South Georgia Newsletter, July 2010

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

Management Options For South Georgia Reindeer – Consultation

GSGSSI is seeking comments on the options for reindeer on South Georgia. A discussion document, which includes: the history of reindeer on the Island; a summary of the impacts reindeer have on native species and habitats; and a discussion of management options, is hosted on this website. You can download the discussion document here

After reading the discussion document, GSGSSI is encouraging individuals to fill in a brief optional questionnaire. More general comments are also welcome.

The deadline for comments is September 3rd, 2010. Comments should be sent to Darren Christie, Environment Officer GSGSSI by email to here

Actively Attracting Science To KEP

GSGSSI is hoping to attract scientists and science organisations to expand the range of scientific research performed at King Edward Point.

There are good modern science facilities at the KEP Science Station, including well equipped, wet and dry laboratories and an aquarium, as well as living accommodation and logistical support.

The 'South Georgia Town Meeting' will take place at British Antarctic Survey in Cambridge on September 28th 2010. It will include discussions about the science currently being done at South Georgia and presentations on the history, geology and oceanography, wildlife and fisheries in South Georgia. There will also be information on the accommodation, scientific facilities, logistic support, means of reaching the Island etc. that prospective scientific visitors will need.

The KEP Science Base was built in 2000, its prime purpose being to facilitate applied fisheries research in support of management of commercial fisheries in the SGSSI Maritime Zone. The facilities are available for other science projects at rates that are comparable with those at similarly equipped facilities at other remote locations. GSGSSI hopes that it can attract researchers in various science disciplines and so expand the range of scientific research performed on the Island.

There is a long history of science at South Georgia particularly since 1925 when research into the biology and ecology of whales and their environment began with the 'Discovery Investigations'. After the whaling industry closed down operations in the 1960s, scientific presence on the Island was maintained until 1982 with the establishment of a BAS research base where BAS scientists, together with a number of scientific visitors, pursued research in marine and terrestrial biology, atmospheric science, geology and glaciology. At the BAS base on Bird Island, off the extreme north-west end off South Georgia, there has been long-term research on the seabird and seal populations which breed there and feed on the rich marine resources in the surrounding seas. Offshore in South Georgia waters there has been shipboard research in oceanography, geophysics and ocean ecology. Other monitoring and research in seismology and industrial archaeology continues up to the present.

KEP provides modern science facilities for researchers.
KEP provides modern science facilities for researchers.

SG A Priority Area For Marine Protected Areas, Survey Work Starts

The two King Edward Point (KEP) based scientists are undertaking regular winter survey work at sea to investigate the spatial overlap between the winter krill fishery and the distribution of foraging predators and fish larvae in South Georgia waters. This forms part of a range of a larger programme of marine studies that will lead to the establishment of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in the South Georgia Maritime Zone. In 2008 CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) identified 11 priority regions where work to designate MPAs was urgent; one of those was South Georgia. MPAs are an important tool for conservation of marine biodiversity, and form a key component of ecosystem-based management.

According to the UKOTCF (United Kingdom Overseas Territories Conservation Forum), the Sub-Antarctic is a natural laboratory that provides unique opportunities to study and understand one of the most intact large marine ecosystems remaining on Earth. However, human activities such as fishing, tourism and scientific research are increasing in the Southern Ocean, and have the potential to cause major impacts on biodiversity and ecosystem function. Sub-Antarctic marine ecosystems are fragile and can be slow to recover from the impacts of human activities, and their resilience may also be weakened by the effects of climate change. Action must therefore be taken to maintain the integrity of Sub-Antarctic ecosystems and biodiversity, before irreversible changes are allowed to occur.

The current winter survey work is investigating the potential interactions between higher predators and the krill fishery at South Georgia, as well as the possible interactions this fishery may have with other fish stock through the by-catch of larval fish, and will be conducted over two years. The scientists are conducting seabird and mammal counts and trawling for larval fish on set transects. The transect areas have been set in the main target areas of the krill fleet, set using historic krill catch data, and in adjacent areas that are not normally fished.

The two scientists are working opposite ends of the day. During daylight hours Higher Predator Scientist Jon Ashburner monitors a 300m wide strip of sea on one side of the ship as it moves along the transect. He records every higher predator seen, which may include penguins and other birds, seals and whales. He also records the animals' behaviour, noting if they are feeding, their direction of travel, approximate age and moult states for some of the birds. Analysis of the data should show what species are competing with the fishing industry to use the krill resource during winter.

Fishery Scientist Luke Kenny conducts his work at night. A plankton trawl net is used to fish for half an hour at three stations along each transect. He then analyses the collected samples to identify any larval fish. Four surveys are planned between May and August, as part of an OTEP (Overseas Territories Environment Programme) project. The results will build on earlier work surveying seabirds at sea carried out in 2002 to 2004.

Info: OTEP and

Fishing And Shipping News

Though eight longliners were fishing for toothfish at the beginning of the month, by the end of the month three of them had completed their TACs (Total Allowable Catch) and left the SGMZ.

The reefer “La Manche” anchored in Cumberland East Bay to refuel two longliners, and two other longline vessels called in to the port to make observer transfers.

There has been little krill fishing activity in the South Georgia Maritime Zone so far this winter as the sea ice further south has not formed as usual. Usually it is when the sea ice in areas such as the South Orkney Islands has formed that the krill fleet is forced to fish in waters further north. Krill fishing in the SGMZ is expected to resume in August.

A longliner refuelling from a reefer in Cumberland East Bay.
A longliner refuelling from a reefer in Cumberland East Bay.

Bathymetric Survey Around The South Sandwich Islands Completed

By Heather Martin, BAS

Bristol Island is just the tip of the volcano. Photo Dr Phil Leat, BAS.
Bristol Island is just the tip of the volcano. Photo Dr Phil Leat, BAS.

Earlier this year, geologists on the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ship “RRS James Clark Ross” completed a project to map the sea floor around the volcanic South Sandwich Islands using multibeam sonar. This completes a project started three years ago.

The islands are rich in marine life, but also are sources of poorly quantified hazards from volcanic eruptions and tsunamis generated by land-sliding of submarine parts of the volcanoes.

The 30m resolution survey showed for the first time that the South Sandwich Islands are the emergent tips of huge volcanoes that rise from seafloor about 3km deep. Scattered among these large volcanoes are about 20 smaller, submarine volcanoes known as seamounts, some of which rise to within 100m of the surface. These are likely to be biological hotspots, especially as several are likely to be releasing volcanic hot springs onto the sea floor.

The risk of land-sliding of the volcanoes to form tsunami is less than might be anticipated. Although sizeable landslides clearly have occurred, they are infrequent. This is because slope gradients have been reduced by build-up of thick piles of sediments on the lower slopes.

BAS scientists Phil Leat, Tara Deen and Alex Tate carried out the survey from January to March 2010 with scientists from the Aon Benfield Hazard Research Centre of University College London led by Simon Day.

Bathymetric map showing submarine volcanoes around Zavodovski Island and numerous seamounts and sediment waves in the foreground. Image BAS.
Bathymetric map showing submarine volcanoes around Zavodovski Island and numerous seamounts and sediment waves in the foreground. Image BAS.

Visit Of HMS Portland

Photo: LA (Phot) Simmo Simpson,  Fleet Sea Photographer, HMS Portland. MOD
Photo: LA (Phot) Simmo Simpson, Fleet Sea Photographer, HMS Portland. MOD

Navy vessel “HMS Portland” was on patrol in South Georgia waters this month. The vessel has been based in the Falkland Islands since it took over responsibility for defending British interests in the South Atlantic in May. The type 23 frigate, captained by Commander Mike Knott, made a circuit of the Island, and entered the dramatic Drygalski Fjord, at the southern end of the Island, as dawn broke on July 23rd. High winds were whipping out of the fjord and prevented the ship going in more than half way, but luckily the conditions were local and after a fast passage the ship was again amongst fabulous scenery and weather, as it picked its way through brash ice to approach the Nordenskjold Glacier in Cumberland East Bay.

A group of infantry were disembarked to make patrols on foot. Over the next three days the crew took it in turns to be landed ashore. Landing operations were assisted by the two GSGSSI harbour launches. The lack of deep snow, though unusual for this stage of the winter, was a bonus for walkers making it easy to walk from KEP to visit the old whaling station at Grytviken.

There were social events for KEP locals and some of the ship's company both on board and ashore, and penguins were the animal of choice for the fun dice-racing event, on suitably snowy decks, one evening.

In the early hours of Sunday high winds hit again, forcing the vessel to leave the Hope Point anchorage when the ship started to drag anchor. Once again the weather quickly improved, and in a few hours there was a gorgeous dawn tinting Mt Paget pink. The vessel successfully anchored again later in day and resumed shore leave. A service was held in the whalers' church on that morning.

Many of the crew aboard “HMS Portland” had visited the Island before, though in many cases it was more than ten years ago. Those returning were interested to see the changes to the whaling station after the 'Remeditation Project', reinstatement of hydroelectricity, and the change from KEP being manned by a military garrison living in the old barrack building at Hope Point, to the modern science base that now dominates the foreshore of the Point.

The ship's helicopter flew and took up many lucky crew members for a view of the Island in winter they are unlikely to forget.

The KEP harbour launches helped land crew from “HMS Portland”.
The KEP harbour launches helped land crew from “HMS Portland”.

Bird Island Webcam

A new webcam was set up in June on the wildlife haven of Bird Island and is bound to prove popular. It looks across the beach at Jordan Cove and shows a section of the BAS base, as well as the jetty, and the beach in front that will fill up with breeding fur seals as we head towards summer. The camera is hosted on the BAS website The webcam only updates the picture every hour due to low bandwidth on satellite communications from the island, but older images are archived below the current picture.

See the webcam here.

Outgoing Commissioner's Gift

The plaque on the bench reads: “Commissioner's Bench, presented by Alan Huckle Commissioner SGSSI 2006 – 2010.”
The plaque on the bench reads: “Commissioner's Bench, presented by Alan Huckle Commissioner SGSSI 2006 – 2010.”

Commissioner Alan Huckle will complete his term of office in September. To mark his retirement he made a gift of a hand crafted bench to the KEP locals. Commissioner Huckle commissioned the bench to be made by wooden boat builder Thies Matzen. He had admired Thies's craftsmanship when he had handed over three similar benches to the South Georgia Museum on behalf of the South Georgia Association during a visit to the Island last summer. Constructed in the KEP workshops this winter, the new bench is already part of the areas history as it is made from reclaimed wood from the whaling station. The Commissioner asked Government Officer Patrick Lurcock to hand the bench over on his behalf. Gin and tonic was poured in readiness for a short speech and the official handover to Base Commander Ali Massey who accepted it on behalf of the KEP locals. A toast was raised to the generosity of the outgoing Commissioner.

The bench has been placed on the decked area in the centre of the base building, an area used summer and winter for sitting out and admiring the amazing views across to Mt Paget. The bench is not only simple and beautiful but also immensely strong. Thies showed his confidence in its strength by allowing twelve of the thirteen population to crowd onto it all at once. That left one to take the photograph...

Government Officer Patrick Lurcock handing over the bench on behalf of the Commissioner.
Government Officer Patrick Lurcock handing over the bench on behalf of the Commissioner.

Forget minis and telephone boxes, how many can you get on one bench?
Forget minis and telephone boxes, how many can you get on one bench?

G and T in hand, GO Patrick Lurcock hands the Commissioner's bench over to KEP locals.

Bird Island News

Stacey Adlard, Penguin Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Station, Bird Island.

July is probably our quietest month on Bird Island as far as work is concerned. It started as usual with the monthly wandering albatross chick census, where between us, we check up on every nest on the island to see if there are any failures. It can be remarkably difficult to find something as big as a wanderer chick when snow covers the ground and everything is white! At this time of year we get very few failures, which is always nice to see; most are now big enough to withstand the winter conditions and seem perfectly happy when covered in snow. The chicks are growing well, and many are starting to show the first signs of dark feathers growing through their fluffy grey down.

Mick, the Seal Assistant, probably has the most interesting job at this time of year and has been busy with his daily leopard seal round - checking all the beaches for these powerful animals. He records any sightings and photographs them to add to the catalogue of known individuals that have visited the island previously.

Leopard seal.
Leopard seal.

For the Bird and Penguin Assistants, life is a bit less interesting at this time of year, with very few excuses to go outside for work. Claudia and I have spent many days in the lab, identifying, measuring and sexing krill, and analysing otoliths (fish ear bones) and squid beaks, to see what our feathered friends had been eating over the summer.

Joe, our tech services man, has also been busy this month fixing problems with the generators and the leaks on the fire pump system. On warmer days when the walkways are free of ice he has spent many hours bolting down the walkway panels - a necessary but rather uninspiring task! We have had to pump drinking water this month as the cold weather means we cannot rely on rainwater or snowmelt from the roof. This involves breaking the ice on one of the streams that does not freeze solid in winter and running a hose with a pump from it back to base. It is a race against time, to see whether the tank fills first, or the hose freezes solid!

The highlight this month was the 48-hour Antarctic film festival. (See 'snippets' below). The final BI production was not exactly a Hollywood blockbuster but was certainly very entertaining to produce and apparently provided much amusement to the watchers (although I fear many were laughing at us and not with us).

We have had some good winter weather in the last month. Sadly we rarely get conditions for skiing or snowboarding as it is usually windy and any nice snow we have tends to blow away before it has time to compact down into skiable slopes and bury the nasty little sharp rocks that spoil shiny expensive ski equipment.

A sunny winter’s day on Bird Island.
A sunny winter’s day on Bird Island.

We’ve had ice in the bay some days too, although like last year it appears to be another year of poor numbers of icebergs overall. We have had a couple of calm days where the pancake ice has started to form in the bays, which is always good to see. The days are starting to get noticeably longer now, with the midday sun once again climbing high enough in the sky to just breach the North Cliffs and allow the sun to shine directly onto the base again, even if only briefly. It will not be long before the days are longer and the wildlife starts to return to the island for the breeding cycle to begin again.

Antarctic fur seal at sunset. Photos by Stacey Adlard
Antarctic fur seal at sunset. Photos by Stacey Adlard

Winter wildlife around the base buildings at Bird Island.

Scrimshaw Artwork For Sale

Twenty unique scrimshawed faux sperm whale teeth will be for sale at the South Georgia Museum gift shop this summer. The teeth, modelled on a real tooth from the museum collection, each have a unique scrimshaw design by artist Bridget Steed.

Bridget was already using the Island's whaling history as a theme in her artwork before she visited the Island last summer as 'Artist in Residence' at the Museum. A talented scrimshawer, the technique lends itself to her unique line drawings. The designs on the teeth are very varied and include sealing ships, birds, whales, a feather and a view across the Cove to Grytviken as well as one of the Museum. Admirers of Bridget's work are already lining to buy the teeth as soon as they arrive. Each will cost £150.

The scrimshawed faux sperm whale teeth look fantastic as a collection or on their own.
The scrimshawed faux sperm whale teeth look fantastic as a collection or on their own.

South Georgia Snippets

The Falkland Islands Shallow Marine Surveys Group (SMSG), is recruiting a Project Officer/Benthic Ecologist to co-ordinate surveys of the shallow marine fauna of South Georgia as part of a Darwin Initiative and project. The SMSG will be conducting comprehensive shallow marine surveys in South Georgia during two diving expeditions in order to establish baseline data on benthic diversity. Collected benthos will be catalogued, identified and mapped. They will also be deploying settlement plates to detect invasive marine species. Laboratory work will be undertaken both in the Falklands and at KEP. The one-year post starts in September 2010.

A reminder that comments on the GSGSSI consultation document on the future use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in SGSSI Territorial Waters should be in by the end of August. You can download the consultation document here.

Following engagement with IAATO members during the course of the 2010 IAATO meeting, and discussions held in the aftermath of the meeting, GSGSSI has taken the decision to defer the implementation of the new 'one month visitor fee structure' until the start of the 2011/12 season. This will align the introduction of this fee with the introduction of the '72hr visitor fee supplementary charge', so that both fee structures will commence at the start of the 2011/12 season on 1 July 2011.

New maps have been printed for South Georgia. The series of maps will show more accurate and detailed topography following mapping work in recent years. They also feature the new place names as agreed by the Antarctic Place Names Committee (APNC), which oversees the introduction of new formal place names for SGSSI. Some of the new names include Pintail Point near Stromness and the naming of three of the Welcome Islands - Pharos, Sigma and Dorada - after the current and two recent GSGSSI Fishery Patrol Vessels.

The Welcome Islands seen from the sea and on the new map as Sigma, Dorada and Pharos Islands.
The Welcome Islands seen from the sea and on the new map as Sigma, Dorada and Pharos Islands.

The BBC wanderer chick Eriksson is still going reasonably strong despite his mother having disappeared two and a half months ago. The father bird, Erik, returned to feed the chick after a three week gap. More recently he has been coming and going to and from the nest nearly every day. You can see the parent bird's tracks as he forages for food on the map here.

You can follow the story here with weekly updates on the birds at the nest.

The communities manning bases all round the Antarctic had a bit of fun creating short films to enter in the annual '48Hour Film Festival'. The event has been run over a winter weekend for a number of years by the US Antarctic base at McMurdo and is open to all the Antarctic, and sub-Antarctic, stations. On the Friday night participating stations are told five elements that will need to be included in a film no more than five minutes long. This year they were: a mop; a bottle of mouthwash; a grumpy mechanic; the sound of a siren; and the phrase “Has anyone seen my chicken”.

Friday night at KEP we gathered to discuss possible story lines and film genres, then retired to bed to think more about it. By Saturday morning filming had begun and by that afternoon editing had also begun. I am not convinced we knew we were setting out to make a comedy, maybe we had a thriller more in mind to start? A technical hitch in the early hours of Sunday morning nearly put paid to all the work, but the organisers kindly allowed extra time to sort out a hitch in the soundtrack. The finished film was aired for all to see on Monday and was roundly praised, it certainly made us laugh – a lot! The next step was watching the many other film entries. Each of us were allowed to vote for our favourites in various categories.

The results were announced a week later and the KEP entry got its just deserts, second place in two categories including Best Film, and a first for best use of the set elements.

Want to see the film? You can view it here but be warned it has a slightly adult content.

The month's weather has been a mix of blizzard and storm and beautiful clear days with skiable snow. It was most odd then on the 19th to experience hot winds. Temperatures topped 14°C and the winds of more than 70mph quickly stripped the thin snow from the ground, whilst a heat shimmer hung on the far horizons.

The 'Crossing Antarctica' fitness challenge was successfully completed by both KEP teams (see June newsletter).

A new challenge has now been started. Three of the KEP ladies have challenged one of the GSGSSI Falkland based men for a race across the territories called the 'Trek to Thule'. Starting at Shag Rocks at the north-west end of South Georgia, they will hypothetically trek round the Scotia Arc to the far south-eastern end of the Territory, the island of Thule in the South Sandwich Islands. To even the odds up a bit the ladies team will go there and back, a total distance of 2664km, whilst the one-man team goes there. As well as cross country skiing and walking, exercises on gym equipment such as the cross-trainer and static bicycle count, with the various activities weighted to reflect effort (1km swimming = 10km across the course, 1 km cycling = 1km). Progress is being mapped on a chart in the office hallway. Having set out on June 21st, by month-end the two teams were hypothetically off the north-western end of the main island of South Georgia. The course needs to be completed within three months as two competitors will be leaving the Island after that.

Date for your diary:

A conference entitled “Managing Industrial Heritage” is being hosted by the South Georgia Heritage Trust on the 8th-9th September 2011 in Dundee, Scotland. One of the principal aims of the SGHT is to preserve, protect and promote an understanding of the historical heritage of South Georgia. They will work on the conference in co-operation with the SGA and the International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage (TICCIH). The event will pick up on a recommendation, made at the SGA’s 2003 'The Future of South Georgia' conference, that there should be “a meeting to develop proposals for the protection, display and education of the cultural heritage of South Georgia”.

Sessions will explore aspects of recording, researching, interpreting and managing industrial heritage sites as well as the value of these sites as sources for research and locations of interest to tourists. There will be comparison with Svalbard and other remote locations as regards their approach to their industrial heritage research, protection and management. A call for papers and further information will be circulated in the coming months and details will be available on the SGHT website:

Midwinter present photo gallery.

As promised, here is a better look at some of the fantastic craft-work that went into making some of this year's mid-winter presents:

Photos: Jon Ashburner
Photos: Jon Ashburner

View Of The Month

Don’t forget to see this month’s 'View of the Month' on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.

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