South Georgia Newsletter, October 2013

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

GSGSSI Public Accounts Published

The SGSSI financial statements for the year 2012 was recently published - you can download the report here.

The financial statements for 2012 show a deficit of £93,000, reduced from £125,000 the previous year, compared to a budgeted cash deficit of £781,756. The operating revenue of £5,435,000 was £643,000 higher than the approved estimate, mainly due to licence revenue from the krill fishery and landing charges. Sale of fishing licences raised £3,680,000 - by far the biggest proportion of revenue (68%); and landing charges raised £697,000. Other substantial revenue came from sale of stamps (£201,000), sub-charter reimbursements from the Fishery Patrol Vessel (£163,000) and funds from two heritage funding sources (£251,000).

The main expenditure was fisheries management (58% of all expenditure) with fishery patrol alone costing £2,814,000. Other substantial expenditures were administration costs (9%) and salaries (8%), with medical services (£148,000), depreciation expenses (£257,000) and the environmental programme accounting for another 15% between them. There was an under-spend of £46,000 compared to the approved estimated expenditure of £5,574,000.

SGHT Cautiously Optimistic Phase One Area Now Rat Free

The South Georgia Heritage Trust published a summary report on Phase 2 of their Habitat Restoration (rodent eradication) project on their website on October 3rd.

Amongst other things, the summary states that Phase 2, which treated an area of 580 km2 over 12 land areas separated by glaciers in the north-western half of South Georgia, was on budget at £3 million, and the operation successfully achieved all its targets with a 100% safety record. During Phase 2, 180 tonnes of bait was spread using 600 drums of helicopter fuel during 600 flying hours.

Secondary mortality (deaths of non-target species) were much as expected. Most bird species on the island were unaffected but there were significant levels of skua, South Georgia pintail and sheathbill losses. These populations though should now recover quickly, especially in the absence of predatory rats, and mortality of giant petrels was much lower than expected.

Phase 1 of the Habitat Restoration project was carried out in 2011 to bait 128 km2. Extensive monitoring by SGHT and GSGSSI in the period since has shown no sign of live rats in the Phase 1 zone. SGHT therefore state that they, “...can be cautiously optimistic that this vast area is now rodent free for the first time in two centuries, and already there are exciting signs of bird recovery here.”

The area treated in Phase 1 and Phase 2 combined is 67% of the rodent-infested area of South Georgia. So far the project has cost roughly £5 million, and is already more than five times the size of any similar conservation operation worldwide.

You can download read the short (45kb) document on what was achieved in 2013 report to stakeholders Oct 2013.doc here. (45kb, 2 page document)

GSGSSI Staff Join The UK Delegation To CCAMLR

Chief Executive, Dr Martin Collins, and Marine and Fisheries Officer, Dr Katherine Ross, both attended the annual meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Reources (CCAMLR) in Hobart as part of the UK Delegation in October. Katherine attended the Working Group on Fish Stock Assessment, whilst Martin represented the UK at the Scientific Committee and the Commission.

At the meeting the catch limits for South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands fisheries were agreed. CCAMLR also agreed to a UK proposal to bring forward the start date of the Patagonian toothfish fishery in South Georgia. During the meeting Martin joined many other delegates to cycle to the top of Mt Wellington (1200 m) to raise money to provide medical care for Luke Parkes, the son of Graeme, who attended CCAMLR for many years. Luke is suffering from Metachromatic Leukodystrophy, an incurable genetic condition, that will leave him paraysed.

Cyclists on the top of Mt Wellington.
Cyclists on the top of Mt Wellington.

Commendation For KEP Boating Officer

Ella du Breuil with the certificate she received with her commendation.
Ella du Breuil with the certificate she received with her commendation.

A commendation was presented to KEP Senior Boating Officer Ella du Breuil during the recent visit of the Commander British Forces to South Georgia. Air Commodore Russell La Forte presented the commendation as a mark of appreciation for her help with a navy small boat incident some months ago at St Andrews Bay.

The citation says that she is. “…commended for her courage, determination and professional skill in assisting in the recovery of a beached Rigid Raider Craft and its passengers in appalling conditions during….operations off St Andrews Bay, South Georgia."

The events on May 15th happened after six people were landed by small boat on the beach at St Andrews Bay. The Rigid Raider was caught by a big wave and broached. They were unable to re-float the boat and another small boat was called to assist by towing the stricken boat off. Ella, who regularly works on the inshore lifeboat for the RNLI, assisted. With the second boat on the way the weather conditions deteriorated rapidly, the wind increasing from 5 to 60 knots and visibility at near zero in a blizzard. Ella was able to advise the approaching boat which successfully managed to hold station just off the beach until a tow line was passed. Though some were in early stages of hypothermia, everyone was got aboard and Ella further assisted during the tow, in heavy swell and freezing spray, back to the ship.

The commendation concludes: “Du Breuil displayed physical courage, a cool head, determination and professional ability in hazardous conditions. Her excellent teamwork with the Royal Navy sea boat crew directly contributed to the safe return of the crew and passengers of the Rigid Raider Craft, who otherwise would have been left in a potentially life threatening situation in rapidly deteriorating weather conditions.”

Laser Survey Of Leith

Laser surveys of the old whaling stations on South Georgia have recommenced. This is creating a highly detailed historical archive record of the current condition of the stations, which will also be an incredibly helpful management tool. Three surveyors are working to make 3-Dimensional digital surveys of Leith Whaling Station, and will also work in the neighbouring stations of Stromness and Husvik. Geometria, which is undertaking the surveys, is a New Zealand based heritage consultancy company.

Safety was of paramount importance and the surveyors were accompanied and supervised by a GSGSSI asbestos consultant. The surveying carries on from work started last summer, which focused on Grytviken and Husvik. The work is principally funded by the Norwegian Government, as part of the agreement between the UK and Norwegian governments to commemorate the centenary of Scott and Amundsen’s journeys to the South Pole. GSGSSI has provided additional funding and support.

Builders’ Busy Season Ahead

The GSGSSI building and maintenance team have a busy summer ahead and will be working on several large projects. The team of 8 arrived at KEP on October 4th. The first job, as usual, was to dig out the track round to Grytviken where they store their vehicles and many of the materials they will need in the summer season ahead. The remaining accumulated winter snow was greater this year, so the job took several days.

The refurbishment work on Discovery House at KEP should be completed by December. The major external works were done last season, but various internal works still need to be completed, including laying carpets and assembling furniture. Discovery House will primarily be used as living and working space for visiting scientists. Larsen House, the other KEP visitor accommodation building, and site of the medical centre, will be reroofed.

At Grytviken work will continue to refurbish the large old whalers’ bunkhouse, the Nybrakka, for future use as an emergency shelter. Work on the building this year will include reroofing, reglazing the existing windows, and draining the flooded basement.

Works on the church will include installing a new power cable, rewiring, and installing new lights. Further afield, they will dismantle the two huts that were put in at Tonsberg Point last season for the reindeer project. These will be moved to new sites, probably on the Barff Peninsula. Soon after their arrival, half the team were deployed to Husvik to work on the old Manager’s Villa; the main task there was to refasten the roof, which had started to lift. Whilst in the area they also worked on the old Manager’s Villa at Stromness, to help stabilise this building, whilst further consideration is given to long-term restoration options. This work has also been funded by the Norwegian Government.

In the coming weeks the works team will also attend to the Grytviken management plan and annual works and maintenance of the museum buildings. The team will continue to be extremely busy right until the end of the season.

Fishing And Shipping News

Trawler at anchor in Cumberland Bay.
Trawler at anchor in Cumberland Bay.

Following a short period when no fishing occurred, the first week of October saw three fishing vessels arrive in Cumberland Bay for inspection and licensing. Two of the vessels were targeting icefish, the third was here to fish for krill. Krill catches were low but steady through the period, increasing towards the end of the month. The krill trawler ceased fishing on October 31st. It is rare for krill trawlers to operate so late in the year anyway, but this season krill fishing ceased due to the closure of the fishery in line with the newly introduced krill fishing season – which is open from April 1st to October 31st. The trawler then came to a reefer in Cumberland Bay to tranship before sailing for the South Orkneys. There were no significant catches of icefish and one of the two trawlers departed the fishery at the end of the month. A reefer was on the Dartmouth Point anchorage for a fortnight to service the fishing vessels.

The German research ship Polarstern has completed her work in South Georgia waters and is now on passage to Cape Town.

The summer tourist season started on October 11th with the arrival of the first yacht of the season Kamiros. The yacht is a family owned boat and is expecting to explore around the island for most of the summer.

The first yacht of the season was the family yacht Kamiros.
The first yacht of the season was the family yacht Kamiros.

Several other yachts arrived over the following weeks, mostly charter yachts supporting expedition groups. Yacht Le Sourire was supporting a team of 8 mountaineers attempting to complete the Shackleton Crossing from King Haakon Bay to Stromness and also to climb various mountains. They failed on their first attempt at the crossing due to severe weather, so went off to explore other options, returning later for another go, which was successful.

Yacht Pelagic Australis arrived at King Haakon Bay on the 18th; it too was supporting a Shackleton Crossing expedition. The eight expedition members were delayed starting but were eventually able to set out in improved weather, getting as far as the Trident ridge before having to turn back as heavy snow had created too much of an avalanche risk. They descended to Possession Bay where they re-joined the yacht arriving at Grytviken on the 27th.

Two further charter yachts, Selma Expeditions and Australis, arrived on the 22nd

The first cruise ship of the season was Ushuaia which arrived at Grytviken on the 24th. Two other cruise ships visited before the end of the month.

The first cruise ship of the season, Ushuaia.
The first cruise ship of the season, Ushuaia.

Visit Of Two Military Vessels

Two military vessels visited Grytviken towards the end of October. The tanker RFA Black Rover arrived on the 22nd and the crew enjoyed a day ashore including an afternoon tea hosted in Shackleton Villa for the Captain and 4 crewmembers. The invite was reciprocated with an invitation for some of the KEP locals to enjoy a lunch aboard, followed by a tour of the vessel. She then sailed to Husvik, returning to Cumberland Bay briefly on the 24th to collect passengers for the return journey to the Falkland Islands.

RFA Black Rover in Cumberland Bay.
RFA Black Rover in Cumberland Bay.

HMS Richmond arrived on the 24th for a two day visit. The vessel had only been here a few weeks ago, but that did not stop her crew enthusiastically taking advantage of the opportunity to get ashore.

Also aboard was Commander of British Forces South Atlantic Islands, Air Cdre Russell La Forte and his wife on their first visit to South Georgia. The VIPs were hosted ashore for the day with tours of the science base and lunch in Shackleton Villa. The ship’s captain hosted a VIP dinner on board whilst several of the crew were invited ashore for a meal. Locals led snow shoe walks on both days of the visit for the more adventurous; the walks went to visit the gentoo penguin colony at Maiviken.

A party from HMS Richmond snowshoed over to Tortula Cove. Photo Hazel Woodland.
A party from HMS Richmond snowshoed over to Tortula Cove. Photo Hazel Woodland.

Mini Quad Helicopter Monitors Animal Colonies

Hi-tech devices, reminiscent of Q’s creations in the James Bond films, are now being used for science and leisure activities on South Georgia. A remote control plane, or drone, was used last year by a group of scientists researching local weather phenomena; now two more remote flying devices have been deployed. Using a ‘quad copter’, Brent Stewart, the embarked scientist on the cruise ship Expedition, takes film footage of bird and animal colonies.

The small, radio-controlled, quad copter carries a small camera and attracts surprisingly little interest from the animals and birds being filmed. At the moment he is testing the technique to see if it can be developed as a tool for monitoring population numbers. The quad copter is roughly square, about 60cm across, with inset rotors at each corner. The camera is mounted beneath, protected by a cage like structure for when the device is landed. It is controlled by joysticks on a wireless handset, which the operator holds in both hands when flying.

In an initial trial of the quad copter, a GSGSSI observer watched the operation to see how king penguins might react to the aircraft. He reported the birds showed no disturbance. During the few days that Expedition was visiting South Georgia, surveys using the aircraft were made at Elsehul, Right Whale Bay, Salisbury Plains, St. Andrews Bay, and around Grytviken and King Edward Point. The main problem for the controller was the high winds. They regularly experienced winds of 30 to 35 knots, but Brent Stewart reported that the device nonetheless produced some, “very positive and exciting feedback and data.”

In the same week another similar device, called an ‘octocopter’, was brought in by a visitor on one of the charter yachts and he was permitted to fly it, but only to take aerial photographs of the vessel, and not around wildlife.

Brent Stewart flies the quadcopter to film the elephant seal colony at KEP.
Brent Stewart flies the quadcopter to film the elephant seal colony at KEP.

New Book: De Flytende Kokeriene

A book on the whaling factory ships that operated in South Georgia and the Antarctic region has just been published. This attractively illustrated book by Geir Rosset has text both in Norwegian and in English and has many photographs and 22 watercolour paintings by the artist Jim Rae.

The official launch will be on November 17th at the Whaling Museum, Sandefjord, Norway. The book will be available for sale now ( The originals paintings will also be sold.

More information on this book next month.

A Day On Bird Island

Hannah Wood looks at a single day’s activities by the BAS team at the science base on Bird Island...

On October 12th we all started to go about our daily routines; I got ready for the leopard seal round; Craig headed over to Special Study Beach (SSB) to do some maintenance on the Wendy House which has been used and abused by seal assistants for many years and needed a bit of TLC; Jerry was preparing for a day up on the hills looking for northern giant petrel eggs; and Steph was going to head out to check for grey-headed albatross eggs, the first of which was found 4 days earlier. Our plans were quickly put on hold however due to the discovery of something we had been hoping for over the past week. Two heavily pregnant elephant seals had been seen on Landing Beach for a while and now, finally, one of them had given birth to a small furry sausage. Needless to say the day’s work was delayed as we all spent half an hour or so watching the small pup interacting with its mother and getting used to its environment. There was a lot of noise as the mother and pup ‘chatted’ away to each other and the female tried to defend her offspring from the hungry skuas which had gathered in the hope of an easy meal and were constantly pecking at the new-born’s umbilicus.

The new elephant seal pup look up adoringly at his mother.
The new elephant seal pup look up adoringly at his mother.

After the excitement of our new arrival we headed off in our separate directions to get on with the day’s tasks. The daily lep round starts from the cliffs above the SSB where the majority of the fur seal work is conducted. The cliffs are a nice place to begin the round as they offer a good vantage point for not only seal spotting but also whale and bird watching. The southern right whales have not yet returned from their migration north over the winter, but the recent influx of birds means that the cliff tops are now surrounded by wheeling and soaring giant and white-chinned petrels, black-browed, grey-headed and light-mantled sooty albatrosses. I was particularly happy to see the sooties as they are the least numerous albatross species on Bird Island and their nesting is dispersed and restricted to sheer cliffs, making them harder to spot than the mollies in their large, more accessible colonies.

A pair of light-mantled sooty albatross perch on a cliff-side touching beaks and preening each other to affirm their bond.
A pair of light-mantled sooty albatross perch on a cliff-side touching beaks and preening each other to affirm their bond.

Coming down from the cliffs I passed Craig fixing up a bench in the Wendy House before he headed back to base for a morning of generator servicing and an afternoon removing and painting all the doors of the stores and workshops. My rounds then took me down onto the beaches which is always a good time to look for the smaller, less publicised, wildlife including the “butter-wouldn’t melt” South Georgia pintail ducks (which in summer can be observed scavenging on fur seal placentas!) feeding along the strand line, and the noisy little Antarctic terns which dart around picking nearly-invisible crustaceans from the water in high speed dives. A couple of days ago the first couple of pipits were seen collecting nesting material and they are always around busily flitting about and singing from the tussac lumps.

After a little while I spot one small leopard seal in the water scouting for a place to haul out. He almost comes out on the beach in front of me, but seems to decide that the beach is too steep to belly-flop up and shuffles back out into deeper water, disappearing for the rest of the day.

The rest of the beaches and cliff tops on the round don’t offer any more leopard seal sightings but on my way to the final cove I stop in at the large gentoo penguin colony at Square Pond and discover a muddy penguin sitting on the first egg of the season. Jerry also checked the area earlier in the day and found no eggs, so this one must be freshly laid and only a couple of hours old. All around the first egg a few hundred penguins are busy courting, mating, nest building and defending territory. Occasionally scuffles break out and a penguin is furiously ‘flippered’ by another or chased at top speed through the colony, dodging nests and being pecked at by disturbed inhabitants. Others have paired up and can be seen ‘bobbing’ in synchrony, mimicking each other’s movements and tidying their nests up.

When mating a male gentoo balances on top of his partner.
When mating a male gentoo balances on top of his partner.

I radio Jerry with the news because it means he will now have to come and map out a sub-section of nests in the colony in order to monitor the egg build-up. He has just finished the giant petrel round and arrived home for a cup of tea, but it will have to wait! The geep rounds today were fairly quiet as almost all the northern petrels in the study area have finished laying since they began a month ago. He only found 3 new eggs today (bringing the total up to around 300), 2 from regular breeders and 1 from an unknown bird which required a shiny new ring and darvic. It will be another few weeks until the southern geeps begin to lay their eggs, giving Jerry a bit of a break (but not really).

It’s just as well that the northern geeps have quietened down as Jerry now has daily checks of the selected gentoo nests to do, as well as trips to the major gentoo colony on Johnson to record the first eggs there. In addition he has been to Big Mac and Little Mac to see whether the other species of breeding penguin here, the macaronis, have started to return. There were no macaronis today, but 5 days later we spot one while doing some maintenance on transect markers in the colony. A week later and the place is crammed with the returning males who are fighting over nest space.

Jerry looking very excited about the first of the eagerly awaited macaroni penguins….
Jerry looking very excited about the first of the eagerly awaited macaroni penguins….

….A week later and the males have returned in force.
….A week later and the males have returned in force.

From my position down on the beaches I can look up at the huge black-browed albatross colonies which are full of noisily calling birds. Precariously balanced among the nests in the tussac is Steph, monitoring the return of ringed birds. Colony H, on the steep slopes above Main Bay, is one of the longest monitored breeding sites on the island, and today Steph has recorded 39 birds in this small but important location. The birds are reuniting with their partners and can be seen bill-tapping and displaying to each other, the females perched on nests and the males calling loudly and splaying their tail feathers. In another of the colonies Steph has already observed couples mating and so there should be eggs soon enough.

The grey-headed albatrosses have already started laying and today there were 8 new eggs discovered in Colony E, which is home to over 300 birds and checked daily. Up in the hills Steph also takes the opportunity to ring a few more of the wanderer chicks which are losing their downy chick feathers at a rapid rate and will soon be ready to fledge.

I finish up the lep round and head back for a cup of tea, a bit of data entry and some odd tasks before a long stint in the kitchen because it’s Saturday, which means a 3 course dinner, and it’s my turn to cook!

South Georgia Snippets

HMS Endurance to be scrapped: The Ministry of Defence have announced that the former ice patrol ship HMS Endurance, which made visits to South Georgia and did extensive survey work in the coastal waters here, is to be scrapped. In 2008 a failed valve caused extensive flooding whilst the ship was on passage off the coast of Chile. Her duties were taken over by HMS Protector, a former Norwegian research ship, on a three year lease to the MOD while HMS Endurance’s future was considered. The replacement vessel will now be kept on and is due to visit South Georgia soon.

Start of the Museum's summer season: The three seasonal staff, a Curatorial Intern (Suzanne Paterson) and two Museum Assistants (Josie Clark and Kris Allan), arrived on the same day as the first cruise ship on October 24th, the cruise ship just beating the staff. Cruise ship Ushuaia arrived at Grytviken in the morning for a half day visit, and SGHT Director SG Sarah Lurcock, who was already on the island, had the Museum open for them. The staff arrived later aboard HMS Richmond and were learning their new jobs next day during the visit of the military vessels; good practice for the several cruise ships that quickly followed. To mark the team’s arrival and the full functioning of the Museum for the summer season they raised two new flags on the flagpole in front of the Museum; a South Georgia flag and a newly designed house flag which reflects the museum logo with an orange background with the ‘Sg’ penguin logo and words South Georgia Museum in white. The tourist season will be a busy one, with more ship visits and more passengers expected than have been seen in recent years. Unusually the season is expected to end in March; there are usually one or two cruise ships still due to visit in April each year.

Kris, Josie and Suzanne raise the flags at the South Georgia Museum.
Kris, Josie and Suzanne raise the flags at the South Georgia Museum.

Documentary on whalers filmed: A film crew from the production company KEO Films were filming for a couple of weeks at the abandoned whaling stations at Leith and Grytviken to obtain footage for a coming two-part documentary on whalers called ‘The Whale Hunters – A Forgotten History’. Presenter Adam Nicolson is known for his interest in Scotland and its history. He was accompanied by a three-person film crew, who have already filmed interviews with ex-whalers in the Shetland Islands who used to work at Leith whaling station. Interviews were also conducted with scientists, tourists and museum staff at KEP and Grytviken. The programmes, which according to the producer, Tom Beard, “aim to be a non-judgemental exploration of development of whaling, and what it was like to be a whaler, with particular focus on Scotland and South Georgia”, will be aired on BBC Four in 2014.

Reliving the ‘Shackleton Epic’: Tim Jarvis thought he was going to die three times during the ‘Shackleton Epic’ expedition last southern summer according to Daily Mail. The expedition was recreating of Shackleton’s lifeboat journey and crossing of the island and a four-part TV series, “Shackleton: Death or Glory”, is now airing on the Discovery Channel. The programmes document the adventures of the expedition members as they sailed from Elephant Island then crossed South Georgia on foot.

Caught between a huge iceberg and 20m waves during a 52-hour long storm, Tim Jarvis became convinced the tiny replica lifeboat would either be engulfed by water or dashed against the iceberg. “Somehow we survived both,” he says. He experienced extreme danger on the land crossing too, slipping into a crevasse – when only the rope attaching him to two other expedition members saved him from certain death.

The programmes started showing on the Discovery Channel on October 24th and each following Thursdays at 9pm.

You can read the October 11th Daily Mail review here.

Falkland Islands and South Georgia Timeline: The main events in the history of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia have been laid out in a timeline by ex-Commissioner and author David Tatham. The timeline is presented as an attractive leaflet designed with the help of Julie Halliday of Studio 52 in the Falkland Islands. The material for the timeline took David Tatham a year to research. It will be available free and may also be published in an online version in future.

Wandering albatross census: A recent count was done as part of the regular census of wandering albatross on Prion Island. The count on the small island in the Bay of Isles, showed 25 of the 27 pre-winter chicks had survived to fledge. This species has showed slow decline in numbers in recent years, mainly due to interaction of adult birds with unregulated fisheries outside the South Georgia area.

New Book: Serenity of Antarctica: A beautiful photography book, mainly showing penguins in their natural habitat in Antarctica, but also featuring South Georgia, is being promoted in Hong Kong. Through the current exhibition photographer and committed environmentalist Olivia Cheng hopes to inspire the Hong Kong community to appreciate the importance of preserving nature.

The exhibition “Serenity of Antarctica by Olivia Cheng” features 33 photographs from Ms Cheng’s collection which will be on show until December.

The book “Serenity of Antarctica by Olivia Cheng” is in both Chinese and English, and has captivating photographs of penguins in their natural habitat. Proceeds from sale of the book are being given to the SGHT Habitat Restoration Project and have already generated ₤15,000 (HK$188,000) for the South Georgia Heritage Trust.

Olivia Cheng presented SGHT with a cheque for £15,000 from sales of her book 'Serenity in Antarctica'.
Olivia Cheng presented SGHT with a cheque for £15,000 from sales of her book 'Serenity in Antarctica'.

October elephant seals: October is the month for elephant seals. Once again the beaches have been crowded with females up to pup in harems controlled by the scarred alpha males and coveted by the beta boys. The harem at KEP reached the usual 200 or so animals, with several fat weaned pups already abandoned by their mothers by the end of the month.

A bull keeps watch over his females.
A bull keeps watch over his females.

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