South Georgia Newsletter, August 2011

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

2014 Marine Species And Counting

The high biodiversity of South Georgia waters is proving a hot topic. There are several current projects working on this and new species are being identified from samples collected in recent years, with more work planned.

A list of species recently compiled by biologist Jamie Watts includes 2014 known species from the waters around South Georgia - an almost incredible number for any polar area. The list is just a start point and Jamie expects it to grow a good deal as research continues. He complied the list from species noted by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists Oliver Hogg and Dave Barnes (who published a paper assessing the marine biodiversity on South Georgia’s continental shelf in 'PloSONE' earlier this year), adding more species he encountered whilst working as a scientist a the King Edward Point Science base and subsequent visits to the Island, as well as from other verified sources. The list is made up of marine animals found within the shelf and slope regions of South Georgia and Shag Rocks. There are 454 crustaceans (195 of them amphipods), 194 bryozoans, 179 echinoderms, 170 polychaete worms, 111 gastropods, and 106 bony fishes. Jamie says that, “South Georgia waters are by far the most bio-diverse (and productive) area in the Southern Ocean, and there’s probably no marine polar environment anywhere that has anything like this number of species.“

The UK, by contrast, has about a third the summer biological productivity per unit area. “Around 2000 is not a huge number of species compared to something like a coral reef” Jamie said, “but in terms of the numbers of individual animals and overall productivity there’s nowhere that matches it.”

Perhaps unexpectedly, the list also includes humans, Jamie justifies this because, “...with fisheries we are a small but significant marine predator to this ecosystem. Interestingly, although South Georgia is the focal point to most of the Antarctic fisheries, humans are a far smaller consumer of resources here (compared to other major predators and as a proportion of the available productivity) than any other productive fisheries area on the planet.”

The list is “Far from complete”, Jamie says, “There are at least a few dozen species that have ranges to either side but have not yet been recorded at South Georgia. There will also be many as yet undescribed species to be found in the future.”

For instance, new species will join the list once work is complete on samples collected by 'Shallow Marine Surveys Group' (SMSG) Analysis of the survey samples from the November dive survey by SMSG is currently underway and initial results highlight a greater diversity than expected. Paul Brewin of SMSG is presenting preliminary results at the World Conference on Marine Biodiversity, Aberdeen, in September. The Group will return to collect more samples this summer too.

There is also a deep water benthos survey, collecting samples from all around South Georgia, being conducted from the BAS research vessel “RRS James Clark Ross” in late October.

Jamie Watts is keen for others to check the list he has complied and hopes people will get in touch with any verified updates.

You can download the list here [xls, 0.1MB].

Fishing And Shipping News

A longliner calls in at the end of the toothfish season.
A longliner calls in at the end of the toothfish season.

The toothfish season ended at the end of August. Four longliners were fishing at the start of August and fished for most of the month, with a fifth vessel returning to the fishery on August 16th. The vessels started leaving in the final week, so just two were left fishing up until midnight on the 31st.

All the longliners departed to Stanley, Falkland Islands, for their end of season catch verification. This process, which can take around three days to complete, requires the processed fish in the ship's hold to be offloaded, weighed and the labelling on boxes checked. After verification the catch is reloaded onto the longliners before they sail to their next destination. Under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) scheme, the box labels allow each box to be tracked, so buyers and consumers can check the fish they are buying is from a sustainable and well managed fishery.

Five trawlers were fishing for krill at the start of August, with three remaining at the end of the month. Catches have remained good.

Three reefer vessels came in to work in Cumberland Bay and were attended by several longliners collecting supplies and krill trawlers to offload catches.

The tanker “Caribic” entered Cumberland Bay on August 5th to supply water and fuel to two vessels before sailing the next day for Dubai, then on to India where the vessel will be scrapped.

Between August 11th and 15th “HMS Edinburgh” and “RFA Black Rover” were anchored in Cumberland Bay during their patrol. See below.

Tanker “Caribic” (left) transhipping with a reefer and a krill trawler in Cumberland Bay. Photo Patrick Lurcock.)
Tanker “Caribic” (left) transhipping with a reefer and a krill trawler in Cumberland Bay. Photo Patrick Lurcock.)

South Georgia Petrels - New Stamp Issue

A stunning set of four stamps, featuring various birds of the petrel family and painted by internationally acclaimed wildlife artist John Gale, was released on August 10th.

John Gale writes:

There are 125 species of tubenose birds, which include the petrels and albatrosses. The four species illustrated on this set of stamps represent three species of fulmarine petrel and one species of diving petrel. These birds inhabit an oceanic environment, feeding on the abundant food supply present in the Southern Ocean. They nest and breed on many islands in the Southern Ocean, including South Georgia; the three species of fulmarine petrel also breed on the South Sandwich Islands.

I have been fascinated with seabirds since early bird watching trips took me to the remote headlands off west Cornwall in Britain. I would go during the early autumn, just before going back to school, hoping to glimpse mythical storm blown seabirds pushed close to shore by Atlantic depressions. Since those early days my interest in seabirds has grown greatly. Over the last ten years especially I have made many trips to the Southern Ocean, Antarctica and South Georgia to study and draw these birds along with the other fantastic wildlife that inhabits the region.

The 60p stamp features the southern giant petrel Macronectes giganteus. It, along with the northern giant petrel Macronectes halli is the largest of the fulmarine petrels and has to be one of my favourite birds of the region. It is an exceedingly powerful and aggressive bird, but none the less beautiful. The vulture of the region, the males feed on the carcasses of seals and penguins and it is a truly remarkable site watching them feed in large numbers. Dominant birds will repeatedly fight and knock other birds out of the way in order to get access to a carcass. Meanwhile, smaller skuas patiently wait at a safe distance sneaking any opportunity to dive in and grab a morsel of food while the giant petrels are squabbling. While drawing a dead giant petrel found on South Georgia examination of its bill revealed how incredibly sharp and powerful the cutting edge is, the perfect instrument for tearing flesh.

The 70p stamp features the snow petrel Pagodroma nivea. It is one of the most beautiful Antarctic birds. Called ‘the fairy of the south’ by Apsley Cherry-Garrard, they can frequently be seen associated with icebergs and pack-ice. They nest and breed amongst boulders and small rocky crevices as shown on the stamp, often high up on cliff faces. My first encounter with snow petrels was perhaps the best experience I have had with these delightful birds. Going south from the South African sub-Antarctic islands of Prince Edward and Marion we encountered a huge tabular iceberg at 54° south. As the ship approached the berg we were greeted by hundreds of snow petrels. They flew alongside so close that one could almost reach out and touch them. I could even see the dark feathers at the base of the eye without using my binoculars.

Seeing large flocks of cape petrels Daption capense flying alongside a ship is perhaps one of the most memorable birding experiences of my time in the Southern Ocean to date. One individual bird I identified by a broken wing feather stayed with us for four consecutive days. These birds feed on crustaceans, particularly krill, sometimes brought to the surface by the movement of the ship and one can always get stunning views as they glide back and forth in the wake occasionally dropping down to feed. Also known as the pintado petrel, they have a beautiful chequered feather pattern on their upperparts as depicted on the 95p stamp.

South Georgia diving petrels Pelecanoides georgicus feature on the £1.15p stamp. They are small birds and are always difficult to observe well at sea. With perseverance however, positioned on the bow of a ship, one may eventually get some reasonable fleeting glimpses. They fly very fast and will suddenly disappear into a wave never to be seen again. Discriminating between common and South Georgia diving petrels is difficult as the individual features are very subtle. The pale braces on the back of the bird are a good feature to look for. While I was working on cruise ships I would patrol the decks at night looking for seabirds attracted to the ships lights. Birds that were found were put in a safe box and released in the morning. Diving petrels would always be present and I was amazed how incredibly strong these little bird were; very gentle all the same.

The First Day Cover design is of snow petrels flying around an iceberg at sea.

Three of the original paintings making up this set of stamps will be on display at the ‘Artists for Albatrosses’ exhibition, at the Air Gallery, Dover Street, London, 5-15th October 2011. The exhibition is raising funds and awareness for albatross and petrel conservation (see below).

South Georgia stamps can be bought from

Wild Expedition

A cruise ship visiting in November is basing its itinerary around a celebration of the life of explorer Frank Wild. Organised by 'One Ocean Expeditions', passengers will travel aboard the “Akademik Ioffe” going to the Falklands, South Georgia and Antarctica between November 20th and December 8th 2011. The commemorative voyage takes place exactly 90 years after Wild's last voyage with Sir Ernest Shackleton in 1921. Aboard the ship will be Wild's ashes which are being transported to Grytviken for interment in the cemetery. According to the 'One Ocean Expeditions' website, it was Wild’s wish to be buried beside Shackleton, but this never materialised due to the outbreak of WWII a week after his death.

Travelling with the expedition as guests will be six members of Wild's family and the Honourable Alexandra Shackleton, Shackleton's granddaughter. Angie Butler, whose recently released book, “The Quest For Frank Wild”, features exclusive publication of his original memoirs covering four expeditions including those on the “Nimrod” and “Endurance”, will also be joining the cruise as a guest speaker.

After South Georgia the ship will cross the Scotia Sea and, ice and weather conditions permitting, will visit Elephant Island. It was here that Wild was left in charge of the shipwrecked crew of “Endurance” whilst Shackleton set sail in the lifeboat “James Caird” hoping to find rescue from the whalers in South Georgia.

For further information, visit

Visit From “HMS Edinburgh” And “RFA Black Rover”

“HMS Edinburgh” in Cumberland Bay.
“HMS Edinburgh” in Cumberland Bay.

Royal Navy Destroyer “HMS Edinburgh” and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) tanker “RFA Black Rover” were on patrol around South Georgia during August. ”HMS Edinburgh” is on a six-month deployment in the Southern Ocean. She visited Angola and Cape Town before a rough sea-crossing to begin the Falkland section of the patrol. The two vessels made the three-day crossing from there to South Georgia with, according to, a three-fold aim: to show the sparse population of the UK’s continued interest in the islands; to allow soldiers to train in a cold weather environment; and to give “Edinburgh”’s sailors the chance to operate a warship in a challenging environment. A foot patrol of FI Resident Infantry Company soldiers from A Company 2 Battalion Princess of Wales’ Royal Regiment were put ashore to patrol on land and conduct cold weather training.

A guest aboard “HMS Edinburgh” was Falkland Islands Television journalist Liz Roberts who was making programmes about the day-to-day life of a warship patrolling this part of the world.

The crew of “RFA Black Rover” get ready to go ashore. Photo Sam Crimmins.
The crew of “RFA Black Rover” get ready to go ashore. Photo Sam Crimmins.

A chance for leg stretches ashore for the crew of both vessels was eagerly taken up despite cold and wintry conditions at times. Navynews reported that they; “All returned to the ship awestruck by the beauty of the Island – and conscious that it should not be spoiled by visitors.

“HMS Edinburgh”’s Commanding Officer Cdr Paul Russell said “South Georgia’s a unique – and fragile – environment. It needs protection in every sense of the word. We had to be very conscious of bio-security measures when landing personnel. It was a great privilege to be able to experience one of the most naturally-stunning and remote places on the planet.”

“HMS Edinburgh” will next sail to South Africa for her mid-deployment maintenance period before resuming duties further south.


The Pipit: Life On The Edge

The question came up during a howling blizzard recently, how does the tiny songbird, the South Georgia pipit, survive in the harsh conditions of a South Georgia winter?

The pipit should be one of the most important beneficiaries of the ongoing 'Habitat Restoration Project' efforts to rid South Georgia of rats. Found nowhere else in the world, and with a population estimated as 3,000 to 4,000 pairs, the pipit is classified as 'near threatened' - a species teetering on the edge. Because of the wide infestation of South Georgia by rats, pipits are mainly confined to small offshore islands and to southern coastal areas where rats are absent. Its habitat is on the edge of the Island, in low altitude tussac. In summer it nests in tussac and feeds on the copious insect life that thrives amidst the tussac bogs. In winter, with ground covered by snow for months on end, and when the only snow and ice free area can be the narrow strip of the intertidal zone, pipits are forced to the very edge, to feed on the shoreline on invertebrates and crustaceans.

But where is the bird in a blizzard? If it shelters under rocks or under tussac bogs, is it not in danger of being snowed in? A metre of snow can fall in a matter of hours here. And if it is snowed in, can it burrow its way out? These are questions that were put to a variety of South Georgia-experienced ornithologists.

Mick Mackey, currently on Bird Island, said they were good questions, “We ask ourselves that every time we're hit with a blizzard. We had a mighty nasty day yesterday for instance. Fifty-plus knot winds belting in with a good bit of snow & sleet for good measure. A day where I think all pipits stayed put.” Mick described how, after the storm, the pipits were soon back in evidence, “tirelessly working the beach in a very organised fashion, literally leaving no stone unturned in the quest for food. They work in varying numbers - I saw one group of about 15 gleaning the beach along one 50m section of Freshwater Beach. Their life seems dedicated to finding food and keeping their tiny bodies well stocked against days of fury, such as yesterday. Pipits have surprising long legs so they are well able to move around in the shallowest of shallows in search of bits floating at the surface. They could almost be classed as the world's smallest wader!”

A pipit catches an amphipod amongst exposed seaweed in the intertidal zone.
A pipit catches an amphipod amongst exposed seaweed in the intertidal zone.

As for where the birds are during the “fury”, he said “I am guessing that they retreat to nooks and crannies under the tussac bogs when the winds are too high for scavenging. I would say that there were a few pipits that would have been caught in the drift on a day like yesterday. I am sure they maintain the entrance/exit during these periods of heavy snow dumps.”

Biologist Tony Martin says he has “done a bit of work on pipits over the years. I don't know if they tunnel through snow, but I can't imagine they need to except in extremis. There will usually be some place where they can shelter from wind, rain or snow.”

The fierce weather is not the only threat to a pipit. Skuas are seen chasing them and pipit remains are occasionally recorded in skua middens. “Skuas probably do nail the unwary, but pipits are pretty quick and nimble, so I think most will evade the lumbering brown giants.” Tony said.

Many pipits may not survive a harsh winter. Photos Mick Mackey.
Many pipits may not survive a harsh winter. Photos Mick Mackey.

American ornithologist David Parmalee worked on Bird Island in the 1970s, and confessed to being obsessed with the pipit. He wrote that, though pipits thrive in summer on the copious insect population.“...The winter scene is quite different. My British colleagues believe the pipit's annual mortality in winter is great, but that they overcome such losses through a busy breeding season that starts early and ends late the following summer. The birds appear to be wonders how many successful broods are produced by a single pair of pipits under optimal conditions?”

As ever, the questions lead to more questions and it would seem that studies of the pipit are far from complete.

Keen birders value a sighting of a pipit as a prize above seeing a wandering albatross. Many birders will contribute to the millions that need to be raised for further Habitat Restoration, a project which will eventually allow this little brown bird to re-inhabit the main island. Meanwhile they continue to live on the edge.

‘Artists For Albatrosses: 5 Weeks On South Georgia’

‘You go first’ by John Gale. Oil on board, size 70 x79cm
‘You go first’ by John Gale. Oil on board, size 70 x79cm

Two internationally acclaimed wildlife artists, John Gale and Chris Rose, survived a hurricane to bring to public attention the plight of albatrosses threatened with global extinction. Here they describe their expedition:

'Sailing 900 miles in a 20m yacht to South Georgia, we battled through 10m waves and winds in excess of 80 knots to sketch and paint albatrosses and other wildlife for a major exhibition to raise funds and awareness for the 'Save the Albatross Campaign'.

Twenty-six species of seabird, including 18 out of the 22 species of albatross, are in danger of extinction because of deaths caused by long-line fishing. About 100,000 albatrosses are drowned on fishing hooks every year - a rate of one every five minutes. Only able to raise one chick every two years the albatrosses are becoming threatened with extinction faster than any other family of birds. Albatrosses have survived in the harshest marine environments for 50 million years; more than 100 times longer than our own species, but these magnificent birds are unable to cope with this new, man-made threat to their existence. Moved by their plight we journeyed to South Georgia to paint these birds and the ruggedly spectacular world they inhabit.

Sketching and painting on South Georgia presented real challenges and often involved enduring rain, high winds, blizzards, rough seas, and the ever-present and aggressive fur seals. Being eyeball-to-eyeball with an aggressive fur seal (and they have very sharp teeth) is not an experience one forgets very easily. Every landing on South Georgia involved defending ourselves from those sharp teeth; even the cute-looking fluffy pups would nip our leg given the chance. In addition, thieving sheathbills – little white birds something like a cross between a pigeon and a chicken – stole pieces of painting equipment, hats, gloves and anything that wasn’t tied down, and collapsed an improvised rain shelter on several occasions by running off with the tent pegs! But it was worth all of the dangers and every uncomfortable minute just to have the privilege of sitting a few feet away from displaying wandering albatrosses, with their 3.5 metre wingspan. These emblems of the wild, open ocean sit patiently for weeks on end, through snow and screaming winds, incubating a single egg or a downy chick.

Chris Rose working in the field at Iris Bay.
Chris Rose working in the field at Iris Bay.

South Georgia is a land of superlatives and its raw energy and stark beauty always offered something to draw or paint. We witnessed pairs of that most elegant of albatrosses, the light-mantled sooty albatross, performing their balletic, synchronised courtship flight against the backdrop of snow-covered mountains, and we stood at the edge of a colony of a quarter of a million king penguins; a moving tapestry of white, grey, yellow and black spread out before us.

All of life is played out on the Island’s beaches – from birth to death on one thin strip of land. Seal pups play amongst the bones of their dead ancestors, washed down from the tussac grass slopes above to collect in great strands on the beaches. A dead penguin is torn to shreds by the razor-sharp beaks of giant petrels while a few feet away a gentoo penguin guards her vulnerable chicks. There are, however, few visions more moving and stimulating than that of a wandering albatross as it glides in great, sweeping arcs over the wind-whipped waves, gleaming white against the leaden clouds of a passing storm. To lose this would be unforgivable.'

In the resulting exhibition, 'Artists for Albatrosses', the artists are donating 25% of all sales to the 'Save the Albatross' campaign. Both artists are also donating a significant piece of work to be auctioned by the RSPB for albatross conservation, as well as a number of limited edition print runs to be sold exclusively through the RSPB with all proceeds going to 'Save the Albatross'. Also on show will be the 'Petrel' stamps produced from artwork by John Gale resulting from the expedition. (See above) 'Artists for Albatrosses' will be held at The Air Gallery, 32 Dover Street, London, W1S 4NE from October 3rd to October 15th and is open from 10am to 6pm.

To view images of the artists work visit:

‘Storm passing – Wandering Albatross’ by Chris Rose. Oil on canvas, size 80 x130cm.
‘Storm passing – Wandering Albatross’ by Chris Rose. Oil on canvas, size 80 x130cm.

One Hundred Year Old Dinner

The birds are enjoying an unexpected delicacy after stormy seas washed the century old remains of a dead whale out of the beach at King Edward Point (KEP).

A storm on August 21st generated easterly swells that broke as surf on the south-facing beach of the KEP spit. The surf scoured the beach, moving pebbles and rocks as it reshaped the coastline. A day later giant petrels were flying around the Point. These birds have an incredible sense of smell and can detect carrion or other potential food sources from a great distance. Something on the beach was attracting them. At first the locals assumed it was a dead king penguin - one with a dreadful wound, probably inflicted by a leopard seal, had been roosting on the Point for a couple of days. We thought it had died and was now providing the birds with a dinner. On investigation though, the attraction was found to be the remains of a whale. Several whale ribs were sticking out of the beach with an associated mass of pink crumbly smelly matter and some more sinewy white matter - the birds were making a meal of this delicacy. Webcam 2 was positioned to overlook the scene and may well be looking there throughout September if the birds are feeding.

How do we know the whale remains are so old? When whaling started in South Georgia the whales would be flensed of their blubber, which would be boiled down for the oil, and the remaining carcass (skrott) was let go to drift off and decompose in the bay. This wasteful practice was stopped before the First World War, but such was the demand for whale oil in the war years that the requirement to process the whole whale was relaxed until the end of the war. So, the likelihood is, the newly exposed whale remains are from 1918 or earlier. Bon apetite.

Century old rack of ribs. Photo Patrick Lurcock.
Century old rack of ribs. Photo Patrick Lurcock.

Bird Island Diary

By Mick Mackey Base Commander and Scientist at the British Antarctic Survey Research Station at Bird Island.

The weather has had the biggest impact on life at Bird Island during August. Southerly winds kept the temperature well below freezing, causing the streams around base to freeze into beautiful glassy shapes, while pancake ice formed in the sheltered areas of the bay, attracting snow petrels in to feed.

The snow petrels stayed for a few days, feeding around the grease and pancake ice close to shore. This sparked a frenzy of photographic activity and the quest for ‘the perfect snow petrel shot’. It’s not often you get an opportunity to see these beautiful birds at such close quarters.

A snow petrel feeding on pancake ice.
A snow petrel feeding on pancake ice.

The wildlife action seemed to come to us this month as we had another dramatic display when a leopard seal caught its fur seal prey not far off the end of the jetty. It then proceeded to thrash it from side to side in order to flay off the skin and separate it into bite size chunks.

A leopard seal in the ice.
A leopard seal in the ice.

We were confined to base on August 21st when we had sustained winds of 45-50kts and heavy snow fall, resulting in large snow drifts around the buildings. The heavy seas and big waves breaking at the entrance of the bay caused further damage to the scaffolding structure at the seal study beach and lifted a number of boards and matting from the jetty. Sadly there were also wildlife casualties. Two of the wandering albatross chicks died having been blown off their nests during the storm.

Two wandering albatross chicks like this one died in the winter storm. Photos Mick Mackey
Two wandering albatross chicks like this one died in the winter storm. Photos Mick Mackey

Viewers of the Bird Island webcam will have spotted our snow-penguin which appeared one weekend. His sturdy construction ensured he survived the storm that arrived the next day; unfortunately he has not fared so well during the recent thaw.

A better view of the snow-penguin than seen from the sleet covered webcam.
A better view of the snow-penguin than seen from the sleet covered webcam.

Paul (our wintering technician) has had a difficult month, contending with frozen pipes and frequently having to hack through a foot of ice in order to pump water to the base. Even this method sometimes failed when either the pump or the hose pipe would freeze. Then we would have to ration our water (i.e. no showers until you're properly stinky!) for a few days until the temperature came up again. Normally we would collect rainwater but everything has been frozen this month.

Last month (July) was dominated by the production of Bird Island’s entry in the Antarctic 48 hr Film Festival – 'Saving Private Pingu'. Penned by our very own writer-in-residence, Ruth, 'Saving Private Pingu' is an adventure following the heroics of the Bird Island quartet as they head out to save a penguin in distress. Highlighting the wonderful landscape that is Bird Island, the movie also captures the hitherto untapped acting skills & Swiss comic timing that has had Hollywood & Edinburgh abuzz.

And..... last but not least, congratulations to all at KEP on their triumph in the Antarctic film festival! Naturally we were surprised not to take the honours ourselves, but we’re happy that they came to South Georgia anyway.

Saving Private Pingu

KEP Win The 48hr Antarctic Film Festival

Roll out the red carpet, dust off the Oscars, show us the way to Cannes.....yes, KEP won the 'Best Film' category in this year's '48hr Antarctic Film Festival'.

There were entries from the French in sub-Antarctic Crozet Island to the Americans in deepest south Scott Base at the South Pole; submissions too from the Japanese, Koreans, Russians, Australians, and more besides, not forgetting the Brits of course.

Main organiser, Michael Christiansen from the US base McMurdo, said; “Just looking at the list of participating stations proves that this is truly an international experience. And, I believe, the only unifying Antarctic experience. Well, except for, umm, science.”

Each film had to incorporate five elements (see the July newsletter), and once these were announced, the films were conceived, shot, edited and uploaded before midnight on the second day. There was then a fortnight to allow straining internet connections all over the Antarctic to download the submissions and for base members to watch them all and vote for the five winners. 'Best Acting' was awarded to UK's Halley Base for “The Antarctic Hair Stylist” which featured a fabulously camp turn by the lead actor and his love interest, the chef. 'Best Screenplay' went to the French base at Crozet for “What if Popeye Was a Woman” - you should see her muscles! 'Best Use of Elements' was awarded to the clever and beautifully filmed “Once In Antarctic” by Russia's Bellingshausen Station.

And....applause please.....King Edward Point took the award for 'Best Cinematography' and the overall award for 'Best Film' with “Popeye the Whaler Man”.

If you missed seeing it last month, you can still catch this five star performance here [You Tube].

Want to see more hilarious out-takes? Find them here [You Tube].

South Georgia Snippets

As part of the 'Edinburgh International Arts Festival', Scotland, an art project linking St Andrews Square in Edinburgh with St Andrews Bay hut at South Georgia was running throughout August.

Artist Bridget Steed was creating an online hut diary for St Andrews Bay hut, adding a page each day of the project. Sadly, due to limited internet connections on South Georgia it was not possible to monitor the progress of the hut book from the Island, but several locals submitted artwork, video-links and photos for potential incorporation.

You can find the St Andrews hut project at

August's crop of earthquakes from the South Sandwich Island region included three above 5 on the Richter scale. On August 16th there was a 5.6 at 57.243S, 25.464W 123Km, ESE Visokoi Island. On the 21st one of 5.6 at 56.391S, 27.540W SSI, 40Km NNW of Visokoi Island, on the 23rd one of 4.9 at 56.172S 27.076W, 59Km N Visokoi Island and on August 25th one of 5.1 at 58.329S, 25.502W 98Km, NE Bristol Island.

August was a convincingly wintry month, with the best opportunities so far this winter for ski trips and a bit of snowboarding.

After the larger snowfalls the likelihood of avalanches falling on the track between KEP and Grytviken is assessed before the track is declared open. In the video below, Base Commander Rob Webster explains how they know if it should be safe before heading off for a day of fun on the slopes.

Ski Saturday

Three of the small band of people who normally man the KEP base in winter were deployed at sea at one stage in August. Two were aboard the “FPV Pharos SG” undertaking research trawls and conducting bird and mammal counts at sea, the other acting as a fisheries observer on one of the longliners.

Now they are back everyone is hoping to escape for a few days winter camping. Winter is the time for a night at Maiviken for instance, to see the extraordinary sight of gentoo penguins returning en-mass to their roost at sunset. Sam, Ali and Ashley spent one night there to capture great footage and some impressive photographs.

Gentoos returning to land. Photo Sam Crimmin.
Gentoos returning to land. Photo Sam Crimmin.

Star trails over the Maiviken hut. Photo Sam Crimmin.
Star trails over the Maiviken hut. Photo Sam Crimmin.

But winter is coming to an end, we know because we can hear the early male elephant seals are here already. The first of them come up on the breeding beaches at the end of August to wait for the females to follow them in in a few weeks time. Meanwhile they like to bellow, and on still days their calls carry across the water from Susa Point.

Bull elephant seal at Susa Point.
Bull elephant seal at Susa Point.

Dates for Your Diary:

SGA 10th Anniversary dinner: The South Georgia Association will be celebrating 10 years of the SGA in style on September 24th. Anyone with an interest in South Georgia or who plans to visit the Island is very welcome to take part in the festivities. The evening celebration will include dinner and drinks, live music, a photography competition and an exhibition of paintings, all in the pleasant surroundings of Royal Overseas League Club in London, UK. Why not go along and enjoy a cocktail before dinner while browsing the display of competition photographs, and a exhibition of paintings by the artists Bruce Pearson and Libby Jones. After dinner, over coffee and chocolates, there will be a performance of Antarctic ballads by the distinguished folk singer and composer Cliff Wedgbury. Toasts and the award for “Best Photograph” will then be washed down with a glass of prosecco.

Official guests include the Norwegian Ambassador and Jane Rumble from the FCO. You can book on line at

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

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