South Georgia Newsletter, July 2013

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

Significant Increase In Tourism Possible For The 2012/13 Season

Schedules for the coming tourist season show a significant increase in the number of ships planning to visit South Georgia, and a consequent expected increase in tourist numbers. Cruise ship visits to the Island reduced during the last four years following a downturn in the global economy, and other factors. Tourism to South Georgia reached its height in the 2008/9 season, when 71 cruise ships visited bringing around 8000 passengers; after which it dropped back to 62 cruise ship visits and around 7000 passengers in 2009/10. The last two seasons have seen nearer 50 cruise ship visits and 5,500 passengers.

Looking at the early schedules for the coming 2013/14 summer season, there will be around 58 cruise ship visits to South Georgia, made by 23 different vessels; an 11% increase in ship visits. With normal occupancy levels, the number of cruise ship passengers could be as high as 7000; a 20% increase over last season.

Analysis of last year’s tourist data shows there were 5,800 cruise ship passengers, and 610 cruise ship staff. Not many of the crew from these vessels get ashore. A further 200 arrived on yachts. Overall a total of around 10,500 visitors visited South Georgia when you include those arriving on research, military, and other vessels. Cruise ship passengers came from 57 different countries. The majority of passengers were from English speaking countries (52%); 25% of all passengers came from the USA. Of the rest, Germans made up 20%, UK 11%, and Australia 10%. Following the global tourism trend, the percentage of Chinese visitors is growing (3%) - this increase is expected to continue, with the possibility of an all Chinese charter of one of the larger vessels in the coming season.

Most vessels arrived in South Georgia from the Falkland Islands on a route that takes them from South America via the Falklands to South Georgia, the Antarctic Peninsula and back to South America. When around South Georgia most vessels landed passengers twice in a day. The most frequently visited locations were: Grytviken/KEP (all ships have to visit Grytviken to clear customs); Salisbury Plain; Stromness; Gold Harbour; and St Andrews Bay.

More yachts visited the Island compared to the previous season; a total of 16 visits by 11 different boats.

Tourists from most visiting cruise ships will visit wildlife hotspots like the king penguin colony
at Fortuna Bay.

Reindeer Eradication - Phase 1 Review

Reindeer have drastically affected native vegetation such as this area that used to covered in tussac.
Reindeer have drastically affected native vegetation such as this area that used to covered in tussac.

GSGSSI have recently produced a report summarising the first phase of the reindeer eradication project. The report entitled ‘Reindeer Eradication Project – Phase 1 Summary Report’ gives an overview of operations in the Busen area and highlights the main lessons learnt that will inform the planning for the final phase and assist in planning similar eradications in other parts of the world.

Norwegian whalers introduced reindeer to two separate peninsulas on South Georgia in the early 1900s to supplement their diet. Following the cessation of shore based whaling in the mid-1960s, reindeer numbers increased and they have had a devastating impact on the island’s vegetation, with knock-on effects on native bird species.

Following a consultation GSGSSI took the decision to eradicate both herds and an expert panel was convened to advise on suitable methodology. The panel recommended a combination of herding and ground shooting, and that recommendation was reaffirmed following a reconnaissance trip to the island by Norwegian reindeer experts in early 2011. Herding and ground shooting was considered to provide the best balance between the need to eradicate the reindeer in an efficient and humane manner, to remove the bulk of carcasses, and to allow recovery of commercially viable products.

The eradication programme, which is being carried out in association with the Norwegian Nature Inspectorate (SNO), is scheduled to take place over two seasons and the first stage took place in January and February 2013 to remove reindeer from the Busen area.

The herding operation was successful in removing nearly 1,000 reindeer from the Busen area. This broke down to around 200 from Leith Harbour; 60 from Stromness; 200 from Fortuna, 200 from Jason, 200 from Olsen Valley and 250 from the Husvik areas. The majority of herding was done on foot, but this proved to be physically very demanding, especially in difficult mountainous terrain. In the wide open areas surrounding Husvik groups of up to 300 animals needed to be moved from one valley to the next, and so it was necessary to use quad bikes to keep control of the herd. Quad bike use was restricted to certain areas and every attempt was made to keep to hard substrates such as gravel and rock. Some damage to vegetation did occur but it is expected that this will rapidly recover in the coming years, particularly now that the grazing pressure of reindeer has been removed.

Map showing the Busen area which has been cleared of reindeer.
Map showing the Busen area which has been cleared of reindeer.

Animals which were gathered during the herding process were killed on shore under veterinary supervision and the taken to a vessel which had been customised to act as a slaughter hall and butchering facility. Once on board the processing vessel carcasses were skinned and gutted. Depending on the age of the animal, carcasses were hung for between 1 and 4 days to tenderise before being processed in a dedicated butchery container. The meat was vacuum-packed prior to being boxed and frozen.

In total, 929 animals were processed on the ship and approximately 7,500 kg of meat products were recovered. The report has several photographs to illustrate the techniques used, including the movement of carcasses to the seatruck and the butchery process on board.

The aims of the shooting operation were to remove animals from areas where herding was not possible, and sweep through the areas to mop up stragglers once herding operations were complete. In total: 1,012 animals were shot in the Busen area; 150 in Allen Bay; 70 in Enten Bay; 30 in Jason Harbour; 230 in the western area of Fortuna Bay; 140 in eastern Fortuna Bay; 90 in Hercules Bay/Leith; 80 in Stromness; 45 in the Tønsberg area; and 185 in the Olsen Valley/Husvik area. Shooting on the Busen took less time than anticipated, so the shooters were deployed on the Barff Peninsula where 1,555 deer were shot to reduce the population there prior to the main eradication in that area next year.

Following the eradication on the Busen area searches have been made on foot and by air. With no reindeer sighted GSGSSI are confident that the area is now clear of reindeer.

In total, the cost of Phase 1 of the eradication came to just short of £800,000. A breakdown of the cost is contained in the report. Against this, the meat is being sold to cruise ship operators and locally in Stanley. Meat sales could raise as much as £100,000. A further £20,000 should be recouped from sale of equipment used for the herding operation. The overall cost of Phase 1 is therefore projected to be £670,000.

The 17 page, 3.5mb, report also includes sections on carcass removal, science sampling, living arrangements, teamwork etc and can be downloaded from this website here.

The second phase of the operation will take place on the Barff Peninsula in early 2014. Because of the challenging terrain and lack of suitable anchorages, the herding method used in phase 1 will not be suitable. Instead ground shooting as a stand-alone method will be used. This method ensures high standards of animal welfare as there is minimal handling of reindeer prior to the being killed. Some meat will be recovered for local consumption.

Fishing And Shipping News

Longliner at sea.
Longliner at sea.

Mid-winter is the busiest period for the fisheries around South Georgia - it being high season for both the toothfish and the krill fisheries. At the start of July six longline vessels were fishing for toothfish. The quota for one of the fishing areas (Area C) was reached, so the fleet moved towards the north-western area to fish in the remaining open area. Catches have generally remained good.

During the month four longliners departed the fishery, having reached their allocated quota or ceased fishing, and sailed to the Falklands to go through the catch verification process; a requirement for this MSC certificated fishery. Another vessel re-joined the fishery, so three vessels remained fishing by the end of the month.

Four krill trawlers were fishing in the SGMZ at beginning of the month. Two more trawlers were inspected and licensed on July 3rd and 19th before joining the fleet. Another vessel completed fishing and left the fishery on the 8th, and another sailed to Chile to conduct transhipments; so four vessels remained fishing for krill by the end of the month. Catches, though variable, remained good overall.

All the vessels in the SGMZ experienced an extended period of poor weather with strong winds and high seas towards the end of the month.

There were three visits from reefer vessels to Cumberland Bay during July to conduct transhipments from krill vessels. Four various fishing vessels also visited the port to tranship stores between themselves.

A representative of from CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources), Tony Miller, arrived from Tasmania to gain experience of the krill fishery. He joined one of the krill trawlers for two weeks to observe the fishing operation.

Reefer in Cumberland Bay.
Reefer in Cumberland Bay.

Coronation- New Stamp Release

A set of four stamps celebrating the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in 1952 was released on July 22nd.

Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne on February 6th 1952 following the death of her father, King George VI. However the coronation required a further 16 months of careful preparation. The crowning of the Sovereign is an ancient ceremony, rich in religious significance, historic associations and pageantry. For the last 900 years, it has taken place at Westminster Abbey as the royal church for the Palace of Westminster. Before the Abbey was built, coronations were carried out wherever was convenient, for example at Bath, Oxford and Canterbury.

The 65p stamp - Queen Elizabeth II leaving Buckingham Palace for her Coronation at Westminster Abbey.
The 65p stamp - Queen Elizabeth II leaving Buckingham Palace for her Coronation at Westminster Abbey.

When Queen Elizabeth II was crowned on June 2nd 1953 she became the 39th Sovereign and 6th Queen to be crowned at Westminster Abbey. Although the 3-hour ceremony was steeped in history, for the new Queen many parts of the day were markedly different from previous occasions. In particular, and at the insistence of the Queen herself, her coronation was the first to be televised. Indeed it was the world's first major international event to be broadcast on television.

The Queen's grandmother, Queen Mary, aged 81, was the first Queen to see a grandchild ascend to the throne, but sadly died before the coronation. Prince Charles also created history when he became the first child to witness his mother's coronation as Sovereign, having received a special hand-painted children's invitation. Princess Anne did not attend the ceremony as she was considered too young. Perhaps she joined an estimated 27 million people across Britain, from a population of just 36 million, who watched the coronation live; many crowding around neighbours sets to watch television for the very first time.

The 75p stamp - Queen Elizabeth II through the window of the royal carriage after being crowned.
The 75p stamp - Queen Elizabeth II through the window of the royal carriage after being crowned.

Attended by a total of 8,251 guests, representing 129 nations and territories, the coronation was an enormous occasion. The return route to Buckingham Palace was designed especially so that The Queen and her procession could be seen by as many people in London as possible. The 7.2 km route took the 16,000 participants two hours to complete. The procession itself stretched for 3 km. Those on foot marched 10 abreast while those on horseback were 6 abreast. An estimated 3 million spectators gathered in the streets of London, along a route lined with sailors, soldiers, and airmen and women from across the Commonwealth.

The £1 stamp - Queen Elizabeth II on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.
The £1 stamp - Queen Elizabeth II on the balcony of Buckingham Palace.

The Queen's coronation dress was made by Mr Norman Hartnell. The dress was made of white satin embroidered with the emblems of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. The dress's exquisite embroidery in gold and silver thread and pastel-coloured silks was encrusted with seed pearls and crystals to create a lattice-work effect. Since the Coronation, The Queen has worn the dress six times; at receptions at Buckingham Palace and the Palace of Holyroodhouse and for the Opening of Parliament in New Zealand (1954), Australia (1954), Ceylon (1954) and Canada (1957). The St. Edward's Crown, made in 1661, was the crown placed on the head of The Queen during the Coronation service. It weighs 4 pounds and 12 ounces and is made of solid gold. The crown in its current form was first used by Charles II as it had to be redesigned after the Restoration. It was refurbished from an old crown and there is speculation that the lower part might be from Edward the Confessor's crown.

On the £1.20 stamp - Queen Elizabeth II poses with the Royal Sceptre.
On the £1.20 stamp - Queen Elizabeth II poses with the Royal Sceptre.

After the crown, the orb, also made in 1661, was the most important piece of regalia. It is a globe of gold surrounded by a cross girdled by a band of diamonds, emeralds, rubies, sapphire and pearls with a large amethyst at the summit. The Coronation ring, often referred to as 'The Wedding Ring of England' was worn by The Queen on the fourth finger of her right hand in accordance with tradition. The ring was made for the Coronation of King William IV in 1831 and takes the form of a sapphire surmounted by a cross in rubies surrounded by diamonds. It was made at a cost of £157 and has been worn at every coronation since then with the exception of Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria’s fingers were so small that the ring could not be reduced far enough in size, so a special Coronation ring had to be worn.

Queen Elizabeth II appeared with her family on the balcony of the palace still wearing the Imperial State Crown and the Royal Robes to greet the cheering crowds (£1 stamp). The Queen appeared again on the balcony at Buckingham Palace at 9.45 pm to turn on the 'lights of London'. Lights cascaded down the Mall from the Palace, lighting the huge cipher on Admiralty Arch and turning the fountains in Trafalgar Square into liquid silver, until all the floodlights from the National Gallery to the Tower of London had been illuminated.

South Georgia stamps can be bought from

The World Looks On

A press event hosted by the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) about their ambitious Habitat Restoration Project led to widespread coverage of the rodent eradication attempt in the world’s media.

Chairman of the SGHT, Howard Pearce, made three announcements at the press conference which was held at the Royal Geographic Society, London on July 3rd. He announced the successful completion of the second field season of baiting; that there were no signs of surviving rats in the Phase One area after two years, and that the next field season, to complete baiting of the remaining rodent infested areas of the Island, would now be in 2015.

Major media in the UK, including the Guardian, the Times and Sky Television, together with national and local media from across the globe, including National Geographic, carried stories about the successful completion of the baiting of the north-west end of the Island to eradicate rats. Five hundred and eighty square kilometres were baited this year, but, as the media representatives heard from Project Leader Tony Martin, the field season was one full of considerable challenges. He even admitted that by mid-April he thought they may not get the job done – but he did not tell anyone as that may have caused a drop in the field team’s morale. Their near nemesis was the relentlessly windy Possession Bay, he told the journalists. A place he described as, “a hell hole”. As anyone following the project knows well now, it was down to the wire as to whether they would complete in time. The final section was a big one, needing five days of work by all three helicopters. The weather was getting colder, and despite heroic work by the two engineers, the helicopters were increasingly showing the strain. They even considered cannibalizing one aircraft to keep the other two flying if necessary! By the end of April, when part of the field team had already left, they had not had any suitable baiting conditions for two weeks, but at last, Tony described, “There was a bubble of acceptable weather. But by now the days were getting shorter and temperatures were down to -5°C. When you are flying at 1,500 feet (460m) that is -15°C, and the pilots are flying with the doors open!” The aircraft were freezing up, there was ice on the fuselage, and it was affecting the operation of the bait pods. But finally the job was completed and Tony described his feelings as an, “amazing sense of relief – I can’t describe it to you”.

Interest in the Habitat Restoration is global as it is a ground-breaking project - no one has attempted rodent eradication on this scale before. The area now baited is five times larger than any eradication attempted elsewhere. Indeed, Peter Garden, one of the most experienced pilots doing this sort of work, believes South Georgia will be the biggest rodent eradication that will ever be attempted. The reason it can work is the natural barriers formed by the glaciers that break the island up into smaller baitable zones. Seventy percent of the rodent infested areas of the island have now been baited. SGHT now have a year to raise the £2.5 million needed to complete baiting the final 30% of the rodent infested areas of the Island.

New Coin Releases

The new Weddell seal coin.
The new Weddell seal coin.

Royalty and wildlife are the main themes of the most recent coins issued by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The two most recent releases, dated 2013, are a Weddell seal design and an extraordinary titanium blue whale coin.

Weddell seals breed at the southern end of South Georgia, in the Larsen Harbour area, which is probably the furthest north breeding ground for these Antarctic seals. The species was discovered and named in the 1820s during expeditions led by James Weddell, the British sealing captain. The young seals have a grey coat for the first 3-4 weeks which later turns to a darker colour. When first born the pups are around half the length of their mother and weigh 25 to 30kg; however they gain around 2kg a day, so grow very rapidly. The young Weddell pup portrayed on the most recently released £2 coin shows off the distinctive whiskers of this very attractive seal species.

The blue whale coin is made with titanium
The blue whale coin is made with titanium

The amazing blue titanium coin celebrates the largest known animal ever to exist – the blue whale. It features an image of a whale with her calf swimming with the sun’s rays penetrating the water. At 30m in length and weighing 180 tonnes, the blue whales were plentiful in nearly all the oceans in the world until the beginning of the 20th Century. For over a century they were almost hunted to extinction by whalers until they were protected worldwide by the International Whaling Commission. Due to its large size, several organs of this amazing mammal are the largest in the animal kingdom. A blue whale’s tongue weighs approximately 2.7 tonnes and when fully expanded, its mouth is large enough to hold up to 90 metric tons of food and water, although it cannot swallow anything larger than a beach ball.

The largest blue whale ever measured was female and was found near Grytviken in South Georgia in 1909. She was 33.85m long.

This £2 coin is a limited edition of 5000.

Issues in 2012 included a re-release of the design first released in 2011 on the theme of the BBC television series ‘Frozen Planet’. The new release is dated 2012 and one version of it has been coloured to highlight the king penguin and chick design.

Two coins to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the Kon-Tiki Expedition led by Thor Heyerdahl, were also released dated 2012. Thor Heyerdahl and his companions crossed the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia in 1947 on the balsa raft Kon-Tiki, named after the legendary Sun King who ruled the country later occupied by the Incas. The expedition was an attempt to show that pre-European civilizations were able to use seaworthy crafts and that the world’s oceans offered a passage to other destinations. The first coin depicts the Kon-Tiki, with the wording “1947 – 65TH Anniversary of the Kon-Tiki Expedition – 2012” surrounding it. Heyerdahl built the balsa raft in the jungle of Ecuador, based on the drawings and records left by early voyagers. On April 28th 1947, the Kon-Tiki sailed from Peru and travelled 4,300 miles, finally landing on the coral atoll Raroia in Polynesia 101 days later.

The second coin shows a carved mask over a map of the voyage. The mask, which is the same design that is displayed on the sails of the Kon-Tiki, also shows a similar resemblance to the faces of the ancient stone statues found at Lake Titicaca, Bolivia. (This design is only issued in 12g Fine Silver and 1/5oz Fine Gold.) The obverse of the two coins features a unique double effigy of Her Majesty; the first is a portrait of The Queen as she appears on current coins while the other is a portrait of Her Majesty as she appeared on coins at the beginning of her Reign. Both Kon Tiki coins are marketed exclusively by Samlerhuset Group.

Also in 2012 two coins were released to celebrate 60 years of Queen Elizabeth II as Monarch of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the seas. They were part of a 12-coin set that included coins released in Ascension Island, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Falkland Islands, Isle of Man and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands. The South Georgia coins depict Her Majesty on Christmas Day in 2009, and an image of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother with the infant Princess Elizabeth. All the coins were approved by Buckingham Palace and each coin features a unique double effigy of the Queen on the obverse. The first effigy is an up to date portrait of Her Majesty, the second is based on a portrait by Mary Gillick that first appeared on the obverse of coins at the start of her reign.

Another coin marked ‘A lifetime of service’.

Two coins were released to mark the sixty year reign of Queen Elizabeth II and one to mark a lifetime of service.
Two coins were released to mark the sixty year reign of Queen Elizabeth II and one to mark a lifetime of service.

In 2011, another South Georgia royal themed coin was released in Pobjoy Mint’s ‘Royal Wedding Collection’, issued on behalf of various countries to celebrate the union between His Royal Highness Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton. The South Georgia coin, approved by both Clarence House and Buckingham Palace, carries Prince William’s Coat of Arms, which were given to him on his eighteenth birthday in June 2000.

Most coins are available in Cupro Nickel and Proof Sterling Silver and can be bought from the mint at

The Prince William’s coat of arms.
The Prince William’s coat of arms.

Ancient Scotia Sea Volcanoes Change Theories On Glaciation

Evidence of an ancient volcanic arc in the Scotia Sea, between South Georgia and the South Sandwich islands, is changing scientists’ perception of how the Antarctic ice sheet first formed. Until now, it was thought that the formation of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current - an ocean current flowing clockwise around the entire Antarctic continent that insulates it from warmer ocean water to the north - was critical in the initial glaciation of Antarctica about 34 million years ago. Now, a team of U.S. and U.K. scientists studying rock samples from the central Scotia Sea have discovered the remnants of a volcanic arc that formed sometime before 28 million years ago. The volcanoes might have prevented the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) forming until less than 12 million years ago, in which case it could not have been key to the formation of the Antarctic icecap.

The findings were recently reported in the journal ‘Geology’. Ian Dalziel, research professor at The University of Texas and in the Jackson School of Geosciences said, “If you had sailed into the Scotia Sea 25 million years ago, you would have seen a scattering of volcanoes rising above the water. They would have looked similar to the modern volcanic arc to the east, the South Sandwich Islands.”

The scientists mapped the seafloor to identify seafloor rises in the central Scotia Sea, then dredged the seafloor and recovered volcanic rocks and sediments. The samples are geochemically identical to the presently active South Sandwich Islands volcanic arc to the east of the Scotia Sea that today forms a barrier to the ACC, diverting it northward. The samples range in age from about 28 million years to about 12 million years. The team interpreted these results as evidence that an ancient volcanic arc, referred to as the ancestral South Sandwich arc, was active in the region during that time and probably much earlier. Because the samples were taken from the current seafloor surface and volcanic material accumulates from the bottom up, the researchers infer that much older volcanic rock lies beneath. The team suggests that the volcanoes originally rose above sea level and would have blocked deep ocean currents.

Reconstruction of the Scotia Sea area 25 million years ago, showing volcanoes of the ancestral South Sandwich arc (ASSA). They are now submerged, but were active at that time and possibly emergent. They may have blocked the onset of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. (NSR = North Scotia Ridge; SSR = South Scotia Ridge; SG = South Georgi. Image Utexas.)
Reconstruction of the Scotia Sea area 25 million years ago, showing volcanoes of the ancestral South Sandwich arc (ASSA). They are now submerged, but were active at that time and possibly emergent. They may have blocked the onset of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. (NSR = North Scotia Ridge; SSR = South Scotia Ridge; SG = South Georgi. Image Utexas.)

Other evidence supports the scientists’ new ideas. The northern Antarctic Peninsula and southern Patagonia didn’t become glaciated until less than approximately 12 million years ago; and certain species of microscopic creatures called dinoflagellates that thrive in cold polar water began appearing in sediments off south-western Africa around 11.1 million years ago, suggesting colder water began reaching that part of the Atlantic Ocean. If they are right then the Antarctic glaciation would have been as a result not of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current formation, but of the well-documented descent of the planet into a much colder “icehouse” glacial state.

Info Utexas. You can read the original article here.

Commercially Sponsored PhD To Understand Toothfish

A commercially sponsored Phd project, to investigate the reproductive behaviour of Patagonian toothfish, has been welcomed by a Government representative. A PhD student, sponsored by ‘Georgia Seafood’, will study at Aberdeen University to research the reproductive conditions and cycle of toothfish. Chief Executive and Director of Fisheries for GSGSSI, Martin Collins, said the project would, “provide valuable data to assist in our management of Patagonian toothfish in South Georgia waters and help ensure the long-term sustainability of the fishery.”

Dr Paul Brickle of the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) helped set up the PhD. He explained why the research is important, “The dynamics of spawning toothfish haven’t been looked at since the 1980s. This is a crucial stage in the life cycle of the highly valued toothfish and a lot is still unknown. It is clear that the ocean environment is a causative factor, with some fish choosing to reabsorb their eggs should the conditions not be optimum for spawn survival. This reabsorbing wastes the energy of the fish. The number of eggs spawned and their survival rate affect the recruitment of young fish coming into the cycle. If more is known of what makes ideal breeding conditions, better predictions of fish stock could be made.”

Dr Tara Marshall, Senior Lecturer at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen said: “The research questions posed by the project are central to understanding why there are large fluctuations in productivity of toothfish. Consequently the project will deliver biological and ecological knowledge essential for developing effective strategies for sustainable management. Examining the links between the environment and reproduction are of particular interest given that the South Georgia ecosystem is characterised by highly variable oceanographic conditions.” Director of ‘Georgia Seafood’, Stuart Wallace, instigated the PhD. Explaining why the company would fund such research he said that, “In a market that demands sustainability it is important to the company that they support the science underpinning sustainable fishing. The research will benefit science and ultimately give the industry a better understanding into the handling and monitoring of stock by providing insight into the core fishery of the region.”

Info Penguin News

Washed Up Half A World Away

A ‘message in a bottle’ dropped just off the north-western end of South Georgia three years ago has washed up on Stewart Island, off the south end of New Zealand - more than half a world away.

The bottle, which had travelled around 13,000 km (8,000 miles), was found at Masons Bay by Simon (Si) Taylor who was there with his family and friends doing some beach-combing. “I was super stoked as I'd found a piece of gris (ambergris) and I saw a bottle in the distance but didn't think much of it as there's quite a bit of c**p on the beach. It was only when I saw the screw cap was intact and there was something inside that I went for a closer look.” Inside the bottle was a two page letter from fishery researcher Luke Kenny.

Luke was working on a fishery research vessel when he launched the bottle.
Luke was working on a fishery research vessel when he launched the bottle.

Luke, who was on a fishery science cruise in May 2010, released five bottles with messages in that year from various locations around South Georgia and en route to the Falkland Islands. This was the first bottle he launched; none of the others have, to his knowledge, been found.

The finder, Si, said, “I had no idea where South Georgia was!” But he knew a bit more once he had read the message, as Luke had taken the time to draw a map and had described not only the Island, but that he had been working there as a scientist on the KEP base. He wrote’ “I am 30 years old and from Ireland. However, for the last 8 years I have spent little time there. Instead I have kept moving, working in the Falkland Islands or in Ireland and travelling mostly around South America.…In December 2010 I finish my two year contract with BAS on South Georgia and I must return to the “real” world, with lots of people, noise, pollution and the ever advancing tide of commercialisation. I am not looking forward to that….Why am I writing this letter in a bottle? I suppose just curiosity; to see where it goes and what happens. I do not know if the bottle will even survive its first few days and not end up smashed on the harsh and unforgiving coastline….it is a rather wonderful thought that the bottle might bob around an ocean for a length of time on a lonely journey to deliver a message when it is ready. I wish it well on its voyage, I would like to go with it.”

On the map Luke had drawn an arrow indicating the direction he expected the bottle to go; a trajectory that would have lead him to expect it to be washed up on a west African shore perhaps. Having read the message Si sent a letter to the Irish address Luke had given.

Luke has perhaps found a way to avoid the “people, noise and pollution” he was not looking forward to three years ago. He now regularly works on cruise ships visiting some of the most remote locations in the world.

The map was drawn at the top the message in the bottle.
The map was drawn at the top the message in the bottle.

On receiving Si’s letter, Luke said he was, “delighted to hear that my message in a bottle was found washed up and intact. The bottle(s) were deployed not as a Robinson Crusoe cry for rescue, but as much for curiosity as for anything else. To see where it might turn up should it withstand the stormy Southern Ocean - quite honestly I didn’t even begin to speculate where that might be. It is somewhat of an idealistic notion, to pit the insignificance of a lonely bottle against all the odds of the mighty ocean and to see it triumph. The never knowing if it’s still out there, still bobbing away avoiding the potentially fatal encounter with land, how close it has come to making a landfall only to be swept past the refuge. Perhaps it can teach us a lesson. Even the smallest act can triumph.”

Si Taylor with the bottle launched more than half a world away three years before.
Si Taylor with the bottle launched more than half a world away three years before.

Bird Island Diary

By Craig Brown, Base Technician at the BAS Research Station, Bird Island.

With the island looking very sparse in terms of animals, July began in the usual way with all of us out conducting the wandering albatross chick census. There were only a couple of failures in the last month and the chicks are even beginning to get a few adult feathers poking through their down.

We had a rare visitor to the island, a large elephant sea. It was nice to see the sheer size of them in comparison to the individuals that reside here.

On one particularly nice day we decided to shut up shop, put on our snow boots, and went on a family day out to Johnson Cove along the coastal route. This is a very rare occasion due to the busy work life at BI. We climbed the stack at the end of the beach, and had some snacks whilst watching the numerous gentoo penguins on the beach. On the way down from the stack we noticed an unusual looking seal, a brindle fur seal! This was the first one seen on the island this year, so we took some time to watch him and take some photographs.

Brindle seal. Photo Stephanie Winnard.
Brindle seal. Photo Stephanie Winnard.

Later in the month we found a young male fur seal that had been entangled in marine debris. It was action stations to remove the debris from the seal. We managed to cut through the debris, which otherwise could have killed the seal as it grew.

Entangled fur seal after the debris had been cut. Photo Stephanie Winnard.
Entangled fur seal after the debris had been cut. Photo Stephanie Winnard.

July also saw us take on the ‘Race across Antarctica’. All the BAS bases take on a distance (1996km), set by James the Halley base doctor. All the bases then battle it out to get across the finish line first. Methods of travel included; rowing, running, cycling, walking and skiing. Each base had a team of four, so being the smallest winter base and therefore not being able to do a rotation with other base members, it spurred us on being the under dogs, and you guessed it - the tiny island won!!!

Craig rowing on the jetty. Photo Stephanie Winnard.
Craig rowing on the jetty. Photo Stephanie Winnard.

Towards the end of the month a ship turned up with a spare part for the generator. This gave me the chance to fix a major fault that has meant we have been down to only one generator. It is now working lovely and providing us warmth and electricity to carry out our science jobs down here. We used the opportunity of the ship coming to replenish our fresh food supplies which were “running low”. Sue Gregory (from KEP) came ashore - it was lovely to have a visitor. I leave you with my picture of the month, a giant petrel doing his best to fend off other birds whilst trying to eat his dinner.

South Georgia Snippets

Intrigued Leopard Seal: A leopard seal was showing particular interest in some fish traps set just off the beach by a visiting scientist. Dr Nik Tysklind is working at KEP for a couple of months to study icefish larvae. For the project he has designed traps that use LED lights to lure small fish into the traps which are then regularly emptied. If he can trap enough icefish larvae he will transfer them to tanks to study the effect of temperature on their growth.

The traps are hung from buoys with a line to shore so they can be brought back into the beach without needing to go out in a boat. Perhaps it is something about the disturbance in the water, or the sealife attracted to the traps, that intrigued the seal. For a couple of days the seal was regularly seen around the traps. This meant that Nik could not empty the traps, as leopard seals can be dangerous. When he is working on the foreshore Nik has another person with him, a “spotter” to look out for seals and for his general safety.

The close encounters with the leopard seal have led to some impressive video footage of the seal from both above the water and below. For the underwater shots a camera was taped to the end of a long pole.

KEP Arts and Craft: The KEP midwinter presents were not seen in last month’s report, so we include the photograph below so you can enjoy the range and quality of handicrafts employed to create items such as: backlit x-ray pictures; a marquetry backgammon set; a stool; a table; a model boat; a book rest; a metal clock with hands in the shape of albatrosses; a reindeer antler sheath knife; knitted clothing; a framed picture; and keepsake boxes.

KEP Midwinter presents. Photo Joe Corner.
KEP Midwinter presents. Photo Joe Corner.

Dates for Your Diary:

A three-part documentary series taking a look inside the recent ‘Shackleton Epic’ expedition is due to be broadcast in late August in UK/Europe on the Discovery Channel. This highly successful and inspiring expedition was led by Tim Jarvis. The documentary will air in late November (SBS) in Australia, and in the new year in USA (PBS).

There will also be a ‘Shackleton Epic’ book – written by expedition leader Tim Jarvis, published by Harper Collins.

Check the Shackleton Epic website for further updates -

Your last chance to see the exhibition ‘Exploring Antarctica’; The Final Expeditions of Scott and Shackleton’. This exhibition at Chatham Historic Dockyard closes on August 30th. The photography of Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting is prominent in the exhibition. You can find more information here.

Curiosity: Art and the Pleasure of Knowing at the Turner Contemporary, Margate, Kent. This “superbly well-curated” exhibition includes oddities such as a penguin collected on one of Shackleton’s expeditions and a stuffed walrus. The exhibition ends on September 15th.

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