South Georgia Newsletter, November 2004
Albatross survey shows decline in numbers.
Albatross numbers breeding on South Georgia have decreased alarmingly.
Results of the South Georgia Albatross Surveys of 2003-2004 show alarming reductions in numbers of breeding pairs of three species of albatross on the Island since the 1980s.
Wandering albatross numbers have declined by about 30 percent, and the decline in numbers has accelerated in recent years, whilst Black-browed albatross numbers have declined at least 26 percent and Grey-headed albatross 14 percent. There now remain an estimated total of 1,553 breeding pairs of Wandering albatross in all the breeding colonies in South Georgia compared to 2,230 in 1984. The recent survey reported 75, 500 breeding pairs of Black-brows and 48,000 breeding pairs of grey-headed albatross.
South Georgia is the most important breeding site globally for Grey-headed albatross, second most important site for Wanderers, and third most important for the Black-browed albatross.
According to IUCN Red List criteria, Black-brows are considered endangered and Wanderers and Grey-heads vulnerable.
Wandering Albatross Colony on Bird Island
The most likely cause of the long-term decreases is mortality in long-line and trawl fisheries.
Bird mortality in the South Georgia fishery has been negligible in recent years due to bird mortality mitigation measures being a condition of the fishing licenses. It is likely that the birds are being killed in fisheries outside the South Georgia Maritime Zone.
In her report Sally Poncet of “South Georgia Surveys” says that, “The magnitude of these species’ population decreases is alarming…..Unless these long-term declines can be halted or reversed, there must be some doubt over the long-term viability of the breeding populations of these albatrosses at South Georgia.”
One hundred years ago on November 16th Captain C.A. Larsen and sixty-five other men, mainly Norwegians, arrived at Grytviken to set up the first South Georgia whaling station.
Larsen, who came from a whaling background, had noticed the potential of the Island for whaling during two previous expeditions here. He encouraged the formation of the company Argentina de Pesca, and was appointed Manager of the station they quickly built using prefabricated buildings brought down on ships from Norway. The first whale was killed and processed into oil only a few weeks later on December 22nd.
Over the years the station grew to employ several hundred men in the busy summer season. Besides the factory buildings and oil tanks the station included a church, cinema, bakery and piggery.
By the end of the 1964 whale stocks had been over-fished, large pelagic whaling fleets followed the remaining whales further south, and Grytviken stopped operating.
For the last forty years the station has succumbed to weather, age and vandalism. The Grytviken Remediation Project, now in its second summer, has removed the dangerous asbestos, furnace oil residues, and demolished unsafe buildings, and is making the station accessible to visitors who will be able to see the vast whaling machinery that was hidden inside the corrugated iron clad buildings.
The South Georgia Museum hosted an evening buffet to mark the Grytviken Centenary. In her speech one of the curators Pauline Carr said, “A hundred years ago today this cove would have been beautiful, peaceful and almost pristine. So we are here to commemorate this historic occasion rather than celebrate it. There followed sixty years of unsustainable whaling and forty years of progressive decay.
Curator Pauline Carr speaking at the Museum Event.
Nevertheless we can still admire and respect the vision and achievements of Captain C. A. Larsen and the men who came down here then, and those who followed in what was seen as an honourable profession. However the most positive events of the century are occurring now, with the work being undertaken by Morrisons on behalf of the GSGSSI. This is both helping to return Grytviken to a healthier state yet still acknowledging the events of the past century and the lessons learned." A toast was then made to Captain Larsen and all who have worked in Grytviken up to the current time.
Mass Mortality of Chinstrap Penguins at Cooper Bay
Cooper Bay has been closed to visitors for at least a month following reports of a mass mortality of Chinstrap penguins at the colony there.
An unusual number of dead adult penguins were noticed by passengers and staff from cruise ships that regularly call at the wildlife packed bay at the south-eastern corner of the Island. A report by Dr Gary Miller, Naturalist aboard cruise ship Polar Pioneer, estimated 600 dead adult penguins in the colony, and noted several that were alive but appeared unwell.
Dr Miller did not think the deaths were due to starvation, so the most likely cause would be either disease or poisoning from toxins from plankton (commonly known as red tide). We are not aware of any previous red tide events in South Georgia.
The site has now been closed to visitors in case the deaths are being caused by disease that visitors might unwittingly spread to unaffected areas.
Specimens will be collected for analysis to try to determine the cause of the die off.
A mass die off of Gentoo and Magellanic penguins at various sites in the Falkland Islands, 800 miles to the north-west of South Georgia, last year were found, after detailed laboratory analysis, to be caused by toxins in plankton. This was the first known mortality from red tide around the Falklands.
Up and down
The Grytviken Remediation Project and construction of Carse House started up in the first week of the month after the 13-strong Morrison FI Ltd team and their stores and equipment arrived on the RRS James Clark Ross (JCR) on November 4th.
The corrugated tin covering, and steel frame, of the huge Guano Shed in Grytviken has been taken down, exposing the internal factory machinery that is now being tidied up and will be left on display. Guano was the collective name for the meat and bone meal produced from the processed whale carcasses after the oil had been extracted.
Demolishing the Guano Shed
By the end of the month Carse House had the foundations, support beams, and floor laid, and the external and internal walls erected. Work to replace the South Georgia Museum Roof has also started.
In and Out
Most of the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) staff at King Edward Point will be changing over this summer. The BAS resupply vessel JCR bought in several of the new team who are now in the process of handing over. The Diesel Mechanic, three strong Science team, Doctor, and Base Commander are all changing.
A second boatman has also joined the team. On a glorious sunny evening on November 22nd there was an official handing over ceremony on the terrace between the outgoing Base Commander Vicky Auld and her replacement Alison Dean. Vicky will now become permanent Base Commander at Bird Island. Alison has worked previously for BAS as a geologist from Rothera Station.
Alison Dean (left) and Vicky Auld hand over the base Commanders job.
The South Georgia Operations Manager Gordon Liddle arrived at the same time for a twelve- day visit during which he saw the start of the building and demolition works and held meetings with all the Island personnel.
Visit from HMS Dumbarton Castle
The Royal navy vessel HMS Dumbarton Castle visited the Island on patrol in the later part of the month. It brought in a group of the Resident Infantry Company from the Falkland Island Garrison who were put ashore to patrol sections of the coast.
The crew had good weather for their visit ashore in King Edward Cove. The ship came alongside the KEP jetty, giving an opportunity for a fun social gathering one evening, and the next day six of the BAS personnel got a rare day trip out on the ship to see the Stromness Bay area.
Dumbarton Castle enters King Edward Cove
New Stamp Issues
Two new stamp issues were released this month. The four stamp issue “Merchant Ships” was released on November 10th at the same time as the postage rates increased. Two of the stamps, featuring the RMS QE2 and MS Endeavour are valued at 42 pence, the new rate for an airmail postcard. The 50 pence stamp features MS Explorer and is correct for the new basic airmail letter rate. The fourth stamp costs 75 pence and has the SS Canberra on it.
|MS Endeavour is a tour ship that visits the Island regularly in the summer. On her recent first visit of the season the new stamp was very popular with the passengers. MS Explorer, another tour ship, was here this month too.
RMS QE2 is the largest ship ever to call at South Georgia, it, and the SS Canberra that was used as a troop ship, anchored in Cumberland Bay in 1982 during the Falkland Conflict. The First Day Cover features the red ensign and cost £2.90.
The new merchant Ships First Day Cover
Two envelopes make up the new Definitive First Day Cover set
MS Endeavour is a tour ship that visits the Island regularly in the summer. On her recent first visit of the season the new stamp was very popular with the passengers. MS Explorer, another tour ship, was here this month too.
The new “Juvenile Fauna” Definitive Issue of 12 stamps was released on November 15th. This issue will remain current for five years, its stamp values are: 1p, 2p, 3p, 5p, 10p, 25p, 50p, 75p, £1, £2, £3, £5. Each stamp features a different water colour painting, by artist Una Hurst, of a young animal including whale calves, seabird and penguin chicks, seal pups, a duckling and a reindeer faun.
The First Day Cover has an elephant seal pup on both of the two envelopes that make up the set and costs £14.00.
For the first time the South Georgia Post Office has also issued a booklet of stamps. The same elephant seal pup design is used on the booklet cover and each of the eight self-adhesive airmail postcard rate stamps inside.
For more information look up the website: www.falklands.gov.fk/pb, or to purchase contact the Philatelic Bureau by e mail:(Type this address)
The wife of Mark Stratford, who climbed South Georgia’s highest mountain Mt Paget in 1995, made a personal pilgrimage to the Island following her husband’s death in a helicopter crash at the beginning of the Iraq conflict.
Lisa arrived on Remembrance Day, November 11th. She especially wanted to see Mt Paget, which her husband had climbed with a German mountaineering group and Skip Novak, owner of the yacht “Pelagic Australis” which bought Lisa to the Island. It was the fourth time the mountain had been climbed successfully. Mt Paget was often in view during Lisa’s visit.
A memorial plaque was placed in the church at Grytviken. Mark, a Royal Marine Mountain Leader was stationed in South Georgia for a five-month tour from October 1994 to February 1995.
A nasty case of Cardamine flexuosa
|The eradication attempt of an invasive alien plant has begun at King Edward Point. The plant flowered earlier in the month allowing it to be identified as Cardamine flexuosa, or Wood bitter-cress, this is a common weed of disturbed ground in the northern hemisphere. It was most likely introduced from the Falkland Islands a few years ago and is so far contained on the Point.
A very similar looking plant grows to the east of Stanley in the Falklands, but more severe local conditions on South Georgia seem to make the plant stunted, with shorter leaves and stems than the Falkland plants. Samples of the plant will be analysed to try to confirm the source of the introduction to the Island.
Early plans to search the whole Point for satellite plants established away from the main outbreak near the old Gaol were delayed many times due to uncooperative weather conditions, but on November 17th most of the Island residents turned out for an intensive search which took all day, and disclosed a handful of previously unknown outbreaks. Outlying plants were dug up if they were in their first year of growth.
Visiting botanist Professor David Walton, who has been involved in the discussions about the desirability of attempting to eradicate the alien plant, was alarmed to see C. flexuosa is successfully competing with the important native plant Acaena magallanica (Greater burnet) in colonising both bare ground and established native vegetation.
Unseasonably dry conditions led to further delays before spraying with a selective herbicide could begin. The spray is best applied when the ground is damp, but it was also important to spray before the early flowering plants could set seed.
Conditions were favourable towards the end of the month, and the area of the main outbreak, and areas where satellite plants have established and appear to have seeded in a previous season, were sprayed. After all the hard work searching and spraying, locals would have liked the sprayed plants to look sicker by the end of the month, but several commented that they still seemed to be thriving. The plants’ condition will continue to be monitored and other steps taken if it proves necessary. Even if the spraying this season is successful, the search and spraying will have to be repeated each year for the next few years to catch new plants developing from seeds dormant in the soil.
(Photo: cresearch.jpg. Caption: Searching the Point for the introduced plants.)f spider was identified by Lavery and was new to South Georgia. This much larger specimen had the misfortune to abseil into the chef's soup at the camp being used by the team working on the Whaling Station Remediation Project. It was a member of the genus Negayan , common in South America and the Falkland Islands, and probably came in with the temporary building where it had lived happily until its unfortunate accident.
Tour Ships arrive for the main tourist season
The main tourist season started on November 15th with the arrival of the first tour ship of the season Professor Multanovskiy. Seven others visited before the end of the month, several full to capacity with passengers, and most have enjoyed good weather for their visits to the Island.
Endeavour took all four South Georgia Museum staff out during several days of their South Georgia focused cruise. Every passenger had been given a copy of the Museum Curators, Tim and Pauline Carr’s book “Antarctic Oasis” about their life on the Island. A small group was dropped off by Endeavour in King Haakon Bay to do the Shackleton crossing to Fortuna Bay and Stromness. The crossing on snowshoes, using experienced mountain guides, went well and they completed the crossing in three days.
|Kapitan Khlebnikov made its first call here for several years. The powerful icebreaker is on a month long specialist cruise that will spend most of its time down in the Weddell Sea.
There were also four more yacht visits. “Golden Fleece” made two visits during the month with different charterers aboard. The second group was a German film crew making a film about the Islands heritage and wildlife.
"Kapitan Khlebnikov" anchored in Cumberland Bay
The new 23-metre charter yacht “Pelagic Australis” made her first ever visit to the Island. The aluminium hulled, 12 passenger capability yacht with a lifting keel was launched last summer.
Climbers aboard the yacht ”Northanger”, which arrived last month, made an attempt on Mt Paget, intending a quick climb using the “one big push” alpine technique. The climbers turned back when snow conditions got too warm, slowing their progress.
Les Montagnes du Silence (http://www.lmds-carnets.org/)
|An unusual group of expeditioners arrived aboard charter yacht “Tara” on November 20th.
Under the expedition banner “Les Montagnes du Silence”, six deaf and hard of hearing expeditioners are accompanied by three mountain guides, an expedition doctor, 2 film crew, a photographer and two sign language translators.
The 36 metre long boat has a crew of five, and berths for 20. It will spend a month around the Island whilst the expeditioners attempt various walks and climbs including the Shackleton Crossing on skis.
Original conceived by a Mountain Guide married to a deaf person, this is the first expedition of several they hope to organise under the “Les Montagnes du Silence” banner. The venture has attracted support from the United Nations Environmental Program, and their South Georgia expedition is being filmed for a French television channel.
The group has had to invent several new words in sign language, including one for South Georgia. The sign they developed uses both hands touching at the thumbs to represent the continents of North and South America, then the Island is indicated with a slight twist of the hand to the lower right.
Tour ships asked to assist in survey of Fur Seal Population
Anyone who has tried sharing one of South Georgia’s beaches with the aggressive fur seal finds it hard to think that by the 1920s they had been hunted almost to extinction, and the whereabouts of the few remaining individuals was kept secret. Since being protected they have undergone a dramatic population explosion and there are now estimated to be 1.5 million. They have now reoccupied their original breeding range and are thought to be expanding their range in the Atlantic sector of the Southern Ocean.
In a British Antarctic Survey study, tour ships and yachts visiting South Georgia this summer are being asked to estimate the number of breeding fur seals at the sites they visit. Biologists will use these observations to try and determine the edge of the fur seal expansion, or indeed if expansion is still occurring.
Locals support “global walk-a-thon” for Diabetes awareness.
The first ever “Global walk-a-thon” to raise awareness of Diabetes was supported by several walkers on South Georgia. The walk had to be for at least 30 minutes and take place on World Diabetes Day, November 14th.
Walkers on South Georgia headed out to Maiviken and to climb Mt Duse, amongst other destinations. The walks were registered with a special website so organisers could log all the participants. They were expecting more than 67,500 people to participate in more than 50 different countries in their attempt to break the world record for a walk-a-thon.
Real Ale Festival
16 real ales were on offer at the first South Georgia Real Ale Festival.
The festival was organised by real ale enthusiast Suzi Hawkins, who had contacted Shepherd Neame, her local brewery in Kent, and Adnams of Suffolk, for promotional material and a couple of cases of beer. A surprising number of other bottled real ales were available from the bond aboard the recent resupply vessel. A bar was set up in the historic Discovery House, but most chose to sit outside in the sun on a gorgeous afternoon, supping ale and eating from the barbecue.
South Georgia Snippets
The Point is now liberally scattered with fat silver elephant seal weaners. The last females were mated and had gone by November 25th. The older weaners are now getting into the very engaging phase where they spend hours at the waters edge mock-fighting in pairs, when not snoozing on the beach or in the tussac.
As the "ellies" leave, the fur seals have been arriving in greater numbers. The first pups have been born at Maiviken, and this breeding area is filling up. Although KEP has not had more than one pup before, the presence of several wigs (breeding males) that look to be in good breeding condition, with thick blubber layers and a distinctive odour, and who are holding territory, makes one wonder if there will be more pups here this year.
More King penguins have been coming out to moult.
The Maiviken gentoo colony has split into two this year, some are nesting on the lake side, but most are tucked away in a gully quite a distance from their old colony on the hill close to the landing beach. By midmonth most of the gentoos had laid and were incubating two eggs.
The people at King Edward Point have had a busy time receiving and despatching cargo during two visits of the BAS resupply vessel JCR. A years worth of dry-food goods, spares and other necessities were delivered, and much of the year’s rubbish was back-loaded, some destined for recycling centres in the UK.
Caption: JCR unloads alongside the KEP jetty
A tour ship reported the intriguing sight of a barrel on top of a flat topped iceberg outside Cumberland Bay. People aboard the JCR sighted similar barrels last year when someone managed to read the writing on the barrel and identify them as left over from the International Geophysical Year almost fifty years ago. Big flat-topped bergs are remains of ice-shelves that have broken out from the Antarctic continent.