South Georgia Newsletter, Sept 2009

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

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South Georgia Toothfish Fishery Recertified With Flying Colours

Following its five-yearly Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) re-assessment, the South Georgia toothfish fishery has been recertified as a sustainable and well-managed fishery. Originally certified in 2004, the fishery received an average score of 93% in its reassessment, making it the third highest scoring of the 52 current MSC certified fisheries. Despite this success, the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) has pledged a continued commitment to further improving the fishery. This will include an extensive programme of scientific work in order to support the management of the fishery over the next 5 years.

Dr Martin Collins, Director of Fisheries at the GSGSSI says: “We are delighted that the toothfish fishery has been recertified, and the excellent scores attained reflect the efforts made by the GSGSSI (particularly my predecessor Harriet Hall), its scientific consultants, and fishing industry, to ensure the fishery is managed sustainably. South Georgia is a unique environment and the GSGSSI will continue in its efforts to improve all aspects of the fishery.”

Foreign Office Minister, Chris Bryant said: "It's great news that the South Georgia toothfish fishery has done so well - a tribute to all those involved and South Georgia's commitment to the sustainable management of its fisheries. It's also a fine demonstration of how governments, the fishing industry and scientists, working together, can achieve excellent results for both the environment and the economy."

Rupert Howes, Chief Executive of the MSC adds: “The South Georgia toothfish fishery has excelled in its re-certification, scoring significantly higher than the first assessment. It is deeply gratifying to see the GSGSSI commit to further improvements in the fishery which has already made such great strides forward. By leading the way in toothfish certification, the SG toothfish fishery has created a market for certified sustainable toothfish that is now – deservedly – thriving.”

Next Commissioner Announced

Mr Nigel Haywood
Mr Nigel Haywood

Mr Nigel Haywood CVO has been appointed Commissioner of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and Governor of the Falkland Islands in succession to Mr Alan Huckle. Mr Haywood will take up his appointment during September 2010.

Mr Haywood has worked for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) since 1983. Overseas postings took him to Budapest, Israel, Lebanon and South Africa before spending four years based in Austria as Counsellor and Deputy Head of Delegation for the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).

His next two years were spent in London as FCO's Assistant Director of Human Resources, after which he was posted overseas for another long posting as Ambassador in Tallinn, Estonia.

For the past year Mr Haywood has been in Basra, Iraq, as Consul-General.

According to the Falkland Island newspaper 'Penguin News', Mr Haywood spent three years in the Army before joining the FCO. He enjoys sport fishing and is a marathon runner, and he is currently studying for an MSc in Biodiversity Conservation. He is married to (Mary) Louise Haywood, who is a water-colourist, and has three sons.

Large-Scale Rat Eradication To Start In 2011

The first large-scale rat eradication on the main island of South Georgia will be attempted within two years.

An announcement on the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) website says their 'Habitat Restoration Project' is now gearing up to rid South Georgia of rats over the next 5 years, commencing with the trial clearance of the Greene Peninsula.

Map of Greene Peninsula
Map of Greene Peninsula

The Greene Peninsula, at the southern end of Cumberland East Bay, has an area of about 30 square kilometres. It has been designated an 'Area of Special Conservation Value' as it has a wide range of habitats, is an important breeding area for a number of bird species and has a good representation of native plants. The area has also been chosen because it is effectively an "island", so if the rat eradication trial is successful, the peninsula should not be re-invaded by rats as the area is effectively cut off from other land areas either by water or a major glacier.

The SGHT say that the final total area to be cleared of rats on South Georgia is seven times larger than any other eradication attempted anywhere to date . At the moment glaciers split South Georgia into 'sub-islands' that can be treated individually, giving a high probability of success. But they are aware that with global warming, these natural barriers may not always be relied on to keep rats out of the precious areas not yet invaded by these pests.

An important precursor to the eradication attempt has been GSGSSI's biosecurity improvements, and support from the Island Foundation and the Rufford Maurice Laing Foundation.

Project Manager Professor Tony Martin, who has a long running association with the Island through his previous work with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), will oversee the project.

You can see the SGHT announcement in full here.

Fishing And Shipping News

Longliners at King Edward Point
Longliners at King Edward Point

September was a quiet month for shipping around the Island. At the beginning of the month the last of the toothfish longliners vacated the SGMZ (South Georgia Maritime Zone) after the closure of the fishery at midnight August 31st. Two of the departing longliners came alongside the KEP jetty on September 1st to transship fuel.

On September 19th two trawlers arrived in Cumberland Bay for inspection and licensing prior to commencing fishing for icefish in the SGMZ.

Extraordinary Autobiography Given New Lease Of Life

A rare old book is getting a new lease of life thanks to a new edition which has been enhanced with the addition of extra information.

Tom Smith came to South Georgia twice in his short but eventful life as a mariner.

Born in 1801, his autobiography was originally published in 1844, a couple of years after he died. Its incredibly long full title is 'The life, travels and sufferings of Thomas W. Smith: comprising an account of his early life, adoption by the gipsys; his travels during eighteen voyages to various parts of the world, during which he was five times shipwrecked; thrice on a desolate island near the South Pole, once on the coast of England and once on the coast of Africa. He took part in several battles on the coast of Spain and Peru and witnessed several others; was once taken by pirates, from whom he was providentially delivered, placed in a small boat and set adrift at a great distance from land, without the means for conducting her to the shore. He afterwards took part in four minor engagements with savages near New Guinea. Written by himself.'

Tom Smith is described in 'The Dictionary of Falkland Islands Biography' as: " of the very few literate ‘below decks’ men from the sealing period of Antarctic history." He worked in the South Georgia seal fishery in the years 1815-20, making three trips here and one to the South Shetland Islands. He was shipwrecked three times during the four journeys. He had further adventures in the Pacific sperm whale fishery, and was later shipwrecked again in Africa.

Tom Smith wrote his book from memory whilst in ill health at the end of his life. This new edition is verified and annotated by historian Damien Sanders who has searched archives for further details of Tom Smith's life. Sanders has added a commentary and chronology to the original narrative to clarify, explain and, where necessary, to correct. He has also added illustrations and maps.

Historian Damien Sanders.
Historian Damien Sanders.

The book is published by Nunatak Press and can be ordered from Damien Sanders, 1 rue du 8 Mai 1945, Dinan, 22100 France. email: here

£19 (GBP) or €22 (EUR), $30 (USD) plus postage. ISBN is 978-2-7466-0930-3

For more information download the word doc here

Bird Island News

By Derren Fox, Albatross Field Assistant at the BAS station, Bird Island.

September is a busy time on Bird Island, a time of transition from the quiet times of winter, both for work and wildlife, to the start of the summer breeding season for many species. The month started with the final wandering albatross chick census for this years chicks. A snowy start meant the four of us tramping around the island in snow shoes to do it which, although it slowed us all down a bit, made it feel like a true winter experience. Ringing of the chicks also started and was almost complete by the end of the month, with 683 chicks getting metal rings around one leg to help us identify them on their return and track their movements. Much flapping of developing wings has been going on and they are slowly turning from big balls of down into magnificent birds.

Wanderer chick at sunset.
Wanderer chick at sunset.

The first of our summer visiting breeders was spotted on September 7th. A grey-headed albatross was seen dropping into a colony on the north side of Goldcrest Point. This was soon followed by birds appearing around the island in many of the colonies, and by the end of the month nests were being rebuilt or fought over, and pair bonds being reaffirmed with partners from last season. The black-brows appeared a little behind the grey-heads, as is usual and numbers are still building up as I write this, with only a handful of birds in any of the colonies so far.

Grey-head close-up.
Grey-head close-up.

The northern giant petrels started egg laying early in the month, with the first egg noted on September 9th, keeping Stacey busy in her study area with her daily rounds to check on egg laying dates and identify the birds. The southern giant petrels will be a few weeks yet before they start to lay eggs.

Southern Giant Petrel.
Southern Giant Petrel.

We’ve been treated to some great views of large bull elephant seals this month; many of the beaches have had one or two on during the month, but we have yet to see much fighting amongst them. They seem fairly peaceful here, perhaps because they are not competing for females on these beaches, as we only get one or two females pupping here each season. Their peace is only disturbed by the ever-present menace of the snowy sheathbills which peck at any little cuts, or peck around for any fresh faeces! Occasionally the 3-4 tonne behemoths are driven back to the water by a mere 500g sheathbill!

Three seal species together.
Three seal species together.

The white-chinned petrels began to arrive towards the end of the month, so, though there are only a few about at the moment, it won’t be long until the whole island reverberates at night with their calls from underground burrows.

Ewan was glad to see more leopard seals around the island too this month, with a few of the animals hauled out and asleep long enough for him to be able to put some flipper tags on them and a satellite tag or two to track the seasonal movements of these little-studied, but magnificent creatures. Winter was still in the air this month, so, despite the springtime activities about the place and with a few calm and cold days, slush ice started to form in the bays. Sadly this was short lived as the wind picked up and the weather warmed enough to allow the Bird Islands famous mank to return once more. The last few days have showed a few tantalising icebergs on the horizon, so fingers crossed for an ice strewn beach yet this winter.

Amazing wildlife on Bird Island, September..

For some lovely images of leopard seals and their behaviour at Bird Island have a look at this link to a photo feature on the BBC Earth News

Dates For Your Diary

An exhibition of photographs from the Royal Photograph Collection, featuring the photography of Frank Hurley and Herbert Ponting, is opening in Edinburgh on October 2nd. The exhibition entitled 'The Heart of the Great Alone: Scott, Shackleton and Antarctic Photography' is in the Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, and runs until April 11th 2010. The exhibition will be on show at The Queens Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London in 2011.

More information here.

Launching the James Caird for South Georgia, Frank Hurley.
Launching the James Caird for South Georgia, Frank Hurley.

The Princess Royal will be introducing the guest speaker, TV wildlife presenter Nigel Marven, when he makes a presentation for the SGHT fundraiser entitled 'Filming Penguins and Pipits in South Georgia - how do you do that?'. The SGHT event is being held at the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), London, on Tuesday November 10th.

Before the presentation, The Princess Royal, who is Patron of the SGHT, will also attend a reception in the Map Room of the RGS between 6pm and 7pm. There will also be an exhibition of South Georgia art, all of which is on sale.

For further information and tickets please contact Alison Neil at the SGHT headquarters in Dundee, e-mail: here.

Tickets can be bought online from and at

Artists Support South Georgia At The SGHT Fundraiser

The island of South Georgia has inspired many artists over the years with its incredible scenery and abundance of wildlife.

At the SGHT fundraiser at the Royal Geographical Society some of the very best of South Georgia’s artists will exhibit their work.

The exhibition will feature work from renowned artists Steve Massam, Elaine Shemilt, John Gale, Bruce Pearson, Molly Sheridan, Mike Skidmore, Claire Harkess and Chris Furse. All of the art has been inspired by South Georgia’s wildlife, scenery and heritage and each is a unique interpretation of the island.

The works of art will be on sale on the evening with all of the artists giving a donation from each sale to SGHT’s conservation work.

The event on November 10th 2009 will feature a talk by TV Wildlife Presenter Nigel Marven and will be attended by the Royal Patron of SGHT, HRH The Princess Royal.

Tickets can be purchased online at or contact Alison Neil.

Examples of the art which will be on sale on the evening:

South Georgia Snippets

Bull elephant seal at KEP.
Bull elephant seal at KEP.

Though winter had the Island firmly in its grip at the start of the month, it soon relented as the warm northerly winds and rain kicked in to start the major thaws, melting the white fringe around the shore just as the spring migrants returned. Skuas, white-chinned petrels and light-mantled sooty albatross have all been seen flying in the KEP area, and the female elephant seals started hauling out at KEP from the 13th. The seals have decided they like the Hope Point end of the beach best so far this year, a change from usual, with only a couple of females near the boat shed where the main colony normally forms. The first KEP pup, born on the 24th, was also in a less usual spot near the fuel farm. Holes under the snow around the tussac plants in this area laid many a trap for a small pup and helping hands were needed several times to aid the pup out of deep holes before the thaw progressed enough that it was no longer at risk.

The first pup born at KEP.
The first pup born at KEP.

Other returning spring migrants were the first pair of museum staff who arrived aboard the FPV "Pharos SG" on September 7th. Ainslie Wilson returns as Museum Manager, and was accompanied by Museum Assistant Bridget Steed.

Bridget is an artist with a special interest in South Georgia. She became interested in the Island through a project researching the history of an Edinburgh property, which was once the home of Ted Salvesen, who managed the whaling company Christian Salvesen and Co of Leith, Edinburgh. In a blog on the SG Museum website Bridget says she "...received a bursary to visit South Georgia from the Arts Trust for Scotland in March 2008...Over the last year my artwork has been inspired by the histories and images of this Antarctic isle and I still cannot believe that for the next four and a half months I can call this amazing place home and experience life here first-hand. The scenery, history and day to day life are all inspiring me to get started on some new research, artworks and drawings."

Visit the SG Museum website and read Bridget and Ainslie's blogs here.

Museum staff Ainslie and Bridget arrive back.
Museum staff Ainslie and Bridget arrive back.

With the spring comes the ozone hole. We all got the normal reminders from the Doc to be extra vigilant applying the sun cream and protecting ourselves. But the good news is that the 2009 hole is predicted to be the smallest in recent years.

Snow, not sun, was the problem when the KEPers joined in a global 'One Day One Goal' football game for International Peace Day – September 21st. It is hard work playing football in deep snow, but at least the players kept warm playing a spirited four-a-side game in their padded boiler suits. A nasty wind kept blowing the ball off the pitch and the windchill was close to minus 20!

Orange boiler suits play black boiler suits in the snow for the 'One day one goal' football match.
Orange boiler suits play black boiler suits in the snow for the 'One day one goal' football match.

Two of the boats from KEP were taken to St Andrews Bay for a training run on September 24th. It was very cold but otherwise a lovely calm sunny day to practice navigation around the coast and into the bays en route to the southern end of the KEP boating limit. The boats put in to Ocean Harbour, to replace medical stores in the emergency shelter, and arrived just as yacht "Wanderer III" was getting ready to anchor there having left King Edward Cove earlier that morning.

"Wanderer III" gets ready to anchor near the wreck of the "Bayard"
"Wanderer III" gets ready to anchor near the wreck of the "Bayard"

Though there were lots of large elephant seal bulls hauled out at St Andrews, there were as yet few females. Just around the coast though, at Hound Bay, the harems were far more advanced with many females already having pups.

A harem at Hound Bay
A harem at Hound Bay

KEPers also enthusiastically celebrated the 250th anniversary of Guinness. We joined Guinness lovers the world over in raising a glass of the black stuff. A discussion about why milk stout is so called lead to the Museum Manger Ainslie remembering a rather odd photo in the Museum archive. Those of you familiar with South Georgia and its wildlife will know it was not taken in South Georgia.

Several video clips have been put together using images from the South Georgia webcams. A website compiles a time-lapse sequence from 'Camera 1' daily. Beware though, watching them can become compulsive...try this one for a flavour of South Georgia spring.

There are some others on YouTube here.

View Of The Month

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

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