South Georgia Newsletter, July 2008

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

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Large Earthquake In The South Sandwich Islands

June 30th earthquake recorded at Hope Station. Global Seismograph Network (GSN - IRIS.IDA).
June 30th earthquake recorded at Hope Station. Global Seismograph Network (GSN - IRIS.IDA).

A magnitude seven earthquake occurred on June 30th to the east of the South Sandwich Islands. The epicentre of the earthquake was at a depth of 10 km at 58.169°S, 22.014°W, 285 km ENE of Bristol Island.

Map showing seismicity in the South Sandwich Island area in 2008. USGS NEICentre.
Map showing seismicity in the South Sandwich Island area in 2008. USGS NEICentre.

The event was recorded on the seismograph at Hope Point, KEP (see above) at 04.30 in the morning. South Georgia, at about 1100 km distant from the epicentre, was the nearest inhabited area.

The South Sandwich Islands regularly experience seismic activity. The map below shows the seismic activity in the area since the beginning of 2008, including the larger June 30th event. There were two similar sized earthquakes in the area two years ago on January 2nd and August 20th 2006.

USGS National Earthquake Information Centre:

Centenary Of Letters Patent Exhibition Opens In The UK

By South Georgia Historian Bob Burton

On July 21st 1908 The British Government issued Letters Patent to consolidate the claim to South Georgia and other Antarctic territories into the Falkland Islands Dependencies. The centenary of this event is being celebrated by an exhibition entitled "South Georgia: A Centenary of Government, 1908-2008".

The exhibition was researched by Bob Burton for the South Georgia Association and prepared by Huw Lewis-Jones of the Scott Polar Research Institute, Cambridge. It opened at the Institute on July 16th with a reception for invited guests, mostly members of the South Georgia Association. Funding was provided by the South Georgia Association and the Government of South Georgia.

The themes of the exhibition are continuity of effective government and the regulation of wildlife resources that this allows. In the 18th and 19th centuries uncontrolled exploitation of Fur Seals left the species nearly extinct. The establishment of government came in time to control the new whaling industry, and the less familiar exploitation of Elephant Seals. Regulation of whaling at South Georgia and other parts of the Dependencies could have saved the whales but the opportunity was lost when pelagic whaling on the high seas removed whaling operations from government jurisdiction.

The latest wildlife resource to be exploited is fishing and the South Georgia Government has been very successful at regulating the industry within the 200 nm limits of the Maritime Zone. About three-quarters of the licence fees are ploughed into fisheries research and surveillance.

The exhibition will remain at the Scott Polar Institute until September 24th when it will be taken to Dundee, opening on September 30th when HRH The Princess Royal visits the Discovery Centre. From Dundee it will travel to Hull for display from November 21st to December 24th. Thereafter it will travel to Stanley, Falkland Islands and will eventually come to rest in the museum in Grytviken.

Centenary Of Letters Patent Reception Held In The Falklands

Harriet Hall addresses the gathering at Government House. Photo Juanita Brock
Harriet Hall addresses the gathering at Government House. Photo Juanita Brock

A reception was held at Government House, Stanley, in the Falkland Islands on July 21st to mark the Centenary of Letters Patent.

Harriet Hall, GSGSSI Chief Executive Officer, addressed a gathering of about 50 invited guests, most of whom have links with the Island. She explained the importance of the Letters Patent in establishing the British claim to South Georgia.


Overview Of The 2007/8 Tourist Season

Analysis of the figures from the 2007/8 tourist season shows that tourism to South Georgia continues to increase. Sixty-four cruise ship visits were made by 29 different vessels (13 more visits than last year), bringing more than 8000 cruise ship passengers. This was a 50% increase in passengers compared to the previous season. The trend over the past few years for an increase in the passenger capacity of visiting cruise ships also continues.

Six of the ships that came were new to South Georgia.

Cruise ship visit and passenger number trends for the last ten seasons.
Cruise ship visit and passenger number trends for the last ten seasons.

Visitors to South Georgia come from all over the world, people from 50 different nationalities visited, but the majority (66%) were from English speaking countries.

Percentage of cruise ship passengers by nationality 2007-2008 season.
Percentage of cruise ship passengers by nationality 2007-2008 season.

Eighteen different yachts made a total of 22 visits last season. About a third of these were on charter to small tour groups or supporting expeditions or Government related projects.

Fishing And Shipping News

The main fishing season continues with 10 longliners and one Potting vessel targeting Toothfish, and six trawlers fishing for Krill.

A few more of the longliners broke off fishing to go to Stanley, FI, to make midseason transhipments. Catches dropped slightly but are now picking up again as is the usual pattern for this time of year.

The krill fishery continues with very good catches. Catches only being limited by the processing capacity of ships.

Cumberland East Bay has been busy with shipping for much of the month. The Krill trawlers tend to offload their catch to a reefer regularly. Six different reefers have made eight visits and been attended by nine vessels making 16 calls for transhipping and bunkering.

On one busy day this month five ships were boarded by the Government Officer and two medicals were attended to by the KEP Doctor.

Reefer “Ozark” in Cumberland Bay. Photo Pat Lurcock
Reefer “Ozark” in Cumberland Bay. Photo Pat Lurcock

The Fisheries Officer aboard “Pharos SG” boards vessels fishing in the SG Fishing Zone to check compliance with the Fishery regulations. Here one of the krill fleet is boarded. Flash required for video.

Chinstrap Penguins – A New Stamp Issue

A new stamp issue was released on July 10th featuring Chinstrap Penguins and the WWF Panda symbol. The new issue coincided with an increase in postage rates.

There are a few colonies of Chinstrap Penguins on South Georgia but the main concentrations in the Territory are on the South Sandwich Islands, a string of remote volcanic islands which stretch in an arc south-east of South Georgia. Because of the remoteness and inhospitable nature of these islands the colonies there are rarely visited.

The artist Owen Bell created four designs with values of 2 x 55p (airmail postcard rate), 1 x 65p (20g airmail letter rate) and 1 x 90p (30g airmail letter rate). The stamps are available in a number of different formats: Sheets of 50 (2 x 25 with gutter); Sheetlets of 16 (4 sets) in staggered se-tenant format; and a shape cut sheetlet (a first for the WWF) containing one set of stamps.

The First Day Cover costs £3.60

With over one billion stamps printed, and 413 issues by the end of October 2007, the sale of stamps from the WWF Conservation Stamp Collection has raised over 20 million Swiss francs in royalties and has become an important source of funding for WWF's conservation activities.

The WWF Conservation Stamp Collection is the largest thematic collection in the world. Since 1983, some 1500 different stamps have been issued in 212 countries.

The money from the sale of the stamps has helped fund a range of activities - from the conservation of endangered species, to helping forest and coastal dwelling communities improve their standards of living through sustainable use of their natural resources.

South Georgia stamps and First Day Covers can be purchased from the Philatelic Bureau, Stanley, Falkland Islands.

Shackleton Exhibition Held In The Falkland Islands

By Leona Roberts, Falkland Island Museum Curator.

Although last week’s exhibition of the “James Caird III” did not attract a particularly large audience, the 100 or so who did attend thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to see the boat in full sail and the exhibition surrounding it.

The “JC III” is a full-size replica of the boat in which Sir Ernest Shackleton and five companions made the legendary 800-mile voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia in 1915, after his ship “Endurance” had been trapped and crushed in the Antarctic ice.

The Falkland Island Museum asked to display the boat, which is destined for the South Georgia Museum, while it was in Stanley and created a display telling the inspirational story of Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctic Expedition and the dreadful hardships endured by the legendary explorer and his men. While the 7-metre boat was the centrepiece of the exhibition, visitors were also able to see items loaned by SG Museum for the display – including Shackleton’s walking stick and shards of wood from the oars of the “Caird” and the “ Endurance”.

Earlier in the week Emma Edwards gave fascinating lectures on Shackleton and the “Caird” to members of the public.

As one visitor commented: “As ever on contemplating this heroic trip I have tears in my eyes – I’m grateful that we have this inspiration.”

Visitors at the Falkland Shackleton Exhibition.
Visitors at the Falkland Shackleton Exhibition.
“James Caird III”. Photos Harriet Hall
“James Caird III”. Photos Harriet Hall

South Georgia Heritage Trust

First Newsletter

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) produced its first newsletter on June 1st. The headline article is about plans for Habitat Restoration in South Georgia. SGHT raised £400,000 for this project in 2007 and work on the project will start this year.

Amongst other things the newsletter also features: the latest news on the South Georgia Museum and on repairs to the Husvik Mangers Villa; the story of the acquisition of “James Caird III”; and a short introduction to the nine SGHT Trustees.

The newsletter can be viewed at here

$10,000 raised through sale of albatross sculpture

$10,000 was raised for the SGHT through the sale of a sculpture of a Wandering Albatross in flight. Artist and taxidermist Steve Massam created the beautiful 35cm tall sculpture, and the original intention was to auction it to raise money for the SGHT. It was on display in the Museum shop when a couple who are big fans of the artist’s work offered to buy it for $10,000. The artist offered to break the mould so the sculpture would be unique, but in a further generous offer the couple said the mould could be reused to make another sculpture that could be auctioned next season to raise more funds for the SGHT.

Whilst in South Georgia Steve was also using his taxidermy skills on a real Wandering Albatross, which will form part of the display in the museum’s new Maritime Gallery next season. With a wingspan of around 2.5 metres the bird reaches almost from floor to ceiling, leaving only a little room for its stand.

New Books

Check out these exciting new additions to the SGHT online shop:

  • South Georgia wildlife prints by artist John Gale. A superb selection of prints featuring the wildlife and scenery of South Georgia by artist John Gale.

  • The Dictionary of Falklands Biography (including South Georgia) edited by David Tatham.

Click here for the link to the SGHT shop. These items will be available for purchase after 18th October.

SGHT Royal Event at RRS Discovery

South Georgia Heritage Trust’s first UK fundraising event will take place on Tuesday 30th September 2008 at Discovery Point, Dundee, home of Captain Scott's famous research ship RRS Discovery. We have arranged a special performance of the acclaimed play Tom Crean – Antarctic Explorer by actor Aidan Dooley, followed by a reception in the presence of Her Royal Highness The Princess Royal.

Tickets for this event are available at a cost of £30. Contact Alison Neil for more details.

A Review Of The Dictionary Of Falklands Biography

The recently published book ‘The Dictionary of Falklands Biography, edited by former South Georgia Commissioner David Tatham, has been reviewed by Nick Smith, Contributing Editor of the Explorers Journal and a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

The book is a collection of 480 biographies describing people concerned with the history of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, including James Cook, Shackleton, whalers and sealers.

In his review Nick Smith writes:

“Tatham…has spent six years editing the Dictionary, and the result is an immense reference work that will be of great value to both professional historians and researchers. Assisted largely by volunteers he has made great efforts to follow the style and conventions of the Dictionary of National Biography. But because of the nature of the Falklands version Tatham has relaxed the rules a little, allowing a limited number of entries about living people (some of which are actually autobiography, as in the case of former Governor Sir Rex Hunt).

The body of the book, however, is made up of biographical sketches of the great and the good (and the dead)…

Ernest Shackleton takes up a thumping six pages with detailed descriptions of his “Nimrod” Expedition (currently in its centenary year) and his Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition in “Endurance” that included his epic journey to South Georgia in the “James Caird”. This entry also has a wonderful picture of Governor Sir Arnold Hodson unveiling the headstone on Shackleton’s grave, which unlike traditional Christian graves – that face east – faces south, in honour of the great explorer’s devotion to Antarctica…

In the case of F.D.Ommanney, a largely forgotten travel writer of the mid-20th century, we are given an entry that concentrates almost entirely on his book South Latitude, an evocative description of life on a whaling station.”

For the full length review (in Word format) click here to download.

The Dictionary of Falkland Biography can be ordered from: The Editor, DFB, South Parade, Ledbury, Hereford, HR8 2HA. Price including Postage and packing £42.00 to addresses in the UK, 62 Euros to addresses in Europe and $ 100 to addresses in America, South America and Australasia ISBN 978-0-9558985-0-1

It is also available from the SGHT shop here.

Bird Island News

By Gorfou, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island.

After last month’s midwinter events, July has been a very quiet month or almost… with snow and cold temperatures.

It started with the usual Wandering Albatross census on the 1st. We all went out to count the white fluffy chicks and realized how fast they’re growing!! They look as big as their parents now and they’ve started to show a black patch on both sides of their body, the first wing feathers. Derren, who diet sampled a few chicks this month, can tell that they’re getting heavier and stronger… only three more months to go before the first ones fledge.

Wandering Albatross chick with its first real feathers. Photo Gorfou
Wandering Albatross chick with its first real feathers. Photo Gorfou

A wanderer chick sits out a blizzard, whilst other locals enjoy the winter conditions Flash required for video.

Whilst the census day was mild and sunny, the following day the weather raged with the stormiest day of the month characterised by wind gusting up to 50 knots and snow falling horizontally and covering the island with a white coat. I’m not sure if the chicks were as relaxed as the previous day on their nests. No place to hide, they had to keep their body and head down and wait in their warm down until the bad weather passed.

With the strong wind, the snow didn’t pile up and gave us the opportunity to climb La Roche peak safely on another calm day. Derren and Ewan went to the top earlier in the afternoon and had a magnificent view over South Georgia. A little later Felice and I didn’t get so lucky but still had a great mystic light and enjoyed a deserved hot cup of tea with the leftovers of the Dark Chocolate and Orange cake from the day before!

Felice climbing La Roche peak at the end of the afternoon. Photo Gorfou
Felice climbing La Roche peak at the end of the afternoon. Photo Gorfou

This reminds me of the last fresh oranges we ate sometime at the beginning of the month. But we are not so desperate yet with lots of “fresh” apples in the fridge, the last potatoes, a few onions and garlic cloves … aside with one avocado!! Strange why do we keep this lonely avocado for so long?

During the second half of the month we had more snow and cold weather… the perfect conditions to enjoy the BI winter sports the last two weeks but also to fill the bay with ice one more time and attract lots of Leopard Seals around. Ewan had been busy photographing and identifying more than 75 Lep sightings. They weren’t just lying down on the beach or on the ice but were very active and took part in different killings from the small Gentoo Penguin to the young Elephant Seal or the Antarctic Fur Seal.

Leopard Seal in the kelp. Photo Gorfou
Leopard Seal in the kelp. Photo Gorfou

Bird Island winterers at the Barbecue night, with La Roche peak in the background. Photo Derren Fox
Bird Island winterers at the Barbecue night, with La Roche peak in the background. Photo Derren Fox

With minus 6 °C and a full moon, Felice had a great idea and organized a Friday barbecue night. A few days later we were all celebrating my non-official birthday with another rich chocolate cake and a few games of bridge and darts.

South Georgia Snippets

An oiled Gentoo Penguin was captured on July 6th and cleaned. At first he was kept in the old Gaol but with mounting snowdrifts and severe weather it was easier to attend to him once he was moved to the wetlab. This area proved practical as a holding pen as the floor can be swabbed easily. Several people have helped to look after the bird, which was fed with squid three times a day. He quickly got the idea and has been getting quite feisty, giving a sharp peck to anyone in the lab to persuade them he needs feeding again! Mind you, he has also got a little fussy, preferring squid from the main body tube and rejecting the tentacles. Following guidance from Falklands Conservation, the bird has now been kept for several weeks to allow it to preen and reproof its feathers. Sadly the bird also has an injured wing, but we have seen some improvement to the birds overall condition. He lost some weight to start with but started gaining weight in the past fortnight when his food allowance was increased. It has been an odd experience sitting at ones desk and listening to the Gentoo braying further down the corridor. Hopefully he can be released soon.

To start with the Gentoo was kept confined in huge an aggregate bag in the Gaol. Photo Steve Artis
To start with the Gentoo was kept confined in huge an aggregate bag in the Gaol. Photo Steve Artis

The King Penguin chicks at Penguin River are still doing well. Photo Patrick Lurcock.
The King Penguin chicks at Penguin River are still doing well. Photo Patrick Lurcock.

The King Penguin chicks at Penguin River continue to do well. When they were last visited the three chicks were being visited and fed by two adult birds. When you see the photo you can understand why early explorers thought they were two different species of Penguin, the King and the Wooly Penguin.

One unusual wildlife sighting for this time of year was a Skua flying around a small iceberg at Maiviken on July 28th. These birds usually migrate for the winter and we normally see the first birds back in about September.

Pat (Government Officer) and Sarah (Deputy Postmistress) Lurcock arrived back, after their long holidays, aboard the Fishery Patrol Vessel “Pharos SG” on July 7th. The proper snow for the winter arrived with them and we have had several significant snowfalls since then, so we have all been getting exercise once again with the snow shovels.

A short video clip showing the scene as “Pharos SG” sets sail from Stanley, FI. Flash required for video.

Assistant Scientist Charlie Main left to take up a job at Aberdeen. Emma Jones and Steve Artis left with her on July 20th for their holidays, leaving just nine of us here. This could possibly be the lowest number of people on the Island for a protracted period since the establishment of the whaling station at Grytviken in 1904

Emma, Steve and Charlie (left to right) as they leave the Island aboard “Pharos SG”.
Emma, Steve and Charlie (left to right) as they leave the Island aboard “Pharos SG”.

With the lower numbers have come limits on the area the British Antarctic Survey personnel are allowed to travel in for recreation, so there was a flurry of camping trips to more far flung spots before the ship sailed.

Rachel and Andrew had a gnarly camping trip on the Greene Peninsula. They skied down to the snout of the Nordenskjold Glacier and camped overnight, but the stormy conditions meant a sleepless night and their tent was ripped. When she got back Rachel described the trip as “A bit of an epic”.

Jenn and Charles got dropped in at Coral Bay and in contrast had sunny and clear weather for their adventurous journey down the Barff Peninsula to Sorling Valley. Despite good snow cover they still ended up carrying their skis for most of the two-day journey as a wind polished icy surface made it hard to ski.

Bird Island were not the only mad folk to be barbequing in winter either. Tim hosted a barbeque at the boatshed to mark the finish of the long refit to RIB “Alert”. With temperatures down to -8°C it was an odd experience; the side facing the brassier roasting warm and the other side freezing cold.

A gorgeous snowy day for a Barbeque! Photo Patrick Lurcock
A gorgeous snowy day for a Barbeque! Photo Patrick Lurcock

And finally… we could not resist showing you this photo cleverly caught by Steve Artis. Click on the photo for a larger view. Goodness that looks like a long ship!

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