South Georgia Newsletter, January 2011

From South Georgia Website

Jump to: navigation, search

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

SG Station To Monitor World Magnetic Reversal?

A magnetic observatory is being re-established on South Georgia to provide vital data on the 'South Atlantic Anomaly' as scientists monitor a possible reversal of the earth's magnetic field. This field, generated deep within the planet, shields against particle radiation from space. South Georgia sits within an area where this shield is weaker due to the weaker spot in the earth's magnetic field known as the 'South Atlantic Anomaly' (SAA). In this area, radiation from space penetrates deeper into the atmosphere, which can be a hazard to satellites, spacecraft and high-altitude aircraft.

The SAA is growing and spreading westwards from South Africa as the Earth’s internal magnetic field rapidly weakens in this region. Scientist believe this may be evidence of a coming reversal in the direction of the Earth’s internal magnetic field. They do not know precisely what occurs during such reversals or how long it takes for a reversal to complete.

According to geomagneticists at the BGS: “The earth’s magnetic field has had many highs, lows and reversals in its past. The last reversal was around 800,000 years ago. So the Earth is known to be able to re-generate its field and has done so during human pre-history. Understanding the development of the SAA may therefore be significant in understanding the reversal process and its impact on life and the natural environment.”

There is a global network of magnetic observatories, and the new station being built at King Edward Point will allow better monitoring of the South Atlantic Anomaly and of changes occurring deep within the Earth. Due to the lack of land in the mid-Atlantic area only Ascension Island, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena observatories currently provide monitoring of the magnetic field and its changes in this important area. BGS states: “We need to better relate observations of the SAA made separately on the land masses of Africa and South America. The South Georgia observatory will therefore be a key addition to this small network of observatories.”

Construction of the new observatory started a year ago and members of the BGS return in February to complete building the observatory and installing the monitoring equipment.

There was previously a magnetic observatory on the site until 1982.

More information is available from the BGS website.

Fishing And Shipping News

Trawler “Sil” is conducting research fishing in the SGMZ.
Trawler “Sil” is conducting research fishing in the SGMZ.

Toothfish licences have been offered to six vessels to fish in the South Georgia Maritime Zone in the 2011 season, with a total quota of 1800 tonnes. The 2011 season will start on April 21st and end on August 31st. Two vessels have been licensed to fish in the South Sandwich MZ and are likely to fish during March.

Trawler “Sil” started research fishing for the annual benthic fish survey in the South Georgia Maritime Zone. The vessel arrived at King Edward Cove on January 29th to collect equipment and Fisheries Scientist Katie Brigden who joined several other scientists who embarked in Stanley, Falklands, earlier. The vessel was inspected and licensed ready to start fishing commercially for icefish.

Ten cruise ships visited during January, including the large ship “The World” which is unusual in that it has residents living on board. One vessel, the 100 passenger “Marina Svetaeva” was making its first ever call to South Georgia so was joined by a Government Observer.

Two research ships made calls. The South African weather ship “SA Agulhas” came via the South Sandwich Islands where they had put people ashore on Southern Thule to service an automatic weather station. On January 8th they delivered six weather buoys which will be loaded on the SG Fishery Patrol Vessel “Pharos SG” to be deployed at sea during the winter months.

The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) ship “RRS James Clark Ross” (“JCR”) anchored on January 15th. High winds prevented casual trips ashore for those aboard, but two people who needed to work at the base at King Edward Point (KEP) were able to get ashore. The ship embarked two others from KEP and left later the same day.

Weather ship “SA Agulhas” passes the anchored “The World”.
Weather ship “SA Agulhas” passes the anchored “The World”.

“HMS Gloucester” and “RFA Black Rover” were patrolling in the area and visited Grytviken between 20th and 24th January (see report below).

There were four yachts in the area during January, one private and three on charter. “Golden Fleece” called in en route to the South Sandwich Islands. As well as the principal charterer, a photographer, there were also three scientists aboard, including one sponsored by GSGSSI, who were going to carry out bird surveys and other scientific sampling.

Yacht “Australis” had ten people aboard, including a film crew who are making a 3D penguin film.

Navy Matters

“HMS Gloucester anchors off Hope Point. Photo Sam Crimmin.
“HMS Gloucester anchors off Hope Point. Photo Sam Crimmin.

In the month that ocean survey vessel “HMS Scott”, the temporary replacement vessel for “HMS Endurance”, was forced to cancel a planned visit to Grytviken, a Royal Navy spokesperson announced that the “HMS Endurance”, which nearly sank in the Chilean Channels two years ago, was to be replaced by a new vessel to be called “HMS Protector”.

The new ship will be an icebreaker which will fulfil the same tasks as “HMS Endurance”. A previous vessel of the same name was the Antarctic patrol ship from 1955 until 1970. It will be the sixth navy ship to be named “HMS Protector”.

Warship “HMS Gloucester”, accompanied by the tanker “RFA Black Rover”, were patrolling South Georgia waters during January.

A joint party of Royal Marines and members of the Falkland Island Defence Force were put ashore on the Barff Peninsula by boating staff from KEP to train and to patrol on land. They were lead by Royal Marine Mountain Leader Captain Ian Mcgill who was returning to the Island for the first time after being stationed here as part of the garrison more than a decade ago.

The military ships bought several VIP visitors of note, including Commander British Forces South Atlantic Islands Commodore Thicknesse and his wife.

Two services were held in the church at Grytviken, one lead by Reverend Richard Hines, rector at Christ Church Cathedral in Stanley, Falklands, whose parish includes South Georgia. The other service was conducted by the chaplain from “HMS Gloucester”.

Rev. Richard Hines and his wife Jen were able to visit this remote corner of their parish by travelling with “RFA Black Rover”.
Rev. Richard Hines and his wife Jen were able to visit this remote corner of their parish by travelling with “RFA Black Rover”.

Crew members assisted works at KEP by helping to carry building materials across to Maiviken hut. During the visit HMS Gloucester assisted GSGSSI by tasking their helicopter to undertake a series of aerial photographs of retreating glaciers. Monitoring the pace of glacial retreat is an essential element in the planning for future phases of the Habitat Restoration project.

The KEP launches were used to assist getting the crew ashore for leg stretches. Photo Sam Crimmin.
The KEP launches were used to assist getting the crew ashore for leg stretches. Photo Sam Crimmin.

Worlds Biggest Rodent Eradication Starts Soon

There are only a few weeks to go before the start of the South Georgia Heritage Trust's (SGHT) Habitat Restoration Project which is planned to be the worlds biggest ever attempted rodent eradication.

Project director Professor Tony Martin has arrived in Stanley, he and other team members will soon embark on their sea journey to the island. Some of the team members will arrive on the cruise ship “Marina Svetaeva” along with the two specially purchased helicopters. Other team members will arrive on the FPV “Pharos SG” which will also bring the bait.

Early tasks once the team is here will be: installing communications equipment; and carrying out test flights in the helicopters; trialling of equipment; and calibrating bait buckets. Once the main team is in place a Search and Rescue exercise will be conducted, and initial monitoring activities will take place including the radio tracking of South Georgia pintail ducks.

Meanwhile snap traps, housed in wooden boxes to prevent incidental capture of birds, have been deployed by GSGSSI staff at Grytviken, Maiviken and the Greene Peninsula to catch rats for genetic analyses. If rats are found in cleared areas in the future it will be important to know if the eradication failed or if there was a new introduction. Any potential unnatural food sources for rodents are being rat proofed or removed including emergency food stored in caves and huts in the area where the first rodent eradication attempts are to be made.

The latest edition of the SGHT's newsletter includes news of the Habitat Restoration Project and is available for download.

Mountaineering In Antarctica

A review by mountaineer Crag Jones of the new book 'Mountaineering in Antarctica' by Damien Gildea.

This is a stunning achievement that will serve both as a history and an inspirational blue print for future activities. It is written and presented in an accessible style that will appeal to the specialist and interested layman alike. In the world of exploratory mountaineering knowledge is power and this is the work that democratises that power. It arrived with an ominous clunk through the letterbox. An hour later I was frantically begging Skip (Novak) for a passage south. A panic engendered by a combination of awe and horror on reading its chronicles, they confirmed my worst fears. The cat was out of the bag, the horse was already galloping for the horizon whilst I am left fiddling with the saddle bags! It’s a rage that whilst self-inflicted and presently impudent, must spur future action: A boat a boat, my kingdom for a boat. It must have been a scene repeated in many a front parlour across the world. The fact that there is a simultaneous French edition published will ring the bell once more to ensure that the ‘Peninsular wars' continue to resonate for another generation. There’s nothing like a bit of friendly competition to sharpen the mind and one’s ice-axes!

The book is encyclopaedic and lyrical, photographic and historic but past victories when published often prove pyrrhic. Damien Gildea however seems to be one of nature’s persuaders. Most exploratory climbers are torn between self-publication and secrecy. When a third party pops up, they offer you the middle-way, they’ll do it for you, it’ll just take the load off of your mind man. Yep and damn sure stoke up someone else’s! But they are like moths drawn to the flame. So the deed is done. It’s out there now, a new, level playing field. It will be interesting to see how this great game plays out in future.

For South Georgia as it embarks for that uncertain future the fourth paragraph (p8) of the beautifully written introduction bears reading well. Managing such a world class adventure resource requires as much sensitivity and awareness of the ethical framework for mountaineering as that required for the ecology of threatened biospheres and the balancing of government accounts. This book will inspire more to visit. There must be the acceptance of risk and any consequences arising from those risks, by all parties. It is essential that such inspirational freedoms should be preserved, not pickled in unnecessary restrictions and commercialisation which can only lead to a parody of real adventure.

The book is published in Belgium by 'Editions Nevicata', has 192 pages and around 200 quality colour images and maps. It includes a 20 page chapter on climbing in South Georgia. It is also available in French entitled “Les Montagnes de l'Antarctique”.

The book, priced around £30, is available from some bookshops and can be ordered online from

ISBN 978-2-87523-000-3

This photo of Mt Paget shows the various routes used to climb and descend it. Photo Lindsay Griffin.
This photo of Mt Paget shows the various routes used to climb and descend it. Photo Lindsay Griffin.

As The Seal Swims

Research shows female fur seals are swimming more than 100 miles offshore in one feeding trip. In January and February adult females fur seals leave their pups on land and swim off to feed, returning to feed the pup at about weekly intervals. This pattern of behaviour gives scientists an opportunity to deploy small satellite tags on the animals and recover them to collect data over short periods. The devices, which are attached to the animal’s fur, contain GPS, temperature and depth recorders and a VHF transmitter. It is only recently that tags have been deployed from the Maiviken area but already scientist have shown that the seals from the middle of the Island and those from Bird island are feeding in different areas.

Alastair Wilson with the HF aerial to locate the tagged seals at Maiviken. Photo Sam Crimmin.
Alastair Wilson with the HF aerial to locate the tagged seals at Maiviken. Photo Sam Crimmin.

Zoological Field Assistant Alastair Wilson treks over to the densely fur seal populated area of Maiviken every two days. Once he has deployed a tag and the seal has gone to sea he listens out for the VHF beeps which tell him she has returned to feed the pup again. He uses the directional receiver to home in on the seal so he can recover the tag and later download the information. One recent data set astounded him; the seal, which had a tag on for 15 days, had made two feeding trips. On the first trip she swam a “normal” distance off the island to feed, but on the second she swam 110nm (120miles) offshore (The actual distance travelled over her meandering course there and back would have been greater than 250 miles). The plotted track on the map below shows the two trips, one to about 75nm where she fed for a while before returning, then the second longer trip on which she went directly via her last feeding area and then on. The track stops on day 12 when the tag battery ran out. Her route, heading out to sea towards the north-east is typical of seals feeding from the middle of the Island. Those living at Bird Island typically head north-west.

The fur seals are finding plenty of krill this summer, which Alastair also monitors by studying their scats. Consequently the pups are doing very well and are very fat and healthy.

Google map showing the two track of the two feeding trips.
Google map showing the two track of the two feeding trips.

The Mists Of Time – The Life Story Of A Wandering Albatross

The attractive new book 'The Mists of Time' by author James McQuilken is being sold to raise funds for the SGHT's Habitat Restoration Project.

The books tells the fictionalised story of the life of a South Georgia wandering albatross, Cymba. The haunting tale takes Cymba from hatching and fledging in the Island's harsh environment, follows the bird on it's epic flights through to finding a mate and returning to the Island.

The author said: “The wandering albatross is an iconic figure to me and I decided to write a story about one of these wonderful birds and just how much devastation had occurred to one wandering albatross family, through modern fishing practices, within their habitat. I decided to base my story on a wandering albatross from South Georgia and I wanted to donate all profits from book sales to a charity which was working to help these, and all of South Georgia’s wonderful birds, survive.”

The book costs £15 and is illustrated with beautiful colour photographs. The author is donating all the profits to the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project.

'The Mists of Time' will be available from the SG Museum and can be bought online from the SGHT shop.

Far Horizons: From Hull To The Ends Of The Earth

A new book based on the maritime history of Hull, England, has several sections pertinent to South Georgia. 'Far Horizons: from Hull to the Ends of the Earth' is written by historian Dr Robb Robinson and published by the Maritime Historical Studies Centre, Hull.

One section of the book is devoted to the Far South and includes chapters on: the Hull steam trawler “Viola” (later called “Dias” and now beached in front of the SG Museum); the “William Scoresby”, and people with links to Hull involved with Shackleton's Transantarctic Expedition. The book costs £20, for details on how to order e-mail here.

The author also had an article on the North Sea fishing fleets published in the January edition of the 'BBC History Magazine' which included a piece on the “Viola”.

Bird Island Diary

By Agnieszka Fryckowska, Base Commander at the British Antarctic Survey Research Station at Bird Island.

The New Year took us all by surprise here at Bird Island. Not only did it come very fast but it also reduced the number on base quite significantly. Five people left very early on the 1st and Jon Ashburner arrived from KEP. In true Bird Island form, before long, work commitments had us running around. The first ‘all hands on deck’ job was fur seal pup weighing at Main Bay. With our rough kit on we wandered over to the bay avoiding the many seals that still abound the beach area. Once set up, we took it upon ourselves to catch, sex and weigh 100 pups from the beach and the tussac areas.

Seal Pup weighing team. Photo Stacey Adlard.
Seal Pup weighing team. Photo Stacey Adlard.

As the wandering albatross have returned to their nests and began to lay, the time came to mark out their nests. Jon and Stacey covered a significant part of the island, checking all the birds for rings. A number of us joined them for the western section of the island, covering Gony Ridge, Molly Meadows, Morris Point, Dank Fen and Round How.

It’s surprising to see how far the fur seals get when walking around the island. Once the females have mated and the pups are old enough they start to migrate up the hills away from the beaches and laze about on the softer tussacy lumps. In November and December, Freshwater Beach, which is just in front of the station, was full of adult males, females and then pups. January has seen this change dramatically with the males seeming to disappear overnight, and females frequently going out for several days to feed.

By the third week of January the beach felt virtually empty. Blonde seals have been a talking point this summer with several pups around the beaches. They just call for a photo and don’t mind posing at all.

Blonde Antarctic Fur seal pup. Photo Agnieszka Fryckowska.
Blonde Antarctic Fur seal pup. Photo Agnieszka Fryckowska.

The gentoo chick census came next as a group activity. We wandered over to Natural Arch armed with shiny clickers to count them, working our way through the colonies and finishing up the remainder the next day. Johnson Beach was last on our list and included the infamous chick weighing session where we caught and weighed 100 chicks. Luckily for us we came off fairly well and didn’t look too muddy at the end of it. All in all a good couple of days out and the final count of chicks was 3322 compared to 1816 last year.

Remaining Gentoo Adult and chicks near station. Photo Agnieszka Fryckowska.
Remaining Gentoo Adult and chicks near station. Photo Agnieszka Fryckowska.

The end of the month finished with a wanderer check covering the whole island. Each of us armed with our maps of nests we set off in the pouring rain to check on how the birds were doing. We marked down if they had failed (egg and bird gone) or if they were still present. I’m happy to report that all birds in my areas were present and accounted for.

There are many species I have neglected to mention and every time I go out I am overwhelmed by the number of things to look at. If I was to account for everything I have seen this month then a book would a better medium. For now this provides a snapshot of our January at Bird Island.

South Georgia Snippets

GSGSSI Senior Executive Dr Martin Collins accompanied James Jansen, the Sustainable Fisheries Manager in the Polar Regions Unit of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), on a familiarisation visit to the Island. They arrived by cruise ship on January 11th for a five day visit, departing on the “JCR”.

CEO Martin Collins (left) and James Jansen.
CEO Martin Collins (left) and James Jansen.

Possession Day, January 17th, is the day Captain Cook claimed the Island for King George of England in 1775. At KEP it was celebrated in pouring rain when Government Officer Patrick Lurcock read a short and rather uncomplimentary passage from Cook’s diaries about the Island, raised a toast and then raised a new flag on the flagpole.

The 236th anniversary of the claiming was marked a couple of days later at a reception at Government House in Stanley.

A new flag was raised on Possession Day.
A new flag was raised on Possession Day.

In his address at the reception Commissioner Nigel Haywood noted how much the Island has changed since then Captain Cook’s time, largely due to the influence of man. He highlighted the efforts now being made by GSGSSI and other non-governmental bodies to manage the island in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Commissioner Nigel Haywood making an address at the Government House Possession Day reception. Photo J Brock
Commissioner Nigel Haywood making an address at the Government House Possession Day reception. Photo J Brock

The fourth edition of the SGHT newsletter has been published. Articles include:

- A note from the Chairman of SGHT Howard Pearce

- Countdown to the Habitat Restoration fieldwork

- Curatorial Assistant Lynsey Easton on working at South Georgia Museum

- All change at the Museum shop

- Managing Industrial Heritage Conference

- Museum Exhibit: The Grytviken Kino

- Explore the South Georgia Museum online

The pdf document can be downloaded here.

Personnel from the science station at KEP conducted a Search and Rescue (SAR) exercise, testing out a new wheeled stretcher on the long hike to Maiviken. Ever resourceful they used the exercise to load the stretcher with building materials needed to make repairs to the hut at Maiviken.

There are no SAR capabilities for most areas of the Island. The personnel at KEP and Bird Island occasionally do SAR exercises in case they need to recover one of their own people from the limited travel areas.

The wheeled stretcher in action. Photo Sam Crimmin.
The wheeled stretcher in action. Photo Sam Crimmin.

With materials now on site at Maiviken from the efforts of the SAR team and Navy team, the old hut has been treated to some necessary maintenance. It has had new outside wall panels fitted, a new door and the outside has been painted.

Obsolete structures nearby were also demolished and removed.

Ashley works on Maiviken hut. Photo Sam Crimmin.
Ashley works on Maiviken hut. Photo Sam Crimmin.

On a dark evening of January 8th, as a boat brought some lucky people people back from a lovely dinner on “The World” huge lumps of bioluminescence lit up in the wake of the boat.

Bioluminesence is only rarely seen in these waters but on this occasion was probably caused by large numbers of comb jellies, ctenophores. Small (1cm) ctenophores are sometimes seen in the Cove in summer but these ones were very large, more than 10cm long. In daytime colourful light waves can see seen running down the sides of the animals. On this exceptional evening the light bursts they emit in the dark were also visible at the waters edge as wavelets broke on the slipway.

It was all hands to help for gentoo penguin chick and fur seal pup census and weighing at Maiviken this month. The youngsters weight is measured as part of a long-term ecosystem monitoring programme, which assesses the breeding success of different krill-eating species. Such information is important in monitoring any potential impacts of the krill fishery around the island.

Gentoo census at Maiviken. Photo Sam Crimmin.
Gentoo census at Maiviken. Photo Sam Crimmin.

A rare summer visitor, a leopard seal, was caught on 'Webcam 2' on January 8th. Another was seen a couple of days later resting on a small iceberg in the bay.

An leopard seal caught on 'Webcam 2'...
An leopard seal caught on 'Webcam 2'...

...and the rather more picturesque one seen in Cumberland Bay. Photo Rob Webster.
...and the rather more picturesque one seen in Cumberland Bay. Photo Rob Webster.

Burns night was celebrated with a traditional Scottish haggis feast and recitation of Burns poetry. The haggis was paraded in by Patrick, led by Rob playing a Scottish jig on the fiddle.

Photo Sam Crimmin.
Photo Sam Crimmin.

The Cove echoes to the calls of birds and seal in the late summer months. Lots of the tiny Wilsons storm petrels have been seen flying over KEP and feeding in the waters of the Cove whilst the light-mantled sooty albatrosses send their plaintive calls echoing off the surrounding cliff faces as they call from their nest sites to mates flying above. But the sad note of the albatross's call is outdone by the heart-rending note of fur seal mothers calling to their pups when they return from their long feeding trips to sea. Nor is it quiet at night, as many a dark eyed resident knows, for then the moulting king penguins trumpeting loudly just feet from bedroom windows are less welcome, though the chipchipchip sound of the white-chinned petrels in their burrows on the steep tussac slopes is more soothing.

Whitechins fly at night in an attempt to evade the predatory intentions of hungry skuas. Very occasionally one will be present outside its burrow in daytime, and at dusk they get a lot more active, as can be seen in the video below.

Dates for your diary:

Following a visit to Scott's hut at Cape Evans, Antarctica where he was filming a documentary about Captain Scott, the presenter, writer and adventurer Ben Fogle will be speaking at the Royal Geographical Society on February 17th. Doors and bar open from 6pm and Ben will be talking at 7pm. Tickets cost £15.

After the talk there will be a small reception with Ben Fogle, tickets for the reception cost £20 and places are limited.

The event is organised by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. You can contact them on telephone number 01291 690305. Please mention the SGHT when booking and the full face value of your ticket will go to supporting the work of the South Georgia Heritage Trust.

Now is the time to make a note in your new 2011 dairy about the conference 'Managing Industrial and Cultural Heritage: South Georgia in Context'. The conference is being organised by the SGHT in association with the South Georgia Association, The International Committee for the Conservation of Industrial Heritage, Institut Minos, and GSGSSI. It takes place in Dundee, Scotland, on September 7th to 9th.

The conference aims to take forward ideas discussed by the Cultural Heritage Workshop at the 2003 SGA 'Next 10 Years' Conference, and issues raised in GSGSSI’s South Georgia: Plan for progress 2006-10.

According to the SGHT the conference, in addition to promoting a wider awareness of the heritage activities of SGHT, will discuss cultural heritage management in polar and sub-polar regions. The aim of the conference being to focus attention on the future of South Georgia’s whaling stations. Papers will explore aspects of recording, researching, interpreting and managing industrial heritage sites with the aim of informing future heritage priorities and strategies.

In addition to the main conference programme, there will be receptions at the SGHT's headquarters in the award-winning Verdant Works Jute Museum and aboard “RRS Discovery” as well as a dinner at Discovery Point overlooking the River Tay. A conference website linked to the SGHT website ( will be up and running with full details and registration facility by the end of February.

To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

  • © Copyright GSGSSI 2013.