South Georgia Newsletter, June 2008

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

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HMS Liverpool and HMS Clyde. Photo Steve Artis
HMS Liverpool and HMS Clyde. Photo Steve Artis

Royal Navy Patrolling South Georgia

Two Royal Navy vessels, HMS Liverpool and HMS Clyde patrolled South Georgia waters at the beginning of the month. The two vessels arrived in Cumberland East Bay East (CEB) at the end of May for an action-packed few days.

A joint military and civilian disaster management exercise 'Cape Reach' was held during the visit. For part of this, GSGSSI's Government Officer and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) personnel from King Edward Point (KEP) joined their naval counterparts on HMS Liverpool for a very useful tabletop exercise to test their combined disaster response plans.

The ability of the RAF to assist in an emergency by dropping supplies was practised with an air drop. Two parachutes were dropped by an RAF Hercules over CEB. The parachutes and attached stores were successfully retrieved using the KEP RIB Luna.

High winds prevented some planned elements of the exercise 'Cape Reach' going ahead, such as practising transferring a patient on a stretcher to one of the ships.

On the morning of May 31st the Lynx helicopter from HMS Liverpool was used to land soldiers from the Falkland Island Roulement Infantry Company and Falkland Island Defence Force at Harpon Bay for a three-day patrol.

Despite wintry weather on June 2nd, with temperatures as low as -10C, an eight-person work party from HMS Liverpool managed to man-haul emergency supplies up to the new emergency stores at Gull Lake, and several pairs of naval divers spent the afternoon diving around the KEP jetty. Amongst other things the divers were: looking for Mussels known to grow on the jetty in the 1970's, none were found; assisting with retrieval of lost fendering; and taking underwater footage of the jetty structure. An 'all-denomination' service was held in the old whalers’ church at Grytviken by the chaplain of HMS Liverpool on Sunday June 1st.

HMS Clyde was alongside the jetty during its visit but the larger HMS Liverpool had to anchor out in the bay. The KEP boats assisted bringing most of the 240 personnel from the ship ashore over a two-day period when they could go for a walk and visit the Museum and Post Office. Despite the overcast and Antarctic conditions during their visit, ship’s company from both vessels said that their visit to South Georgia was a highlight of their time 'down south'.

The RAF dropped two parachutes as part of exercise 'Cape Reach'. Photos Emma Jones

South Georgia Exhibition Starts In The UK

An exhibition entitled "Governing South Georgia: A century of managing marine resources" opens at the Scott Polar Research Institute (SPRI) in Cambridge on July 16th.

The exhibition commemorates a century since the issuing of Letters Patent on July 21st 1908. This document defined the British claim to South Georgia.

James Innes Wilson was the first South Georgia Magistrate.
James Innes Wilson was the first South Georgia Magistrate.

South Georgia was first claimed for the British Crown by Captain Cook when he landed at Possession Bay in 1775, but the claim was not formally defined until Letters Patent were issued, setting out the geographical extent of the Falkland Island Dependencies (of which South Georgia was a part). The exhibition, which is jointly funded by the South Georgia Association and GSGSSI, looks at South Georgia's history of administration and management since 1908, starting with the Letters Patent and the arrival of the first magistrate James Wilson in 1909 up to the current fisheries management regime. The exhibition will be on tour as follows:

SPRI, July 16th to September 17th

Discovery Point, Dundee, October 4th to November 16th Maritime Historical Studies Centre, Hull, November 21st to December 24th . Thereafter the exhibition will go to Stanley, Falkland Islands, before finally ending-up at Grytviken.

Fishing And Shipping News

The main Krill fishing season got under way this month with the arrival, inspection and licensing of four more trawlers in the first week, bringing the krill fleet to five. Catches have been very good. One of the three KEP-based fisheries scientists joined one of the trawlers as Krill Observer for ten days to give observer coverage for the early part of the season, another Krill Observer was deployed by the end of the month.

Hauling the net on a Krill trawler. Photo Patrick Lurcock
Hauling the net on a Krill trawler. Photo Patrick Lurcock

Two reefer vessels arrived in the second week of the month. These vessels have had to cope with high winds, some large icebergs and a lot of brash ice in CEB.

The last week of the month was very busy in harbour with three reefers and their attendant trawlers in to transship, and a tanker. Several fishing vessels came in to take on bunkers.

In Sung Ho transships Krill to Ej  Frio Poseiden
In Sung Ho transships Krill to Ej Frio Poseiden

Reefer Director in CEB at night with large iceberg. Photos Emma Jones
Reefer Director in CEB at night with large iceberg. Photos Emma Jones

Eleven longliners continued to fish for Toothfish. Despite some interruption of fishing due to heavy weather, catches have been good. Several longliners have headed to Stanley, Falklands, for mid-season transshipments before rejoining the fishery. All South Georgia Toothfish has to be landed in Stanley for catch verification to ensure quotas are not exceeded.

At least two longliners are trialling the 'umbrella system', a method of setting hooks in bunches with a floating net sleeve that falls down over the hooks as the line is retrieved. As the line is hauled the net covers any fish caught and helps reduce whale predation.

One of the King Edward Point scientists joined the Fishery Patrol Ship Pharos SG for several days to conduct plankton sampling around the Island. This is the start of a new plankton sampling regime which is expanding the sampling to a far wider area. Until now plankton sampling has been concentrated in CEB.

A longliner offloading its catch of South Georgia Toothfish for weighing and verification at Stanley, Falklands. Some fish is unpacked so the packaging can be weighed as part of the calculations. Flash required for video.

Private Vessel Observers

By Richard McKee, Executive Officer GSGSSI

Under the revised Tourism Management Policy document, tighter restrictions have been placed on site access for private vessels with more than 10 persons on board (including paid crew). In future private vessels with more than 10 persons on board will be required to carry an approved observer if they intend to visit any Specially Protect Area (SPA) landing sites. Private vessels with more than 20 persons on board will be required to carry an approved observer for ALL landings at approved landing sites (outside Grytviken).

The Private Vessel Observer would be expected to oversee and advise landings to ensure that they were conducted safely and in accordance with GSGSSI conditions. Whilst GSGSSI reserves the right to designate such an observer, Government would normally expect private vessel owners to engage their own observer, if necessary. Details of the observer would need to be submitted with the visit application forms.

Private Vessel Observers must be responsible and have relevant previous experience of managing tourists on South Georgia. They would be briefed by the Government Officer on arrival at KEP and would be expected to oversee and advise on all landings and if necessary report any concerns to the GSGSSI.

The following are eligible to be Observers:

i) Former IAATO Expedition Leaders

ii) Senior cruise ship or yacht expedition staff

iii) Individuals who can demonstrate to GSGSSI that they possess suitable experience to oversee landings in accordance with Government procedures

The onus of responsibility for arranging private vessel observer coverage falls to the owner of the vessel. Owners should engage the services of an approved observer well before their arrival at South Georgia and GSGSSI should be notified of their intentions during the application process. Eligible potential observers who wish to have their contact details listed on the GSGSSI website and provided to enquirers should contact GSGSSI directly in the first instance.

Habitat Restoration Effort Continues

By Alison Neil of the South Georgia Heritage Trust

The World Conservation Union has stated that invasive species are the second greatest threat, after habitat loss, to biodiversity globally. Invasives can cause great damage to biodiversity in island environments. South Georgia, with its wide variety of birds which nest on open ground or in burrows, has had its bird numbers depleted by the presence of the invasive Norwegian Brown Rat. The rats can easily access eggs in the nests of such birds as South Georgia’s burrowing Blue Petrels, Antarctic and Fairy Prions, Diving Petrels and the endemic South Georgia Pipit and Pintail. Following on from the report produced by Darren Christie, South Georgia Government’s Habitat Restoration Officer, the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) will attempt to fund a complete island eradication of the Brown Rat species, with the work being carried out by the Centre for Remote Environments at the University of Dundee.

To date, funds of approximately £400,000 have been donated by foundations and individuals who recognise the importance of restoring the breeding sites of these birds.

In 2008 an environmental impact assessment began which will address all possible impacts in the eradication process, one aspect of which is to look at existing data to understand the potential for disturbance to breeding birds of bait spreading by helicopters.

In the following year it is hoped that the first phase of eradication can begin, confirming the levels of bait required to eradicate the rats in different habitats. Support vessel and helicopter options will also be compared and if a support vessel can be found within budget, it is hoped that two target areas of South Georgia will be made rodent-free.

The endemic South Georgia Pintail.
The endemic South Georgia Pintail.

Preview Given Of SG's New Geographic Information System

Professor Paul Cooper of the British Antarctic Survey's Mapping and Geographical Information Department (MAGIC) visited GSGSSI in early June to work on the new Geographical Information System (GIS) for South Georgia. On June 10th he gave a public preview of the system (which will be online later this year) in the Falkland Island Community School . His talk was entitled 'Maps, MAGIC and Managing South Georgia'.

The GIS will eventually enable online access to information about South Georgia - wildlife, visitor statistics, historical places, vegetation, invasive species. It is designed to aid management decisions by Government and research work by scientists and academics, as well as providing more information for interested lay people than the usual tourist guides provide.

Schoolchildren Have An "Amazing" Flight Over The Island

By Bernice Hewitt (aged 15)

On March 9th I was one of 7 Falkland Island students who embarked on an amazing once-in-a-lifetime experience to see South Georgia by air. We won the trip after a year long project on Antarctica and writing an essay about why we wanted to go. We were accompanied by our teacher, Ms Messer. After months of will we/won’t we, the day arrived when we could finally go. Following an early start we arrived at Mount Pleasant Airport to find out that our plane, the VC10, was on operational duties so our flight would be a bit delayed. However, the RAF filled the time for us, giving us a tour of a Hercules aircraft. By this time our plane had landed and we were ready to go! I think all of our hearts were on overdrive as we walked up the runway to our plane. After take-off it was a short while until we started to see the wonder of South Georgia but definitely worth the wait. As we approached Bird Island, beautifully surrounded by icebergs, it was a magical sight. This was to be only the start of our awe-inspiring journey. We flew over the North coast twice, encountering the whaling stations such as Grytviken, and the numerous spectacular icebergs and glaciers. It really was amazing. I don’t think any of us could take our eyes off the stunning sights we could see. After flying along the Southern coast we unwillingly headed back home again - I’m sure all of us would have stayed for longer if we could, even those who did feel a bit sick during the flight! All in all a remarkable day, a day we will never forget.

The Stanley schoolchildren got great views of South Georgia from the VC10. Photos Bernice Hewitt.
The Stanley schoolchildren got great views of South Georgia from the VC10. Photos Bernice Hewitt.

Øyas Venner – Friends Of The Island Of South Georgia

By Øyas Venner Chairman Kjell Tokstad

Øyas Venner – Friends of the Island of South Georgia – is a society based in the south-eastern part of Norway, an area with a significant whaling history. The main focus areas of the society include: increasing the awareness of the historic whaling industry; preservation of the industrial heritage on the Island; and to being a forum for historical information about South Georgia.

Amongst the over 300 members you will find former whalers, factory workers, descendants of these and people generally interested in the fascinating geographical features or industrial heritage of this great Island.

The society maintains close relations with individuals in the UK, Falklands and on South Georgia and we try to be present at related events. For people seeking information or having specific questions relating to the past activity on the Island, our members are found to be a friendly and good source of information from the Island's industrial period.

Øyas Venner publishes a newsletter six times per year and arranges members meetings at least twice a year at various locations along the south-eastern parts of Norway. The society has a slop shop “slappen” where you can buy a variety of books, films and other South Georgia effects, including the famous silver South Georgia pin. We have a website which unfortunately is still under construction: However, we hope to have this updated soon. For any enquiries the society's chairman Kjell Tokstad can be contacted here .

South Georgia Snippets

By Steve Artis

We had a very social time during the Navy visit at the start of the month, with invites aboard both vessels being reciprocated with invites for some of them to join us on a couple of occasions ashore. High winds on June 2nd meant 10 naval personnel were stranded ashore for the night. The 'stranded ten', as they quickly became known, were soon found comfortable accommodation and enjoyed the hospitality of the base before they could be safely returned to their ship the next day.

A representative of HMS Clyde presented a cheque for £300 to Government Officer Emma Jones who received it on behalf of SGHT.

After the hectic activity during the Naval visit a couple of more normal days ensued, giving us time to catch up with everyday tasks.

On the June 7th Emma and I finally got the time and some reasonable weather to get round to Penguin River to check on progress of the King Penguin chicks. On arrival a howling wind blowing down from the head of the valley had us thinking that maybe the river wasn’t a good place to bring up your family! Chicks have been hatched in this location for the past few years, but so far none have survived the winter. We could find no sign of this year’s chicks, indeed the river was frozen absolutely solid, the only penguin there was a Gentoo adult struggling to keep its footing with the wind behind it. Having looked and not found the chicks we feared the worse but just as we were leaving we cut down towards the sea. Hoorah! they had survived by moving in front of the tussac down towards the sea. Unfortunately we only found three of the four we have been watching, but the remaining chicks looked very well fed and quite happy in their huge feathery jackets. In fact they were far warmer than us as our body temperatures dropped in the still howling weather. Having taken a good few photographs we decided to head back and got into some shelter for a quick cuppa before the walk back along the beach. So we are still hopeful that these three may be the first chicks to survive and fledge at Penguin River. We'll keep you posted.

The three remaining King Penguin chicks look fat and happy. Photo Steve Artis.
The three remaining King Penguin chicks look fat and happy. Photo Steve Artis.

Another South Georgia bird has been on an adventure. Argos Helena discovered a rather bedraggled Light-mantled Sooty Albatross on their decks as they arrived in Stanley, Falklands to transship their catch. The bird had probably become grounded on the boat and taken refuge in a hidden corner. They contacted Falkland Conservation who examined the bird and found it to be a juvenile which looked a bit bedraggled after its ordeal. It was fed and dried before being released again. (Info Falkland Conservation Newsletter)

On June 19th Andrew, Anjali and Rachel headed up to the repeater, on the mountain ridge above Bore Valley, to see if the mast was clear of snow. We have lost our boosted radio signal from it. During the winter the batteries do not recharge due to poor weather and snow covering the solar panels. This was again the cause and the trio spent a good amount of time digging the panels out so they could recharge. Annoyingly bad weather must have soon covered them up again as we once again lost our signal.

Anj was due to leave the Island on the 21st for a short while but due to howling winds pinning the ship onto the jetty all day they were unable to depart until the 22nd. In some ways, although unplanned, this worked well as Anjali did not have to miss the midwinter celebrations (see below).

The small satellite dish next to Larsen House succumbed to the gale and fell off its mast.

On June 23rd Bob and Charlie skied to Penguin River, checking on the chicks. Still there, still looking good, and signs that the adults have been visiting and feeding them. Charles and Jen went skiing to Osmic Hill for the day, and Mairi started building her boat in the chippy shop.

At the end of the month thaw and wind left such an ice rink on the track and jetty that some of us were reduced to crawling to make any headway over the sheet ice in the fierce headwinds!

Mike and Iris safely back at their café.
Mike and Iris safely back at their café.

Meanwhile in England Sarah and Pat Lurcock, who are currently away on holiday, took advantage of a sunny day to take their motorbike to Falmouth to visit some lucky survivors. Mike and Iris Clelford had visited South Georgia on their yacht Brilliance last summer. When they left they headed for Cape Town and were about 500 miles south-west of Tristan Da Cuhna when a vital mast fitting broke, leaving them stranded mid ocean. When they set off their EPIRB a passing cargo ship responded and picked them up and took them to Sri Lanka. Mike scuttled the yacht, to prevent it being a hazard to other shipping, before he climbed the ladder to safety. After all this surely they are giving up yachting? Not a bit of it, they were working hard in their seafront café and are saving up for a new boat.

Midwinter Celebrations

You always know midwinter is approaching as everywhere is so quiet in the evenings as everyone beavers away making a present for the person whose name they pulled out of a hat months before. Why do we always leave it until the last moment?

Midwinter, June 21st, is the big celebration of the year on all BAS bases. At KEP it began with an early breakfast in the bar to say goodbye to Anj (who didn't end up leaving until the next day!). By 11am the weather had worsened but that didn't stop the hardy amongst us going for the traditional midwinter swim. Seven brave souls took to the water amongst the growlers, Mairi had to swim twice as she jumped the gun and went into the water before the countdown began, then we all belted up the beach into the sauna to warm through again.

Midwinters swimmers getting in and out of the icy sea very quickly!
Midwinters swimmers getting in and out of the icy sea very quickly!

The afternoon was spent preparing food before a stunning fourteen course meal started at 5pm and lasted until midnight. The midwinter presents were opened throughout the meal, leaving the floor a sea of wrapping paper by the end, and the presents were universally fabulous, all hand crafted and included sculptures in wood, bone and brass, pictures in glass and brass, clothes in wool and fleece, an Island shaped clock, a ship in a bottle and an ingenious antler and brass bottle rack. At one stage we broke off from the marathon meal to listen to messages from home in the Midwinter Broadcast. The BBC usually manage to find someone pretty impressive to talk on this half hour programme and this year was no exception, we were very impressed to sit there listening to Michael Palin wishing us a happy midwinter!

This years collection of excellently crafted midwinter presents.
This years collection of excellently crafted midwinter presents.

Bird Island Midwinter News

By Gorfou, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island

June in Antarctica and Sub-Antarctic Islands is centred on “Midwinter”. All the winterers around the continent celebrate this event on June 21st when the daylight is the shortest or the night the longest… as you wish!

BI winterers wish you a great winter… or summer. Photo Gorfou
BI winterers wish you a great winter… or summer. Photo Gorfou

This year at BI, the festivities started on 13th with a darts game against Halley base where they haven’t seen the sun for a few weeks. After winning the first two games in less than one hour (we were playing the best of three) they offered us to play for the best of five games!! It was very brave and sporting of them when you know the final score… we won the last three games.

At 5pm the day after, the 2008 Bird Island beer festival opened with a free tasting of the BI Albatross Ale… a lovely nut-brown colour; a huge BI wildlife nose; on the palate it has a rich mouth-coating textures and leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. We couldn’t taste all the 21 different beers that evening but we had a very good time playing bridge, darts and the “Guerre des Moutons”.

Later on that week, we organized the annual Midwinter Pub crawl that took place all around the base. The outdoor Marina Bar on the end of the jetty run by Felice was the first to open. After one hour and a few snow showers we moved to the next one, the Albatross Wings (not “Arms”). Derren had turned the jetty toilet into a warm and cosy place where we played “pictionary” and “pass the bomb”. After that we went to Mac Ewan’s Pub, located in Dorchester house, where we tasted a few specialities from his homeland, Scotland. We ended in a French Bar (the corridor of the accommodation)… Or maybe it was a French Club?

And then midwinters day itself arrived…

It started traditionally with a full English breakfast cooked by the Base Commander, Felice. It wasn’t too much to brave the windy, cold and the wet weather we had during the BI Highlands games: crossbow, haggis tossing, welly wanging, tossing the caber and snowball throwing… As Scottish and seal assistant, it’s not surprising that Ewan won the 2008 BI Highland games… closely followed by Felice.

BI Highland games, from left to right: Derren tossing the Haggis, Felice throwing the welly, Fabrice tossing the caber and Ewan throwing the snowball. Photos Derren Fox and Gorfou
BI Highland games, from left to right: Derren tossing the Haggis, Felice throwing the welly, Fabrice tossing the caber and Ewan throwing the snowball. Photos Derren Fox and Gorfou

We didn’t do our Midwinter swim that day. The bay was full of ice and when we were at the end of the jetty breaking the sea ice, a Leopard Seal hauled its big head out of the water less than five metres from the jetty looking at us like we were some tempting penguins or seals… Nevertheless we went to warm up and relax in the Hot Tub while the 5 kg turkey breast was slowly roasting in the oven. It’s not before 10pm that we started our gargantuan Midwinter dinner. We had a few digestive breaks during which we exchanged the Midwinter presents made by one of us for another one… but we didn’t know who was making our present until the last moment.

There was a hammock, some fur seal slippers, a “Hoof Choof” corridor strategic game and an African game call Oware.

June 2008 has been characterised by a cold weather poor in snow where on two occasions we saw the sea ice and the brash ice filling the bay at the front of the base, with some days up to five, six and even eight Leopard Seals snoozing on the ice. All the Mollymawks have left the island now; at the moment the Wandering Albatross chicks are the only species of albatross present on BI.

Sea ice and brash ice in Freshwater Bay around Midwinter (with Felice at the end of the jetty and a Leopard Seal in the bottom right corner). Photo Gorfou
Sea ice and brash ice in Freshwater Bay around Midwinter (with Felice at the end of the jetty and a Leopard Seal in the bottom right corner). Photo Gorfou

View Of The Month

Don’t forget to see this month’s 'View of the Month' on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.

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