South Georgia Newsletter, September 2011

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

Consultation For Overseas Territories White Paper

In a written Ministerial Statement published on September 14th, The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, William Hague, stated that: “The UK Government’s fundamental responsibility and objective are to ensure the security and good governance of the Overseas Territories (OTs) and their peoples.”

The FCO is starting a consultation phase towards drafting a new White Paper on the OTs. William Hague recognises that the UK's 14 OTs are remarkably diverse and that policies will need to be tailored to the specific circumstances of each Territory.

“Much of the Government’s work on the Territories is rightly concerned with meeting our responsibilities to the Territories with settled populations.” William Hague wrote, “Our new strategy aims to ensure that proper attention is also given to the UK’s extensive sovereign territory where there is no settled population. We want to ensure that the significance and value of this Territory is better understood.”

The UK Government will focus on three practical policy goals:

(i) to strengthen the engagement and interaction between the UK and the Territories.

(ii) to work with Territories to strengthen good governance arrangements, public financial management and economic planning where this is necessary; and

(iii) to improve the quality and range of support available to the Territories.

The implementation of these policies will take different forms in each Territory.

The UK Government is now engaging in discussion with the Territories and stakeholders to identify the priorities for action in each relationship and will publish a White Paper on the OTs next year which will set out in detail the Government’s approach.

Minister for the Overseas Territories, Henry Bellingham recently announced part of the consultation process. “Since we came to Office in May 2010,” he said, “this Government has worked hard to re-invigorate the UK’s relationship with the OTs....there are many people and groups who have an interest in the future of the OTs and can provide us with insight into how to develop the UK’s relationship with them. I look forward to receiving ideas.”

In an attempt to focus discussion, a series of questions is posed on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website. Potential responders are reminded on the website that proposals will need to take into account the current global economic challenges which are likely to impose constraints on public expenditure in the UK and the Territories for the foreseeable future.

Speaking during a recent visit to Bermuda Henry Bellingham said: “I want this consultation process to include as many people in the Territories as possible. I am encouraging Territory leaders to discuss with their Governor how best to do this, including through an online portal.”, he added “I want to use the White Paper to showcase the achievements of the OTs and reflect the vital contribution of Territory governments. I want to hear about areas you think we should highlight.”

Those who visit the FCO website will read that: “The UK's Overseas Territories are British for as long as they wish to remain British. The OTs are constitutionally not part of the United Kingdom”; and that the main objectives are to ensure the safety and security of the OTs and to ensure their good governance and to promote and enhance the UK's role within the Polar Regions.

Responders can answer any or all the questions either online or by e-mail. You can download the consultative questions as a pdf here.

Foreign & Commonwealth Overseas Territories Consultation website here


Managing Industrial & Cultural Heritage: SG In Context

Report by Bob Burton

Leith whaling station.
Leith whaling station.

South Georgia is known best for its superlative scenery and amazing concentrations of wildlife but it also has a significant and fascinating history. One of the principal aims of the South Georgia Heritage Trust (SGHT) is to preserve, protect and promote an understanding of the historical heritage of South Georgia in relation to the Island’s whaling, sealing and maritime history. To this end, the SGHT was host to a conference on Industrial Heritage in Dundee, September 7th-9th, 2011, organised by David Munro, Nici Rymer, and Alison Neil. Over 60 delegates from around the world attended two days of presentations, discussions and workshops, which were focused primarily on the whaling stations that are becoming increasingly ruinous and dangerous.

The keynote presentation was 'Polar Heritage – neglected child becomes international talking point' by Susan Barr. The importance of polar heritage is now being recognised and international guidelines recommend careful modification and natural decay of historic sites rather than radical intervention. This accords with the 18th and 19th century idea of the 'sublime ruin' which maintains the relevance of a site for both historians and visitors.

Photo: John Alexander.
Photo: John Alexander.

The conference was treated to a number of presentations on the value of heritage sites in the polar regions and examples of conservation and research at sites ranging from Svalbard and the Isle of Harris to Iles Kerguelen and the Antarctic Peninsula. The South Georgia whaling stations have been thoroughly surveyed by Norwegian researchers, and in 2010 were inspected by Michael Morrison on behalf of GSGSSI, but the deteriorating condition of the stations is a major concern. Michael Morrison discussed the possibilities of public access and salvaging items of machinery etc. The presence of asbestos is a severe drawback in any plan of action.

While much can be learned from the physical remains of the whaling industry at South Georgia, understanding of the working of the industry is greatly enhanced by the study of archival documents, including photographs, and by oral history. Elsa Davidson described the SGHT oral history project in which former whalers, including members of the Salvesen Ex-Whalers Club were interviewed about their working and social lives on South Georgia in the 1950s and 60s.

It is to be hoped that the conference will stimulate action into preserving and recording South Georgia's industrial and cultural heritage before rust, rot and the weather destroys the relics on the Island and time erases the memories of those who worked there.

The overwhelming problem for saving South Georgia's heritage is its remoteness that makes it financially and practically very difficult to implement anything but the simplest conservation and research programmes. The whaling stations are massive structures and the problem is compounded by the quantities of asbestos present. The small sites, such as sealers' camps, do not present a hazard problem but they are remote and difficult to access. It was of particular interest to hear Martin Collins, GSGSSI Senior Executive Officer, present the government's strategy on cultural and industrial heritage. The primary goals are:

• to develop, within the constraints of available funding, long-term objectives for the whaling stations and explore the use of artefacts.

• to gain a better scientific understanding of the level of risk posed by asbestos and put in place adequate protective measures to limit GSGSSI's contingent liability,

• to develop legislation for the protection of SGSSI's heritage.

In conclusion, Frederik Paulsen proposed a number of projects that would preserve South Georgia's cultural heritage, make the Island more accessible to visitors and allow for more intensive scientific study.

Finally, there is always a social side to conferences where delegates meet familiar colleagues and old friends. This conference had the benefit of a reception aboard “RRS Discovery” and dinner and ceilidh aboard “HMS Unicorn”, considered the best preserved of all the World’s historic ships from the age of sail.

A full report of the conference will be published on the SGHT website.

Fishing And Shipping News

Icefish trawler in Cumberland Bay.
Icefish trawler in Cumberland Bay.

The month began with a longliner calling in to drop off scientific samples and the Government Observer after having finished fishing with the closure of the toothfish fishery on August 31.

Three trawlers fished for krill in September. After a good season, catches tailed off and one vessel left at the end of the first week, the other two by the 18th. Two reefers were anchored in Cumberland Bay in the first week and were attended by trawlers making transshipments.

On September 29 a trawler was inspected and licensed to fish for icefish within the SGMZ.

On September 27 the American research ship “Nathaniel B. Palmer” anchored in King Edward Cove. The vessel had a complement of 40 on board and is conducting science in the area. Their visit was mainly social and they chose a stunning good weather day for walks in the snow to visit the cemetery, museum and whaling station before touring the science base at KEP. A reciprocal invite aboard was enthusiastically taken up by KEP residents who were given a tour of the ship.

Research Ship “Nathanial B Palmer”. Photo Alastair Wilson
Research Ship “Nathanial B Palmer”. Photo Alastair Wilson

Tourism: Last Season And The Season Ahead

Forty-six cruise ship visits were made to South Georgia by 18 different vessels during the 2010/11 tourist season, bringing a total of 5,354 passengers. Most cruise ships continue to carry 150 passengers or fewer.

Though South Georgia continues to be a popular cruising destination, the decrease in passenger numbers is believed to be due to the effect of uncertainties in the world-wide economy. There were 17 less visits, and passenger numbers were down 26%, compared to the previous season, which continues a downward trend since the peak of the industry in 2007/8.

All vessels are required to call at Grytviken, the centre of administration, at some stage of their visit, and after this the most popular visitor sites were:

  • Gold Harbour with its stunning glacial backdrop to a large king penguin colony and concentrations of other wildlife including a chinstrap penguin colony;
  • Salisbury Plain, with fabulous mountain scenery and a flat walk to a sizeable king penguin colony;
  • Stromness with its valley beyond the safe limits of the whaling station, breeding elephant and fur seals and the end of a popular hike from Fortuna Bay in the steps of Shackleton and his men;
  • Prion Island where wandering albatross and pipits nest.

Also of interest were St Andrews Bay and Fortuna Bay.

Extended walks remain popular; indeed, even more than last season were undertaken. An extended walk is one of more than 1km from the landing site. Seventy walks were undertaken in 15 sites by more than 3,000 passengers in total. The 'Shackleton Hike' from Fortuna to Stromness was done 29 times by a total of 1,341 passengers.

Also increasing in popularity are short kayak trips offered by some cruise ships. Nearly 400 passengers participated in these in 18 locations, the highest number in Hercules Bay where kayakers could enjoy sheltered waters whilst being in proximity to steep cliffs and macaroni penguin colonies. Recreational diving was undertaken from 2 ships in 9 different sites, involving no more than 6 passengers at any one time.

There were three new cruise ships during the season: “Le Boreal”; “Sea Spirit” and “Marina Svetaeva”.

Passengers came from 52 different countries: 25% USA; 20% Germany; 12% UK; 11% Australia; with between 2 and 5% from Switzerland, Canada, France, Netherlands, China and Austria.

There were also a total of nearly 500 staff and 3,200 crew on the ships.

Fourteen yacht visits were made during the 2010/11 season by 13 different yachts. Nine yachts were engaged in charter work supporting expeditions, film crews and passengers, the other four were private visits.

There were also five visits from patrolling Naval vessels and five by research ships. For the approaching tourist season 2011/12, passenger numbers look set to fall again, but only marginally. Fifty-one cruise ship visits are booked, bringing a potential 6,350 passengers (were they all to be full) though actual passenger numbers are likely to be nearer 5,000.

Two cruise ships, “L'Austral” and “Island Sky”, will be making their first ever visit to South Georgia in the coming season and far fewer yacht visits are currently booked – there are just four on the schedule.

Frozen Planet - New Stamp Issue

Text by Dr Elizabeth White, BBC Natural History Unit

Produced by the BBC’s Natural History Unit, 'Frozen Planet' is the most ambitious series on the Polar Regions ever undertaken.

For four years, camera teams braved temperatures down to -50 C, 200 mile per hour katabatic winds, midnight sun and long dark polar nights to capture the essence of these remote and highly seasonal ends of the earth.

More than 2300 filming days were spent in the field, by small crews working in the most remote corners of Antarctica and across the Arctic. The aim was to take the viewer on a journey through the Polar Regions – north and south – some of the greatest, least explored wildernesses on the planet.

In the south, one of the key locations was South Georgia. The team undertook four major filming trips to document the lives of some remarkable animals whose dramas play out on this remote and spectacular island.

But filming here isn’t for the faint-hearted...this is an unforgiving place with no margin for error. Their filming platforms varied from the small and nimble 20 m yacht, “Golden Fleece”, to the majestic “HMS Endurance”, the Royal Navy’s icebreaking patrol ship and her Lynx helicopters which gave unique aerial opportunities to the series.

Six different camera teams were deployed to South Georgia over a period of around three months, covering stories as varied as the whaling history to Shackleton’s epic walk. By far the most effort, however, was spent documenting the lives of the animals, which visit the Island during the different seasons.

The theme of the new stamps, like the series 'Frozen Planet' that they represent, is the extreme seasonality that occurs in the Polar Regions.

60p stamp - For spring, the key story was the arrival of the southern elephant seals. South Georgia plays host to a raft of marine mammals, the biggest aggregations on earth, and the elephant seals are some of the most impressive. The 3,000 kg blubbery ‘beach master’ males fight to gain harems of females by rearing up and bashing together. This is their only chance to sire the next generation and the competition is brutal. Gingerly approaching the giant males – which can reach a remarkable 5m in length - the camera team used a mixture of traditional and high-speed cameras to capture the action in all its glory.

70p stamp - While many animals come to South Georgia for its brief summer, others have spent the long cold winter here too. This includes the wandering albatross chicks, which spend their formative months at breeding grounds on Bird Island, on the west side of South Georgia. For these comical young, learning to fly with the world’s largest wings, is anything but easy. Cameraman John Aitchison spent several weeks at the Bird Island albatross colony, waiting to film the rite of passage faced by every young bird as it takes to the air for the first time. Arriving at the island, he was dismayed to hear that even Lance Tickell, whose pioneering research had revealed so much about these giant birds, had never actually witnessed the moment when a young wanderer takes to the air. John waited day upon day beside these swan-sized babies as they practised and tried, until finally one opened its wings into the wind and lifted clear off the ground. This could be the start of sixty years spent mostly in flight cruising the whole of the Southern Ocean. This special moment touched John as one of the few people in the world ever to have witnessed such a moment in a young birds life.

95p stamp - Autumn is a funny season in the poles, broadly described as the time that the temperature drops abruptly and many animals rush to leave. For the fur seals of South Georgia, it’s the time when the adults leave and the weaned pups are left alone on the beach waiting the moment when they too will go to sea. At the peak of the breeding season there are around 4 million fur seals on South Georgia, but these numbers dwindle abruptly once mating is over and the pups are weaned.

One in 1000 fur seals are born blonde, and these are the ones which captured the hearts of cameraman and producer team Ted Giffords and Miles Barton. The blonde seals are instantly recognisable as individuals in a crowd of several thousand brown seals and inevitably attract the most attention. But their individuality doesn’t seem to do them any harm as the team also saw a blonde adult bull with a harem of females as well as a couple of blonde mothers with their own brown pups.

£1.15p stamp - Most of the breeding animals leave South Georgia by the time winter comes. The most prominent year-round resident is the king penguin. Their young take 10 to13 months to fledge, and at St Andrews Bay, the largest colony, there is a healthy population during every season.

As the snowstorms get harsher, the chicks huddle together to share warmth. Their thick brown fur coats provided a pretty backdrop to the falling snow, but sometimes the snowstorms rolling down from the hills were so strong that the crew – cameraman Martyn Colbeck and director Chadden Hunter - sometimes lost sight of the chocolate-coloured huddles standing just metres away from them.

This stamp shows the remarkable walk that each king penguin parent must do when it returns to the colony from a long fishing trip at sea. The adult, alert and moving with purpose, would push through thousands of fluffy brown chicks in the falling snow listening out for the call of their one and only offspring.

£2.50p – Souvenir sheet showing a wandering albatross in flight against a South Georgia backdrop.

'Frozen Planet' will be broadcast on BBC One soon. The series is presented by Sir David Attenborough, who himself first visited South Georgia in 1982 while filming for the television series, 'Living Planet'.

South Georgia stamps can be bought from

The four sheetlets represent the four seasons.
The four sheetlets represent the four seasons.

Latest News Of The Habitat Restoration Programme

The latest edition of the SGHT Habitat Restoration (HR) Programme Newsletter has been published (September 2011). This quarterly newsletter keeps you up-to-date with the results of the trial 'Phase 1' conducted last autumn, which in itself was the largest ever rat eradication attempted worldwide. Early signs are that the eradication may have been successful in removing rats from the Thatcher and Greene Peninsulas and a few other smaller areas where bait was spread, though no rats or rat sign must be seen by the end of two years of monitoring before success will be officially announced. Indeed, HR Project Director, Professor Tony Martin suggests that the question in everyone’s mind is whether, in the treated part of the island, we dare hope that this spring/summer will be the first breeding season for two centuries that will not be blighted by rats.

As well as checking for any surviving rats there will be monitoring of bird populations and assessment of how well the bait has broken down since it was aerially broadcast from hoppers underslung from helicopters about six months ago. Though the poison bait pellets kept their shape and consistency for around a month, so staying available to any surviving rats, the pellets are not expected to remain intact through the winter and should break down and the toxin become neutralised.

An international panel of experts has been set up to look at the bird mortality following 'Phase 1' and advise the SGHT on what, if any, operational changes could be made in 'Phase 2' to improve performance.

Work is now under-way planning and preparing for 'Phase 2', which should begin in 2013. SGHT hope to be purchasing a third helicopter for this phase. Tony Martin concludes his article in the HR newsletter saying: “Exciting times are ahead.”

The HR Newsletter also has news of helicopter pilot Peter Garden's current involvement in eradication of pests from islands in three island groups in the Pacific.

A report from SGHT Fundraising Director Peter Taylor outlines a recent intensive fundraising period for the HR project; he says they are trying to maintain the momentum generated by a large grant received from the 'Garfield Weston Foundation' in July. He reports on an evening reception at the House of Lords on Sept 7th, hosted by SGHT's Honorary President, Baroness Young, and attended by the charities Patron, HRH The Princess Royal and another on September 17th held by SGHT Trustee Michael Moore in Massachusetts, USA.

You can download the HR newsletter from the SGHT website here [pdf, 1.3mb].

HRH The Princess Royal in discussion with SGHT Chairman Howard Pearce and Trustee Professor Frederik Paulsen in the River Room at the house of Lords. Photo SGHT
HRH The Princess Royal in discussion with SGHT Chairman Howard Pearce and Trustee Professor Frederik Paulsen in the River Room at the house of Lords. Photo SGHT

The Quest For Frank Wild - Book Review

By Mark Wilson

The 'Quest For Frank Wild', the unravelling of some of the stories and misconceptions, the filling in of the gaps in his life that are not Antarctic based and not least, the mystery of what happened to his ashes after he died in South Africa - this was the quest of Angie Butler. I suspect the journeys and adventures of Angie Butler would make a book in themselves as she put together this fascinating and difficult detective story. All of that is but one half of the story, and the rest of the book is Frank Wild's own memoirs, in print at last.

This is the man who had to turn down the invitation from Captain Scott to go on his second expedition because he had already agreed to go south with Douglas Mawson, the man who was caught in a tent in the same blizzard that saw the death of Scott and his companions some miles away on the great ice barrier, and the man who held it all together for Shackleton on Elephant Island whilst 'The Boss’ was away ensuring their rescue by sailing to South Georgia in a small open boat.

During the war Frank was in Spitsbergen and it was there, in the depths of the Arctic winter, that the plan was originally hatched to find somewhere warmer to live, and growing tobacco in Portuguese East Africa was chosen as it held out the prospects of a fortune to be made. The plan came to fruition and must have sowed a seed of longing for warmer climes in addition to the Antarctic addiction that seems to affect so many people who go there. His farming life was short lived as Shackleton asked Frank to go south with him again, and as ever he dropped everything and went, although he did return to Africa later in life.

He accompanied Scott, Mawson, and Shackleton, the latter on 3 expeditions, and he was there in an adjacent cabin when 'The Boss’ died on their ship moored in Cumberland Bay in 1922. Talking of 'The Boss', Frank described Cumberland Bay as “An ideal resting-place...”, and it seems appropriate that his ashes too, should finally rest in this lonely Antarctic outpost after the trials and tribulations they undertook together.

Frank was evidently hard hit when Shackleton died, and said “I have his photograph signed by him hanging up at home, and once a year, on the anniversary of his death, we have a little drink together. I always feel that he knows exactly what I am doing and how I am faring. I know it sounds foolish but that is exactly how I feel about it”. From what others have said about Shackleton, the feeling was mutual.

That Frank died in Africa is well known, but Angie Butler has put together the story of how he came to be there, returning after his many expeditions to settle down in South Africa, probably attracted by the offer of land made to ex-servicemen by Jan Smuts and by his previous time in East Africa. As a farmer trying to make a living in difficult times, she has traced his movements, his ups and downs, to unravel the true story of a determined and hard working man with a fascinating story behind him.

Frank Wild - “as a boy he was a great reader and not a word could be got out of him till he had finished the tale or book he was reading...... If it was satisfactory he lay it down gently and said “a good yarn that” but if not the book would fly across the room with the one word, “piffle”.”

This complicated, and until now hidden, story of a great man is an important addition to any Antarctic library and I would lay it down and say “a good yarn that!”.

'The Quest For Frank Wild', written by Angie Butler, including Wild's original memoirs, is published by Jackleberry Press (ISBN 978-0-9569272-0-0) and costs £25.00 plus P+P. It can be ordered on line at

The South Georgia Association Celebrates Its 10th Anniversary

SGA President Charles Swithinbank cuts the Mt Paget cake. Photo Bob Burton.
SGA President Charles Swithinbank cuts the Mt Paget cake. Photo Bob Burton.

The South Georgia Association celebrated ten years of existence with a dinner evening at the Royal Over-Seas League in London on September 24th.

Around 50 members and their guests attended the dinner, including all three SGA Chairmen: David Tatham; Richard Ralph and David Drewry, who have held the position since the Association's inception. A guest of honour was Jane Rumble, Head of the Polar Regions Unit at the FCO.

Current Chairman David Drewry acted as Master of Ceremonies for a full and varied evening's programme which included an exhibition of art and maps and a photograph competition (won by John Alexander with a view of Larsen Harbour).

During a dinner that featured imaginatively named dishes such as ‘Penguin Patties’ and ‘Cutlets of Elephant Seal’, whose ingredients were not quite as advertised (chicken and lamb), there was a performance by the renowned folk musician Cliff Wedgbury who included a début performance of his specially composed 'Ballad of South Georgia'. SGA President Charles Swithinbank cut the 'Mt Paget' cake for dessert.

Founding Chairman (and ex South Georgia Commissioner) David Tatham gave an after dinner speech in which he described how, in September 2001, a meeting was held in the offices of the Falkland Islands Association to set up the SGA to encourage interest in and the conservation and study of the natural and cultural heritage of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and to promote contacts and encourage fellowship among those who have lived or worked in or around South Georgia.

David Tatham said: “The event when I would say we came of age was the conference which we held at BAS in Cambridge in September 2003 on the 'Future of South Georgia - the next ten years'. We displayed the range of talents possessed by our members in giving an overview which only we could provide. The conference also attracted enough financial support to enable us to finance our initiative fund, making small grants available for projects to do with South Georgia.”

David Tatham said the South Georgia Association applauded the work of the people who live and work in South Georgia today: “...the scientists and administrators at King Edward Point, Grytviken and Bird Island; just as we are grateful to those in Stanley and London who support them....We applaud but we are not simply a fan club. We also hope to act as a conscience for the Island, and it is in this role that we attended the gathering of “stakeholders” which was held in the FCO during September of last and this year to bring together all the British bodies with an interest in South Georgia in order to up-date them on the plans of the FCO and the GSGSSI for the years 2010 to 2015.”

In conclusion David said: “After ten years I believe we are achieving the objectives we set for ourselves in our first meetings. We have become a forum for everyone interested in the Island; we have disseminated information on the rapid pace of change at KEP and Grytviken; we have achieved the status of authorities on a wide variety of South Georgian topics; we have donated a bust of Duncan Carse to the Museum and while we have attained these worthy objectives which we set for ourselves ten years ago, I believe we are also achieving our third objective: we have met in an atmosphere of good fellowship even good cheer. Something worthy of celebration - may the next ten years be as fruitful - and as cheerful!”

The Norwegian representative Gustav Ellingsen also gave a speech.

Summing up the evening the current SGA Chairman David Drewry described the 10th Anniversary dinner as: “...a really enjoyable and celebratory evening. “

Bird Island Diary

By Mick Mackey Base Commander and Scientist at the British Antarctic Survey Research Station at Bird Island.

The final wandering albatross chick survey for the season kick-started September. The vast majority of chicks survived the constant batterings handed out by the squalls and storms that regularly accompany life on Bird Island during winter. Quite a few of the chicks had parental company with their high-pitched squeals being rewarded with a lovely hot feed of regurgitated fish & squid. Most of the chicks looked in the peak of fitness and seem to be on cue for fledging from early-November onwards.

Much of the fieldwork is temporarily impeded by the occasional blizzard blitz that can be both troublesome and exhilarating. It is difficult to draw the enthusiasm and motivation to head out into the weather every day. However, once we are out there traipsing the landscape observing the animal's antics, there is no better place to be than Bird Island.

Fur seals in a blizzard.
Fur seals in a blizzard.

The leopard seals continue to frequent our shores and patrol our coastal waters looking for gentoo penguins & fur seals for their suppers. Analysis of a young male leop’s scat revealed an unusual diet of diving petrels – these big beasties never cease to surprise us. Their sleepy gentle, demeanour when hauled out on the beaches belie their athletic agility and ruthless killing ability when they are in their watery environment. They will continue to appear on our beaches until early November, when all their coastal pit-stops will be filled with fur seals – territorial males & breeding females.

Leopard Sea
Leopard Sea

While Mick has had his hands full with multiple leop-sightings, both Jenn & Ruth began their respective molly and giant petrel surveys for the upcoming spring-summer. Jenn observed the first returning grey-headed albatross on September 3rd, with the earliest sighting of an adult black-browed albatross occurring on September 26th. The light-mantled sooty albatross are not due to arrive until early October. Ruth has noted a steady increase in daily giant petrel egg production, with a peak of 30 eggs in the study area during late September.

Grey-headed albatross on their nests.
Grey-headed albatross on their nests.

The wintering team of Ruth, Jenn, Paul & Mick have spent the early weeks of September contemplating the end of their relative solitude, as they prepared for the delivery of three fresh faces. Andy Wood, Jaume Forcada and new Albatross Field Assistant, Jenny James, duly arrived in the final week. They brought with them the first fresh food re-supply & mail drop since last March.

The month was rounded off nicely with the great news that Mick’s beloved Geelong Cats won the Australian Rules Football Grand Final in Melbourne. All on base were forced at cross-bow point to wear Geelong paraphernalia and support the Boys from Kardinia Park to their third Premiership in five years. Go on you lovely Pussies!!!

Photos: Mick Mackey.
Photos: Mick Mackey.

Antarctic Journeys: The Dry Valleys And South Georgia

An exhibition of artworks inspired by South Georgia and the Dry Valleys in Antarctica is on at the La Trobe Visual Arts Centre in Australia.

Artist Professor Elaine Shemilt has made the works in various media including drawings, prints, photography, collages, film and sound; drawing inspiration from the two remote locations. She has not travelled to the Dry valleys but she did visit South Georgia, an experience that she described as: “...overwhelming. It has extreme weather conditions, and the feelings of vulnerability take you back to what it actually means to be a human."

She described conditions in the two locations as: “...extreme and hostile towards mankind.” Her earlier work was concerned with the endurance of war and she thinks that has something to do with her fascination with South Georgia and the Dry Valleys. “South Georgia does not really lie outside the space of human activity because it has the history of the whaling industry, but this was confined to the whaling stations. In terms of culture, if anything this was the culture of men at war with nature. These sites remain like strange remnants of war - scars in an otherwise exquisitely beautiful landscape.”

Explaining about why she abstracts her art she said " can take an exquisite photograph, and that will engage people, but does it ask the questions? Whereas when you abstract something and you hold on to your own personal experience, then you can ask the questions. And those can be very deep and searching questions."

'Antarctic Journeys: The dry valleys and South Georgia' will be on display at the La Trobe Visual Arts Centre, Victoria, Australia until October 16th.


South Georgia Snippets

Commissioner Nigel Haywood and GSGSSI Senior Executive Officer Martin Collins have been in the UK attending numerous meetings during September, including the SGSSI Stakeholders Meeting which was held at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office on September 5th. The meeting's main emphasis was on environmental issues.

Martin Collins and GSGSSI Fisheries Scientist Jude Brown will both attend the annual meeting of CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources) in Tasmania in October.

Three earthquakes exceeding 5 on the Richter scale were recorded in the South Sandwich Islands region in September: On the 3rd there was a magnitude 5 at 56.241S, 25.765 W, 101Km ENE Visokoi Island; on the 5th one of magnitude 5 at 56.014S, 27.365W, 77Km N of Visokoi Island; and a m5.1 on the 15th at 5.308S, 26.820W, 49km NNE Visokoi Island.

Darren Christie, the Environmental Officer for GSGSSI, will move to a new job working for the Falkland Islands Government as the Public Relations and Media Manager.

South Georgia Postal Officer Sarah Lurcock has also accepted a new job as the South Georgia Heritage Trust Director South Georgia. Both Darren and Sarah will start in their new roles before the end of the year.

King Edward Point is set to go even greener with the installation of an electric boiler to provide heating and hot water for the science base. Currently, though most of KEP and Grytviken is powered by electricity generated by hydroelectricity, diesel boilers are used to provide heating and hot water to the base. A team of 5 contractors from GSGSSI and 'Morrison FI' will install the new boiler in the new year. The team will also undertake a variety of other works including: making good damage after heavy autumnal rains washed out sections of the track between Grytviken and KEP and filled the drinking water dam in Bore Valley with debris; installation of new windows and door in the Old Gaol at KEP; and maintenance to Discovery House, the museum and Church.

The passageway became a tunnel in the deep snow.
The passageway became a tunnel in the deep snow.

September was a convincingly wintry month with the most snow we have seen all winter. Big snowfalls on the 13th and 14th meant residents were out in force with spades and snow shovels digging doorways and windows free of snow piled high from the roof falls. The partly covered walkway along the side of the science base was more of a tunnel for a while as the snow filled in the gap from the roof to track below the building. The crew of the “Pharos SG”, which was alongside the KEP jetty at the time, were also kept busy clearing the decks of snow.

South-westerly winds on the 23rd reached 65mph and moved the two boats on their trailers on the beach. One was upturned, causing some minor damage. Several people braved the blizzard to tie the boats down to prevent further damage.

It was still bitterly cold and snowing regularly at the end of the month when the arrival of the first elephant seal pups was heralding spring.

One of the early elephant seal pups.
One of the early elephant seal pups.

Our photography enthusiasts are currently enjoying making 360° panoramas.

Sam Crimmin's has uploaded some of these onto her website and has lots of other gorgeous images on there too. Don't miss her stunning star trail photographs:

In the panorama here, by Alastair Wilson, the gentoo penguins are coming up at dusk to return to their roost at Tortula Cove. You can click on the panorama and steer round the picture and even focus in on the details.

Snapsnot of Alastair Wilson's panorama.
Snapsnot of Alastair Wilson's panorama.

Dates for Your Diary:

An art exhibition entitled ‘Artists for Albatrosses : 5 weeks on South Georgia’ is being held at the Air Gallery, 32 Dover Street, London until October 15th.

Work in the exhibition is based on a field trip to the Island by wildlife artists, John Gale and Chris Rose. The exhibition is raising funds and awareness for the Save the Albatross Campaign. The gallery is open from 10am to 6pm. You can see some of the artists work at: or

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