South Georgia Newsletter, July 2011

From South Georgia Website

Jump to: navigation, search

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

Frank Wild's Ashes To Be Buried At Grytviken

Frank Wild is to be buried next to Shackleton in the Grytviken cemetery.

Frank Wild was one of the most experienced polar explorers of the heroic era. He took part in five major Antarctic expeditions and was Shackleton's second-in-command on the “Endurance” expedition (when he was left in charge of the shipwrecked men at Elephant Island), and led the “Quest” expedition after Shackleton died aboard the vessel in King Edward Cove. In later life Frank Wild moved to work in South Africa where he died on August 19th 1939 in Klerksdorp and was cremated. Though he was well known in his lifetime, he has been largely forgotten since.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 travel programme 'Excess Baggage' on July 30th, author Angie Butler told presenter Sandi Toksvig that no one seemed to know where Frank Wild was buried. The only lead was an old paper cutting which said his ashes had been left in a chapel. She has written a book about the explorer, with the aim of setting the record straight about the period of his life spent in South Africa. Just as the book was due to go to print she had a hunch and flew to South Africa to a cemetery with a chapel near Johannesburg. There she discovered the vault in which his ashes were found.

Angie Butler announced that “On the 20th of November we are taking him back on his final journey to South Georgia to be buried with Shackleton, which I discovered during my research that is what he wanted to happen.”

New Volcanoes Discovered

Scientists from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) have discovered previously unknown volcanoes in the ocean waters around the South Sandwich Islands.

Using ship-borne sea-floor mapping technology during research cruises aboard the “RRS James Clark Ross”, 12 volcanoes have been found beneath the sea surface — some up to 3km high. They found 5km diameter craters left by collapsing volcanoes and 7 active volcanoes visible above the sea as a chain of islands. The volcanoes were mapped at high resolution using multi-beam sonar.

Sea-floor mapping technology reveals volcanoes beneath the sea surface in the South Sandwich Islands. Image BAS
Sea-floor mapping technology reveals volcanoes beneath the sea surface in the South Sandwich Islands. Image BAS

The research will help with understanding of what happens when volcanoes erupt or collapse underwater, and their potential for creating serious hazards such as tsunamis. The sub-sea volcanic landscape, with its waters warmed by volcanic activity, creates a rich habitat for many species of wildlife and adds valuable new insight about life on earth.

Speaking at the International Symposium on Antarctic Earth Sciences in Edinburgh, Scotland, in mid-July, Dr Phil Leat from BAS said: “There is so much that we don’t understand about volcanic activity beneath the sea - it’s likely that volcanoes are erupting or collapsing all the time. The technologies that scientists can now use from ships not only give us an opportunity to piece together the story of the evolution of our earth, but they also help shed new light on the development of natural events that pose hazards for people living in more populated regions on the planet.”

Info BAS:

Fishing And Shipping News

Five longliners fished in the toothfish fishery during July.

Five trawlers have operated in the krill fishery for most of July. Two vessels joining the fishery were inspected, one passed and was licensed, the other failed inspection because it did not have sufficient liferaft capacity. It sailed to Montevideo to fit more life-rafts and update its ship's sanitation certificate then returned. It passed inspection, was licensed and joined the fishery. Catches have remained very good so the trawlers have been making regular transshipments to reefer vessels anchored in Cumberland Bay. Three reefers have made five visits to Cumberland Bay for transhipping operations during the month.

Government Officer Robert Paterson inspects life-rafts on a trawler.
Government Officer Robert Paterson inspects life-rafts on a trawler.

One longliner suffered a serious mechanical breakdown leading to a total loss of propulsion. Fortunately weather conditions were reasonably calm and a trawler took the vessel under tow and they entered Cumberland Bay where the Observer was taken off the longliner. The trawler towed the stricken vessel towards the Falkland Islands. They were met en route by a tug which took on the tow, allowing the trawler returned to the fishery.

Royal Wedding Stamp Issue Released

A set of three stamps, a beautiful souvenir sheetlet and two First Day Covers were released on July 25th to mark the recent Royal Wedding. (See June newsletter for more details).

South Georgia stamps can be bought from

Report Concludes The Whaling Stations Are Dangerous

After a major clean-up operation costing millions, Grytviken is the only former whaling station accessible to visitors to South Georgia.
After a major clean-up operation costing millions, Grytviken is the only former whaling station accessible to visitors to South Georgia.

A report of the current condition of the five whaling stations at South Georgia has been published on this website. The author, Conservation Archaeologist Michael Morrison, is a Senior Partner in a firm of architects, 'Purcell Miller Tritton and partners', which specialises in conservation of historic buildings. He inspected the whaling stations late last year to make an assessment of the condition of the whaling stations, to reconsider their cultural heritage value and to provide some guidance for their management in the future. At the same time Thames Laboratories were assessing the amount and condition of the asbestos on the sites.

In the report, 'Inspection of the Disused Shore-Based Whaling Stations', Michael Morrison states that the whaling stations remain dangerous places. The main problem continues to be the presence of a lot of asbestos in the stations as well as the poor condition of remaining structures. Summarising, he suggests the remaining stations “present a challenge in conservation terms, which appears to be insuperable. The structures have to a great extent collapsed onto asbestos contamination. Conservation work would have to be undertaken by workers in protective clothing and removing the contamination would require many buildings to be completely dismantled. The cost and the logistic problems would be formidable.”

Grytviken was largely dismantled and most of the asbestos removed in 2003/4 allowing people to access the site again, but a 200-metre exclusion zone remains around the other stations. The report recommends that GSGSSI maintain these exclusion zones but suggests some areas where, in future and after some remedial work in the nearby areas, the boundary could be altered to allow access to some historic structures such as the Managers Villa at Husvik and the large cemetery at Leith and cemetery at Stromness.

This very readable report is illustrated with many photographs and is supported by separate gazetteers for the five sites – Grytviken, Husvik, Leith, Prince Olav Harbour and Stromness.

Michael Morrison will be presenting the results of his inspection at the 'South Georgia Industrial Heritage Conference' in Dundee in September.

The reports can be downloaded here

Macquarie Island - Remaining Rabbits Will Be Hunted

We have been following the progress of of the pest eradication attempt on the sub-Antarctic island of Macquarie. Aerial baiting using four helicopters started there in early May, with one complete baiting achieved in the first month and the second baiting completed in the third week of June. A third drop was undertaken to cover areas of especial concern for harbouring rodents including around penguin colonies and on rock stacks. Aerial baiting was completed on July 9th.

An attempt at pest eradication last year failed due to prolonger poor weather. Project Manager Keith Springer said the two key factors contributing to the operation’s success this year were the team's arrival on the island a month earlier and better weather - even so the weather only allowed flying on about one day in three.

Learning from the experience the year before, when there was a higher than expected incidental mortality, a special 'Non-Target Mitigation Team' was included this year to comb the island and collect and bury carcasses. More than 600 carcasses of target species, the vast majority rabbits, were dealt with. Kelp gulls were the main non-target species affected.

In all over 500 non-target species carcasses were recorded, though incidental mortality of skuas and giant petrels was much lower than in 2010.

The baiting team has now left the island but are replaced by specialist hunting teams. The few rabbits that survived the baiting will be hunted using specially trained dogs. A task that will get more difficult as the vegetation grows back, giving both food and cover to the survivors.

The latest edition of the 'Macquarie Dispatch' can be downloaded here.

You can follow the eradication team's blog here

Chart Success

Image: BAS.
Image: BAS.

A two sided map of the Thatcher Peninsula was recently awarded ‘Highly Commended’ in the British Cartographic Society’s international competition for best printed map 2010-11. GSGSSI contracted BAS to produce the map of the area around the base at King Edward Point (KEP) for residents and visitors. Side A is a traditional cartographic map, whilst side B has a satellite image backdrop. There was no existing map at a more detailed scale than 1:200,000, so this is a completely new product based on GPS survey work, aerial photography and satellite imagery.

The Quest For Frank Wild – New Book

A book unravelling the truth about the final years of Frank Wild called 'The Quest for Frank Wild' has been written by Angie Butler and will be launched on August 1st.

Frank Wild was one of the greatest British polar explorers who took part in five major expeditions to Antarctica in the heroic era of polar exploration in the early 1900's. He was well known in his own day, but like Shackleton appears then to have been forgotten. Shackleton was only rediscovered in recent years by people focussing on his leadership skills.

Some histories record Frank Wild in his later years as unable to come to terms with Shackleton’s death and living in penury in the mining town of Klerksdorp near Johannesburg.

Angie Butler claims that: “The little that was known of Frank Wild's later life in South Africa has been maligned by hearsay and sensational journalism...”, she decided to research his later life and unravel the truth. She spent seven years researching her subject to uncover the untold story and claims that by doing so she not only fulfils Wild’s wish to have his memoirs published, but ultimately makes an astonishing discovery.

The book, published by Jackleberry Press, costs £25.00 plus P+P and can be ordered on line at

St Andrews Hut Art Project

An art project will link St Andrews Square in Edinburgh with St Andrews Bay hut at South Georgia as part of the 'Edinburgh International Arts Festival' in Scotland during August.

Artist Bridget Steed, who spent a summer at South Georgia in 2009/10, has been invited to be one of 24 artists involved in a project 'Solar Pavilion'. The Solar Pavilion is a stunning temporary glass building which will act as a central hub to the invited artists. Each artist has been commissioned to "create a response to the ideas behind the Solar Pavilion and it's location in St Andrew Square". All the work will be available online.

Bridget says she plans to use the St Andrews Bay hut as: "a place through which to view the history, present, and future of South Georgia. It has so many interesting connections with events in the Islands history, and I feel it is a good starting point for exploring these.”

She will create an online 'hut diary' which will be live on the internet during August. She will add a page each day between August 4th and September 4th. At the end of the project she will print the diary and send a copy to be housed at the hut.

Bridget says she hopes to include contributions from people who are related to South Georgia to be shared online and become part of the hut diary. “Contributions could be documentation, collected research, photography, maps, written pieces, recipes, interviews etc. I imagine the final book to be a sort of hut sketch book, which will bring together many different aspects of the Islands history through diverse responses to the site.”

Contributions to the project can be made at any point up to September 4th.

You can find the St Andrews hut project at

South Georgia Snippets

There have been several sizeable earthquakes in the seismically active South Sandwich Island region: a Magnitude 4.9 on July 12th, 44 km NNE of Visokoi Island; a magnitude 5.9 on July 15th, 246 km SE of Bristol Island; a magnitude 5.2 on July 16th, 176 km S of Bristol Island; and a Magnitude 4.7 the same day 168 km SSW of Bristol Island.

Photo: Rob Webster.
Photo: Rob Webster.

It has turned convincingly wintry now, with prolonged cold periods reaching minus 10°C and significant snowfall. The snow makes checking for rat activity easy. Fresh soft snow on the Thatcher Peninsula tells the story of all the animal activity in an area for hours or even days. Careful examination of the small footprints show them to be those of ducks, sheathbills and terns. In contrast the snow shows a lot of rat activity on the unbaited Barff Peninsula.

Dr José Xavier has been awarded the 2011 Martha T. Muse Prize. Dr Xavier has conducted field research with BAS over many season on South Georgia. The prize, established in the International Polar Year 2007–2008, is for US$100,000 and is presented to an individual in the fields of Antarctic science or policy that has demonstrated potential for sustained and significant contributions that will enhance the understanding and/or preservation of Antarctica.

Dr Xavier is a marine ecologist at BAS and the Institute of Marine Research of the University of Coimbra in Portugal. Amongst much other work he has conducted outstanding research on the predator-prey dynamics that sustain populations of albatrosses, penguins, and other top predators in the Southern Ocean, and he recently published a comprehensive monograph on cephalopod beaks.

“It is AMAZING and a true honour to receive such a prestigious prize”, said Dr. Xavier. “Such a prize will strengthen and open new doors to international collaborations, agreeing with the true spirit of how Antarctic science is carried out today!”

Info: BAS

Explorer and broadcaster Duncan Carse made several expeditions and visits to South Georgia between the 1950s and 1980. His first three expeditions were to map the Island with small teams of men man-hauling equipment the length of the Island on sledges. His fourth expedition was very different indeed. It was to be an 18 month experiment in living alone in an extremely remote cove on the south coast of the Island at South Undine Harbour. He was landed there by a whaling vessel in 1961 with all his stores and equipment and materials to erect a hut to live in. He told the whalers not to return before the 18 months were up. Three months into the experiment, he and his hut were washed away by huge waves. Somehow he survived and had to salvage what he could to survive for months until a concerned whaling manger decided to ignore Carse's instructions and sent a vessel to check and see how he was faring. In 1976 Duncan Carse returned to make a documentary about the experience.

He told his remarkable story in the BBC documentary 'Survival in Limbo'. This forgotten programme can now be viewed in several smaller sections on You Tube.

A book telling of Duncan Carse's expedition to map South Georgia, 'Putting South Georgia on the Map', is available to order on line, you can order it at or for further information contact the author/publisher at

Bird Island and KEP took part in the 48hr Antarctic Film Festival on the last weekend in July. The competition is organised by the US McMurdo Antarctic base and is open to all the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic bases. To ensure no one spent weeks making their film, the participating bases are told five elements they have to incorporate into their film on the Friday evening. This year it was the character Popeye, the sound of a dripping tap, a saw, the line of dialogue “Which I imbibed rapaciously”, and a chocolate bar attached to a shirt!

We had great fun shooting our film at KEP making our version of a Popeye cartoon. The weather was kind; sunny and calm with a good layer of snow, but very cold, making actors and camerafolk suffer for their art with freezing hands and feet. Whilst Rob was shut away composing, performing, and recording the soundtrack to a film he had not seen yet, footage was shot at KEP and around the whaling station at Grytviken. Filming was finished by the end of Saturday so the two editors, Matt and Sam, could start splicing clips and adding effects. The resulting film had to be uploaded to You Tube by midnight on the Sunday.

We are rather proud of our efforts. The film is only five minutes long so wont take up too much of your time if you want to watch it.

Now we have a couple of weeks to download and judge all the other bases' films. The results will be collated and we will let you know how we did next month.

Director Ali films Tommy in action as Popeye.
Director Ali films Tommy in action as Popeye.

KEP's five minute film for the 48hr Antarctic Film Festival.

Three king penguin chicks continue to survive the winter at Penguin River. A very young female weddell seal is a fairly frequent visitor to KE Cove this winter, her favourite hauling out spot is half way along the track to Grytviken and she is very relaxed when skiers stop to see her on their way to and from the slopes. Other rare visitors this month have been a leopard seal and a chinstrap penguin.

The three remaining chicks at Penguin River.
The three remaining chicks at Penguin River.

Dates for your diary:

An art exhibition entitled ‘Artists for Albatrosses : 5 weeks on South Georgia’ will be held at the Air Gallery in London in October.

Work in the exhibition will be based on a field trip to the Island by the two internationally acclaimed wildlife artists, John Gale and Chris Rose. The artists sailed 1500 km in a 20m yacht, and experienced 10m waves and winds in excess of 80 knots, to sketch and paint albatrosses and other wildlife for the exhibition which will raise funds and awareness for the Save the Albatross Campaign.

The exhibition is being sponsored by Hurtigruten, which will enable the artists to donate 25% of all sales to the Save the Albatross campaign. Both artists are also donating a significant piece of work to be auctioned by the RSPB for albatross conservation as well as a number of limited edition print runs, to be sold exclusively through the RSPB with all proceeds going to the Save the Albatross campaign.

Artists for Albatrosses will be at the Air Gallery, 32 Dover Street, London, W1S 4NE between 3rd -15th October 2011. 10am to 6pm.

You can see some of the artists work at: or

On Thin Ice: An exhibition about the pioneers of polar exploration is being held at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, Cornwall UK until October 9th. The exhibition includes artefacts from the age of the great explorers including Shackleton's “Endurance expedition”. More information here.

There will be a talk entitled: 'Square Rig Sailing in the Southern Ocean' at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth Cornwall on Monday September 5th at 12:30pm.

Charter skipper and tall ship sailor Debbie Purser will talk about her incredible experiences sailing the Southern Ocean on board the Dutch Barque “Europa”.

In 2007 Debbie spent 52 days exploring the Antarctic Peninsula and re-traced Shackleton’s voyage from Elephant Island to South Georgia. She will show a selection of stunning photographs and share her first-hand experiences of visiting these remarkable locations.

More information here.

The South Georgia Industrial Heritage Conference: A two-day conference will be held by the South Georgia Heritage Trust from September 7-9th 2011 in Dundee, Scotland, in association with the South Georgia Association, The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage and with the support of GSGSSI and Institut Minos.

The conference will discuss the future management of South Georgia's industrial heritage. To register and to find out more about the conference programme and speakers, visit the SGHT website.

The Craft Of The Midwinter Presents

A short slide-show to give you an overview of some of the fabulous hand-crafted items made as midwinter presents at KEP. Photographs by Alastair Wilson

To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

  • © Copyright GSGSSI 2013.