South Georgia Newsletter, July 2009

From South Georgia Website

Jump to: navigation, search

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

- To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

- Archive of previous newsletters here.

More Cruises, Less Passengers

Cruise ships like "Prince Albert II" will soon be returning to South Georgia waters.
Cruise ships like "Prince Albert II" will soon be returning to South Georgia waters.

The annual Tourism and Visitor report for the 2008/9 tourist season shows that despite more tour ships than ever visiting South Georgia last season, overall tour ship passenger numbers fell slightly. Twenty-eight ships (three new to South Georgia), made 70 visits to the Island and brought 7,700 passengers between October 2008 and May 2009. This was six more visits, but about 400 fewer passengers, than the previous season. The difference between seasons was largely explained by there being 25% fewer larger ships; those with 150 passengers or more.

Just over 5000 crew and nearly 800 staff also visited in 2008/9.

Most of the ships visiting bring 50-100 passengers each time. The smaller vessels (50 - 150 passengers) tend to spend more time at the Island and visit more sites than the larger ships.

Passengers came from a total of 55 different countries, but the majority (65%) were from English speaking countries. Twenty-eight percent of passengers were from the USA, 24% were British and the third largest group were Germans (13%).

The most popular visitor sites (top down) were Grytviken, Gold Harbour, Salisbury Plain, Stromness, St Andrews and Prion Island.

The popularity of extended walks (any walk of more than 1km from the landing site) continues to rise. The most popular of these is the Shackleton walk from Fortuna Bay to Stromness, which was completed 35 times (up 29%), by a total of 1,486 passengers, a 36% increase in number of people making this walk. Kayaking was also an increasingly popular activity. Six cruises were offering this as an option. Kayaks were launched sixteen times in six different locations with 268 people setting out for a paddle.

Twenty-five yacht visits were also made by 22 different yachts. Most of these (13) were on private journeys, but seven were under charter, one was supporting an expedition, and two were supporting Government related projects.

Twelve expeditions were logged: seven were scientific expeditions or had a science element; three were mountaineering; there was one youth group; one photography expedition; one historical expedition and one concentrating on habitat restoration.

Three science ships and six military ships also visited during the year.

Fake South Georgia "Coins"

The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has been alerted to the existence of a collection of nine metallic pieces depicting various places in the UK and which purport to be coins issued by GSGSSI. The obverse of these apparently Bi-Metallic pieces carries an effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, the wording 'South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands' and the date 2008.

Reverse images recorded are: Chester Penny; Edinburgh; Horse Guards of London; Lincoln Cathedral; The Tower of London; Westminster Abbey; Westminster School; Windsor Castle; and York Castle Museum. GSGSSI is taking this matter very seriously and states categorically that these Bi-Metallic pieces are fakes that have been issued without the authority of the Administration.

For the full press release click here.

Fishing And Shipping News

Ten longliners continued to fish for Toothfish in the South Georgia Maritime Zone (SGMZ) during July. A few made trips to the Falklands for mid-season transshipments and refuelling, and three called into Cumberland East Bay(CEB) to transship stores.

Stormy winter weather affected the fleet for much of the month.

Longliner "Tronio" hauled four of the six lines set by the "In Sung 22" before she caught fire. The tens of kilometres of line were stored on deck to transport to King Edward Point (KEP) and became dangerously iced in the foul weather. The fishing gear was offloaded onto the KEP jetty on July 18th and later collected by the Fishery Patrol Vessel(FPV) "Pharos SG" to be transported to the Falklands. The first two lines had already been lifted by "Koryo Maru 11", another longliner, and delivered to the Falklands, where the owners can take possession of them.

With the krill fishing area off the South Orkney Islands getting increasingly iced in, two krill trawlers made the move up to the SGMZ and came into CEB for inspection and licensing and to tranship with a reefer. They searched around the Island but finding no Krill headed south again to King George Island in the South Shetland Islands.

"Tronio" delivers the "In Sung 22" longlines to KEP.
"Tronio" delivers the "In Sung 22" longlines to KEP.

Kill To Cure

Preliminary reports from surveys of invasive plant and insect species on South Georgia, undertaken by teams from Kew and Buglife last season, are now available.

The surveys set out to provide baseline information on the current status of introduced vascular plant and insects on the Island.

The Kew team sampled 16 sites around the Island, recording a total of 24 introduced vascular plant species including one, Trisetum spicatum, which had not previously been recorded on South Georgia. The Kew report recommends the eradication of all the introduced vascular plant species but recognise that some species are now so widespread that eradication would be impractical. Twenty of the 24 recorded invasives should be dealt with, they say, as timely intervention could prevent further spread. Early results from the Buglife team have confirmed several new insect species on South Georgia but much work remains to be done to identify all the many thousands of specimens they collected.

The surveys were part of the South Atlantic Invasive Species (SAIS) project funded by the European Commission and managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

The Kew and Buglife preliminary reports are available from links here.

Newly discovered invasive plant Trisetum spicatum
Newly discovered invasive plant Trisetum spicatum

Dream Job Not Enough When Scotland Calls

Being Government Officer at South Georgia was Emma Jones's 'dream job', she said, but after a long association with the Island, she and her partner Steve Artis left for the final time at the end of July. Emma first visited the Island as a guest aboard the Royal Navy vessel "HMS Dumbarton Castle" in 1999. Impressed by what she saw, she was soon back on a four-month contract as Marine Officer for the GSGSSI. Within months she was back again as the Museum Assistant to work the summer tourist season at Grytviken. Though her next job took her to the Falkland Islands as a Fishery Protection Officer (FPO), it still allowed her to make regular visits to South Georgia as FPO aboard the FPV. Then in 2005 she took up her 'dream job' as Government Officer.

Emma met her partner Steve on the Island. Having only just retired from the military, he arrived here in late 2004 to take up a two-year contract working for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) as a generator mechanic. He then took employment with Morrison International who were completing building and demolition works and starting work on the hydroelectric scheme for GSGSSI. This work was seasonal and in-between Steve worked as Deputy Postmaster at King Edward Point. He described his time at South Georgia as ideal for making the transition from military to civilian life.

For Emma it was the people she met on the Island that made it so special; the fishermen, cruise ship staff, and those she lived and worked with on the Island. Now the couple are returning to Emma's native Scotland. They will maintain an interest in the Island "It gets under your skin" Emma said, "and anyway we will be surrounded by South Georgia memorabilia in our Scottish home; all those midwinter presents we have been given, the pictures we bought and the craft projects we made. South Georgia is a special place, but it's time to go home and start a new life in Scotland."

Emma will soon start her new career as a Trainee Environmental Protection Officer for the Scottish Environment Protection Agency. Steve will continue to work with Morrison International, his next job takes him somewhere a little warmer, Ascension Island on the equator.

GSGSSI has recruited two new Government Officers (GOs), which will enabling two GOs to be on the Island at all times. One appointment will be taken up in late October and the other four months later.

Emma and Steve on the day they left.
Emma and Steve on the day they left.

Bird Island News

By Ewan Edwards, Zoological Field Assistant and Winter Base Commander at the BAS station, Bird Island.

What a difference a year makes. Last July was spent skiing, enjoying some fine crisp and cold weather, a bay thronged with brash ice and dozens of Leopard Seal sightings – not so this year. In general July was a month of poor weather, with fog and rain more typical of December on Bird Island than the middle of winter. But such is the nature of our wonderful polar maritime climate.

In addition to the weather, this winter has seen very low numbers of Leopard Seal sightings. This is not through lack of effort. Stacey, Derren and Jose have all been out and about and always keep eyes peeled for leops, in addition to my daily circuit round the beaches. Perhaps it is the lack of ice on which to haul out, or perhaps the food just isn’t available to them this year. In any case, we hope for more sightings of these beautiful animals in August and throughout the rest of the winter.

Leopard Seal sightings were infrequent but early in the month we saw these two beauties on our beaches.
Leopard Seal sightings were infrequent but early in the month we saw these two beauties on our beaches.

However, the daily Leopard Seal round is a wonderful excuse to get out and about, even on those days when the conditions outside don’t look too appealing. Although the route is the same each day, what you see is always different. Even in the absence of leops, there are always Fur Seals, hundreds of Giant Petrels, Gentoo Penguins, and young Elephant Seals snoozing on the beaches. There is always the hope that you might spot something unusual, and these things do happen, such as the exciting sight of a Weddell Seal on July 1st.

Towards the end of the month, we saw two days of blue skies and sunshine, and installed a replacement sunshine recorder on the weather station. We even logged a full 46 minutes of sunshine in one day! Blizzard conditions returned for the 30th, so with some luck the ski runs on the mountain will soon see some overdue winter sports. The evening of July 31st saw us dust off the directors chairs and unleash our inner thespian, with the start of the weekend-long Antarctic Winter Film Festival. More of which in next month’s edition…

Fitting the new sunshine recorder on a cold, clear winter day.
Fitting the new sunshine recorder on a cold, clear winter day.
What a difference a day makes…
What a difference a day makes…

South Georgia Snippets

In the month that the world remembered the historic moment, forty years ago, when man first walked on the moon, came the exciting news that Neil Armstrong, the man who made that ground breaking walk, is to visit South Georgia this year. He will be travelling on the "National Geographic Explorer" whilst it travels from Chile via the Antarctic, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands in November/December.

Those of you with the National Geographic channel on your televisions (sky526) may like to look out for a new four-part series, 'Ice Patrol', starting on August 3rd. Based on board the Royal Navy ice patrol ship "HMS Endurance" last southern summer, the film crew followed the work of the ships crew and embarked BAS personnel for four months, right up until its disastrous encounter with a rock off the coast of Chile.

"Shackleton's Island", the third in the series, will be aired on August 17th. It covers the ship's visit to South Georgia and includes footage of the Royal Marines retracing Shackleton’s gruelling trek across the Island when adverse weather causes life-threatening problems.

In the final programme on August 24th the ship is heading for Chile to celebrate Christmas when catastrophe strikes and the ship’s engine room is flooded with seawater. Floating without power, the Endurance is dangerously close to capsizing. As the waves batter them, can the heroic crew save not only the ship, but also their own lives? Find out in "Disaster at Cape Horn".

"HMS Endurance", the star of the new National Geographic programmes.
"HMS Endurance", the star of the new National Geographic programmes.

Whilst you have got your diaries out, you may like to make a note of a forthcoming exhibition. The Royal Collection will have a collection of Shackleton, Scott, and Antarctic Photography called 'The Heart of the Great Alone'. It will be hosted at the Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh from October 2nd 2009 to April 11th 2010.

The exhibition will feature photographs by Herbert George Ponting and Frank Hurley.

Hurley’s dramatic icescapes were taken during Ernest Shackleton’s Polar expedition on Endurance in 1914-16, which ended with the heroic sea journey from Elephant Island to South Georgia. Hurley created a number of special albums of smaller prints, one of which was presented to King George V by Shackleton. Today it is part of the Royal Photograph Collection, these sets of photographs are among the finest examples of the artists’ works in existence.

Also included in the exhibition are the flag given to Scott by Queen Alexandra (widow of King Edward VII) in 1910; the Union flag presented by King George V to Shackleton, which he carried with him throughout his epic journey; Polar medals, and books from the Royal Library.


South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) moved offices in Dundee on July 20th. The new premises at Verdant Works have a large exhibition space that will be used for school visits, a museum exhibition and lectures. Their new address is: First Floor Offices, Verdant Works, Dundee DD1 5BT. Tel: 01382 229792 / 228242

Alison Neil during the SGHT office move.
Alison Neil during the SGHT office move.

In April this year the Sandefjord Museum, in conjunction with the Norway Post Office, produced four booklets of 4 stamps to commemorate the Centenary of Leith Whaling Station. Each booklet has a photograph from Leith on the front cover and stamps. The four booklet/stamp designs feature: a panorama of Leith in the 1950s; a "street" scene from the 1950s; the bone loft in the 1920s; and the whale catcher "Sonja I" which operated from 1910 to 1924. There is information about Leith station, in both Norwegian and English, inside each booklet.

A set of all four booklets costs 400 NOK (£40), and each individual stamp costs 20 NOK (£2). They can be obtained from: Sandefjord Filatelistklubb, Postboks 272, 3201 Sandefjord, Norway.

Overwintering yacht "Wanderer 3" set sail for Husvik from Grytviken on July 19th. Theis and Kicki Matzen plan to spend about a month anchored in Stromness Bay. They are very aware that it is only a few weeks now until they have to share the Island with the early season yachts. Yachts usually start arriving at the Island in September.

"Wanderer 3" sets sail for Stromness.
"Wanderer 3" sets sail for Stromness.

A small bull Weddell seal hauled out sleep on the snow all day at Grytviken on July 19th. This was the first time most people here had seen a seal of this type. Although there is a small breeding population of Weddell seals at Larsen Harbour, at the far south of the Island, they are not often seen elsewhere here. We think this one is the first seen in the Cove for about four years.

Young Weddell bull.
Young Weddell bull.

The Fishery Patrol Vessel "Pharos SG" is working in South Georgia waters all year round. The video below shows you the contrasting conditions on a short journey in the middle of winter as she sails from the Falklands to patrol the SGFZ and then calls into KEP.

Winter Journey in the icy South Atlantic.

In the main summer season we get used to answering the many pertinent questions tourists ask us,...."How many people live here?"; "How often do you get a resupply?"; "What happens to your sewage?". Staff on the tour ships sometimes field some less worldly questions though. Bob Headland started collecting these and has now published them in a little pamphlet called "Do polar bears eat penguins?" The quotes below are real questions asked by passengers visiting South Georgia, We will share a few more with you over the coming months.

"Did that yacht cross the ocean to get to South Georgia?"

"Does the Island go all the way down to the bottom of the sea?"

"Why do they call this the Bay of Islands?"

"Did Shackleton have any ancestors?"

"Are the days longer in summer because they expand when it gets warmer?"

To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

  • © Copyright GSGSSI 2013.