South Georgia Newsletter, May 2009

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Photo Angy Jones
Photo Angy Jones

Seabed Claim

THE UK has submitted its claim for an extended continental shelf surrounding South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Falkland Islands.

The claims were made to the United Nations Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (UNCLCS), who will determine the final fixing of maritime boundaries worldwide, giving limits to national rights to everything from oil and gas to the marine floor.

The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea permits states to extend their control of the seabed up to 350 nautical miles offshore (from the previous 200 nautical mile limit), or 100 miles from where the sea reaches a depth of 2,500 metres. Once the limits have been set the boundaries will be final and binding, and it is now up to the United Nations to decide on the validity of claims world wide.

As Argentina has also made claims in the same area, a decision on the continental shelf surrounding South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is not expected any time soon as, in the case of a dispute, the Commission’s policy is to shelve the application until a diplomatic agreement is reached.

(Based on an article in the Penguin News.)

CEO Harriet Hall On Her Time Working For GSGSSI

Harriet Hall during a visit to South Georgia. Photo Pat Lurcock
Harriet Hall during a visit to South Georgia. Photo Pat Lurcock

After almost six years I have now left the South Georgia Government. Those of you who have been loyal readers of this newsletter will know how many changes there have been in that time. I do not wish to take the credit (or blame!) for any of these but would like to reflect on how much such a small team of people, with such small amounts of money, have been able to achieve.

The number of cruise ship visitors to South Georgia has increased dramatically but I think it is safe to say that the experience each visitor has today is still comparable to that which they would have had six years ago – if not better, with the increased access to Grytviken. Our quarantine measures are substantially stricter now and, provided visitors adhere to them, everyone can feel confident that they are doing their bit to preserve the fragile environment.

Over the past six years we have also tried to increase public knowledge of South Georgia among those who do not visit regularly. The Geographic Information System, the website, this newsletter, publication of our audited accounts and greater liaison with the South Georgia Association are all steps in this direction. Of course it is the fishery with which I have been most closely involved. The award of Marine Stewardship Council Certification recognised the hard work which goes into managing the fishery sustainably, but over the last six years our standards have risen constantly – a fact which I hope will be reflected in our re-certification report later this year.

As I said earlier, I take no personal credit or blame for any of the changes, but would like to record my gratitude to the team in GSGSSI and our colleagues at BAS, MRAG and in the fishing and tourist industries. I hope that Martin Collins will enjoy the job as much as I have done.

Harriet Hall

Interview With The New GSGSSI Senior Executive Officer

Martin Collins started work as Senior Executive Officer and Director of Fisheries for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands earlier this month. Martin, who already has an intimate knowledge of South Georgia and a background in science and fisheries, will be based in Stanley, Falkland Islands, but hopes to visit South Georgia about twice a year. Here he outlines the key issues and challenges facing the GSGSSI in the next few years.

"Probably the key issue facing the government in the next few years is the management of the toothfish fishery. The Marine Stewardship Council has certified the South Georgia toothfish fishery as sustainable and we hope to hear positive news of the recent re-assessment shortly. Toothfish licence fees are the main source of revenue for the Island and it is crucial that we maintain that income in the long-term by managing the fishery in a sustainable way. I will be working closely with our scientific advisors at MRAG and BAS and with industry to ensure the right research is undertaken to underpin the management of this resource. We will also continue to manage the icefish and krill fisheries in an ecologically sustainable way.

"Tourism is important to the Island. South Georgia is a fantastic place and we wouldn’t want to deprive people of the chance to visit the Island, but we also need to ensure that the impact tourism has on the Island is minimal. Last year was a bumper year for tourism, but in the current economic climate we may see a reduction in passenger numbers this season, but hopefully this will be a blip.

"There are number of other projects that the government is currently involved. HRH Princess Anne recently opened the Hydro scheme at Grytviken. This has been a major undertaking and will significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the Island. There have been some teething problems with the operation of the facility, but we anticipate that the system will be fully operation in the next month or two”.

The government are working with the South Georgia Heritage Trust on their Habitat Restoration Project, a key part of which is the plan to eradicate rats from South Georgia. The project is dependent on SGHT raising the necessary funds and will happen in a staged manner. Initially there will be trials in small isolated sections of South Georgia to see if the methodology works before we try to do a whole island rat eradication. There is no guarantee of success. Rat eradications have been tried on small islands, but doing them on the scale of South Georgia is quite ambitious. It will be a fantastic achievement if it is completed and will have huge environmental benefits, we have encouraged the Heritage Trust to take that project forward."

The full transcript for the interview can be read here.

Fishing And Shipping News

A large Toothfish. Photo Jon Ashburner
A large Toothfish. Photo Jon Ashburner

A further seven longliners arrived in Cumberland Bay throughout the month for inspection and licensing. The Toothfish fishing fleet in the South Georgia Fishing Zone is now at its full complement of eleven vessels for this season.

The final longliner operating in the South Sandwich islands area completed its Total Allowable Catch (TAC) and left the area on May 11th.

Two Icefish trawlers continued to fish in South Georgia waters during most of the month.

South Atlantic Invasive Species Meeting

The Invasive Species delegates on Ascension Island.
The Invasive Species delegates on Ascension Island.

South Georgia was well represented amongst the 24 delegates who gathered on Ascension Island in May to discuss South Atlantic Invasive Species.

The conference was organised to formulate a regional invasive species strategy for the South Atlantic, and was the first ever meeting of all the island representatives involved in the South Atlantic Invasive Species Programme (SAISP).

Environmental Officer Darren Christie represented the GSGSSI. Others at the meeting with special interests in South Georgia were Sally Poncet of South Georgia Surveys, Anton Wolfaardt the ACAP coordinator and Brian Summers of SAISP.

After the meeting Brian Summers said it had proved to be "a valuable forum for collaboration between the island communities which are trying to manage similar major weed and feral animal problems with scarce resources. One of the topics discussed was regional cooperation including the sharing of experience and expertise. The conference had been five days of intense discussion by the end of which a set of very concrete actions were formulated which should lead to a draft strategy in early June. With the current Invasive Species Programme coming to an end in December, having a Regional Strategy in place would greatly assist with possible ongoing funding opportunities", Brian said.

Based on an article in the Penguin News.

‘Antarctic Magistrate: A Life Through The Lens Of A Camera’

Book Review by Keith Holmes

I was initially drawn to this book by the chance to see some really wonderful black and white photographs of the early days of the whaling industry in South Georgia and on Deception Island, an attraction that is amply fulfilled. This book, however, is much more than that, because it chronicles the life of a Falkland Islander who spent most of his life as an administrator of that industry, initially in the service of the Government and later on behalf of its practitioners.

Edward Beveridge Binnie was born in Stanley in 1884 and later spent twenty years, most of them on South Georgia, as the leading administrator of the whaling industry. As Magistrate, he managed the permits, oversaw the Customs, ran the postal system, enforced laws, asserted sovereignty, and above all was man on the spot who sorted out the problems and kept things going on behalf of his distant boss, the Governor, in Port Stanley. It was a remarkable achievement.

Throughout this time Edward took the photographs which are the stars of the book. He had a good camera and a good eye, and the fact that he kept careful notes makes his collection, now in the hands of his grandson, Thomas Binnie, particularly valuable as an historic record.

Edward Binnie's life took an unexpected turn in 1923, when he took leave in Norway. There, he met and married Margrethe Larsen. The couple set up home, first in Port Stanley and then at King Edward Point on South Georgia, but his wife was clearly homesick and Binnie took the difficult decision, in 1927, to forsake his family in the Falklands and make his future in Norway. Thereafter he found intermittent work as Secretary on board whaling ships, and in the industry generally, but his difficult life as a foreigner was particularly harsh during the war years, most of which he spent separated from his Norwegian wife and children. He returned home to Sandefjord in 1946, visibly aged, settled into domestic life, and soon retired. He died suddenly in 1956, aged 71.

A joy of this book is that every open page has an illustration of some kind. Author Ian Hart has tracked down other sources to illustrate the early part of Binnie’s life and has added a family tree and maps, good references, and endnotes to his robust text. Ian is strong on ships and good on philately, having liaised closely with Stefan Heijtz. His sub-title is carefully correct; this is not a biography – the diaries and letters perhaps don’t reveal much about the man himself.

For the reasonable price of £25, this book is very good value and should appeal strongly to a wide cross section of people, particularly historians, whalers, philatelists and visitors interested in the twentieth century history of the Falklands, South Shetlands and South Georgia.

For the full version of this book review click here.

For full details and how to order, click here to view and print the flyer.

New Stamp Issue: Fly Navy: Centenary Of Naval Aviation

A new four-stamp issue and accompanying First Day Cover were released on May 27th to celebrate the centenary of Naval Aviation.

On May 7th 1909, the Admiralty placed the first specific order for an aircraft for military operations, an act that would ultimately lead to the Royal Navy setting many of the standards and practices that are used to this day. The decision also led to the formation of the Royal Air Force with the amalgamation of the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps on April 1st 1918. The commemorative stamp issue depicts the aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm that have flown in peace and conflict over South Georgia since the first aircraft took to the skies over the island in 1938.

27p - Supermarine Walrus: A Supermarine Walrus from "HMS Exeter" was the first aircraft to fly over South Georgia, carrying out a full photographic aerial survey in 1938. The Walrus was a single-engine amphibious reconnaissance aircraft designed by RJ Mitchell, the same man who designed the Supermarine Spitfire. It first flew in 1933 and entered service in 1936. Its fuselage was strengthened so that it could be launched from ship-borne catapults, and when required, it could carry two machine guns and bombs or depth charges below its lower wings. The Walrus remained in service with the Fleet Air Arm, and later with the RAF, carrying out reconnaissance, anti-submarine and air sea rescue duties until after the Second World War.

65p - Westland Wasp: The Wasp was the first helicopter in the world to be specifically designed to operate from frigate sized warships, and the Wasp from "HMS Plymouth", working with the aircraft from "HMS Brilliant", "HMS Antrim" and "HMS Endurance", was key in the recapturing of South Georgia on April 25th 1982. Their tasks included the landing of a section of Royal Marines to harry the enemy and an air attack on the submarine "Santa Fe", ultimately leading to her loss and the Argentine surrender. Prior to 1987, a distinctive red-nosed Wasp helicopter was an annual sight in the skies over the Antarctic and South Georgia when they were embarked in "HMS Endurance".

90p - Westland Whirlwind: The first naval helicopter to fly over South Georgia was a Whirlwind from the Antarctic Patrol Ship "HMS Protector" in 1955. The ship carried two Whirlwinds and they were specially put aside from the Fleet Air Arm’s main inventory of aircraft for work in the Antarctic. The aircraft carried out a range of survey and support duties and on several occasions were involved in the rescue of explorers and scientists who had been stranded in the icefields.

£1.10p - Westland Merlin: In 2002, "HMS Lancaster" was designated as the operational flight trials ship for the Merlin and as such became the first frigate to deploy operationally with one. During this deployment the ship visited many countries and experienced many climates from tropical heat to the frozen Antarctic. The Merlin was found to be extremely reliable in all conditions and as part of the Antarctic trials "HMS Lancaster’s" Merlin became the first of its type to fly over South Georgia.

The First Day Cover depicts a Westland Lynx with the distinctive 'red nose' sported by helicopters embarked on the Ice Patrol Ship "HMS Endurance". These helicopters first operated from the current ship’s predecessor (also named "Endurance") in 1987 and have been frequent visitors to the area ever since.

The stamps and cover were designed by Ross Watton. Stamps are in sheetlets of 10 which feature the Fly Navy logo and South Georgia Coat of Arms.

Two other British Overseas Territories, Ascension Island and the Falkland Islands, also released stamps for the occasion. The 'Fly Navy Heritage Trust' hosted a launch of all three sets of stamps at "HMS President" in London, on May 7th. This launch was combined with another: a brand new beer from Wadworth Brewery called ‘Swordfish’, again marking the Centenary of Naval Aviation. A number of veterans and air crew whose aircraft are depicted on the various stamps were in attendance, as well as families of the four Victoria Cross winners depicted in stamps from Ascension Island, and naval aviators from several generations.

Left to right: Lieutenant Mansfield Spong Royal Navy - Flight Commander from "HMS Protector" in her first commission to the ice in 1955. It was Lieutenant Spong who piloted the first Helicopter to fly over South Georgia; Admiral Sir Desmond Cassidi GCB - Executive Officer of "HMS Protector" in her first commission to the ice in 1955 who also flew 911 from "HMS Protector"; Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB - Chairman of the 'Fly Navy Heritage Trust'.
Left to right: Lieutenant Mansfield Spong Royal Navy - Flight Commander from "HMS Protector" in her first commission to the ice in 1955. It was Lieutenant Spong who piloted the first Helicopter to fly over South Georgia; Admiral Sir Desmond Cassidi GCB - Executive Officer of "HMS Protector" in her first commission to the ice in 1955 who also flew 911 from "HMS Protector"; Rear Admiral Terry Loughran CB - Chairman of the 'Fly Navy Heritage Trust'.

SG Publications Website Updated

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands publications database website has been extended by the Centre for Remote Environments with help and research by Professor David Walton. The site can now be used to search a bibliographic database of approximately 1500 publications ranging from 1988 to 2008.

The site is located at

Bird Island News

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

May started off with an event that becomes a regular ritual throughout the winter months: the monthly all-island Wanderer Census. This means a long, yet agreeable, day out for all the five winterers on base. All the Wandering Albatross chicks on the island are checked. We had a good number of chicks this year with just under 700, the population is up ever so slightly on last season's count.

Icy pool on Wanderer Ridge.
Icy pool on Wanderer Ridge.

As the island slowly settles into winter, many of our summer residents leave after the breeding season. May sees the last of the Black-browed Albatross chicks fledge from the colonies, leaving an eerie silence behind. The Grey-headed Albatross chicks are a few weeks behind the Black-brows as usual; these birds breed only once every two years compared to the annually breeding Black-brows. These colonies too will soon be piercingly silent, empty by early June, awaiting the return of the mollys again in September. On the meadows, Stacey’s Giant Petrel chicks were also rapidly disappearing as all the Northern Geep chicks (as they are known on the island) had left last month. After a few days of furious flapping and practise runs across the short grass on the meadows, the chicks leave the island until hopefully returning in a few years to breed themselves. As I write this there are only a handful left, looking a little lonely but fit, well and keen to fly.

Southern Giant Petrel chick trying out the conditions on Prion Pond.
Southern Giant Petrel chick trying out the conditions on Prion Pond.

Our last species of albatross on the island, the Light-mantled Sooty Albatrosses, received their final survey visit of the season in the middle of the month. A final check was made to see which nests were going to fledge a chick successfully and to put rings on the chicks in any accessible sites so that we can identify them when they return to breed as adults.

Our new winter resident José Xavier began his studies on the Gentoo Penguins on Landing Beach and the Wandering Albatrosses on Top Meadows. He deployed dummy tracking devices on the Gentoos to see if they would return to the same beach after foraging trips. Unfortunately it seems they are not site-faithful during winter. The work on the Wanderers started off more successfully; tiny GPS trackers were put on a number of birds to ascertain where they feed and what they are feeding on. The results should be interesting as very little work has been done on the species at this time of year.

Some of our other winter visitors are making more appearances. The young Elephant Seals are appearing around the coasts, finding cosy hollows in washed-up kelp to tuck into, made cosier by the addition of their own excreta! Not a nice place to be unless you are an ellie weaner! We have only seen a few of our other winter marine mammal visitor, the Leopard Seal. These intimidating but impressive predators spend the winter around our shores, feeding on penguins, Fur Seal and ellie pups and even the odd Pintail Duck.

An icicle on tussac grass.
An icicle on tussac grass.

As winter starts to take hold, a few days of south-westerly gales attracted a number of Cape Petrels and Antarctic Terns into Jordon Cove, presumably feeding on small crustaceans.

A stormy Bird Sound.
A stormy Bird Sound.

Bird Island May 2009.

South Georgia Snippets

A "James Caird" replica is being worked on at the Beale Park Boat Show in the UK in early June. It is being built by students of the International Boatbuilding Training College (IBTC) at Lowestoft. The boat, a replica of the lifeboat sailed by Ernest Shackleton and his men from Elephant Island to South Georgia, has been commissioned by Shackleton's granddaughter, The Honourable Alexandra Shackleton. The new "James Caird" is to be used on an expedition to re-create the voyage and crossing of the Island led by environmentalist and explorer Tim Jarvis. (Info from article by Gavin Atkin

The latest "James Caird" replica is being built by students at IBTC. Photo Intheboatshed.
The latest "James Caird" replica is being built by students at IBTC. Photo Intheboatshed.

Winter bit more deeply this month with proper winter gales, the sun leaving King Edward Point (KEP) and one southerly storm causing huge waves to crash over the jetty and on to the beaches. The waves reached within about 5m of the main accommodation building in places. Large lumps of ice were left behind by the waves, presenting us with some beautiful ice sculptures.

Photo Angy Jones
Photo Angy Jones

Bad weather delayed the second attempt to do the Wandering Albatross census on Prion Island in the Bay of Isles. Last time the census team had four attempts to land on the island but had to give up. On May 7th a three-person party were embarked on the Fishery Patrol Vessel, successfully landed at Prion Island, and despite a couple of snow squalls, completed the census and were back at KEP later the same day.

Photos Jon Ashburner
Photos Jon Ashburner

Colder temperatures also mean the water in the Cove is freezing up regularly. The slush on the water can cause problems with the intakes on the jet boats so the homemade, but effective, anti-slush device devised last winter has been been fixed to one of them.

Everyone has attended avalanche-awareness training, and indeed the track to Grytviken has been closed due to avalanche danger several times.

But the deep snow is appreciated by the residents, several are learning to ski for the first time, and are learning the limit of their capabilities the hard (and at times painful) way! A good nursery slope has been identified behind Gull Lake. The more adventurous (and skilled) made it to the top of the local peak '2320'.

If you are skiing in South Georgia you really need skins because you have to climb that hill before you can ski down it. Photos Angy Jones.
If you are skiing in South Georgia you really need skins because you have to climb that hill before you can ski down it. Photos Angy Jones.

Jon had an opportunity to brush up on his whale spotting skills whilst he was out at sea for a few weeks. At least it made up for some of the bad weather that he also experienced - with 15m seas and 80-knot winds. He saw up to a dozen Sperm Whales at one time, Killer Whales and even a Southern Right Whale which cruised by.

Sperm Whale
Sperm Whale
Southern Right Whale. Photos Jon Ashburner
Southern Right Whale. Photos Jon Ashburner

The social highlight of the month was when the BAS personnel celebrated their 6-month anniversary of arrival at KEP with a nautical-themed fancy dress party in the boat shed on Friday 15th. There were two mermaids, a huge wave, a lighthouse and a catfish to name just some of the great costumes. Now we are all preparing for the midwinter celebrations next month, everyone in their own private area creating who knows what for midwinter presents.

Tom as a huge wave! Photo Angy Jones
Tom as a huge wave! Photo Angy Jones

There is just one big fat King Penguin chick left at Penguin River's nascent colony. A recent visit showed he had just Elephant Seals and a Sea Gull for company but he was very active, walking round the corner to the river, splashing through the water and then up on to the ice!

The lonely King chick at Penguin River. Photo Emma Jones
The lonely King chick at Penguin River. Photo Emma Jones

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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