South Georgia Newsletter, January 2013

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

Further Protection In Marine Protected Areas

During a visit to South Georgia, GSGSSI Commissioner Nigel Haywood announced new measures to protect marine environments within the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The new measures have been agreed following scientific advice and a stakeholder consultation. They include seasonal closures, a ban on all bottom fishing deeper than 2,250 meters, and additional closed areas within the existing MPA (created in February 2012), which already covers over one million square kilometres.

The krill fishery will be limited to a season between April and October to avoid competition with krill eating predators (particularly penguins & fur seals) during the breeding season. A 12 nautical mile pelagic no-take zone has been created around each of the South Sandwich Islands, protecting 18,042 km2, including important feeding areas for chinstrap and Adelie penguins. There are also closed areas to protect sensitive benthic fauna and provide refugia for the highly valuable Patagonian toothfish, covering 12,662 km2. As fishing shallower than 700 metres was already prohibited, only 83,500 km2 (8%) of the sea-floor is available for bottom fishing for toothfish with longlines. Bottom trawling was already banned throughout the MPA.

Minister for the Overseas Territories, Mark Simmonds, said that he welcomed the MPA announcement, saying that the “…high standard of environmental stewardship and marine protection is crucial in protecting the unique and internationally important biodiversity in the Southern Ocean. I am delighted that the Government of the Territory continues to be among the world leaders in delivering marine and environmental protection.”

The Commissioner’s announcement was made on January 21st at King Edward Point; you can watch it on the videoclip below.

The full press release about the new protection can be downloaded here [pdf, 0.3mb].

Commissioner Nigel Haywood announces the new MPA protection at a meeting of the
local residents at King Edward Point.

Reindeer Eradication

The eradication of reindeer from South Georgia began in early January with the arrival of a group of Sami herders from the north of Norway and expert marksmen from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate.

Norwegian whalers introduced the reindeer to two parts of the island in the early 1900’s and it is Norwegians who are now tasked with their eradication. The first introduction was 10 animals to Ocean Harbour on the Barff Peninsula in 1911, with further introductions in 1912 and 1925 to the Busen area (close to the whaling stations at Stromness, Leith and Husvik). During the whaling era numbers of reindeer were controlled by regular shooting for food and recreation. Following the end of land-based whaling the numbers increased rapidly and there are now estimated to be between 4000 and 5000 animals on the island.

Reindeer are voracious grazers of the native flora including tussac grass, burnet and lichens. Density of reindeer on the two peninsulas on South Georgia is considerably higher than in the their native Scandinavia and the reindeer have had a major impact on the vegetation. Tussac is an important habitat for many breeding birds and the loss of large areas of tussac has had a major impact on seabird populations. The reindeer are currently restricted to three areas by glaciers, but rapid glacial retreat will soon open up new areas to them, so some management action was urgently needed.

A reindeer exclosure on South Georgia, showing how the tussac grass recovers when reindeer are prevented from accessing the area.
A reindeer exclosure on South Georgia, showing how the tussac grass recovers when reindeer are prevented from accessing the area.

In 2011, following a consultation, GSGSSI took the decision to eradicate the reindeer from the island and convened a panel of experts to advise on the best methods. Key considerations included that the animals were killed as humanely as possible, that some meat could be recovered, that any disturbance to native fauna was minimised and that carcasses could be removed to avoid any impact on the rat eradication project.

The panel advised that a combination of herding and corralling, and ground-shooting would be the most humane and effective method of doing the eradication. The herding and corralling would allow many of the animals to be gathered in one place to be humanely killed and butchered. Expertise in herding and corralling reindeer comes from the north of Norway, so in January 2012 two Norwegian experts joined GSGSSI CEO Martin Collins to assess the feasibility of this approach. The trip identified areas for herding and also identified isolated areas where ground shooting would be needed and a decision was taken to focus on eradicating reindeer from the smaller Busen area in early 2013.

The Busen area of South Georgia, showing herding routes and preliminary counts of animals.
The Busen area of South Georgia, showing herding routes and preliminary counts of animals.

The eradication team, led by GSGSSI’s Environment Officer Jennifer Lee and Carl Erik Kilander from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate, arrived on South Georgia in early January on the MV Pharos SG and quickly set about building fences and a corral system on Tonsberg Point, between Stromness and Husvik. Meanwhile two pairs of ground-shooters visited some of the remote outlying areas to shoot the reindeer.

The fencing and corralling is now complete and hundreds of reindeer had been gathered by the end of the month. Ground-shooting operations have been extremely successful, with further hundreds of reindeer shot from the outlying areas. Further herding is currently underway and it is expected that around 800 animals will be gathered by the end of the project in February. The total number of reindeer appears to be higher than estimated, but it is expected that the Busen area will be cleared of reindeer by the end of February. Meat will be recovered from the gathered reindeer under veterinary supervision and GSGSSI hope to sell it to cruise ship operators and fishing companies and locally in the Falkland Islands.

Tonsberg Point, where reindeer are being gathered and corralled.
Tonsberg Point, where reindeer are being gathered and corralled.

Commissioner Nigel Haywood, who recently visited the corralling location on South Georgia, said: “It has been extremely useful to see first-hand the work of the Norwegian and Sami experts. Their skills will ensure that the eradication is done as humanely and sensitively as possible”

GSGSSI CEO Martin Collins, who is on the island overseeing the project, said: “The combination of reindeer and rat eradications will help return South Georgia to a more natural state. We expect to see a rapid recovery in vegetation, invertebrate populations and, in particular, ground nesting birds.”

Commissioner Nigel Haywood discussing herding operations with Carl Erik Kilander and Per Anders Eira from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate.
Commissioner Nigel Haywood discussing herding operations with Carl Erik Kilander and Per Anders Eira from the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate.

Commissioner’s Visit

GSGSSI Commissioner Nigel Haywood made his third visit to South Georgia in January, arriving on the cruise ship Hanseatic on January 15th.

During the week-long visit he was able to meet representatives of all the agencies operating on the Island, look round the old whaling stations at Grytviken, Leith, Stromness and Husvik, and also visit the South Georgia Museum and the base at King Edward Point (KEP). Whilst in Stromness Bay he also visited the area where the reindeer eradication was occurring and met with some of the herders and other staff involved in the project.

It was fitting that the Commissioner was able to make the announcement of the important new additions to the Marine Protected Areas legislation during his visit to the Island (see above).

Nigel Haywood’s visit also coincided with Possession Day, January 17th, a South Georgia holiday to mark the day Captain Cook took possession of the Island in the name of the King George of England in 1775. To mark the occasion a reception was held at Carse House where Senior Government Officer Patrick Lurcock explained the significance of the date before raising a toast to the Queen, followed by a brief response by the Commissioner as the Queen’s representative.

A keen runner, Nigel Haywood was keen to take part in the South Georgia Half Marathon which was run on January 20th (see below) before leaving the following day on the cruise ship Polar Pioneer.

Nigel Haywood will shortly start the final year of his tenure as Commissioner for SGSSI - he is also Governor of the Falkland Islands. He should fit in one more visit to South Georgia as in December he plans to return to be present at the events surrounding celebration of the centenary of the church at Grytviken.

Possession Day was celebrated at Carse House, Commissioner Nigel Haywood foreground right.
Possession Day was celebrated at Carse House, Commissioner Nigel Haywood foreground right.

Fishing And Shipping News

Cruise ship Delphin in Cumberland Bay.
Cruise ship Delphin in Cumberland Bay.

January was the busiest month of the tourist season with 13 visits from cruise ships; in the second week of the month seven cruise ships visited. There were also visits by the Fishery Patrol Vessel, research vessels, and a large motor yacht.

With around 19 large icebergs in Cumberland Bay East, shipping had at times to navigate carefully to get into and out of the bay; with the bergs regularly breaking up, vessels also had to move off the regular anchorages to avoid collisions with ice.

Three vessels departing South Georgia and heading for the Antarctic Peninsula around January 11th were hit by severe conditions at sea. The heavy weather caused large waves of between 7 and 10 meters, giving the ships an uncomfortable ride and forcing them to hove too and fall behind schedule. Four crewmembers on the vessel Silver Explorer were injured when the central bridge window was smashed by a large wave. The water damaged the electrics on the bridge causing further problems. Once the weather abated the vessel had to return to South America for repairs.

Two trawlers have been operating in the SG Fishing Zone in January. One vessel was here to conduct the scientific Groundfish Survey. The other was inspected and licenced on January 25th and set out to fish for icefish. Catches were very good.

The new South African research vessel SA Agulhas II visited King Edward Cove on January 22nd. The vessel, which was launched in Finland last April, had recently called at Southern Thule, South Sandwich Islands, to service the South African automatic weather station there. The vessel visited KE Cove for the day to allow the offloading of more weather buoys that will be deployed for them throughout the year by the FPV Pharos SG when on passage between the Falklands and South Georgia or patrolling SG waters. The buoys tend to drift north-east. They collect and transmit relevant information on atmospheric and sea conditions that will affect weather systems in South Africa. Whilst the crew made a shore visit many of the locals from KEP and Grytviken took the opportunity of an invitation aboard to look around the ship with the Captain. The well-appointed ship, built in Finland, hosts very modern and well equipped laboratories and both crew and scientist aboard were full of praise for the vessel - even the engineers who have had to deal with most of the inevitable teething troubles. Ecologist Andrew Scofield, doing bird research as a member of one of several foreign science groups working from Agulhas II, described the science facilities aboard as “out of this world, a top facility”. He said the icebreaker was spacious and that he was, “incredibly impressed with its capabilities, it took us through to Neumayer station in Antarctica with no problems in a very heavy ice year.”

Agulhas II in King Edward Cove
Agulhas II in King Edward Cove

Director Of Fisheries Decision Upheld By Court

The decision of the GSGSSI Chief Executive Officer and Director of Fisheries, Martin Collins, to refuse a toothfish licence to the longline vessel Jaqueline for the 2012 SGSSI toothfish season was upheld in court in January.

The court, which sits in Stanley, Falkland Islands, was considering a judicial review bought by the fishing company Quark Ltd after their vessel did not get a licence. The case was heard by Chief Justice Mr Christopher Gardner QC in the Falkland Islands Supreme Court between November 27th and 30th 2012, but the detailed judgment was only released on January 16th. Acting Judge, Mr Carl Gumsley, read the judgement. It included a preamble, in which it was explained that the purpose of a Judicial Review was not to consider the merits of a decision, but to consider whether the decision-making process was in itself lawful.

In part of his summary for his reasons for dismissing the four grounds cited by the fishing company when asking for the Judicial Review, Mr Justice Gardner explained that the repeated granting of a licence to the Jacqueline in the past should not in itself have generated any expectation that it would automatically be granted one in the future. “In 2012 all that it (Quark) had was the ability to apply for a fresh licence and an expectation that its application would, along with all the others, be considered fairly.”

Mr Gardner also agreed with the contention of GSSSSI’s counsel in November that the shift of weighting from ‘loyalty’ to ‘track record’ acknowledged the development of the fishery from its uncertain early days, to the present competitive situation in which it was important to choose applicants that would raise the Fishery’s standards.

The Chief Justice concluded that the Director’s criteria were merely guidelines to enable him to arrive at an overall assessment of the strength of any particular applicant. These were, he said, “matters for the Director’s expertise and not matters that a disappointed applicant can ask the court to review, short of irrationality.”

Info: Penguin News

Rodent Eradication Getting Underway Again

At the end of January the SGHT Habitat Restoration Team were beginning to travel towards the Falkland Islands for the rendezvous with their support ship, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) vessel RRS Shackleton, ready to load 200 tones of bait, three helicopters and the 700 drums of fuel for them, and all the other supplies needed for the months of fieldwork ahead when they will bait the northern end of South Georgia to eradicate invasive rodents.

A new edition of the newsletter ‘Project News’ was published in January in which the Project Director Tony Martin writes “More than eighteen months of intense planning and preparation are finally at an end, and now it’s time to get this show on the road. Or, to be precise, on the water.” The RRS Shackleton will sail to South Georgia from the Falklands with most of the 25-person team on board in early February.

To download the January edition of ‘Project News’ click here. And look out for regular updates at

Meanwhile monitoring of the areas baited in the trial phase, Phase One, of this project continues. Two GSGSSI field workers visited the Greene Peninsula in late January to check the wax tags put out in February 2012. These peanut butter flavoured tags monitor for the presence of surviving rats. Any rodents in the area of the tags would find them very attractive and would gnaw at the wax, leaving tell-tale teeth marks in the soft wax.

Each wax tag was checked carefully for any sign of rat gnawing or nibbling. Broken stakes or tags were repaired or replaced. Forty-one of the 46 tags originally deployed were relocated; the missing five were most likely destroyed by elephant seal activity or obscured by vegetation.

No sign of extant rats was detected, though one wax tag was found with an imprint of what looked like pecking, possibly by a sheathbill. The report of the fieldwork concluded “Signs that the eradication was successful are encouraging…”.

The pecked wax tag…not rats, sheathbills!
The pecked wax tag…not rats, sheathbills!

The successful breeding of pipits in the areas cleared of rats is considered to be the “canary in the coal mine” indicator of overall success. Several pipits have recently been seen in the Phase One area including one seen on January 24th on the Greene Peninsula during this fieldwork. There is no indication that the birds are yet breeding in the area, but sighting of them is encouraging for the future recolonisation of this species in the cleared areas.

Hazard Forecasting

A team of five scientists spent most of January closely monitoring for a specific atmospheric event they feel will be important for more accurate weather forecasting and for aircraft safety. The group Alan Gadian, Barbara Brooks, Ralph Burton, Daniel Bannister and James Groves describe South Georgia as a natural laboratory, and feel it is an important study site as the prevailing westerly winds hit the main mountain ranges at 90 degrees causing the sort of turbulence on the lee side of the mountains that they would like to be able to forecast and understand better. Turbulence from mountains and hills in the vicinities of airports may be a cause of airplane accidents. Turbulence is reckoned to be a factor in 30% of airplane accidents. The airport at Mount Pleasant in the Falkland Islands, which takes its name from the nearby hill, is a good example of an airport likely to be affected by adverse turbulence generated by wind coming over the hill creating breaking waves of air movement.

The scientists were based at KEP which, while regarded as relatively sheltered compared to the rest of the Island, is subject to strong katabatic winds (where cool, heavy air flows down a hill or slope under the influence of gravity) which can produce strong turbulent eddies. Using radio sondes suspended from weather balloons, a LIDAR Laser (Light Detection And Ranging) and small unmanned planes called UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) to collect data the group had several aims for their studies including improving the forecasting of dangerous turbulence and improving understanding of the dynamical processes in South Georgia. The overall aim being to show that a state-of-the-art weather forecast model can be implemented and run locally on an inexpensive computer platform in South Georgia to provide operationally accurate forecasts of hazardous conditions.

For their studies the weather balloons, filled with helium, were released regularly and were at times reaching 34km in height before bursting. The suspended radio sondes were measuring temperature, pressure, humidity and wind as the balloon travelled at an average 4 meters/second. The laser was used to determine 3D wind profiles and the shapes of suspended aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Unfortunately, despite several attempts, the aircraft was not successfully flown during the visit.

The modern equipment used by the researchers was a far cry from the first scientific observations of the meteorology of South Georgia, charting magnetic variation in the region, which were performed by Edmond Halley while on HMS Paramour Pink in January 1700. Vast computer power will be need to analyse the latest data collected by the team who will work on the data for a year. The data gathered will be publicly available and the group hope that further studies will be carried out at South Georgia in the future.

This project had funding and other support from GSGSSI, through their small-grant scheme, as well as from BAS, the UK Met Office, the National Centre for Atmospheric Sciences and others.

The meteorological team at KEP.
The meteorological team at KEP.

Rich Life Even In Glaciers

In another GSGSSI small-grant supported project three scientists from the Natural History Museum and University of Sheffield spent a month based at KEP and going out into the field sampling for microbes in some unpromising looking places like scree and in glacial ice. The scientists can demonstrate how these dead-seeming environments can actually be rich with varied tiny microbial life. They were also investigating the microbes’ contribution, via run-off and other means, to the ocean chemistry that provides nutrients that sustain sea life.

It is only in recent years that techniques have been developed, through DNA analysis, which allows the identification of the myriads of microbial species. These microbes, far too small be seen with the naked eye unless they form dense communities such as those seen in planktonic blooms at sea, are basic to all life’s existence. They are the first step in the food chain and are important for the production and release of nutrients.

In a presentation to the staff at KEP Anne Jungblut, Andy Hodson and Aga Nowak explained how microbes in things like phytoplankton blooms are important to krill and fish populations and how even ‘cold systems’ like glaciers and icebergs are quite productive and are home to vast millions of microbes which, when released into the sea, are food for marine animals. The scientists were looking at the microbial diversity on shore and their links to the nutrients transported into the ocean. Microbes break down elements like iron in rocks and sediments (South Georgia is rich in iron), which is then carried through run off and other processes into the sea causing iron enrichment. When iron is added to the marine environment it leads to more life.

The load of microbial matter released from glaciers will be changing with climate change, and more studies will be needed to consider what effect this extra microbial matter entering the system will have.

Soil samples to look at microbial diversity, richness, distribution and functional potential were taken from a wide variety of sites, mainly in the Cumberland Bay and Stromness Bay areas. The sampled sites were as diverse as scree, grassland and elephant seal wallows.

The many samples collected will be analysed at Sheffield University and the results should show geographic and environmental distributions of microbial diversity and indeed if there are any unique microbes at South Georgia.

A recent rediscovery at the Natural History Museum is a collection of microbial mats collected during the Discovery Expeditions which can be analysed using the modern methods and compared to the results of the recent survey.

Bird Island Diary

By Stephanie Winnard, Albatross field assistant at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

Photo Stephanie Winnard.
Photo Stephanie Winnard.

The team here at Bird Island has been busy monitoring the wildlife of the island during the peak of the breeding season. We definitely used up our good weather allowance in December; January has been the more typical Bird Island weather of rain and fog. We’re hoping to get a glimpse of the sun next month!

Jen and Steph have been visiting the albatross colonies and have finished recording the hatching dates of the grey-headed and black-browed albatross chicks. They have also been busy retrieving GLS tags from black-browed albatross, and testing out new types of acoustic tags. The whole island census of the wandering albatrosses was completed on 31 January, with the help of the whole team. Every nest was checked and counted to give a total of 709 nests. This was a disappointing figure, as it is significantly lower than in previous years. The final wanderer chick from the ridge fledged on January 14th. Hopefully we will see some of them return in about five years to begin breeding themselves.

Grey-headed albatross chick. Photo Stephanie Winnard
Grey-headed albatross chick. Photo Stephanie Winnard

Ruth and Jerry have been continuing to monitor the breeding of the giant petrels; some of the chicks have started to grow proper feathers and are starting to look more like their parents. It has been a busy month for penguin work, and the whole team have helped to count all of the gentoo penguin chicks on the island. After a few days of travelling to all of the colonies and going cross-eyed from counting so many chicks, we calculated that there was a grand total of 4661 chicks, which works out as a breeding success of approximately 1.3 chicks per nest. It is a good year for the gentoos, we haven’t seen the number of chicks that high for years. Following on from the chick count was the chick weighing. For the first time we were able to walk from base along the beaches to Johnson, it really shows how few seals are left! We were armed with nets, and bags to weigh the chicks in. We split into teams- penguin catchers, penguin weighers and data recorder. Catching penguins is a messy job. By the time we had caught and weighed 100, we were all absolutely filthy! It was great fun though and everyone had an enjoyable morning.

Another task that has been completed is deploying GLS’s onto blue petrels and white chinned petrels. In order to catch the blue petrels there were two camping trips to Molly Meadows, where burrows were checked every 15 minutes for adults returning to feed their chicks. A white chinned petrel was recaptured that had a GLS on that had been gathering data for over 1000 days. It will be interesting to see where it has been over the last three years!

Jon, Jaume and Hannah had another busy month visiting SSB (Seal Study Beach) daily until a week after the last seal pup was born on January 11th. In total they counted 584 seal pups born on the beach this season (that’s a lot of pups to mark and monitor!). Unfortunately there is no rest for the wicked, and since finishing work at SSB the seal team have been busy monitoring tagged female and pup pairs that are being studied this season. They can be often seen out after dinner searching for pups that need weighing that are hiding up in the tussac.

Catch me if you can. Photo Stephanie Winnard
Catch me if you can. Photo Stephanie Winnard

Tamsin has been busy helping out with the science work as well as patrolling the whole island to monitor the rat boxes, and has also been making sure that everything is ready for winter. Checking the precautionary rat boxes one day Tamsin was amused to find a petrel nesting in one…as good a sign as any that there are no rats around she thought!

Petrel nesting in a rat monitoring box. Photo Tamsin Bel
Petrel nesting in a rat monitoring box. Photo Tamsin Bel

Craig has been ensuring that the base is running smoothly and has had a few things to fix this month, and not all because the scientists have broken things.

After the Christmas period we haven’t been doing too much on the social side but we did have an excellent Burns night dressed in our best Scottish outfits, with poetry from Tamsin and Craig, haggis (courtesy of Jen), and a ceilidh.

Burns night on BI. Photo Ruth Brown
Burns night on BI. Photo Ruth Brown

South Georgia Snippets

Big Berg Blocking KE Cove: The entrance to King Edward Cove was all but blocked on January 2nd by a very large tabular iceberg. Luckily light southerly winds overnight caused the berg to drift clear of the entrance as there was a ship in the cove that needed to depart the following morning.

Massive berg nearly blocking the entrance to KE Cove.
Massive berg nearly blocking the entrance to KE Cove.

Shackleton Epic: On January 24th a replica of the lifeboat James Caird, called the Alexandra Shackleton after Sir Ernest Shackleton’s granddaughter, set sail from Elephant Island, South Shetland Islands, in an attempt to recreate Shackleton’s famous journey to rescue his shipwrecked crew.

The journey of some 800 nautical miles will take the six British and Australian adventurers across the Southern Ocean, like Ernest Shackleton and his men did almost 100 years before, and like them the ‘Shackleton Epic’ team, lead by Tim Jarvis, will be navigating with just a sextant. The expedition crew, all accomplished sailors or mountaineers, also includes Nick Bubb, skipper; Paul Larsen, navigator; WO2 Barry Gray RM, mountain leader & expedition cook; PO Seb Coulthard RN, bosun; and Ed Wardle, cameraman & mountaineer. The goal of the expedition is to be the first to authentically recreate one of the greatest journeys of survival.

The lifeboat will be accompanied by a support vessel, the yacht Australis, providing a communications, safety and filming platform for the expedition. Depending on weather conditions, it is estimated that the Alexandra Shackleton will reach South Georgia within 16 days. Once here, the crew will continue in the footsteps of Shackleton, Crean and Worsley to climb over the Island’s mountainous interior to reach the whaling station at Stromness. A full report on this expedition will be in next month’s newsletter.


The competitors and marshals from the half marathon after the race.
The competitors and marshals from the half marathon after the race.

Half Marathon: The annual half marathon was run on January 20th. For the first time the small field of six runners included Commissioner Nigel Haywood, a regular marathon runner but who is more used to running on roads than over mountains. Before the race Nigel Haywood was apprehensive about the route, especially as he would claim not to be good with heights, and indeed he did find running up and down Brown Mountain a challenge. Three runklers (a mix of running and walking) and 4 walkers also completed the course. The three different classes set out at different times half an hour apart starting with the walkers at 10am. All the competitors were off the course four and a quarter hours later. The winner was Martin Collins in a time of 1 hour 48 minutes, with Hugh Marsden second and just seven seconds behind. The Commissioner came in a creditable 5th.

Commissioner Nigel Haywood on the course near Maiviken.
Commissioner Nigel Haywood on the course near Maiviken.

Dates For You Diary

In the Footsteps of Polar Giants: An illustrated lecture by Henry Worsley at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in aid of The Shackleton Foundation.

Henry Worsley will be talking about his two polar journeys - a personal reflection using his diary entries and photographs and some original film footage from Scott, Shackleton and Amundsen expeditions.

The lecture will take place at 7.15pm on April 23rd at the RGS, 1 Kensington Gore, London, UK. Tickets £20 from

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