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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter Febuary 2005

Bird Island

On January 21st 2005 the 5 residents of Bird Island celebrated an unusually clear sunset with a poignant evening’s dining outside on Freshwater beach. Following the arrival of the British Antarctic Survey supply ship Ernest Shackleton, the next morning, the face of the beach has changed drastically, and will continue to metamorphose over the next coming months. The ship’s arrival heralded the start of a redevelopment project that will see Morrisons Falkland Islands Ltd, contractors to the BAS, build a new main base due for completion by the end of May. The demolition and removal of the old main building and associated obsolete huts will be completed next summer season. We have a record number of 22 people ashore at this time, 10 BAS staff, including 6 scientists who continue the scientific research programs, and a building team of 12 from Morrisons.

A favourable weather window and three weeks of impressive effort and professional efficiency of both ships’ crew and Morrisons shoreside team saw over 1500 cubic metres (over 100 tender loads!) of cargo offloaded from the Ernest Shackleton by the time of her departure on 12th February. By this time the Morrisons temporary camp was up and running with the first RO plant in operation on BI, and Lonnberg House, the oldest building on site erected in 1962, was demolished making way for the new build. At the end of the month the shell of the new generator shed and the foundations of the main building are now complete. Although the beach currently bears a stronger resemblance to a building site than an SSSI, the final planned footprint of the total station site is expected to be approximately 460m2, roughly 90m2 larger than the old site, and will accommodate upto 12 people.

The rebuild was planned for this time of year, in part to ensure negligible impact on the local wildlife. At this stage in the breeding season, with no territorial males on the beach, the female fur seals returning from their foraging trips take their pups into the tussock to wean, leaving the beach free of all but curious pups who are slowing working their way into the hearts of most of the building team.

The first wandering albatross chicks were pipping at their eggs towards the end of the month and the first out the shell was seen on Nest No.1 on the 25th., after laying on 8th December. Meanwhile, the black browed and grey headed albatross chicks are now downy, delightful and demanding of their parents. The penguin research has been particularly busy this month during the chick rearing and fledging stages, and those that made an early morning visit to the Macaroni colonies on the west of the island on the 25th were rewarded with the extraordinary viewing of several hundred fledgings taking to the water for the first time, not due to return from the sea again until next year’s moult.

Curious local spectators
Grey head chickat Colony K


An Unexpected Resident at St Andrew’s Bay

The beginning of February was a comparatively quiet time at King Edward Point, and several people had the chance of breaks away from base during the first two weekends. One hiking party of 6 was dropped off by boat at the Barff Peninsula on the first occasion, and 4 continued on the 7-hour walk to St. Andrew’s Bay. Arriving tired and thirsty at the 2-roomed St. Andrew’s Bay hut, famous for sheltering film-makers Cindy Buxton and Annie Price during the 1982 conflict with Argentina, they discovered that the hut door had been left open and a moulting female elephant seal had already been resident there for an estimated 3 weeks.

It took the group another 4 hours to evict the unwilling seal and clean up the hut. The entrance, which contained boxes of emergency stores, equipment, and cooking gear, was full of a mixture of manure and moulted sealskin resembling coconut fibre matting. Fortunately there was no structural damage!


Bittercress Fight Goes On

A fresh supply of Roundup-type weedkiller arrived on the cruise ship Hanseatic on February 2nd, to continue the fight to eradicate introduced Wood Bittercress. Some of this was used on February 10th on the seedlings which had grown thickly on newly-bare soil where the early summer’s flowering plants had been dug up, and is proving effective, though another spray will be needed in a couple of weeks to get rid of surviving plants. Seedlings are likely to continue to come up for at least another 5 years even if plants are not allowed to flower, and the area continues to be quarantined for the future.


Base Laid for New VSAT Dish

For some years seismic information has been collected at King Edward Point, recorded on tapes, and forwarded monthly by post to the University of California at San Diego (one of the jobs traditionally assigned to the Base Doctor!). As part of their building programme at King Edward Point, Morrisons have now laid the concrete foundation behind Larsen House for a new VSAT communications system which will enable this information to be sent automatically direct to America, and in partnership with GSGSSI and BAS will also give the base 24-hour Internet access. Previous communications were limited to HF and VHF radio, and expensive satellite telephone links.


Alarms, Excursions and Flares

Now that all of last year’s Base members have finally left, the remaining personnel, apart from temporary visitors, will be the 2005 over-wintering team. This month they started a new programme of boat training, and instruction in some safety systems.

Alison Dean, Base Commander, mans the VHF radio for the boats

On February 7th Kris Hall, the BAS electrician, gave a talk and demonstration about fire extinguishers. He explained the uses of different extinguishers for different types of fire (electrical, oil-based, chemical etc) and a lit a number of contained fires on the ground next to the boatshed (including the barbecue and a pan of hot chip fat). Everyone took a turn with an extinguisher and Kris demonstrated how to use a fire blanket or wet towel on the blazing chip pan. Afterwards Hamilton Males the boatman took over with a box of flares provided for boats and field trips, and again gave everyone a lesson in their use and an opportunity to try them out.
On February 9th the icefish trawler In Sung Ho came in to Cumberland Bay for licensing and the Government Officer went aboard with other personnel from the base, using one of the new harbour launches. Shortly after, the coxswain notified an ‘emergency’ and called out the second boat on a ‘rescue mission’. With Alison Dean, the Base Commander on Communications, and Rik Johnson, Doctor Jenny Keys, and Jamie Watts as crew, the second boat hurriedly set out for the rendezvous. The surprise exercise was judged a success.

Harbour launch ‘Prion’ heads out on exercise



On the morning of February 11th, her work at Bird Island over, the RRS Ernest Shackleton left for King Edward Point, arriving the following day at 6.30 pm. After three weeks of unloading a vast cargo of building materials the crew looked tired but happy to be in sheltered waters at last. They spent three days at KEP carrying out various jobs and taking the chance for hikes ashore. The on-board dentist was able to catch up with work as well – his job needing an environment not in constant motion!


Rat guard on one of the Shackleton’s lines

On 16th the cruise ship Andrea came in at 5 am and took the Museum and GSGSSI staff to Fortuna and Stromness Bay for the ‘Shackleton Walk’. Afterwards the ship went to Husvik to pick up the Elephant Seal research team, which had finished its fieldwork for the season and fitted a number of adult seals with transmitters. Andrea kindly provided the team of four with transport back to the Falklands.

Another interesting visit was from the cruise ship Polar Star, with a group of ex-‘Fids’ aboard, on a cruise touring old BAS sites. FIDS stands for Falkland Islands Dependancies’ Survey, which was the forerunner to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). FIDS is still the name given to those personnel of the BAS who spend winters in the South. The group arrived on a Sunday and enjoyed afternoon tea and homebakes at the new base, and later all the residents were invited on board ship for an evening barbecue. The visitors were fascinated by the changes on base, including the incorporation of women into BAS – once a hotly contested issue. The last two Base Commanders at KEP, and the last three doctors, have all been women.

On the 25th the HMS Dumbarton Castle came in to tie up alongside the jetty. They invited all the Base personnel on board for drinks in the evening, and a group of twenty mixed ranks paid a reciprocal visit to Shackleton Villa the following night at the invitation of the Government Officer. Many of the crew and officers enjoyed a walk to Maiviken on the afternoon of the 26th.

The only new yacht arrival in February was ‘Pure Magic’ from Dublin, taking the scenic route from Ushuaia to Cape Town, which arrived on the 25th.


Football, Pool and Table Tennis

February turned out to be a good month for sporting events. On Saturday 13th South Georgia played the Ernest Shackleton at six-a-side football (the day was so beautiful that several potential stars went missing and vanished up mountains instead). With a stalwart audience of 3, the Shackleton team beat South Georgia 12-7.
Grytviken’s Football Pitch in Use Again

The football pitch, a traditional site laid down by the whalers behind the whaling station at Grytviken, has an unusual playing surface mainly composed of uneven gravel and native Burnet or sticky-burr which attaches itself liberally to players’ clothes, especially the shoe-laces. There were no casualties

The South Georgia team de-burnetting at half time.

On February 19th the inhabitants of King Edward Point were invited to a table tennis and pool tournament including buffet by Morrisons at Grytviken. Hospitable Andy Petersen (Andy Chef) as usual provided a feast, and the final winners of the tournament were Martin Collins of BAS (table tennis) and Tim Platt of Morrisons (pool).

Results on Cooper Bay Penguins

Results from tests now show that the mortalities observed amongst chinstrap penguins at Cooper Bay have been caused by avian cholera, a bacterium which has previously been recorded in Antarctica and sub-antarctic islands.

Sue Harvey, a vet from the Falklands, is visiting the island to obtain blood samples from several different species of penguin and seals to find out if there is any sign of the bacterium occurring elsewhere on the island.

The site remains closed to visitors.


Camera on Toothfish

On February 22nd independent photographer Paul Sutherland arrived on Fisheries Patrol Vessel Sigma, together with his assistant, Sijmon de Waal, and a boatman from the Falklands, Owen Betts, to be based at King Edward Point for approximately ten days. Paul is working on a photo/essay on Patagonian toothfish entitled ‘Chilean Sea Bass – Species on the Brink’, documenting how the legal fishery is carried out, the work of Chilean fishermen, fisheries enforcement particularly with reference to the problem of seabird bycatch and its implications for endangered albatross species, natural history, and the issues facing the consumer. The final result should be published in a well-known journal which has a readership in the area of 12 million worldwide and should have considerable long-term publicity and educational value.

Paul was inspired by high-profile media coverage of Southern Ocean international chases of toothfish poachers, one of which, in 2003, involved fisheries patrol vessels of three nationalities including GSGSSI’s own Fishery Patrol Vessel Dorada. The story linked in with his own life-long interest in fisheries conservation stocks, and he felt that it was a good jumping-off point for a much broader examination of all the issues involved.

After an interview with CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Marine Living Resources) members who approved his project, Paul was given a grant in January 2004 from the Packard Foundation, which covered his expenses for visits to Australia and Chile. In Australia he filmed training sequences of Customs long-range patrols involving boarding procedures for suspect vessels by the Southern Ocean Patrol. In Chile he worked with victims of IUU - ‘Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated’ poaching activities run by international syndicates who employed Chilean crews, and recorded interviews with widows and mothers of fisherman ill-treated, sometimes fatally, on board. He also documented the Chilean artesanal toothfish fishery, a local long-lining industry carried out in small boats.

At King Edward Point he is photographing scientists at work, and hopes to photograph toothfish underwater. He has obtained the assistance of GSGSSI and BAS to facilitate this with the use of their boats, providing his own diving equipment.

Paul continues the toothfish story with a look at the catch documentation scheme in the US, shooting with National Marine Fisheries, a division of NOAA (National Oceanic Atmospheric Agency) on documentation and law enforcement.


Hydro Power a Possibility

Old hydro machinery is revealed after removal of the ruined powerhouse

Expert Derek Harrison also arrived on FPV Sigma on February 22nd, to examine the old dam at Gull Lake above Grytviken. It is hoped that the old hydro-electric system which the whalers installed may be re-created for the benefit of the new community.

Tourists visiting on cruise ship Endeavour were surprised to see a small boat appearing over the brow of the hill and making a controlled descent down one of the steepest parts of the grass bank. The solution to this mystery: the boat had been borrowed from BAS to sound the depths of Gull Lake.




At Grytviken Morrisons have completed work on all buildings and are concentrating on tidying up, landscaping and disposing of remaining detritus. Their accomodation block, erected last year, will stand for at least another couple of years to house future workmen, particularly if a hydro-electric system is to be installed.


A solitary stand of Cow Parsley, introduced by the whalers, outside the Nybrakka or barracks at Grytviken    


The Polar Star group of ex-Fids, who arrived on a Sunday when no work was being done in the station, were allowed to roam the site which held memories for many.

Old Stove from the Grytviken Kitchen    
At the Museum a complete new floor is being installed downstairs, and a new door in one of the entrance porches. Carse House is now structurally virtually complete and internal fittings are being installed, a painter decorator arriving from Bird Island on Sigma to help with the work. Outside the building a large number of containers needed for the building project have been taken away and an area of tussac, which was earlier removed to make room for them, replanted apparently quite successfully with the help of a digger.

A new tussac garden for Carse House


More from Stuffin’ Steve

Upstairs at the Museum Steve Massam completed several new projects, including a Wilson’s petrel and a South Georgia Diving petrel in its burrow threatened by a particularly lifelike rat. He also worked on prototypes for the tourist trade, and is casting a pair of delightful whale-tooth elephant seal weaners carved by Tim Carr, and a barnacle from the head of a whale.




Wilson’s petrel, rat, and barnacle on Steve Massam’s work bench


Sven’s Crabs Growing Up

After two months of larval development the post-larval stage of the king crab Paralomis spinosissima, hatched in the BAS laboratory, has been reached. The megalopa is the first stage living on the sea floor. At this point the young crab still relies on energy resources deposited at the egg stage by the mother (Non-feeding larval development.)

Sven Thatje, who has been nursing the crab babies in the Larsen House refrigerator, will be returning to Europe in early March.




Young king crab


KEP Notes

These days everyone is missing the elephant seals, and even the fur seals are less in evidence around Cumberland Bay, though a lot of youngsters are coming ashore. These, though small, can be very playful and visitors reported that some particularly enthusiastic individuals round by the cemetery were chasing them with fearsome growls.

The gulls and terns now have fledged young, which can be seen looking for food along the shore on the way to Grytviken; a Weddell seal turned up in Moraine Fjord at the end of the month, and two chinstrap penguins chose a huge pile of rusty anchor chain by the whaling station jetties as their moulting site.

Two boats have been ashore for attention this month at the KEP boatshed. The base fishing boat, Quest, has been indoors undergoing an extensive refit, and Andy Rankin, one of the Museum assistants, has been scraping down and repainting an old lifeboat down by the jetty with the help of volunteers. This was the lifeboat from the whalecatcher Southern Star belonging to Salveson’s of Leith, and was taken to the Falklands in the 1990’s for the use of the Sea Cadets until it fell into disrepair. At this time it was in possession of Owie Smith, who wanted it to be returned to South Georgia when he died.
Fishing boat Quest ready for refit


David Bellamy Visits

David Bellamy visited Project Atlantis on Friday 4 March to record a "voice over" on three environmental briefing videos/DVDs for visitors to the island of South Georgia. Project Atlantis had been commissioned by the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands to produce the visual briefings.

The team visited the island in January on board HMS Gloucester to film cruise ship visitors and the military visiting the island (see January News). The Videos/DVDs will be about 25 minutes long and tailored for three audiences: cruise passengers, operators (yachts, expeditions and others) and the military.

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