South Georgia Newsletter, March 2012

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

Director For The South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute

A Director has been announced for the newly formed South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI). Dr Paul Brickle took on the role this month and is based in Stanley, Falkland Islands.

SAERI aims to build links with research groups and agencies currently operating in South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, and promote the Institute internationally.

Dr Brickle, who has worked in South Georgia as a government officer, moves to the new job after spending ten years working as a Fisheries Biologist and Marine Ecologist in the FI Government Fisheries Department.

The Institute is expected to become a key research centre for a broad range of environmental research in the South Atlantic in subjects including geology, climate change, oceanography, inshore marine environment, fisheries and agriculture, biodiversity and renewable energy. One of the early actions of SAERI is expected to be the establishment of a website and on-line database of South Georgia and Falkland Islands research. In future it is envisaged that the Institute may employ 5 to 10 full time researchers

Of Dr Brickle’s appointment, Commissioner Nigel Haywood said “Paul is an established environmental scientist with a strong international reputation and an excellent record of scientific publication. He has a clear vision of how a research institute can be developed, and showed considerable drive and commitment to the project throughout the selection process. Paul will have the important role of raising the international profile of environmental research in the Falkland Islands and South Georgia, building on the already excellent scientific work that is being undertaken in the region”.

Dr Brickle said he was “delighted” by his appointment. “I have always been a great supporter of the Environmental Institute concept and I am really looking forward to getting started. The Falkland Islands and the wider South Atlantic are areas that are understudied by many environmental disciplines and therefore provide unique opportunities for research in the region. Establishing a well branded world class environmental research institute based in the Falkland Islands is very exciting and will present opportunities for many.”

Info: FINN

“HMS Clyde”, VIP And Busy EOD

“HMS Clyde” approaches KEP jetty. Photo Kelvin Floyd.
“HMS Clyde” approaches KEP jetty. Photo Kelvin Floyd.

The Royal Navy vessel “HMS Clyde” was on patrol around South Georgia in early March. The 81.5m vessel had already been around the Island for a few days before she came alongside the KEP jetty on March 8th for a three day visit. Aboard was Oscar Castillo, South Georgia Desk Officer at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office who was on a familiarisation visit and a Joint Services Explosive Ordnance Disposal (JSEOD) team to deal with ordnance finds.

During his visit Oscar Castillo was briefed on a range of South Georgian issues and was keen to speak to everyone about their own areas of expertise. He was also taken out in the harbour launch to see the environmental problems caused by the reindeer at Sorling Valley, to visit the fast retreating Neumayer Glacier, and to see the state of the wrecks of the fishing vessels “Lyn” and “Moresko” which went onto rocks at the entrance to Moraine Fjord on the same night in 2003. In the week before the visit, “Lyn” had been broken into three sections by large swells. This opened up a freezer hold and a large amount of insulating foam was released into the water, much of it washing up on nearby beaches.

With extra hands available, boats and personnel from KEP and “HMS Clyde” set to to clean the shoreline. Fifteen large bags of waste were recovered. Afterwards, Government Officer Keiron Fraser said, “A clear up on this scale would have been very difficult without the support of “HMS Clyde”'s Rigid Raider and ship's company. The ship's help was greatly appreciated.”

Bags filled with foam and other wreckage from the beach clean after the breakup of the wreck. Photo Alastair Wilson.
Bags filled with foam and other wreckage from the beach clean after the breakup of the wreck. Photo Alastair Wilson.

The three-man JSEOD team stayed ashore whilst they dealt with multiple ordnance finds in the area and searched the lower slopes of Mt Hodges where a number of dangerous live rifle grenades have recently been found. One afternoon the JSEOD team were accompanied by several base members, and with such a large number of items to be disposed of using controlled explosions, many of them got the opportunity to assist.

A charge next to a live rifle grenade. Photo Kelvin Floyd.
A charge next to a live rifle grenade. Photo Kelvin Floyd.

The EOD detonated many controlled explosions to make safe various
ordnance finds including live rifle grenades.

Also aboard the “HMS Clyde” was a padre who held a well-attended Sunday morning service in the church at Grytviken. A Hercules aircraft, accompanied by a VC10 re-fuelling aircraft, airdropped important spare parts to the ship one afternoon.

Spare parts were airdropped over Cumberland Bay. Photo Alastair Wilson.
Spare parts were airdropped over Cumberland Bay. Photo Alastair Wilson.

As well as walks into the hills and enjoying the wildlife on the beaches, there were some enjoyable evenings socialising. In particular the Junior Rates Mess hosted a talent contest on the aft deck of the vessel. An icy wind was mainly kept off by awnings and a delicious barbeque meant everyone was well fed before the entertainment began with a brave performance by the Captain singing and accompanying himself on a ukulele. Many entertaining acts followed including a hastily assembled effort by the KEPers who marched and sang the Dad’s Army theme with gusto.

The Captain started the talent contest. Photo Kelvin Floyd.
The Captain started the talent contest. Photo Kelvin Floyd.

The ship’s crew challenged the locals to a game of football. KEP bolstered their team with members of the JSEOD, and when that was not enough enlisted a few extra players but were still 16:3 down when unwisely the challengers called out that the next goal would win the match, so KEP won 4:16!

Fishing And Shipping News

“National Geographic Explorer” was one of the last tour ships through this season. Photo Alistair Wilson.
“National Geographic Explorer” was one of the last tour ships through this season. Photo Alistair Wilson.

The tourist season is winding down, with just four cruise vessels calling in March, and one left to visit in April. One of the cruise vessels, “Polar Pioneer” was supporting a group of five expeditioners and two guides who made a successful crossing of the Island on the Shackleton route from King Haakon Bay to Stromness. Afterwards the guides said conditions had been good and the group had experienced no particular difficulties en route.

The toothfish season started in March with the arrival of two longliners on March 28th and 29th which called in at Cumberland Bay for inspection and licensing before heading down to fish in the South Sandwich Island area.

New Breeding Bird

Field researchers working at the northern end of the Island made an unexpected discovery when they found a breeding colony of Kerguelen petrels. Though this quite distinct dark plumage bird is often seen at sea off the Island, the bird has not previously been recorded breeding on South Georgia. Several occupied burrows of Kerguelen petrels were found in a small colony in the Shallop Cove area.

Though its flying range is circumpolar in sub-Antarctic and Antarctic waters, it normally breeds further north on the sub-Antarctic Islands of Gough; Marion, Prince Edward, Crozet and, of course, Kerguelen. Activity around the burrows tends to be nocturnal and the bird makes a harsh, high pitched, call in bursts of three.

The Kerguelen petrel breeds in late winter, and in the other places it breeds would not expect to deal with much snow in the areas it burrows. Breeding on South Georgia, especially in high-snow winters, may prove more of a challenge, but the size of the colony discovered lead one fieldworker to suggest the birds must have been breeding successfully in the area for a number of years.

Google map showing the global distribution of the Kerguelen Petrel.
Google map showing the global distribution of the Kerguelen Petrel.

WWF Seabirds: A New Stamp Issue

A new set of four stamps, two First Day Covers and a sheet and a sheetlet were released for the WWF Seabirds issue. Produced in association with World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the stamp designs show some of the lesser-known species of seabird breeding on South Georgia. WWF is one of the world’s leading conservation organisations who work towards conservation and sustainability.

The cold waters around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are highly productive and provide rich feeding grounds for many species of seabirds. Twenty-five species of seabird breed on South Georgia (with two additional species, Adélie penguin and Antarctic fulmar, breeding on the South Sandwich Islands) with many vagrant and non-breeding species also seen around the islands.

A historical but on-going threat to the smaller species of seabird, and the endemic South Georgia pipit, breeding on South Georgia is predation by the introduced brown rat. Plans are in place to eradicate rats from South Georgia, which will be hugely beneficial to these species.

The 60p stamp features the imperial shag which is found in rocky coastal areas. The island population of around 7,500 pairs breed in small colonies in most parts of the Island. They are a monogamous species and usually lay 2-3 eggs (though can lay up to 5). Laying occurs in October/November, with eggs taking 5 weeks to hatch, and fledging occurring in March. Their nests are made of seaweed and grass glued together with mud and guano. Imperial shags forage mainly in inshore areas (though can also travel further offshore) on small fish, crustaceans, polychaetes, gastropods and octopuses. They dive to an average of 28m for around 5 minutes to catch their prey, although they have been recorded diving as deep as 70m.

The 70p stamp features an Antarctic tern. The Antarctic tern is distributed throughout the Southern Ocean and is common throughout the year around South Georgia. Around 10,000 pairs breed from mid-November to early December, with chicks fledging in January. Nesting close to shore in natural depressions in the rock, or shallow scrapes in the ground, their eggs and chicks are well camouflaged. These small birds (31-38cm long) are susceptible to human disturbance and to predation of their eggs and chicks by rats, however they will defend their nest sites vigorously, dive-bombing anything passing too close. Feeding in inshore waters, often in the kelp zone, their main prey is small fish but they also take crustaceans, polychaetes, molluscs, insects and algae.

The 95p stamp shows a southern skua. The southern skua is a sub-Antarctic species and is regarded as having a stable population. Two thousand pairs are distributed widely around South Georgia but are commonest on offshore islands where there are the greatest numbers of small burrowing petrels. Their hooked beak, and webbed feet with sharp claws, allow the skua to be a highly effective predator, which, besides burrowing petrels, feeds on penguin chicks and birds eggs. They will also scavenge on carrion on land, as well as around fishing vessels. During the winter, skuas migrate northward, departing in April and returning to South Georgia in September. Egg laying starts in November with chicks fledging in late February.

The £1.15 stamp features the kelp gull. Kelp gulls are omnivores, with their diet varying depending on food availability. They take and scavenge on small prey including molluscs, fish, crustaceans, other seabirds and even chicks and eggs of their own species. This coastal gull is common throughout the year around South Georgia and inhabits sheltered bays. They build nests lined with vegetation and feathers which are little more than a shallow depression in the ground. The population is about 2,000 pairs. Two or three eggs are laid between November and December, and both parents raise the chicks. Fledging takes 45-61 days and the young gulls take 3-4 years to reach maturity.

In addition to the four stamp set, there is a Souvenir Sheet showing a juvenile southern skua (£3.50p) and a sheetlet of 16 (4 sets of the four stamps) with face value of £13.20p.

South Georgia stamps can be bought from

Species information from BirdLife International species fact sheets

Down South – A Falkland War Diary

‘Down South – A Falkland War Diary’ is a personal record of action both in South Georgia and the Falkland Islands during the 1982 war. Written by Chris Parry, a Helicopter Officer aboard “HMS Antrim”, the book was published in February. Parry was 28 at the time of the war and at the end of each day wrote the diary. His ship “HMS Antrim” was first sent to South Georgia to liberate the Island after the Argentine invasion, before being redeployed to assist in the Falkland conflict. Parry, a Lieutenant and flight observer at the time, flew in the Wessex helicopters off “HMS Antrim”, and was involved in the ill-fated landing of an SAS team on the Fortuna Glacier. After the men were dropped off it was soon realised the conditions on the glacier were too extreme and the helicopters were sent back the next day to pick the men up. Two helicopters were lost in the attempt to rescue the men.

Later Parry’s helicopter was involved in the attack on the Argentinian submarine “Santa Fe”. He went on to take part in the landings at San Carlos in the Falkland Islands and experience the intensity of ‘Bomb Alley’.

The diary has lain in a draw for the past thirty years. Its immediacy as a record of the time has found favour with several reviewers who describe it as having a compelling and vibrant read and say it is not without humour.

Down South – A Falkland War Dairy is published by Viking. ISBN 9780670921454 and costs £20.

You can find a review by John Ingham of the book in the Daily/Sunday Express here.

Flying to Victory; Memories of Commander Ian Stanley

Reproduced from ‘This is Cornwall’.

When Margaret Thatcher stood outside Downing Street in late April 1982, and urged the public to "rejoice" at the news of the first British success in the campaign, some commentators noted a tone of relief in her voice.

Her reaction may well have been down to the extraordinary flying skills of Royal Navy helicopter pilot Lieutenant-Commander (later Commander) Ian Stanley and his crew. They were instrumental in ensuring that British troops retook South Georgia, the island where the conflict really started.

But it was almost a disaster, as appalling weather closed in and threatened elite SAS soldiers. It was only due to superb flying in extreme conditions – which won Commander Stanley the Distinguished Service Order – that the troops survived after becoming trapped on a glacier in what he called "the mother and father of all storms".

Three Wessex helicopters were dispatched to rescue them in virtually zero visibility. Two of them crashed but the third, flown by Lieutenant Commander Stanley and his crew, having returned one contingent of troops to “HMS Antrim” (and overloading the aircraft in the process), returned to pick up the remainder and the helicopter crews. His crew also crippled an Argentine submarine (by dropping depth charges on it) and was involved in clandestine SBS operations.

The realities of combat struck home, too. "We were strafed by an Argentine aircraft and I collected a couple of bits of shrapnel," he recalls. “Antrim” was also hit by a 500lb bomb, which failed to go off. "If it had, it would have ripped the ship open like a tin opener."

Thirty years on, Commander Stanley, still clearly remembers the events of that fateful period. "It doesn't seem that long ago. Things have changed a lot from the Royal Navy's point of view. Our job primarily within NATO was anti-submarine warfare, that was what we practiced for." It came in useful in the South Georgia operation as he and his crew had to rely on instrumentation because of poor visibility. When it became apparent Argentina meant business, Commander Stanley's view was: "The islands are British – go away. It would be pretty remiss if we hadn't done something about it."

See the original article in ‘This is Cornwall’ here.

Shackleton Epic

“Alexandra Shackleton is launched”. Photo View Online.
“Alexandra Shackleton is launched”. Photo View Online.

A new attempt will be made to authentically recreate the famous lifeboat journey of Shackleton and five men from Elephant Island to South Georgia starting in January 2013.

The exact replica of the original lifeboat “James Caird” was launched on March 18th. It had taken 18 months to build at a cost of £15,000. The new boat, called “Alexandra Shackleton” was launched in Portland, UK, by her namesake, Shackleton’s granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton. Talking of the new boat Alexandra Shackleton said “She looks wonderful and I think my grandfather would be very pleased.”

The ‘Shackleton Epic’ expedition will be led by explorer and environmental scientist Tim Jarvis. He and five others will use the same equipment that would have been available at the time of the original rescue journey in 1916 to make the small boat journey, three of them will then attempt to cross the Island. Several attempts have been made to replicate the amazing feat achieved by Shackleton and his men. Tim Jarvis states that no-one has successfully completed the boat journey and crossing of the Island. The one who came closest was famous climber Arved Fuchs in his boat “James Caird II” but the boat was towed the last few miles into King Haakon Bay, though they did go on to complete the crossing after.

Also present at the launch of “Alexandra Shackleton” was a man who knew better than most what lies ahead of the expedition. Trevor Potts attempted the journey himself in a less exact replica in 1993. Unable to get into King Haakon Bay, they sailed on round the island to Stromness Bay and then attempted, unsuccessfully, to do the land crossing the opposite way, abandoning the attempt at the Crean Glacier.

Talking of the planned ‘Shackleton Epic’ expedition Alexandra Shackleton said “It is a tribute to leadership and leadership is always of interest to people. Events like this keep the pioneering spirit going.”

Info: View Online.

Find out more online at

Alexandra Shackleton garlands the lifeboat named after her. Photo View Online.
Alexandra Shackleton garlands the lifeboat named after her. Photo View Online.

Bird Island Diary

By Allan Thomson, Base Commander at the BAS Research Station, Bird Island.

With the arrival of the Technical Team on the FPV “Pharos SG” early this month, work started in earnest on the all the various building projects: the repair of the gantry on the Special Study Beach (SSB), the rebuild of the jetty and the preparations for the installation of a Bulk Fuel System. This will mean that with the installation of three large fuel tanks, arriving during First Call in October, diesel will be pumped ashore from the ships rather than offloading up to 200 barrels of diesel. As a consequence the extended base, (now devoid of fur seals) looks like a building site and the sound of the Bobcat (excavator) has supplemented the familiar cries of the seals, skuas and giant petrels. Science continues as before, with the added impetus to collect a large number of biological samples for scientists that visited recently, and scientists in Cambridge, that can be sent out on Final Call.

For Jen, having watched the courtship rituals of the established pairs of wandering albatrosses and their nesting; watching the hatching of their chicks has been a joyous experience. As each chick takes up to three days to hatch, she has been returning to the Wanderer Ridge Study Area (WRSA) each evening to check on them and confirm their safe arrival. As she will monitor the chicks in the WRSA right through until fledging, when they set off on their oceanic travels as adults, she identifies with them and shares their disappointment when either an egg or a chick does not survive. The all-island wanderer chick census was conducted by all in appalling weather.

The wandering albatross chicks are checked to record their survival.
The wandering albatross chicks are checked to record their survival.

Jen has also been recovering logging devices and taking biological samples on behalf of other visiting scientists and monitoring the breeding success of the grey-headed and black browed albatross chicks. This has included weighing them at various stages of their development and monitoring their diet.

With the arrival of Gaz and James, our scaffolders, Jon was fully involved with the rebuild the gantry on the SSB. Having used it throughout most of the season, he provided the technical advice to supplement the various technical drawings, and considerable hands-on assistance. As a result it was completed in record time and to a far higher standard than before. With few scientists about the monthly fur seal pup-weighing was an opportunity for them to have a go. As some of the fur seal pups were fairly heavy, it was a definite advantage having them to assist and it was an enjoyable day for everyone.

The new structure on the SSB takes shape.
The new structure on the SSB takes shape.

As normal Ruth has been monitoring the macaroni penguins and giant petrels, but the burden for the majority of the outstanding biological samples fell to her. For a while it seemed that she was the preferred go-to scientist for all types of samples from fungi to feathers, from a whole host of national and international organisations and scientists. For all the scientists, it was a particularly busy conclusion to a long and demanding summer season.

Macaroni penguins.
Macaroni penguins.

For Rob, the arrival of more technicians was both a blessing and a burden. Though he had some people to talk to about technical matters, who really understood what he meant!, he also had to find all sorts of technical equipment and sundries, conduct tours of the various plant and utilities around base, and to try and prevent his treasured tools going walkabout! That said, the technical team have been super and have done a sterling job. Much has been achieved in a relatively short time: the boilers have been serviced; the electrical circuits have been checked; and much of the pipe-work for the Bulk Fuel Installation has been laid.

Graham, our Facilities Engineer, and Bobcat “master”, was busy completing some of the outstanding works that will complement the Bulk Fuel Installation; rebuilding the rock jetty to enable the offload of the three large fuel tanks next season and clearing our existing main fuel dump so that the foundations can be built.

As the summer season draws to an end, Ruth was appointed as the Winter Base Commander. Once all the works have been completed, and all the outgoing cargo has been loaded onto the “JCR”, it will be farewell to Allan, Graham, Nick, Gaz and James, and she, Jon, Jen and Rob will begin their winter sojourn on Bird Island, so Ruth will write the next BI Diary.

A grey-headed albatross chick.
A grey-headed albatross chick.

South Georgia Snippets

Commemorating the Centenary of the British Antarctic “Terra Nova” Expeditions: A service was held in the church at Grytviken on March 29th to commemorate the centenary of Scott’s last expedition. The date was chosen as it was a hundred years from the date of the last entry made by Scott in his diary. The bodies of Scott, Wilson and Bowers were found in a tent months later, Oates and Evans having perished earlier in the march back from the South Pole.

The short service of two hymns and two readings was led by Dr Edward Wilson’s great nephew Alastair Wilson and mirrored some of the content of the service held the same day in St Paul’s Cathedral in London.

The hymn ‘Onward Christian Soldier’ was chosen as it was Scott’s favourite hymn and had been sung over the bodies of the three men when their tent was discovered on November 12th 1912. The first reading, read by Alastair Wilson, was Scott’s message to the public written in the tent when he knew they would not get back. It included the words “Had we lived, I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions which would have stirred the heart of every Englishman.”

The second reading was from Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’, and the short service ended with the singing of the hymn “Guide me O thou great redeemer”.

Alastair Wilson reads Scott’s message to the public.
Alastair Wilson reads Scott’s message to the public.

New Government Officer: A new Government Officer started work at KEP in early March. Jo Cox has spent the last 9 year working on the British Antarctic Survey ships. Her last position was as Chief Officer on “RRS James Clark Ross”.

Keep Up The Guard: Two events in March underlined the need for all residents and visitors to South Georgia to remain vigilant about biosecurity. Two live earwigs were found in fresh fruit and vegetables arriving from the Falklands, which has had huge infestations of the insect in recent years. The insects were discovered during the biosecurity checks all imported fresh goods undergo on arrival in the specially designed Biosecurity Building.

A new invasive plant was also found at KEP. The plant, known as Heath Woodrush, was dug up and destroyed.

Shake It: Two earthquakes over 5 on the Richter scale were reported in March, both in the South Sandwich Island area. The strongest (5.6) occurred on March 7th, 138km NNE of Bristol Island. The other (5.2) was on the March 25th, 243 km SE of Bristol Island.

Bark Europa sailing in Cumberland Bay.
Bark Europa sailing in Cumberland Bay.

Winter Sail: Later March turned convincingly wintry with snow lying and regular new snowfalls. Despite there being no accumulation, one keen skier has already managed to ski on the slopes below Brown Mountain. For others, waking to light snow on the ground made for a beautiful walk across to Maiviken where a rare treat awaited. Three lucky people were able to accept a lift from the tall ship “Bark Europa” which was dropping a party of about twenty walkers at Maiviken to walk to Grytviken. The 56m sail training ship was built in 1911. Once aboard the sails were set and four hours later she arrived at KE Cove. With temperatures around zero, the guests were glad to pull on ropes to help raise the zodiac, lower sails, and help with other work on deck. Jo, who has much experience on similar vessels, happily stood steering the ship at the vast wheel on the stern for an hour or so.

We hope to bring you a video of sailing with Bark Europa in the April edition of this newsletter.

Jo happy at the wheel.
Jo happy at the wheel.

Which rope did you tell me to pull?
Which rope did you tell me to pull?

Dates For Your Diary

Frank Wild: Antarctica’s Forgotten Hero: Watch out of the Television program ‘Frank Wild: Antarctica’s Forgotten Hero’ which is due to be aired on BBC2 on Sunday 22nd April. The documentary presenter Paul Rose visited South Georgia in November when Frank Wild’s ashes were interred in the cemetery at Grytviken. The programme is billed as being a “vivid, gripping and, thoughtfully researched and notably well-presented outline of Frank Wild's life and very significant achievements.” It features Wild's relatives, and Alexandra Shackleton, as they accompany the explorer’s ashes on their journey to be buried next to his beloved leader Sir Ernest Shackleton.

More info here.

You can visit the BBC Frank Wild picture gallery here.

Costing the Earth: Listen out for TV chef and presenter Gerard Baker on the BBC Radio 4 environmental programme ‘Costing the Earth’. Gerard Baker, who recently spent a couple of weeks at KEP, will be talking about the South Georgia Fisheries as part of a programme looking at the seas around the Antarctic which contain some of the last healthy fish stocks in the world. Gerard explores whether we can keep them that way. The programme airs at 3.30pm April 3rd and will be available on the BBC iPlayer shortly after.

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