
Looking round “Dias”.

An young elephant seal with three very neat lesions on its neck is confounding scientists. Are they just a form of pox or could they have been made by a cookie-cutter shark perhaps? Any ideas? Get in touch if you think you know what caused these marks.

Any ideas? Photo Martin Collins.
Any ideas? Photo Martin Collins.

Dates For Your Diary

Shackleton’s month at South Georgia: South Georgia historian Robert Burton will give a lecture in the Friends of Scott Polar Research Institute lecture series on March 17th.

Accounts of the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition (1914-16) pay little attention to the month that “Endurance” spent at South Georgia. Some only start as the ship heads into the Weddell Sea. More emphasis is given to Shackleton's return aboard “James Caird” and his crossing of the Island. Robert Burton has been examining the journals of the expedition members and finds that several members of the expedition made good use of their time in that month as they supposedly waited for ice to clear further south. The scientists set out to explore parts of the Island, meanwhile Shackleton and the crew are made preparations following his decision to try to winter “Endurance” in the Antarctic. The journals and newspaper reports allow an assessment of Shackleton’s plans and preparations for the expedition, his reasons for visiting the Island and spending so long there, and what the whalers really advised him about conditions in the Weddell Sea.

The lecture starts at 8.00pm in the SPRI Lecture Theatre, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, UK, is free to attend and is open to the public.

Frozen Planet: the making of a landmark wildlife documentary. Alastair Fothergill will be giving an illustrated talk on the making of his latest BBC documentary series, Frozen Planet. Fothergill, Executive Producer of The Blue Planet and Planet Earth series, will tell the epic story behind the making of Frozen Planet. He is Honorary President of the South Georgia Heritage Trust and will make the talk for the benefit of the charity at 6pm on March 23rd at the Bristol Myers Squibb Lecture Theatre, Chemistry Department, University of Cambridge, Lensfield Road, Cambridge, UK.

Tickets can be bought from the SGHT website here.

Artwork by Tuema Pattie.
Artwork by Tuema Pattie.

23 Shades of White and Wild Life Sculpture. The work of various artist and sculptors with links to South Georgia will be on show from March 17th to 31st at the Moncrieff-Bray Gallery in Petworth, West Sussex, UK.

In particular Tuema Pattie’s recent voyage to the Falklands, South Georgia and the Antarctic has inspired remarkable paintings that capture the abundant bird and sea life, penguins, seals, whales and albatrosses and the towering icebergs and ice formations with their strange crystalline properties reflected in the Antarctic light.

Painting in such extreme conditions posed new challenges and Tuema’s sketches had to be done in an instant before sleet washed the paint away, her hands became numb or inquisitive penguins forced her to move on. This is why they appear so vigorous and spontaneous, there was no time for second thoughts. The sketches which are included in the exhibition were worked up into the larger paintings in her Sussex studio.

Scrap metal king penguin by Helen Denerley.
Scrap metal king penguin by Helen Denerley.

The paintings are complimented by wild life sculpture. Animal specialist Anita Mandl has made the penguin her own, capturing it’s antics in such pieces as her humorously observed Tobogganing Penguin. Highly involved in wild-life conservation, Adam Binder’s seals combine acute observation with a fluid tactility, Dick Budden’s semi-abstract works of a seal, sea lion and albatross in flight engage with the form of these creatures and emerge from the stone or wood in a spirit of improvised free-carving. Scottish artist, Helen Denerley, who visited and worked on South Georgia a few years ago, works with recycled scrap metal. In contrast to Budden’s work her penguins and sea birds, are based on detailed observation and drawing. Whilst in South Georgia Denerley created a maquette of a blue whale sculpture which, if built, would be 112ft long to represent the biggest blue whale ever landed. Made from whaling scrap, it is now in the South Georgia Museum.

A contribution from the proceeds of the exhibition will be made to the 'Peregrine Foundation Albatross Fund'.

The Heart of the Great Alone: An exhibition of Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic photography at the Queen's Gallery, London, SW1 ( until April 15th. The exhibition is of historical photographs presented to King George V by official photographers Herbert Ponting and Frank Hurley, together with artefacts including the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra. Open daily 10am-5.30pm; admission £7.50 (concs available). More info here.

A review of the exhibition by Brian Sewell in the London Standard can be seen here.

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