South Georgia Newsletter, November 2012

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

Sir Rex Hunt

Photo Mercopress
Photo Mercopress

Sir Rex Hunt, who was Governor of the Falkland Island Dependencies (including South Georgia) from 1980 to 1985, died on November 11th. His tenure of office included the Argentine invasion of the Island in 1982 and ended with South Georgia being separated from the Falkland Islands to become a separate country, now called a British Overseas Territory (until October 1985 South Georgia was a Falkland Island Dependent Territory).

Sir Rex Hunt was born in Redcar, Yorkshire in 1926, went to St Peter’s College, Oxford and joined the RAF as soon as he was old enough in 1944. In 1951 he married Mavis Buckland and they had two children, Diana and Antony.

During his three years in the RAF he served as a fighter pilot on No 5 Squadron in India and No 26 Squadron in Germany, after which he returned to Oxford to complete a law degree. He joined the Overseas Civil Service in 1951, serving in Uganda as District Commissioner. In 1963 he joined the Commonwealth Relations Office and was sent as First Secretary to Sarawak (Malaysia), in the following years he worked in Brunei, Turkey, Indonesia, Saigon and Kuala Lumpur.

Of his next appointment Sir Rex Hunt said he had the longest title and one of the biggest areas of the Commonwealth to administer, as “Governor of the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Shetland Islands, British High Commissioner for the Antarctic Territories and Commander in Chief of the British Forces, Falkland Islands.” He visited South Georgia shortly before the War, in December 1981, aboard HMS Endurance. He was being flown ashore in the ship’s helicopter to visit two people filming at St Andrew’s Bay when the aircraft crashed. Despite it being a bad crash, the helicopter was a complete write off, no one was seriously hurt.

Sir Rex Hunt described South Georgia as “spectacularly beautiful…the abundance of wildlife reminded me of the River Nile in Uganda”. He could also see that it would be an attraction for tourists but that it was, “too remote and the elements too harsh for tourists to spoil it. For the adventurous visitor, who is not deterred by distance of difficulties, it is the experience of a lifetime.” It was from South Georgia that one of the early indications that the Argentines were becoming more aggressive in their claims to South Georgia and the Falkland Islands came. Sir Rex Hunt received a message from a British Antarctic Survey field party about the activities an Argentine scrap metal salvage operation which had landed illegally at Leith. The full invasion of both South Georgia and the Falklands quickly followed. Sir Rex Hunt was flown back to the UK, but returned to his role in June 1982, once the Argentine occupation was ended.

He was awarded the CMG in 1980 and a knighthood in October 1982.

BBC journalist Harold Brierley commented: “Rex Hunt was an unusual diplomat, with none of the stuffiness or formality sometimes associated with that profession. He managed to retain the dignity and ceremonial duties of a colonial governor with a genial and welcoming disposition which endeared him to all walks of life. He was a man of the people, as much at home drinking tea in the Islanders’ remote homestead or quaffing a pint of beer in their modest Stanley pubs as he was when clinking champagne glasses in the corridors of power.”

After retirement Sir Rex continued his interest in the region including his involvement with the Shackleton Scholarship Fund.

The King Edward Point flag flew at half-mast for a week to mark the passing of this important character in the Territory’s history.

Sustained High Winds Cause Visitors Trouble

Strong winds blew trouble for a group of stranded tourists visiting Stromness. High winds throughout the second week of November meant cruise ships juggling their planned landing sites to try to find suitable places to land passengers in the lee of the land. On November 10th, one group landed at Stromness were caught out when winds quickly rose too high for safe boating to get them all back to their ship anchored in the bay. The ship’s anemometer registered winds of 140 km/h before going off the scale. The 30 passengers who remained on land sought shelter as best they could, whilst staff members wrestled with the five zodiacs that were anchored at the beach. These inflatable boats that usually take 10 passengers at a time with one driver, are usually ideal for making tours around the wildlife hotspots of the islands coast. Passengers sit on the inflated sidewalls of the boat, which are light and easy to handle when making landing on the beaches. The staff members tried to hold the boats down in the winds, some lying hanging on to the anchors buried in the beach to add weight to the mooring. One staff member described later how he looked up from his position lying prone and clutching a zodiac’s anchor only for the gust of wind to get under his body and throw him 5 metres along the beach. Despite the staff’s efforts five of the boats were flipped over by the winds. Other boats already on the water in the bay took an hour to reach the safety of the ship.

The passengers were stuck ashore for an extra two to three hours before the wind abated sufficiently for them to be safely recovered to the ship.

Another cruise vessel Silver Explorer, on passage from Tristan de Cunha to the Antarctic Peninsula, detoured to the Island to seek shelter in Stromness Bay for the worst of the storm. Another vessel Fram, on passage from South Georgia to the Falkland Islands, reported having to continually hand steer the ship to prevent broaching and one of the officers described occasionally looking up from the bridge deck from this big ship and seeing the wave crests above. The bridge height is 16m.

Fishing And Shipping News

HMS Clyde alongside at KEP and a cruise ship anchored in KE Cove.
HMS Clyde alongside at KEP and a cruise ship anchored in KE Cove.

November was a busy month for tour ship visits with 13 cruise vessels visiting. Unusually two of the vessels, Akademik Sergey Vavilov and Akademik Ioffe, both operated by One Ocean Cruises, came in together as they were marking the first anniversary of the interment of polar explorer Frank Wild’s ashes in the cemetery at Grytviken. Aboard one of the vessels was author Angie Butler, who recently wrote a book about Wild detailing her search for his missing ashes, and a great niece of the explorer.

There were also several yacht visits; 4 from charter yachts bringing small tourist groups, two of which were specialist photographic groups, and two private yachts.

The Fishery Patrol Vessel Pharos SG was in port on Monday 5th and returned again later in the month bringing cargo, short term Government visitors and seven new base members.

The main base resupply was on November 21st when the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) vessel RRS James Clark Ross (JCR) arrived to deliver all the food and other goods needed to run the station for the next year. This is always a big day with everyone working cargo late into the evening to move the cargo to the appropriate stores. The ship then anchored overnight and briefly came alongside next day to off load a shipping container, quad bikes, and other larger equipment including cargo for the coming SGHT Habitat Restoration rat eradication project.

Later in the month there was another visit from the HMS Clyde on patrol around the island. There is no fishing activity in the SGMZ at the moment.

Marine Protected Areas - New Stamp Issue

The newly declared Marine Protected Area is celebrated in a new stamp issue released on November 9th. This colourful set of stamps were painted by Leigh-Anne Wolfaardt.

During the last two hundred years human activities have had a detrimental influence on the marine environment through over-exploitation of natural resources, exploitation of sub-sea minerals, pollution and more recently climate change. Climate change now threatens the rich biodiversity of the marine environment due to temperature changes and ocean acidification. In order to maintain marine productivity, biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services it is essential that we act now to protect key parts of the marine environment. Creating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in which human activities are either excluded or carefully managed provides an essential and effective mechanism for improving our management of the marine environment.

The seas around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are amongst the most productive and diverse in the Southern Ocean and provide food for a tremendous diversity of invertebrates, fish, marine mammals and seabirds. As well as being home to the iconic wandering albatross, South Georgia’s wildlife includes an estimated 4 million Antarctic fur seals (which were only recently removed from the IUCN endangered list), around 3 million penguins (king, macaroni, gentoo and chinstrap), plus large numbers of smaller albatross, petrels and prions. The waters around the South Sandwich Islands are less well known, but they support enormous numbers of seabirds, including the world's largest colony of chinstrap penguins with over 1 million breeding pairs.

On February 23rd 2012, as part of an on-going programme of sustainable management of the Territory, GSGSSI created one of the largest MPAs on the planet. The Marine Protected Areas Order created a sustainably managed MPA (IUCN Category VI) that is designed to ensure the protection and conservation of the region's rich and diverse marine life, whilst allowing sustainable and carefully regulated fisheries.

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area encompasses the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Maritime zone north of 60°S and occupies 1.07 million km² of ocean. This MPA includes no-take Zones (IUCN Category I) within 12 nautical miles of South Georgia, Clerke Rocks and Shag and Black Rocks and within 3 nautical miles of the South Sandwich Islands, totalling 20,431km². The no-take zones provide refuges for fish species, protect spawning fish and avoid competition between fisheries and land-based foragers. The combined effect of these no-take zones is that 67% of the shelf (< 200 m deep) is protected from any commercial fishing activity, with all depths shallower than 100m protected.

The benthic fauna of South Georgia [£1.20 stamp] is considered as diverse as that of the Galapagos Islands and is now extremely well protected. Bottom trawling, which indiscriminately damages all animals in its path, is prohibited throughout the MPA. The only bottom fishing that is permitted is longlining for Patagonian toothfish [75p stamp], which only operates between 700m and 2000 m and has limited impact on the benthic fauna. Within the toothfish fishing grounds there are additional closed areas in which only research fishing is permitted. The excellent management of the toothfish fishery has been recognised by the Marine Stewardship Council, who have certified the fishery as sustainable and well managed. The fishery achieved one of the highest scores of any fishery that has applied for certification.

The pelagic fauna, which includes Antarctic krill, lantern fish and squid [£1 stamp], is extremely abundant and provides the food for the large aggregations of seabirds (including penguins and albatross), seals and whales that forage in the waters of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Fisheries operate for Antarctic krill and mackerel icefish, however these are very carefully managed with highly precautionary catch limits.

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area is patrolled by the Fisheries Protection Vessel, Pharos SG [65p stamp], protecting the unique wildlife, including the king penguins which also feature on this stamp.

In addition to fisheries, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are an important area for tourists, who arrive on cruise ships to experience the stunning scenery and spectacular wildlife, including elephant seals [65p stamp]. Around 6000 tourists visit South Georgia each year on small, expedition cruise ships.

A key part of any Marine Protected Area is monitoring. The wildlife of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is monitored by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey from their research stations on Bird Island and at King Edward Point (KEP). Monitoring includes annual surveys of the breeding success of fur seals, penguins and albatross. Albatross chicks, such as the grey-headed albatross [75p stamp] are weighed to determine their condition, which is an indication of the state of the waters in which the adults forage.

Further protection for the waters around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands may follow in future years, and will be based on scientific evidence. Recent work by scientists from BAS and GSGSSI has examined the need for additional spatial and temporal protection and identified some key issues. In future the MPA is likely to be reinforced by a seasonal closure of the krill fishery and additional closed areas in the toothfish fishing areas.

Further information about the SGSSI Marine Protected Area can be found in the Management Plan, which can be downloaded from this website.

South Georgia stamps can be bought from

Troubled Water – New Book

A beautiful book and art exhibition is the culmination of a several year-long project called ‘Troubled Water’. Artist Bruce Pearson travelled widely to encounter albatrosses in their natural environment. The journey not only took him to the birds’ breeding sites in South Georgia but also to the danger zone where, when feeding at sea, the birds meet the unregulated fishing vessels off the coast of places like Africa - a meeting that too often ends in tragedy as the birds become entangled in fishing gear and drown.

The book ‘Troubled Water-Trailing the Albatross: An Artist's Journey’ has 136 pages and is in hardback. It is described in the BBC Wildlife Magazine as “important….one artist's response to the tragedy engulfing albatrosses”

Bruce Pearson has lived and worked among an abundance of albatrosses on Bird Island thirty-five years ago. He returned two years ago to see what had happened to some of the birds he had known so well.

According to the publishers Langford Press, the resulting book offers insights into our understanding of the seabirds’ lives and the ocean environment, and inspires new engagement and identification with an extraordinarily urgent conservation crisis. The forward is written by Dame Ellen MacAuthur the solo yachtswoman who has also lived intimately ashore with albatrosses on South Georgia when assisting with bird surveys a few years ago.

Birdwatch reviewed the book and described it as “A thought provoking personal story and portfolio of art that brings to life the open ocean and responds to an urgent contemporary conservation issue-the loss of upwards of 300,000 birds every year, mostly due to longline fisheries.....Weaving together all the strands of a 35 year adventure Troubled Waters tells the tale of award-winning visual artist and field naturalist Bruce Pearson's personal journey following the lives of albatrosses....In a unique collaboration between art and conservation, Troubled Waters transforms a passion for albatrosses into a thought-provoking personal story, at the same time bringing to life the open ocean and it's birds.”

The book can be bought from the publishers (£38) here.

Bruce Pearson painting at South Georgia.
Bruce Pearson painting at South Georgia.

There is also a limited edition of 100 signed and numbered half-leather bound copies of this book which are being produced by the publishers in association with Bruce Pearson and BirdLife International. Each copy of the book will have a unique original water colour painting of an Albatross species suitable for future framing included. The specially bound book, with matching marbled paper cover, is enclosed in a handmade cloth covered slip case. All proceeds from the sales of these books go direct to BirdLife International's work helping conserve the world’s birds. Price £200.00 inclusive of UK postage. To pre-order a copy contact the publishers.

More details of the whole project can be found on Bruce Pearson’s website at

Archaeological Architect-First Look At Whaling Stations

By Liz Smith,

Liz Smith, Conservation Architect at Purcell, visited South Georgia 5-9 November 2012. This article outlines her personal thoughts and responses to the buildings and sites she saw:

Leith Whaling Station.
Leith Whaling Station.

As FPV Pharos SG sailed across Cumberland Bay and King Edward Point gradually came into view at the foot of the snowy mountains, one of the first landmarks I saw as I arrived at South Georgia was Discovery House; and I was excited to catch my first real glimpse of this building I knew only from drawings and photographs, having developed the plans and schedules of work for its refurbishment.

Discovery House was built in 1925 to provide living accommodation and laboratory space for the early scientific investigations of the Discovery Programme, which examined the preservation of the whaling industry in the South Atlantic between 1925 and 1951. As such, the house was one of the first permanent shore bases to be established in the Antarctic region; older, in fact, than the oldest Peninsula base first recommended for designation as a historic site under the Antarctic Treaty. The Discovery Programme was a significant feat in oceanographic research and, in my mind, Discovery House now stands as a tangible piece of heritage which underlines the on-going importance of science for South Georgia. For this reason it is wonderful to see the building preserved and put back into beneficial use as accommodation for visiting scientists, and I am so pleased to be a part of the project to do this.

Exploring the rest of the base at King Edward Point I was delighted to discover the historic remains of the Old Gaol, albeit now entirely disguised within its shell of modern cladding. The Old Gaol was one of the first buildings to be erected (originally as a Customs Shed) following the initial establishment of King Edward Point as the administrative base for the recently gazetted Dependency in 1912, and it therefore stands as a reminder of the heritage of the base and the significance of this site in the history of human occupation on South Georgia. Besides Discovery House and the Old Gaol, the store shed to the south of Discovery House, also built in 1925, is the only remaining historic building on KEP. During my time in South Georgia, and particularly through my useful conversations with David Peck, I came to understand much more about the challenges of maintaining buildings in such a remote location and extreme climate; but I do still very much hope that consideration can be given to safeguarding this building in a manner sensitive to its historic significance.

Day two of my visit was spent in Grytviken and, despite so many of the buildings which originally comprised the whaling station having been lost in the 2003/04 environmental clean-up, the site is still full of history and I found it absolutely fascinating to explore. Within the Main Store & Engineering Workshop the original sections of purpose built joinery racking stacked full with nuts, bolts, motors, and various other pieces of equipment that had once been necessary for the day to day running of the whaling station, to me, say so very much about the scale of the operation, the long-term commercial view that the Compania Argentina de Pesca took in establishing their business there, and the abrupt way in which the whaling industry in South Georgia came to an end, that these buildings became my personal favourites; and ideas quickly developed in my mind about the ways in which the Main Store might be opened up to allow access for visitors to share in this appreciation of the site.

At Grytviken Church I found it inspiring to see how the vertical hit and miss timber boarding to the lower part of the walls in the library had been ‘grained’ – a paint finish applied to softwood to make it look like fine joinery; in this case pine decorated to resemble oak. This had been done by those who originally inhabited the whaling station through civic pride, and a desire to give a status to this particular space, defining it as significant in the cultural life they also led whilst working in the whaling station. I considered how important it is to honour the efforts these men put in to establishing their community at Grytviken by respecting these buildings and spaces, and taking care of them for the future, and it was interesting to spend time with Sarah Lurcock and understand the work that the South Georgia Heritage Trust are doing to achieve this.

On day three we ventured out of Cumberland Bay to see the other whaling stations at Stromness, Leith, and Husvik; and I am incredibly grateful to Pat Lurcock, Matt Kenney, Ella du Breuil, John Schutzer-Weissmann, and David Peck for their time, and for making this amazing trip possible. Despite how much decline has occurred, Leith, Stromness and Husvik all are extraordinary sites because of their authenticity and relative completeness. The vastness of the Mechanical Workshop at Stromness, and the oil stained patina of the wood block flooring in the workshops at Husvik speak of the level of industry that happened at these stations; the remnants of patterned carpets and blankets still visible in the Old Manager’s Villa at Stromness and the barracks over the cold store at Husvik are faded reminders of the men who made these buildings their homes; and the remains of the kino (cinema) at Stromness, with its projector still lying in the rubble, provide evidence of the leisure time the workers also enjoyed during their lives at the station. The construction of the buildings is fascinating too - the craftsmanship of the dovetail joints in the horizontal tongue and grooved board structures of many of the domestic buildings, derived from Scandinavian Full Scribe log cabin construction, reveals so much about the background of the Nordic men who established the settlements here.

Me in boating suit in readiness for the trip out to Stromness, Leith & Husvik.
Me in boating suit in readiness for the trip out to Stromness, Leith & Husvik.

Seeing the other stations made me realise how drastic the clean-up operation at Grytviken really was, and also how at risk the stations are from structural decline and ferocious winds. Sections of corrugated iron sheet clinging to the face of the mountains alongside Stromness highlight this risk, and it saddened me to understand that these buildings are degrading to the point where it may no longer be practical to save them.

South Georgia really is a very special place and although abandoned human habitations are not what most people come to this part of the world to see, in my view, all the sites which indicate a human presence; from the gas light and huts on Jason Island to the now derelict townscape that was the whaling station at Leith; represent aspects of the history of South Georgia, and are fascinating parts of the stories of exploration, scientific research, and ocean based industry that still continue to evolve there today.

There is much debate to be had about the feasibility, and indeed the necessity, of establishing a system of heritage protection on South Georgia; but recognising these historic sites as worthy of care and protection – even informally - is important in acknowledging the significance of man’s past endeavours on the Island, so that the legacy of these endeavours can continue to inspire those that strive to make South Georgia what it is today, and into the future.

The First Christmas Tree On South Georgia Island

In the photograph above the members of the first scientific expedition to South Georgia, the year-long German South Georgia Expedition that occurred in the International Polar Year (IPY) 1882/83, celebrating Christmas in 1882. The expedition was led by Dr Schrader. They are pictured in their expedition hut in Moltke Harbour, Royal Bay.

On the table is their Christmas tree, which must be the first ever Christmas Tree erected on South Georgia. Below Albert-Friedrich Gruene write about this early Christmas celebration:

The IPY expedition was the first high calibre scientific research expedition on South Georgia 130 years ago. Results of their scientific studies (e.g. geomagnetics, meterology, oceanographic studies) were published in a 550 page report in Berlin in 1886 and this report is still an interesting source for all kinds of information related to South Georgia. For example they recorded the glaciers that were within their range in the Royal Bay area. When I checked recently whether some of the names they have allocated to glaciers in their maps are still in use on modern maps, I could see immediately by comparison with their original maps that the “Forster Glacier” had disappeared and the “Dr Nachtigal Glacier” had declined significantly. Their excellent expedition equipment also included a state of the art photographic apparatus. An album with the earliest photos taken on South Georgia was located a couple of years ago in an archive and its content was published in 2007. The bottle on the left side on the table could be an earthenware “Schnaps” – bottle. Pieces of earthenware bottles like this, found on the Moltke Harbour site, are in the South Georgia Museum´s collection. When I was a child I saw my grandfather sometimes using this type of bottle for filling glasses with “Schnaps” when people came to visit him. I think 130 years ago the IPY members had a chance to warm up a bit by having a few glasses from this earthenware bottle on the table.

If you take a closer look to the Christmas tree on their table you can identify a photo in the middle of it. An enlargement shows the person portrayed is Dr Georg von Neumayer, the most important proponent of the IPY expedition. Two years ago I came just a bit in contact with him when I was visiting one of my brothers living in “Neustadt an der Weinstrasse” (Germany, State of Rhineland Palatinate). My brother is a medical superintendent in the local hospital. While I was waiting for him I walked over to the cemetery behind the hospital and discovered an impressive memorial which turned out to be for Dr Georg von Neumayer who was born in Neustadt. It is interesting to see on the Christmas picture that the expedition members thought of him on Christmas evening on a remote island in the South Atlantic.

The German Station at Motlke Harbour.
The German Station at Motlke Harbour.

Shackleton’s Cross

Edward Seago's 1957 painting of Shackleton's Cross,the inspiration for Howard Goodall's composition
Edward Seago's 1957 painting of Shackleton's Cross,the inspiration for Howard Goodall's composition

A painting by Edward Seago is the inspiration for a new piece of music which was premiered in November. Composed by Howard Goodall, who composed the music for many UK television programmes including The Vicar of Dibley, the new work entitled ‘Shackleton’s Cross is for trumpet and organ. The inspiration was provided by a painting of the same name which is in the private collection of HRH Duke of Edinburgh.

The artist Edward Seago had been invited by the Duke to join him aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia for a trip from Australia, via South Georgia, to the Falkland Islands in 1957. Seago was the first professional artist to paint in the region. He produced many pieces and this was just one of several the Duke then bought for his own collection.

The title refers to the cross which was erected, by crew members of the expedition ship Quest, on Hope Point to the memory of Sir Ernest Shackleton. In the painting only part of the cross shows as the artist looks past it to the Greene and Barff Peninsulas and a couple of icebergs beyond. The composer Howard Goodall explained that his new piece ‘Shackleton's Cross’ is actually a piece in three versions: a new version, for trumpet & organ, was premiered on November 8th at Reading Concert Hall, Berkshire, UK, by the renowned trumpeter Crispian Steele-Perkins and award-winning organist David Goode, currently the Head of Keyboard at Eton College. There is also a version for oboe, trumpet and strings, and one for piano solo (the last is to be released in January on Howard Goodall's forthcoming CD 'Inspired', for Decca Classics).

Goodall's is one of a set of musical pieces inspired by pictures in the Royal Collection, and commissioned by them.

Info: James Caird Society website

Bird Island Diary

By Tamsin Bell, Base Commander at the BAS Research Station at Bird Island.

The inhabitants of Bird Island have been having quite an eventful time in November. One of the most significant events has been the arrival of RSS James Clark Ross for the delivery of technical, domestic and scientific supplies and of course the new base staff.

The incoming bas staff comprise of the new Tech, Craig Brown, who has exchanged the frozen landscapes of Halley for the warmer climes of Bird Island. He is joined by the wintering science team: Jerry Gillham (Penguins and Petrels), Stephanie Winnard (Albatross) and Hannah Wood (Seals) and also by myself, the new Base Commander.

Having been given a very warm welcome by the wintering team (for whom, after months of relative peace, the arrival of 5 thoroughly over-excited newcomers must have been something of a shock) we got stuck into the work of relief. With the help of the crew and other members of the ship’s company we managed to complete this in 2 days, including the offloading of 3 large fuel tanks that will eventually replace the current system of using drummed fuel

The base staff are not the only new arrivals at Bird Island. There has been an explosion of the fur seal population around the island, including here in Jordan Cove. The males are the first to arrive and establish their territories on the beach, which they defend energetically and aggressively. They are soon joined by the females and pups are born shortly afterwards. This has meant a huge increase in the workload of the Seal Team (Jaume, Jon and Hannah.) Who are kept busy on the Seal Study Beach (SSB.) Jaume is our regular visiting seal biologist and this will be his 10th season on Bird Island. That’s a lot of hours on the SSB! For other members of the base the seal population is a constant source of entertainment. It is difficult not to be distracted by the soap opera being played out on the beach in front of the base (‘Seal TV’ as Jon describes it.) Males defend their territory and their harems as pups explore the beach and petrels and skuas circle constantly on the lookout for an easy meal. Amongst the chaos the occasional visiting elephant seal lies seemingly unperturbed by the noise and violence around them.

Black-browed albatross on the nest.
Black-browed albatross on the nest.

Elsewhere on the island other dramas are unfolding. The Albatross Team (Jen and Steph) are kept busy patrolling the hills and monitoring the progress of the wandering albatross fledglings. Many have already taken to the skies, hopefully to return in 5 years or so and eventually raise families of their own. The later chicks look on as they lose the last of their ‘fluff’ and exercise impressive wings ready for their own departure. The black-browed albatross population have just about finished their laying season and now wait patiently for their own chicks to hatch. A census of these birds was recently carried out by all members of the base team and we are keeping our fingers crossed for a successful season for them.

The vast ‘Big Mac’ Macaroni colony. All photos Tamsin Bell.
The vast ‘Big Mac’ Macaroni colony. All photos Tamsin Bell.

Ruth and Jerry have also been kept busy around the island monitoring both the giant petrel and penguin populations. Over the past few weeks the macaroni penguins have returned to their breeding site on the north of the island; first the males who are then joined by their mates. At the biggest colony, ‘Big Mac’, thousands of penguins can be seen (and heard and smelt) as they squabble and jostle for position. The colony extends high up the hillside which is now thick with breeding pairs, making it seemingly impossible to travel amongst them. Ruth and Jerry now have the unenviable task of assessing and monitoring this seething mass of birds.

Back on base we are all settling into our new roles - I am having a wonderful time finding my way around the island and ‘helping’ with some of the science work. I have much to do as I get to grips with my new role, but if you’ll excuse me I think it’s time for another exciting instalment of ‘Seal TV’..........

South Georgia Snippets

Pre Eradication Surveys: A four-person GSGSSI Habitat Restoration Team have arrived and will be conducting a variety of survey work in the coming months. Andy Black, Sally Poncet, Ken Passfield & Anton Wolfhaardt started by carrying out post-rat eradication bird and plant surveys on the Thatcher Peninsula. They were later deployed to a field camp on the Busen Peninsula at Carlita Bay to set up pre-baiting vegetation and bird survey sites which will be used for long-term monitoring of effects of removing rats and reindeer from the area. Other long term survey sites were also set up on the Barff Peninsula.

Rat Eradication Hits the International News: The South Georgia Heritage Trust’s Habitat Restoration Project to remove rodents from South Georgia has had a burst of media interest in late November. With the field team of 25 due to start travelling south soon, all the equipment on the way, and just a few months short of being able to declare the trial Phase One a success (2 years have to elapse with no sign of surviving rodents in the baited area before success can be announced), media interest is growing. Phase One was the largest ever attempted rat eradication anywhere in the world and the Phase 2 area is many times bigger than Phase One and will be done over the next two to three summers.

News sites and papers, including the Daily Mail, BBC News and National Geographic, all ran stories about the eradication.

Fishy Business: The new GSGSSI Marine and Fisheries Officer, mainly working from the office in Government House, Stanley, Falkland Islands, is Dr Katherine Ross. Dr Ross has previously worked for BAS as Chief Scientist at the KEP Science Station and on a short contract on a freshwater fishery in the Falklands. She is enthusiastic to return to South Georgia in her new role when she can and plans to take part in the January Groundfish Survey. Her predecessor GSGSSI Marine and Fisheries Scientist Dr Judith Brown has taken a science related job in St Helena and hopes to maintain an interest in South Georgia and the Falklands region through continued work with the Shallow Marine Survey Group.

PhD Studentship to Study the Whaling Stations: A fully-funded PhD studentship is on offer in the Centre for Remote Environments (CRE), in collaboration with The South Georgia Heritage Trust. The three and a half year EPSRC Doctorate CRE will be based in the Visual Research Centre, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and Design, The University of Dundee. The studentship is additionally funded by Ferring Pharmaceuticals Ltd and the GSGSSI.

The student will undertake research into the Industrial and Cultural Heritage of South Georgia with a particular focus on the whaling stations. Hopes are the study will incorporate advanced visualization to simulate how the various plant, machinery and processes of the whaling station worked.

A 3D point cloud laser survey of two of the whaling stations has been completed. This information will be made available to the successful candidate and covers all the buildings and the major elements of machinery on the sites. Further survey work is planned for the 2013/14 season and it may be possible to incorporate even more detailed surveys of specific elements of equipment. Field visits to South Georgia will be an essential part of the research project. Applications should be in by January 7th 2013.

For more information:

Biggest Brood of Pintails: A duck family, including six well-grown pintail ducklings, photographed at KEP has excited duck specialist Tony Martin. Apart from being more evidence that Phase 1 of the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project (rat eradication) is apparently successful, the photo shows the largest brood of South Georgia pintails that Tony has ever heard of. Better still, the mother is ringed. Her ring, Yellow 59, shows that she is a bird ringed at KEP by Tony in April 2010; she therefore survived the Phase 1 baiting (some ducks are known to have died as a result of eating the cereal based poison bait) and is breeding successfully. Tony said gleefully, “She was very big for a lady - one of the largest females I've ever measured - and was in primary moult when I caught and ringed her. Now, having come through the Phase 1 baiting unharmed, she is generating bucket-loads of youngsters. Brilliant!”

A bucket-load of youngsters!
A bucket-load of youngsters!

HMS Clyde Visit Events: The HMS Clyde had a Padre aboard when she visited this month. He held a well-attended service in the church after which everyone was invited for tea and cakes at the South Georgia Museum. Everyone piled in out of the cold weather including the visiting crew of the ship, visiting yachtsfolk and locals; the Museum staff room was soon heaving. There was an impressive array of cakes on offer after a joint baking effort by GSGSSI, SGHT & BAS staff. More cakes were being offered to other visitors in the main Museum. On the last day of the visit there was a football match on the old whalers pitch. Conditions on the pitch are far from ideal and the visitors were warned not to wear good sport shoes, a warning they should have taken more literally. The local side, all too aware of the marsh in one corner and puddles over much of the rest of the pitch, mainly wore welly boots. Whilst the visitors had a professional looking blue and white striped strip, the local side were sponsored by the South Georgia Museum and sported unsellably bad penguin T shirts! Despite the ship’s side only having nine players to KEP’s 11 the ship won convincingly 5-0. Some reluctance by the ship’s crew to swap shirts at the end of the match was overcome by the locals donating theirs to the victors who threatened to wear them in a veterans match back in the Falkland Islands the following week….we wonder if they had the nerve?!

The Grytviken football field adds a dimension of its own to the HMS Clyde v KEP contest.

Fur Seals Pupping and Elly Pups Playing: The beaches are festooned with young elephant seals which are now taking to the water and spend the evening pay fighting in ponds and at the sea edge. Meanwhile the breeding fur seals are taking over the beaches, with ever ore fur seals being born in the KEP area. There are at least 20 fur seal pups at Hope Point alone. The earliest fur seal pup in the entire area was born on the track between KEP and Grytviken, earlier even than any at the much more populated Maiviken area.

Dates for Your Diary: Rowan Huntleys ‘Alps To Antarctica’ paintings exhibition continues until Christmas. It can be seen by prior appointments at the Alpine Club on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Alpine Club, 55 Charlotte Road, London EC2A 3QF (Tel: 020 7613 0755).

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