South Georgia Newsletter, June 2011

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

SG Sets Good Example To Damaging Longline Fisheries

More than 333,000 seabirds a year are still being killed as a result of global longline fishing according to a study by the RSPB and BirdLife International. The study, published on June 8th in the journal 'Endangered Species Research', is the first to estimate the global effect of longlining as opposed to looking at individual fisheries. It shows that despite successes in some fisheries reducing bird bycatch, much more still needs to be done to ensure ecologically responsible fishing globally.

Scientists have linked declines of albatrosses and other seabirds with ‘incidental catch’ in longline fisheries since the 1980s. The birds are caught on hooks attached to the longlines and dragged underwater. A lack of data and awareness of some fisheries and their bycatch problems meant much of the bird mortality now highlighted was previously unknown. For instance a Spanish longline fleet on the Gran Sol grounds off SW Ireland may be responsible for annually killing upwards of 50,000 birds, mostly shearwaters and fulmars, and a Japanese tuna fleet is estimated to be killing over 20,000 seabirds (mainly albatrosses) each year. Policy officer for the Global Seabird Programme and lead author of the new study, Dr Orea Anderson, said: “It is little wonder that so many of the affected seabird species are threatened with extinction - their slow rate of reproduction is simply incapable of compensating for losses on the scale this study has demonstrated.”

The RSPB highlights that great strides can be made to reduce bird bycatch by using mitigating measures and it holds up the South Georgia longline fishery as a good example of how enforcement of strict regulations has resulted in substantial bycatch reductions (99%) in recent years. South Africa and Brazil have also achieved significant bycatch reductions by introducing mitigation measures.

RSPB and BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Programme are now calling on all fisheries management organisations and the fishing industry to protect seabirds through the use of simple, cost-effective mitigation measures that have been proven to reduce the threat of bycatch. Dr. Cleo Small, Senior Policy Officer for the Global Seabird Programme and co-author of the study, commented: “Using simple bird-scaring lines and weighting of hooks as they enter the water could dramatically reduce the number of seabirds being killed.”

Anton Wolfaardt is the ACAP (Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels) coordinator for the UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories. Commenting on the study in the Falkland Islands newspaper 'Penguin News' he says that in both South Georgia and the Falkland Islands longline fisheries the reduction in seabird bycatch has been achieved through the introduction of mandatory mitigation measures and the effective implementation by vessels of these measures, supported by observer programmes to monitor the efficacy of measures and bycatch rates. Unfortunately, he says, the study reports that there remain many longline fisheries which have very high levels of seabird bycatch mortality and others with insufficient data to properly assess seabird bycatch. Some of these fisheries are known to impact seabirds breeding on the UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and Tristan da Cunha, which collectively support a third of the world’s breeding albatrosses. He also writes that it is important for efforts to continue in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia to minimise seabird mortality in longline fisheries, as well as in trawl fisheries, and that the assessment of seabird bycatch in other relevant fisheries is improved, and effective mitigation measures introduced and implemented to reduce levels of bycatch. He points out that the study does not consider bycatch of seabirds in trawl and gill-net fisheries, which are now recognised as contributing significantly to the global bycatch total in certain regions. Commenting on the report, Dr Martin Collins of GSGSSI indicated that the success of the South Georgia and the Falklands longline fisheries in virtually eliminating seabird bycatch demonstrates what can be achieved with careful mitigation measures. He said: “There is now an urgent need for similar mitigation measures to be introduced to fisheries in other areas to halt the alarming declines in many populations of albatrosses and petrels.”

Royal Wedding Stamp Issue Announced

A set of three stamps, a beautiful souvenir sheetlet and two first day covers will be released by South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands on July 25th to mark the recent Royal Wedding.

The wedding of Prince William, oldest son of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, and his long time girl friend Miss Catherine (Kate) Middleton was held at Westminster Abbey on April 29th 2011 and was watched by an estimated audience of 2 billion people worldwide.

The 70p stamp shows William and Kate laughing and smiling together as they watch the England versus Italy rugby union match at Twickenham, UK, on February 10th 2007.

The 95p stamp shows the couple in the State Rooms of St James's Palace just after the announcement of their engagement. The engagement had taken place in Kenya and was announced on November 16th 2010.

The £1.15 stamp is a beautiful portrait of Catherine Middleton as she joins Prince William for the wedding ceremony. Her veil, made of layers of soft ivory silk tulle, is held in place by a Cartier 'halo' tiara, belonging to The Queen, which was made in 1936.

The souvenir sheet with a £2 stamp shows an official Royal Wedding portrait of the bride and groom in the throne room at Buckingham Palace. The background of the souvenir sheet shows Westminster Abbey during the wedding ceremony itself.

The First Day Cover features the outside of the Abbey and two versions will be available: one with the souvenir sheetlet and one with the three stamps.

South Georgia stamps can be bought from

Resounding Support From SG Visitors For The HR Project

The first brood of South Georgia Pintail ducklings seen in the area after the first phase of baiting was completed. Photo SGHT
The first brood of South Georgia Pintail ducklings seen in the area after the first phase of baiting was completed. Photo SGHT

A fantastic £60,000+ of funding was raised for the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project on South Georgia in the 2010-11 season, thanks to the many visitors who sponsored a hectare. The money helped to clear rodents from over six hundred hectares of the Island in March 2011. Phase 1 of this five year project is already the largest rodent eradication project attempted in the world.

Every hectare cleared saves seabird chicks from the grisly fate of becoming dinner for the invasive rats and increases the numbers of birds like prions and petrels, for whom South Georgia is the most important breeding site worldwide.

SGHT's Communications Manager Ruth Fraser spoke to many of those who visited South Georgia and the SGHT would like to thank Ruth for all of her hard work this season and to congratulate her on helping to raise this thrilling total. They would also like to thank every cruise ship that welcomed the SGHT staff on-board to give a talk about this globally significant project.

Project Director, Professor Tony Martin, said: “It is sobering to think that our challenge has already been this substantial, yet we still have 88% of the island to tackle!”

South Georgia can be divided into distinct baiting zones, separated from each other by glaciers – a natural barrier that stops rats spreading from one zone to the other. As the glaciers continue to recede, so does the risk that some of these areas will become so large that they can not be cleared – adding urgency to the whole project. The green areas on this map below show the zones successfully baited in Phase 1; the remaining zones to be cleared are indicated in red with the estimated cost to clear it indicated for each zone.

The SGHT invite everyone to continue their generous support of the project by sponsoring a hectare and say “Together we can save many more of South Georgia's birds.”


Race To The Pole Coin Released

The centenary of the legendary ‘Race to the South Pole’ between Britain’s Robert Falcon Scott and Norway’s Roald Amundsen is marked by a new SGSSI coin just released by Pobjoy Mint.

The British “Terra Nova” Expedition was led by Scott with the objective of being the first to reach the geographical South Pole. However when he arrived it was only to discover that the Norwegian team led by Amundsen had arrived there 33 days earlier.

Amongst the members of Scott's team who set out in 1910 was successful travel photographer Herbert Ponting, the first official photographer to participate in a polar expedition. Ponting photographed as much as possible during his time on the expedition, recording the first icebergs they encountered, scenes from on board the ship featuring many of the crew, pictures of the landscape and of the wildlife which included seals, gulls and penguins. As the expedition was not eligible for total government funding, they relied on commercial sponsors to equip them with supplies, so Ponting also took pictures of members of the crew eating food such as Heinz Baked Beans to be sent back to the sponsors. When Ponting presented expedition photographs to King George V, he was particularly impressed by the image of the ‘ice grotto’ which is now one of Ponting’s most iconic images. The design on the new coin is an interpretation of this scene, shown as if looking out from an Antarctic ice grotto, with two explorers on the ice outside and the ship “Terra Nova” in the background.

The new coin, dated 2010, is available in Cupro Nickel and Proof Sterling Silver. The obverse of the coin carries an effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS.

The Race to the Pole coin can be bought direct from Pobjoy Mint here.

Fishing and Shipping News

Five longline vessels continue to fish in the SGMZ for toothfish. Some vessels sailed to Stanley, Falkland Islands, to make a mid-season transhipment and to have their catch verified before resuming fishing.

One longliner was required to call into Cumberland Bay for re-inspection after a boarding at sea by a Fishery Officer from the Fishery Patrol Ship revealed issues with rigging of the pilot ladder. The modified pilot ladder passed inspection and the vessel was cleared to resume fishing.

Mid-season allocations of quota were offered by the Director of Fisheries to all five longliners following the early departure from the fishery of a sixth licensed vessel.

Two trawlers were inspected and licensed to fish for krill in June. Early catches were good. A reefer vessel made two visits to Cumberland Bay to receive transhipments from a krill trawler and to give bunkers to a longliner.

A krill trawler in Cumberland Bay for inspection and licensing. Photo Sam Crimmin.
A krill trawler in Cumberland Bay for inspection and licensing. Photo Sam Crimmin.

A krill trawler transshipping to a reefer. Photo Robert Paterson.
A krill trawler transshipping to a reefer. Photo Robert Paterson.

South Georgia Heritage Trust Seeks A South Georgia Director

The South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) is now accepting applications for the new position of SGHT Director, South Georgia. The successful applicant will work on South Georgia full-time from October to March and will work part-time from home from April to September. The appointment for this role will be made prior to the 2011-12 season which begins in October 2011.

Visit the SGHT website to download the job description which includes details of how to apply.

Baiting Complete At Macquarie Island

We have been following the progress of of the pest eradication attempt on the sub-Antarctic island of Macquarie. Now the main baiting is complete. On June 30th the news was welcomed by the Australian Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage, Brian Wightman, who said the project to eradicate the large numbers of rabbits, ship rats and house mice from the 12,800 hectare island was the largest yet attempted in the world for three pest species.

Two whole-island helicopter bait drops were needed for this eradication attempt and this was all but complete by June 19th, but when pilot Bryan Patterson was on the very last load the cloud descended and put a halt to the baiting for the day, leaving the team just a tiny 6 hectares short of completing the second drop. The team then enjoyed a short break to celebrate midwinter before making the final flight. Completion of the baiting is a huge relief after a first attempt, a year ago, had to be abandoned when prolonged bad weather prevented sufficient helicopter flying time.

“It is great news that this milestone has been reached,” Mr Wightman said. “The baiting phase of the project was crucial to eradicating rabbits and rodents from Macquarie Island to protect the island’s unique flora and fauna and irreplaceable World Heritage values.” Three rabbits have been sighted since the completion of the second bait drop, the original population was estimated to have been more than 100,000. The eradication team members will now disperse around the island to search for any more surviving rabbits. No sign of rats has been detected since completion of the first bait drop in May.

Baiting still needs to be completed in a few small areas such as offshore rock-stacks. The team has been dismantling equipment and clearing the remote depot sites and erecting hunters' huts (converted water tanks) to provide field bases for the hunting team.

The baiting team will return to Hobart, Tasmania in late July, but hunters and twelve trained hunting dogs and their handlers will begin the next phase of the operation to hunt down any surviving rabbits. This final clearance is expected to take up to five years.

You can follow the eradication team's blog here

Trawling Through History

The new model of "Viola"....
The new model of "Viola"....

A meticulously built model of the old trawler “Viola” (later, sealer “Dias”) was officially launched on June 19th. Model maker and Hull man Alan Richardson became interested in “Viola” after seeing the derelict remains of “Dias” in South Georgia when he paid several visits to the Island during his career in the Royal Fleet Auxillary.

Now 73 years old, the retired Radio Officer remembers his last visit to South Georgia in about 1985. He said: “Living near Hull, I was very interested in the condition of the “Viola/Dias” so, being interested in making model ships, I decided to build the “Viola”. As there were no plans available I had to build the model from a general drawing and pictures of other similar trawlers built in 1906.”

There has been a campaign to see “Dias” return to Hull as the last remaining example of a Hull steam trawler. Alan hopes that if that is not possible his model will fill a gap saying that: “...If “Dias” does fall to pieces and does not return to Hull there will be something to look at apart from photographs.”

The original “Viola”, built in 1906, started out as a coal fired steam trawler working out of Hull. She was requisitioned by the admiralty in 1914 to patrol waters off the northern end of Britain for U-boats during the war, then for mine-sweeping duties. After the war she started a new career as a whaler in the North Sea and later off Africa. She was renamed “Dias” in 1924 before being sold to Compañía Argentina de Pesca and moved to South Georgia to be used as a sealing vessel. In 1956 she was converted to use oil. When Grytviken whaling station closed in 1964 she was laid up alongside “Albatros” where she later sank at her moorings. In 2004 both vessels were re-floated and cleaned of remaining oil and other harmful substances before being beached ahead of their old mooring and close to the South Georgia Museum. The two vessels form an iconic tableau and, along with other remains of the whaling station, help inform the many visitors to the Island of an impressive example of man's industry in a very harsh environment.

The model “Viola” was launched on a pond and photographs show her sailing well. Alan made the model from all sorts of scrap material (including his wife's old beads to make the bobbins for the trawl) and has included meticulous detail of how he thinks the original ship looked. Much of this is hidden below the decks but can be seen in photographs posted on the Hull Model Boat Groups website. Recreated detail includes the trawl gear, lifeboat, anchor and windlass, fishroom with catch, steam engine and coal bunkers and a crews' cabin complete with table and bunks that look ready to be slept in.

South Georgia historian Robert Burton has been looking at the photographs of details of the model and comparing them to the latter-day "Dias". He said: "I have found it interesting to compare the superstructure etc of "Dias" first as a trawler and then as a sealer. They are very different and show the vessel went through a complete rebuild during her career. I wonder where and when this was done. I love the model's detail, right down to a tiny ship's bell hanging on the deck. There are even model fish in the hold."

The real “Viola” bell, on loan from the Hull Maritime Museum, has recently formed part of a special exhibition on “Viola/Dias” at the South Georgia Museum.

Photographs of the model are by Alan and you can see many more photos of the details of the model here.

The model of “Viola”...launched.
The model of “Viola”...launched.

...and “Dias” as she looks now.
...and “Dias” as she looks now.

South Georgia Snippets

“HMS Protector “ the Royal Navy’s new ice patrol ship, was formally commissioned into the fleet on June 23rd. Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, who was principal guest at the ceremony, said: “The commissioning of “HMS Protector” reaffirms our commitment to maintaining the Ice Patrol capability which demonstrates the UK’s commitment to helping preserve the Antarctic as a natural reserve. She will carry out important work supporting the hydrographic and oceanographic work conducted in the region, which complements the international effort to continue to assess the impact of climate change.”

Commanding Officer, Captain Peter Sparkes, said: "This is a landmark and very proud day for the ship's company of “HMS Protector” and the Royal Navy. We have much to achieve in the coming months, but we will be ready in every respect to resume the UK's sovereign presence in the British Antarctic and South Atlantic Territory during the 2011/12 austral summer."


The SGHT published the latest edition of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Newsletter on June 6th. One article by Ines Possemeyer, Science Editor of GEO magazine, entitled “Capturing Phase 1 for Posterity.”, is about the filming GEO conducted throughout Phase 1. Another article by Ewan Edwards, a British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Field Assistant who recently returned from Bird Island, is about the many bird species thriving on the rat-free sanctuary at Bird Island and how the island will soon to be a population reservoir.

You can download the newsletter Newsletter June 2011.pdf here [pdf, 1.4mb] .

Two earthquakes exceeding 5 on the Richter scale were recorded in the South Sandwich Islands region in June. A 5.5 magnitude earthquake struck on June 19th around 750km south east of South Georgia. A 5.2 quake occurred on June 24th 345km east of South Georgia.

Four ex-Marines who took part in the hoisting of the Union Jack and removing the flag of Argentina at South Georgia during the 1982 War will row across the Atlantic in aid of a Prostate Cancer Charity. The group will launch from Antigua on the 5000km journey and are expecting to take six to eight weeks rowing 24 hours a day to make the crossing.

A recent arrival at King Edward Point (KEP), teacher Maureen Neary, is sending regular updates to her pupils about her time in South Georgia. Maureen has joined her parter, Government Officer Robert Paterson, on the Island for a few months. She is sending photos and describing life in the sub-Antarctic to her pupils at Victoria School in Northfield, Birmingham, UK. Maureen says the students, who are multiply disabled children and young people, have had their imaginations caught mainly by her descriptions of swimming in the sea on Midwinter’s Day and the fact that it is winter here and summer there. They are also impressed by the fangs on the fur seals. Maureen is also sending information to friends teaching in other primary schools.

Maureen's pupils think everyone on South Georgia must be mad to go swimming in midwinter. Photos Matt Holmes.
Maureen's pupils think everyone on South Georgia must be mad to go swimming in midwinter. Photos Matt Holmes.

Despite it being past midwinter now there is still no snow to speak of. The rain and positive temperatures have made it difficult for any snow falling to settle and accumulate, so there hasn't been much skiing so far this winter, and any early attempts have proved destructive for skis and snowboards.

Recent camping expeditions have enjoyed snowy conditions, but there has not been enough snow for skiing yet. Photo Ashley Perrin.
Recent camping expeditions have enjoyed snowy conditions, but there has not been enough snow for skiing yet. Photo Ashley Perrin.

Dates for your diary:

The South Georgia Industrial Heritage Conference: A two-day conference will be held by the SGHT 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.

On Thin Ice: The exhibition about the pioneers of polar exploration is being held at the National Maritime Museum, Falmouth, Cornwall UK. Developed in partnership with SPRI, this six month exhibition takes visitors sub-zero as they journey around three dedicated galleries called North, South and Base Camp giving a chilling insight into Britain’s polar heritage. The exhibition includes artefacts from the age of the great explorers such as Shackleton's vest, Leonard Hussey’s banjo, fragments from the lifeboat “James Caird” and binoculars, snow boots and goggles from the “Endurance” expedition. There is also a historic collection of artefacts from Scott's tragic “Terra Nova” expedition including Scott’s snow goggles, a compass, pony snow shoes, man-hauling harness, journal wallet and letters. These are contrasted with the equipment of more modern explorers such as Wally Herbert, Sir Ranulph Fiennes and local man Pen Hadow.

On Thin Ice: Pioneers of Polar Exploration runs until October 9th 2011.

Midwinters Celebrations

The midwinter feast.
The midwinter feast.

June is a much anticipated month in lands south of the Antarctic Convergence as the years shortest day, June 21st, otherwise known as midwinters day, is the biggest celebration of the year.

KEP: At KEP the day started with Base Commander Rob cooking breakfast for everyone, including very professional looking and yummy croissants.

The months of preparation that had gone into crafting presents came to fruition next as each person presented what they had made to the person they had drawn from the proverbial hat in February. Was the standard of crafts better than ever this year? It must be a close run thing. There was even a hand-crafted ukulele - though there is some trepidation on base about what torment may be in store whilst lucky recipient Tommy learns to play it. We will feature the crafts in more detail in next month's newsletter, but here is a first glimpse.

This years fantastic midwinter hand-crafted presents.
This years fantastic midwinter hand-crafted presents.

Next everyone braced themselves for the traditional midwinter's swim and sauna. It was a good turn out, almost everyone was there on the freezing beach in just normal swimming togs for the dash into the sea followed quickly by an equally fast dash to the nearby sauna to warm up again. There was just enough snow about for the truly barmy to go for a snow roll between sauna bouts!

Everyone then dressed up ready for the superb midwinter feast, a community cooking effort, in the afternoon. Was it the table or the stomachs groaning under the weight of all the good things to eat? The meal finished in time for everyone to crowd into the communications room to listen to the special midwinter World Service Broadcast for all the BAS bases. Messages came in from family and friends, the music tracks chosen by the base members were played (if only a bar or two) and once again the BBC had got great celebrities involved - this year there were no less than three celebs: former pop star turned scientist and presenter Dr Brian Cox; comedian and marathon marathon man Eddie Izzard, and the veteran comic, traveller and presenter Michael Palin.

All in all it was a cracking day and celebrations stretched late into the evening.

Plans for other midwinter's week events had to be put on hold to accommodate work and shipping movements, but darts matches against the other bases, crazy golf, the bar crawl and winter olympics (well there is no snow anyway!) can be fitted in during the days ahead when it quietens down a bit.

Bird Island: The four winter residents of Bird Island took a special midwinter photo to send to all the other Antarctic winter bases. Photos come back from bases of many nationalities.

The Bird Islanders' midwinter photo was taken on Johnson Cove with returning gentoo penguins. Photo Mick
The Bird Islanders' midwinter photo was taken on Johnson Cove with returning gentoo penguins. Photo Mick

To give Prince House that special holiday feel it was decorated with all the Christmas trimmings and Bing Crosby could be heard warbling through the corridors. In an effort to get the batteries fully charged for the day’s offerings, Ruth, Jen & Paul hit the icy waters of Freshwater Bay for the Midwinter dip. Mindful of his own looming mortality, Mick bravely volunteered to take the photos of the split-second splashfest. To encourage the blood back to their extremities, the hypothermic threesome hit the hot tub.

Ruth, Paul & Jenn warm up after the Midwinter dip. Photo Mick
Ruth, Paul & Jenn warm up after the Midwinter dip. Photo Mick

Next they donned the BI midwinter uniform of ginger wigs and tartan frocks and readied themselves for the high-octane pressure of the Bird Island Games: crossbow challenge; wellie-flinging; caber-toss and bucket-basketball. Ruth was the victor.

Ruth points out the winning shot, much to Mick’s chagrin. Photo Ruth
Ruth points out the winning shot, much to Mick’s chagrin. Photo Ruth

All that outdoor activity primed appetites for the feast ahead - deep-fried brie with cranberry sauce, beef wellington and victoria sponge with home-made lemon curd.

Jenn, Paul, Ruth & Mick make a midwinter toast. Photo: Ruth
Jenn, Paul, Ruth & Mick make a midwinter toast. Photo: Ruth

After the midwinter broadcast we rounded-off the day’s festivities with the exchange of midwinter presents. These gifts are the result of many hours slaving away in the workshop (or, if you’re Mick, something he found on the beach two weeks before!). Paul fashioned a felt-lined wooden box housing a complete set of handmade poker chips for Ruth. Jenn made Paul a corkscrew and bottle opener set with handles honed from the finest ebony. Ruth designed and assembled a wine rack for Mick, constructed from authentic Bird Island memorabilia. Mick gave Jenn a metal headline buoy that he found while looking for Leopard Seals. Happy Days!

Paul made this fantastic felt-lined wooden box & handmade poker chips. Photo: Ruth
Paul made this fantastic felt-lined wooden box & handmade poker chips. Photo: Ruth

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