South Georgia Newsletter, October 2012

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

SGSSI Flag Flies In Parliament Square

The SGSSI flag flies in front of Big Ben. Photo Penguin News.
The SGSSI flag flies in front of Big Ben. Photo Penguin News.

In a move designed to bring representation of the British Overseas Territories (OT) and Crown Dependencies in line with Commonwealth Nations, the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands flag was flown in Parliament Square, London, during the recent state visit of the President of Indonesia. In all 16 OT flags were flown, plus those of the Crown Dependencies, making a colourful and patriotic display against the backdrop of Big Ben. The flags will remain on display throughout the visit of the Indonesian President, Dr Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, until November 2nd.

The FCO Minister for the Overseas Territories, Mark Simmonds MP, welcomed the new move and said, ”I am really pleased to see the flags of the Overseas Territories being flown in London on a state occasion….Flying these flags is a sign to the people in the Territories, and those in the UK, of our renewed commitment to the Territories, which was outlined recently in our White Paper.” He said, “I hope that this will help raise the profile of the Overseas Territories in the UK and around the world.”

With regular state visits and state occasions occurring, the sight of the SGSSI flag flying in London should now become commonplace.

GSGSSI Staff Attend CCAMLR Meetings In Hobart

Judith Brown and Martin Collins attended the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) in Hobart in October. The CCAMLR meetings set quotas and management regulations for fisheries throughout the Southern Ocean, including the SGSSI MZ. GSGSSI manages fisheries within the CCAMLR rules, but can set stricter regulations and lower quotas than CCAMLR. Jude attended the Working Group on Fish Stock Assessment (FSA), whilst Martin joined the end of the FSA meeting and attended the Scientific Committee and Commission.

Whilst in Hobart the UK delegation (which was led by Jane Rumble from the Polar Regions Unit of the FCO) hosted a reception to present details of the South Georgia Marine Protected Area and showcase GSGSSI's fisheries management. The reception was well attended by scientists and delegates from a range of CCAMLR member states.

Martin Collins presenting details of the SGSSI Marine Protected Area.
Martin Collins presenting details of the SGSSI Marine Protected Area.

Fishing And Shipping News

FPV Pharos SG in Cumberland Bay with a tanker a reefer and a trawler.
FPV Pharos SG in Cumberland Bay with a tanker a reefer and a trawler.

There was an unusual variety of shipping in Cumberland Bay, the main South Georgia harbour, on September 18th. In just one day the harbour was used by a reefer, a tanker, a trawler, a Navy vessel, the Fishery Patrol Vessel and two yachts.

The krill fishery kept going unusually late into October, with one trawler fishing successfully into the third week of the month before departing when the krill swarms dispersed, as they do in the summer months.

One reefer visited Cumberland Bay several times through October, to undertake transhipment and bunkering operations with the fishing vessels, before departing for the northern hemisphere. There was also a call from a tanker to refuel the other vessels.

The Icefish fishery was active with one trawler inspected and licensed and fishing for icefish until October 28th. Catches were good.

The tourist season got underway with an unusually high number of tour ship visits this early in the season. Four visits were made by three different vessels in October, the earliest visited Grytviken on October 12th.

November will be one of the busiest months for tourism of the summer.

Photo Alastair Wilson
Photo Alastair Wilson

There were also several visits from charter yachts. Podorange was supporting a group of eight skiers who wanted to do a variety of skiing, hiking and mountaineering during their visit. Pelagic Australis arrived on October 12th supporting a scientific party of eight, and Paradise arrived three days later with six passengers (see SG Snippets below). Icebird were supporting another expedition party of 3 who were aiming to traverse areas of the Island (see below).

HMS Clyde in KE Cove
HMS Clyde in KE Cove

The British naval vessel HMS Clyde arrived in King Edward Cove on October 18th during a patrol of the island waters. The vessel tied up alongside at KEP allowing her crew of 38 easy access to explore the area on leg-stretches.

Vast Icebergs Around South Georgia

Vast icebergs around South Georgia seen from space. Image Earth Observatory
Vast icebergs around South Georgia seen from space. Image Earth Observatory

The Earth Observatory generated another stunning image of South Georgia taken from space on September 29th. Large icebergs to the north of the island show clearly. North of the north-west end of the island is iceberg C-19C (35 by 28 km), and another massive berg called B-15F (35 by 7 km) was just passing the south-eastern end of the Island. This berg is a remnant of B-15 which carved off the Ross Ice Shelf in March 2000. Antarctic icebergs tend to get caught up in deep ocean currents that sweep these vast ice islands around South Georgia. The 7km triangular berg outside Cumberland Bay entrance was still firmly stuck on the island shelf when the image was taken, but has since refloated and moved off. Glacial meltwater carrying glacial flour can also be seen streaming away from the southern end south-west coast glaciers as the spring melt takes hold of the winter accumulation of snow and centuries old ice.

The photograph was taken with a Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite.

Detailed Study Of the Island’s Rodents

A report has been published on the GSGSSI project looking at the genetic structure of South Georgia’s rat populations.

GSGSSI is conducting pre-eradication research and post-eradication monitoring of the outcome of the first trial phase of South Georgia Heritage Trust’s rodent eradication. The information they are collecting will assist the assessment of the effect of the rat and mouse eradication attempts, including any secondary mortality (birds that die as a result of eating the bait or poisoned rats or other affected carrion) and beneficial results on bird populations post-rodent eradication.

Three teams of field workers collected rodent tissue samples for genetic analysis to help assess the efficacy of the (rapidly retreating) glaciers as barriers to rodent movements, something that is fundamental to the success of an island-wide eradication. The sampling areas covered all six intended baiting zones known to contain rats. Surveys were also conducted for mice, as identifying the presence of mice is critical to the success of the rat / rodent eradication and future ecology of the Island. Further survey work was done to assess the current distribution of key beneficiary and non-target species.

Some of the conclusions of the study are: that fresh rat sign and rat catch rates were low in early summer but increased as the summer progressed. The first recently weaned rat was caught in early December, suggesting that breeding commences in mid-October; rats were most frequently caught in dense coastal tussac grass, often bordering king penguin colonies, but rats dispersed away from the coast as the summer progressed; no mouse sign was detected or mice caught in the areas sampled; the distribution of pintail ducks, skuas, giant petrels, pipits and sheathbills throughout the baiting zones was documented for post-eradication monitoring; colonies of small burrowing petrels were found predominantly in the Stromness and Barff Zones - areas occupied by reindeer and rats. The later, possibly unexpected, finding indicates that reindeer may limit rat populations by impacting on habitat that rats require for winter survival. The report therefore suggests that the baiting for rat eradication should quickly follow reindeer removal to limit the potential for rat populations to increase and reduce surviving burrowing petrel colonies.

A post-eradication rat survey was conducted on the Greene Peninsula; this area was baited in March 2011. Forty-six rodent-monitoring wax tags were deployed along the coast and inland for long term monitoring and during the visit no rat sign was detected.

Results have not yet been published on the analysis of the rodent tissue samples. The project was funded by the Overseas Territories Environmental Programme (OTEP) and the report on the first field season of data (Nov 2011- Jan 2012) was published on this website in October.

The report, 'Rodent Eradication on South Georgia' looking at the genetic structure of the island’s rat populations can be downloaded here. [pdf, 3.8mb]

Icecore Team Searches For Perfect Site

Dan Dixon holding the coring drill.
Dan Dixon holding the coring drill.

A group of 8 scientists on the ‘Kuli South Georgia Expedition’ arrived in October on the charter yacht Pelagic Australis to look for very specific sites in which to sample ancient icecores. The icecores they collect from around the world can be analysed for an enormous range of chemical and physical indicators, many of which can be used to study climate change over centuries. Around 100 different things can be measured from icecores and they show changes in the environment around the sample area and further afield including evidence of agriculture, metal extraction and the direction of the winds. One site cored in Iceland has provided a record of these sorts of changes for a period to 110,000 years ago. South Georgia is deemed to be an important area to find new icecores as these will help the scientists monitor changes in temperatures and winds. The group predict healing of the ozone hole will lead to increased warming in the area. Various field parties were dropped in areas around Cumberland Bay and elsewhere to sample ice at lower levels. These cores may indicate that the right sort of site may exist higher up in the glaciers sampled; they also sampled on the Szielasko ice cap. The group also carried specialist equipment to conduct radar surveys of the glaciers. If they find a suitable sample site it could be valuable to link in with their global monitoring of climate change. And the scientists are in a hurry as, with glaciers disappearing due to global warming, the valuable records of past changes held in South Georgia’s glacier ice are disappearing.

Bubbles captured in the icecore can be analysed to show past atmospheric conditions. Photos Mariusz Potocki
Bubbles captured in the icecore can be analysed to show past atmospheric conditions. Photos Mariusz Potocki

The team, from the University of Maine, USA, Climate Change Institute was led by Paul Mayewski. He has been working with icecores for 44 years. One evening he gave a very informative talk at the science base at KEP on climate change. In it he explained how icecores from around the globe could be calibrated in time by past volcanic events. Large volcanic eruptions have left a signature in the ice accumulating on glaciers. One vast volcanic eruption left a mark on every glacier in the world that existed at the time. He also explained how study of icecores had helped explain the disappearance of ancient civilisations, including the Mayan and Mesopotamian Empires as their failure can be seen to correspond with major climate changes in the past as a result of volcanic eruptions. He also highlighted the measurable improvement in air quality as a result of the introduction of measures to reduce the use of lead in fuel for vehicles.

For more information on icecores see the website

Historic Letter Highlights Fur Seal Recovery

Anyone visiting South Georgia in December and January these days would be hard pressed to accept that fur seals were once so rare on South Georgia their whereabouts was a guarded secret. Despite researchers best efforts searching old documents from the early days of human exploration of the Island, it has not been possible to determine what the original population of these feisty seals would have been pre 19th Century sealing. The suspicion is that today’s millions of seals are more than the population would have been pre man’s exploitation of both seals and then whales. It is perhaps the lack of competition from large cetaceans for the vast stocks of krill in the Southern Ocean that has now allowed fur seal numbers to grow beyond what may have been their natural population, and it is still growing.

A letter found in the Falkland Island Archives highlights the difference a century makes. In 1920 the South Georgia Magistrate Edward Binnie wrote to inform the Falkland Island Governor of the presence of fur seals on a beach, probably Jordan Cove, on Bird Island.

The Master of the SW Sedna had anchored at Bird Island for shelter and went ashore on October 5th or 6th. The letter states, “On landing in search of penguin eggs, (he) was surprised to find five fur seal on the beach. On approaching the seals proved timid and made for the water, but the Captain withdrew his men so as not to disturb them.” Binnie reported that the same Captain had reported seeing one fur seal in the Bay of Isles three weeks earlier. Binnie assured the Governor that he would, “endeavour to make a visit to Bird Island and the other islands in the vicinity….and make a full report.”

Now the fur seal population of Bird Island alone exceeds 70,000 breeding females, and estimates for the total population of fur seals on South Georgia are around 3 to 6 million, making it the most important breeding place in the world for this species. Looking at Freshwater Bay now, the Master of the Sedna would hardly recognise the scene as around 2000 seals currently breed there each summer.

The recovery of fur seal numbers follows sealing activities around the island in the early 19th century when they were hunted close to extinction. More than a million fur seals were hunted in this period, mainly for their skins. Small scale hunting continued as late as 1907.

Fur seals were once so rare their whereabouts was kept secret. Photo Alastair Wilson.
Fur seals were once so rare their whereabouts was kept secret. Photo Alastair Wilson.

The Penguin King – Film Narrated By David Attenborough

A new documentary film about king penguins on South Georgia went on general release in October. The 75 minute long film is available in 3D and is narrated by David Attenborough. According to film's website the story follows one penguin from “awkward adolescence to fatherhood”. The penguin returns to the Island after three years at sea, ready to breed for the first time. The text says “Penguin City (St Andrew’s Bay) is the most densely-packed, sought-after piece of real estate in the entire southern hemisphere and somehow he must establish his own place in it. He must find a mate. What follows is a journey through the most challenging time of the Penguin King's life. His story is often comic, sometimes tragic, ultimately triumphant: a rite of passage set on one of the earth’s last great wildernesses.”

Though beautifully shot, the anthropomorphism of the subject did not please all the reviewers. The Guardian newspaper’s review on October 25th says “There are some nice images of the teeming penguin population, and great fun to be had witnessing the love life, and indeed sex life, of penguins. It does have to be said, though, there is a fair bit of Disneyfication going on. A blaring orchestral soundtrack keeps telling us what to feel and how to react, and a Hollywood-style narrative has clearly been created in the edit.”

Shackleton Scholarship Fund - New Website

The Shackleton Scholarship Fund (SSF), which makes grants to residents and visiting scholars to both the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, has announced the launch of a new website:

The SSF Committee say that they hope the new website will prove more user friendly for potential scholars and give them a platform to more readily update the public on activities, projects and research funded by the Scholarship Fund.

The Shackleton Scholarship Fund was set up in 1995 to commemorate, in perpetuity, the lives of two remarkable men: Sir Ernest Shackleton was an outstanding leader in the golden age of Antarctic Exploration at the dawn of the Twentieth Century. His son, Lord Shackleton (Edward Shackleton), began as an explorer then won acclaim as a scientist, businessman, wartime Royal Air Force officer, statesman, and author of two reports for the British Government which laid the foundation for Falkland Islands' development and prosperity.

The SSF Committee promote the Fund as “pragmatic, flexible way of commemorating the Shackleton achievements, stimulating human endeavour, initiative and research.” The Fund offers two types of scholarship: ‘Academic’, for graduates to visit the South Atlantic for research into the natural or social sciences, in such diverse subjects as place names, fresh water fish, grasses, geology, and many other topics; and ‘Quality of Life’, for people whose visits to the area or from it to other parts of the world, benefit the region and enhance the quality of life of the islanders. These have included top class sports coaches, musicians and artists.

The Patron of the Shackleton Scholarship Fund is Princess Alexandra, who is also Patron of the Falkland Islands Trust, the charity of which the Shackleton Scholarship Fund is a part. The Fund has raised more than £400,000 so far and awarded from its income some 90 scholarships, with grants totalling about £12,000 each year. The deadline for applications is March 31st each year. SSF hope to raise more money to provide a larger number of scholarships, publicise the bursaries more extensively in universities and other places of learning and research, and widen the geographical spread to interest scholars from other countries, such as Chile, Uruguay, Australia and Russia.

The Fund is administered by two committees - one in the United Kingdom, whose chairman is a former Falkland Islands Governor and South Georgia Commissioner David Tatham, CMG; and the other in the Falkland Islands, headed by the incumbent Governor/Commissioner, currently Nigel Haywood. The UK Treasurer is Hugh Normand. Lord Shackleton's daughter and Sir Ernest's grand-daughter, the Honourable Alexandra Shackleton, is a member of the London Committee.

This Pilot Is A Verminator

By Mark Price of the New Zealand newspaper ‘Otago Daily Times’.

Helicopter pilot Peter Garden, of Wanaka, NZ, hopes that early next year he can place another red dot on his map of the world. Each dot represents an island population of rats or mice he has had a hand in wiping out. His total now is 26. Most of the dots cover islands in the Pacific Ocean and around New Zealand, including Mr Garden's first, Campbell Island, cleared of rats in 2001. Mr Garden's next project is a return visit to the remote South Atlantic island of South Georgia, five days by ship from the Falkland Islands. He leaves in February as a member of 26-strong "team rat 2013" who will camp in tents on the glacier-covered island for up to four months through the autumn and into the winter.

Mr Garden is flight operations manager, leading a team of four helicopter pilots who will drop bait laced with the anticoagulant poison brodifacoum. Most of the work involves eradicating rats, except in one small area infested with mice. Mice, he says, are more difficult to completely eradicate than rats because they have a smaller home range requiring a more even, and exacting, distribution of poisoned bait.

South Georgia, which has 29 bird species, has already been partly cleared of rats and at 80,000ha will be the biggest island to have been cleared of rodents. The island is a British overseas territory and the project is being run by the South Georgia Heritage Trust.

Beyond South Georgia, Mr Garden is looking forward to tackling another British overseas territory in the South Atlantic, Gough Island, where giant mice, up to 25cm from their noses to the tips of their tails, eat more than a million seabird chicks every year.

This story originally appeared in the Otago Daily Times on November 1st.

Bird Island Diary

By Jon Ashburner, Seal Assistant at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

When I last spoke to you, back in June, the theme of my diary for the month was of animals leaving the island for the winter, so it seems apt that I now get to write about them coming back for spring. Before I spoke of the animals disappearing without you really noticing, but after the quiet months of winter their return has been conspicuous to say the least! Over a period of just 4 weeks nearly 4000 gentoo eggs have been laid, the cliffs become dotted with many thousands of nesting mollies (a collective term the grey-head, black-brow and light mantled sooty albatross) the once bare slopes of the macaroni penguin colonies are now full with the males returning to claim their territories, and the first male fur seals have taken up residence on the beaches. Oh, and in case any of the avid readers are wondering, the fur seal poo is now much easier to come by!

October has been a busy month for Jen with the mollies returning to the colonies and re-establish their pair bonds and start laying eggs. Jen has to visit the study colonies every day to record which birds are breeding where, with whom, and the date every egg is laid – it is a huge task with around 1600 nests to monitor in total. The first of the mollies to start laying are Jen’s favourites, the grey-heads, which are generally much gentler and easier to work with than the more churlish black-brows. The first eggs were seen early in the month, and they have now all but finished laying giving a few days reprieve for Jen before the black brows get going in earnest.

A churlish black-browed albatross in Colony J
A churlish black-browed albatross in Colony J

The Black-brows return to the island a little later, marked by their fog-horn like call echoing across the meadows, and the first eggs were seen towards the middle of the month, they are now approaching peak laying and will not finish until early November. After that it will be a long wait until December when the chicks start to hatch.

October also sees the return of light-mantled sooty albatross; it is wonderful to see them return, as part of their courtship ritual is spectacular displays of synchronised flying with their partners. Unlike the grey-heads and black-brows the sooties do not nest in colonies and instead perch their nests on steep cliffs making next month’s task of finding their nests all the more challenging!

In other bird news Ruth has been kept busy by the giant petrels (geeps), there are two species of geep, northerns and southerns. The northern geeps started laying last month but continued well into October. There is an exciting bit of geep gossip this year as a hybrid geep (a cross between a northern and a southern) has once again returned to breed. He is the only hybrid geep known to have successfully reared a chick and so is proof that the two species can successfully interbreed, in fact Ruth is in the process of writing a paper about him so he is soon to be famous!

The hybrid giant petrel, see the red flecks at the tip of the beak which result from the combination of the green beak of the southerns and the red of the northerns.
The hybrid giant petrel, see the red flecks at the tip of the beak which result from the combination of the green beak of the southerns and the red of the northerns.

When I say Ruth has had a respite, this is not strictly true as she also has two penguin species to look after. The gentoos stay on the island all year round, and there is always a lot of variation in when they start to breed, but this year they got going particularly early and have now finished laying. One of our annual tasks is to count every gentoo nest on the island which is a big task completed over a couple of days. Counting penguins is a bit of a dark art as is it incredibly difficult to work out who is actually on an egg, and who is just having a lie down, and also to keep track of where you have got to, and generally involves lots of descriptions involving ‘that stone next to the penguin...’!

Ruth and Rob counting the gentoos at Natural Arch
Ruth and Rob counting the gentoos at Natural Arch

Unlike the gentoos the comical looking macaroni penguins with their bushy yellow ‘eyebrows’ head to sea for the winter, leaving behind vast empty swathes of hillside where their colonies used to be. Since they left back in April not a single one has been seen until the 17th of the month when we saw the first few males returning to colony Big Mac to claim their territories. Over the following two weeks the rest of the males have returned and the colonies are now full of thousands of macs defending their territories and awaiting their mates, it is amazing to see such a rapid influx of penguins!

A very small section of Big Mac, this is only the males so the density will double in the next fortnight.
A very small section of Big Mac, this is only the males so the density will double in the next fortnight.

We also had an unusual visit from another member of the penguin kingdom this month, when an Adelie was seen mingling with the gentoos at Square Pond. Adelies are generally restricted to Antarctic waters, only very rarely being sighted around South Georgia. It was great to see one, this is the first I have seen in 4 years of working on South Georgia. He was a fine chap, and very amenable to the paparazzi style photography he inevitably received from all on base, although he might have chosen a better backdrop than muddy tussock!

The Adelie penguin in his muddy scene.
The Adelie penguin in his muddy scene.

From my point of view this has been a pretty quiet month, which is nice since the 1st of November sees the start of the intensive fur seal work which will keep me very busy until I leave in March. The majority of the leopard seals seem to have headed south for the summer again, and I have had very few encounters this month. Instead the beaches were taken over by the southern elephant seals, and while we don’t see that many here, they more than make up for their low numbers with size and volume! They are impressive beasts, with the males weighing in at up to 4 tonnes and producing an amazing array of flatulent rumbling roars, which have reverberated constantly around the beaches. Very few pups are born here, but this year we are very lucky to have one very close to the base. The pups are amazing things, their mothers will nurse them for around 3 weeks, during which time they will triple their body weight to around 100kg. After 3 weeks the mothers will leave and the pup will have to fend for itself.

Last but not least the fur seals have started to return, with the first magnificent adult males coming to take up residence on the beaches. It is wonderful to see them at this time of year, they are in such fantastic condition, carrying huge reserves of fat, and sporting thick fur coats. They won’t stay this way for long though, and will soon start to look battle torn and malnourished as the combination of weeks of fasting and constant brutal fighting for territory takes its toll. It won’t be long now until the females start to arrive and the beaches will be impassable until the New Year. Earlier in the month we had a visit from a very handsome brindle morph juvenile male fur seal, this is very rare genetic trait which results in a tabby like coat. He is only the second brindle I have ever seen.

The brindle morph fur seal. Photos Jon Ashburner.
The brindle morph fur seal. Photos Jon Ashburner.

I guess winter officially came to an end this month as well, with our first ship call, and the arrival of the first member of the summer team, Jaume Focada. Jaume is a BAS seal biologist, and comes down most years to help run the seal programme here. It is great to have a fresh face around base, and particularly in the kitchen - with only four of us the menu became a little repetitive over the winter! With the ship call also came the first fresh fruit and vegetables we have seen since April, so the first few days after were spent gorging on salad, but perhaps the most exciting item was the bananas, which have been fantasising about for months now!

I would usually sign of with ‘Until next time’ but unfortunately I will be leaving this fantastic island at the end of the summer and so this will probably be my last diary entry.

South Georgia Snippets

Busy Summer Ahead for the GSGSSI Builders: The six-strong GSGSSI Building team faces a busy summer ahead. They started early this season, arriving at the Island on October 2nd. Their first job was to build two new huts on the Tonsberg Peninsula, between Husvik and Stromness. The huts will be used as accommodation by the Norwegian team arriving in January to remove the reindeer from the area. The plan is for the huts to then be moved to other sites for further reindeer work and future science. Whilst in the area the builders also worked with three visiting asbestos specialists to clear remaining asbestos from the Husvik Managers Villa and environs and to secure the old Manager’s villa in the heart of Stromness whaling station. The villa is prized as the end point of Ernest Shackleton’s epic rescue mission to save the men shipwrecked from Endurance.

Work starts on Discovery House.
Work starts on Discovery House.

The builders then moved to KEP where their major tasks are to convert two small offices into another bunkroom in Larsen House and then start work on a major conversion of the historic Discovery House into more accommodation and offices.

One of the Geometria surveyors with the laser.
One of the Geometria surveyors with the laser.

Laser Survey of the Whaling Stations: Two surveyors from the New Zealand company Geometria spent several days surveying in the whaling stations with 2 laser survey machines. Access to the stations was in the company of another team assessing the current asbestos hazards who could oversee the safety of people inside the stations.

The laser equipment maps both inside and outside buildings and can be used to make a 3-D image of millimetre accuracy. The work was funded by the Norwegian Government. The surveyors also took photographs to complement the laser survey which can be matched to the laser results to create realistic 3D walk-throughs. They concentrated their efforts on Grytviken, Husvik and whilst in Stromness they were able to survey the old Manager’s Villa. They also visited Leith to assess what will be needed for a future survey there.

UK Launches Environmental and Climate Fund for Overseas Territories: The UK has launched a new Overseas Territories Environment and Climate Fund, which consolidates funds from the Foreign Office, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Department for International Development, dedicated to environmental and conservation projects in those territories. The £2 million fund should provide a simpler and more co-ordinated funding mechanism to support a range of environment and climate-related issues to ensure long-term sustainable natural resource management in the Overseas Territories. Foreign Office Minister Mark Simmonds said of the new fund, “It is a signal of how important we consider the environments of the Overseas Territories to be. I have high hopes that this fund will lead to many innovative and creative projects which will result in better sustainable environmental management in the Overseas Territories“.

Dr Tim Stowe, International Director from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, RSPB, praised the initiative, saying ”This is excellent news for Britain's albatrosses, iguanas, whales, and elephant seals, and is a welcome announcement alongside the Government's recently announced action plan for Overseas Territories’ biodiversity”.

Management of the South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area: An attractive bullet point and richly illustrated presentation entitled "Management of the South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area" can be downloaded on this website. It shows the current protection in place, gives an overview of the current fisheries operating in the South Georgia Fishery Zone and the regulations in place to control the activity and shows some of the monitoring going on to measure the effect of fisheries on the ecosystem. The presentation finishes by looking at potential future Marine Protected Areas developments. You can download the 1.1mb presentation here.

Shake Rattle and Roll: Three larger earthquakes were recorded in the South Sandwich Island area in October. The first occurred on the 10th and measured 4.9, centered 159km south of Bristol Island at 60.442°S, 26.971°W. The second was bigger and close to the first. It measured 5.4 on the Richter scale and was 143km south of Bristol Island at 60.320°S, 26.693°W. The third earthquake, measuring 5.1 was situated further north, 100km east-north-east of Visokoi Island at 56.304°S, 25.732°W.

Ozone Hole Shrinking: The average area covered by the Antarctic ozone hole this year was the second smallest in the last 20 years, according to data from NASA and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) satellites. The ozone hole reached its maximum size on September 22nd when it covered 21.2 million square kilometres (8.2 million square miles), or the area of the United States, Canada and Mexico combined. Despite being smaller than in recent years, the edge of the hole still sometimes extends over South Georgia and despite taking precautions several people were sun burnt when outside for longer periods.

The average size of the 2012 ozone hole was 17.9 million square kilometres. The largest ozone hole was recorded on September 6th in 2000 when it reached an extent of 29.9 million square kilometres.

Baffin Babes: Three Scandanavians attempted to traverse the island in September. The three experienced skiers collectively go under the team name ‘Baffin Babes’ and have done a lot of expeditions together. Supported by the charter yacht Icebird, their plan was to start at the northern end of the island at Right Whale Bay on October 20th and finish at Larsen Harbour in the south. They were not planning to do the entire traverse, but rather to get a lift by boat past some of the middle section. “We want to be able to ski as much as possible during the time we are here.” they said.

Before setting out they wrote: “The biggest challenges will be the storms coming in real quick, fast weather changes and probably tricky passages through the glaciers with lots of crevasses. It’s hard to get a picture of the terrain before being there since the map is of scale 1:200 000.” They were right about the storms and crevasses. On October 23rd they were storm bound in their tent for a couple of frustrating days before better weather allowed them to progress. They did not hang around, getting up at 4 am eager to get back on their skis, and were rewarded by a fantastic day on the glacier with mountains all around, and a camp that night high up on a ridge. But bad weather hit again and they had to ski for nine gruelling hours in whiteout conditions amidst crevasses. They were glad then to finally get back down to sea level but there their troubles came more from the fur seals blocking their path along the beaches.

Their kit stood up to the severe conditions well. They had specially designed sledges that could also be carried as backpacks, and their tents stood up to the severe winds, but did succumb to the more intimate attentions of an elephant seal!

The Baffin Babes were still travelling at the start of November and thoroughly enjoying the trip. You can see the Baffin Babes updates on their facebook page

In the Footsteps of Legends: A group of wounded soldiers from Captain Oates' regiment, The Royal Dragoon Guards, will be helping raise funds for the South Georgia Heritage Trust’s Habitat Restoration Project by walking the last section of Shackleton’s attempt on the South Pole. They will be joined on the walk by SGHT Trustee Sasha Borodin. The group of six men, three with physical disabilities, will start the walk at the end of November and plan to walk the 97 miles to the South Pole that Ernest Shackleton failed to cover on his epic journey in 1909. The expedition will be co-led by polar explorer David Hempleman-Adams and Justin Packshaw who has climbed Everest and is also an ex-Dragoon Guard. Like the three injured serving soldiers on this expedition, Captain Oates, who died with Scott following their attempt on the Pole, had also been injured in service, in the Boer War. Following this expedition, the soldiers are all expecting to return to Afghanistan with their regiment having recovered to full fitness post injury.

In 1909 Shackleton attempted to reach the South Pole, but was forced to turn back when just 97 geographical miles from the Pole in order to save his men from certain death and starvation. Three years later Robert Scott's team reached the Pole, only to find that Roald Amundsen's Norwegian expedition had got there first. On their return journey, Captain Oates, who did not want to hamper his team mates any longer with his injuries, walked out of his tent into a blizzard with the famous words "I am just going outside and may be some time". Scott and his remaining comrades all perished a few days later.

As well as being a trustee of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, Alexander (Sasha) is a passionate mountaineer and diver. He has travelled extensively in cold places, undertaking expeditions in the Arctic and Antarctica on foot, skis, wheels and under sail. You can support Sasha and the rat eradication project at

Sasha Borodin will be walking in the footsteps of legends to raise money for the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project.
Sasha Borodin will be walking in the footsteps of legends to raise money for the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project.

C,C,Click at a Penguin: Several groups from the KEP science base took the opportunity to walk or ski the long trek across the Barff Peninsula to visit the wildlife of St Andrews Bay during the elephant seal breeding season. Despite heavy packs there is always room for a good camera if you are going to this amazing spot, and Alastair Wilson’s efforts to carry his photographic gear all the way there were paid off with this amazing shot of the Milky Way over the king penguin colony at night.

Photo Alastair Wilson
Photo Alastair Wilson

Krill in the Cove: There has been a lot of krill in and around King Edward Cove in October. Day after day the krill could be seen in the shallows, and in places washed up in heaps on the beaches, and the local birds had feasted so heavily on the bounty that they could eat no more and sat in big flocks all around the shore. At night the krill were emitting phosphorescence in the wake of the boats.

Krill heaped up on the beach. Photo Alastair Wilson
Krill heaped up on the beach. Photo Alastair Wilson

Krill filmed underwater in King Edward Cove. Footage Patrick Lurcock

Dates for Your Diary:

'Alps to Antarctica', an exhibition of Rowan Huntley’s beautiful mountain and glacier landscapes, including many of South Georgia, is on at the Alpine Club, London, UK, until Christmas 2012.

The exhibition is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays 10am-5pm, (non-members by prior arrangement)

More information can be found at

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