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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter May 2005

(To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here)

Illegal Vessel Forfeited

The fishing vessel “Elqui” has been forfeited to the court following the non-payment of fines. The vessel was caught poaching in South Georgia waters in March and prosecuted in Stanley last month. (See last month’s newsletter). Fines in excess of £250,000 were imposed and when unpaid within the set dates, the ship was declared forfeit.

10 tonnes of fish that was in her hold has been sold to offset costs and the crew have left the Falklands. The ship remains alongside in Stanley and GSGSSI, who want to ensure the ship will never fish again, are now looking into various aspects of her disposal.


Explosive Problem

A very substantial stash of old gelignite has been found sealed in a tank at Godthul. The Government Officer and three others were out on a day walk from their camp on the other side of the Barff Peninsula over the Easter weekend, and found the stash.

Godthul was used as an anchorage for a floating whaling factory until 1929, the remains of a few store sheds, tanks and three waterboats remain on the site. One of the large metal tanks had rusted through in places, allowing the walking party to see inside to an open box containing sticks of gelignite, and another similar box marked “Gelignite”. Up to 15 other boxes are in the tank, but it was not possible to determine what was in them.

An army EOD team, who specialise in disposal of explosives, are due to arrive at Godthul on June 2nd aboard HMS Portland to deal with the Gelignite. Whilst in South Georgia they will also dispose of a few other items of ordnance that have been found in the Grytviken area.


Remains of the whaling station at Godthul. The large tank at the back contains the gelignite. Photo by Paul Torode.


Feeling the Pinch

Reduced total allowable catches (TAC) in the South Georgia toothfish fishery, combined with high fuel costs for Fishery Patrol Ships, mean GSGSSI will be running a financial deficit this year and may do so again next year. Meanwhile the expensive Remediation Project at Grytviken, despite coming in at about a million pounds under budget, has severely depleted Government financial reserves.

In a message to the South Georgia Association (SGA) the Government wrote that “GSGSSI funds are very tight at present due to problems in previous years within the CCAMLR stock assessment system and our determination to ensure that we manage the fisheries sustainably. Total Allowable Catch or TAC for toothfish is smaller this year than it has been for some time and may remain that way for a while. Our fishery research and protection costs are spiraling upward due largely to fuel price increases and vessel charter costs. The result is that we are running a financial deficit this year and may have to do so next year, whilst our reserves have been depleted to near zero by the necessary work at Grytviken.”
(CCAMLR is the Commission for Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources)


Fishing News






Krill trawler Atlantic Navigator awaits licensing in CBE

Four more longliners were inspected and licensed this month, so the full fleet of eight licensed vessels are now fishing in the South Georgia Maritime Zone for toothfish, and catches are good despite a stormy month. So far they have caught 820 tonnes of the 3050 tonne TAC.

With the sea ice forming on the krill grounds further south around the South Shetland and South Orkney Islands, the krill trawlers moved north and started arriving for inspection and licensing on the 21st. Seven krill trawlers are now catching well on the usual krill grounds to the northeast of the Island. Any concerns that it may be a poor krill season, following the non-event of the Icefish season earlier in the year, have now been quashed, with some vessels catching nearly 300 tonnes in one day. The first reefer “Asiatic” arrived midmonth and has been anchored at Dartmouth Point awaiting a krill trawler to tranship to it.


Hydro Plans at Grytviken

Following visits by various hydro-electricity and structural engineers to the site at Grytviken last summer a draft plan has been produced for the restoration of a hydro-electricity plant that would provide power for Grytviken and King Edward Point.

In the Governments message to the SGA they said that the broad costs for the plan would be about £1.5 million, and that they were looking for financial assistance, perhaps from sources that support environmental projects, to pay for the project.


GSGSSI Looks Seriously at Proposals to Construct a Boardwalk at Prion Island

The pros and cons of a building a boardwalk or hardened track to minimize impact on, and improve access to, Prion Island in the Bay of Isles has been talked about amongst those involved in tourism for several years. Now the Government has given the go ahead for a boardwalk.

The Island, home to nesting Wandering Albatross, now receives many more visitors following the closure of neighbouring Albatross Island. 27 vessels visited the Island last season, up from 14 the season before, landing a total of 1847 passengers and 288 staff and crew. Visitors risk disturbing the breeding Wanderers, Giant Petrels and Fur Seals and trampling areas of fragile vegetation and bird burrows.

The current code of conduct for visits to Prion Island already requires much more intense passenger management than for other visitor sites including: designated landing beaches; flagged routes; restrictions of up to 65 visitors ashore at one time; at least one member of staff to a maximum group of eleven passengers and only one group at any one nest site at a time; and only one ship visiting the island per day, the visit not to exceed four hours. The Government wants to allow access to Prion Island to continue as it recognises the importance of such visits in raising awareness of global conservation issues, but GSGSSI now feels a boardwalk is essential to manage and control visitor movements on the island.
The current proposal is to build a boardwalk using prefabricated portable sections, to include a landing step onto a jetty and a walkway over the fur seal breeding area on the beach. The boardwalk would protect the route up a gully used to reach the breeding birds on the top of the island, and would give a well-defined area from which the birds could be viewed. The prefabricated design would also mean that it would be relatively easy to replace any damaged sections or remove the structure easily in the future.


Passenger Landing Fees to Rise

The Passenger Landing Fee for visitors to South Georgia is set to rise over the coming two seasons. It will increase from the current £55 to £75 for the coming 2005/6 season, and will rise again to £100 for the 2006/7 season. 10% of the fees will go to the Museum Trust.

The increases were confirmed by Assistant Operations Manager Richard McKee speaking at the annual meeting of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) in Hamburg, Germany. He told the meeting “The increase in costs is inevitable considering the staggering cost of the project at Grytviken.” He explained that though the project had been a substantial burden on GSGSSI resources, it had made the site safe and accessible to tourists.

Tourism management costs continue to rise and GSGSSI has long term environmental commitments including monitoring of tourism impact, ACAP (the Agreement for Conservation of Albatross and Petrels), Prion Island management, monitoring of penguin mortality after the die off of chinstrap penguins at Cooper Bay last season and future plans for eradication of rats.


Large Dome Erected

A five-metre high dome has been erected on King Edward Point ready for the installation of a new satellite communication system, VSAT, in the spring. The large white dome is quite a feature on the Point between Larsen House and the old Gaol. Picking a period when weather maps promised calm weather, it took four days to complete the erection of all four tiers of the dome.

The new installation is primarily to relay information from the seismic station at Hope Point to the University of California in San Diego, USA. The project is a partnership between the University, GSGSSI and BAS. An engineer from the seismic team at the University will visit in early spring to erect the fixed satellite dish inside the dome and connect it to the seismic equipment. Soon after, communications technicians from BAS should be able to connect into the 24hr open satellite link, giving KEP and Grytviken the ability to send and receive messages at any time, and to access the Internet.

The second tier goes on the new VSAT dome

Post Office News

The Post Office has been altered to give customers more space. The Post Office is housed at one end of the Cook Laboratory building. The original design gave the Deputy Postmaster plenty of space in the working area, but if more than two or three customers arrived at once they were squashed into a small area in front of the counter. Now the counter has been moved to double the amount of space for customers, but there is still room for all the office equipment in the working area.

Philatelists were alert to the change of the Post Office Cancel. Several had sent in covers to be processed on the last day of the old hand cancel and the first day of the new semi-automatic cancels. The old wooden handled metal stamp used for putting the SG postmark on outgoing mail has been in use since1985, when South Georgia was made independent of the Falkland Islands according to John Youle’s publication “Cachets and Postmarks of South Georgia”. The fiddly inky little metal numbers could be changed using tweezers, but it was easier to get fingers black. The two new machines were released on May 14th and have metal date wheels and a natty lever to change the date cleanly. The old cancel will be offered to the SG Museum.


Target Acquired

The KEP science team set the net in CBE. Photo by Richard Johnson.

The spawning female Mackerel Icefish. Photo by Sarah Clarke.

For four years the scientists at KEP have been hoping to catch spawning Mackerel Icefish. Nets have been regularly set in Cumberland Bay East (CBE) in the hope of catching Toothfish and Mackerel Icefish and learning more about these commercially important species.

Toothfish are caught quite regularly, but a trammel net set in 100 metres of water in CBE on the 25th trapped only the fourth Mackerel Icefish since 2000, a 52cm long female. The scientists were excited to see the fish was in the process of laying its mature eggs, the first spawning Icefish caught so far. They are now hopeful they will catch more spawning females in the next set of nets to better establish the dates when Mackerel Icefish spawn in the bays around South Georgia.

Last summer commercial Icefish fishery did not go well, with only 200 tonnes of the 3,500 tonne TAC taken by seven licensed vessels.


SG Museum Works and Future Plans for Grytviken

Work started on the South Georgia Museum has turned out to be a massive undertaking according to the Government’s message to the SGA.

During work to replace some floors it was found that not only did the entire floor need to be replaced but much of the lower part of the walls. The roof was replaced last summer, though following recent storms, both the Museum roof and that of the Drukken villa next door will need to be redone as fastenings were shown to be inadequate when both roofs started lifting in strong winds at the beginning of May. The roofs have been temporarily secured by Morrison FI Ltd who sent a three man team down to secure the roof of Discovery House for the winter, after the new sheeting on it blew away in April storms.

GSGSSI is considering repairing a section of the Tijuca jetty in the middle of Grytviken to provide a landing jetty for small boats and a secure place for visiting yachts to moor. New signage is planned and should be in place around Grytviken during next season to help visitors interpret the site.


South Georgia Association Annual General Meeting

The South Georgia Association (SGA) held its Annual General Meeting at the Royal Overseas League in London on the evening of May 21st. The Association has 341 members and around 50 members and guests attending the AGM to hear reports on the Associations past year and its plans for the future, followed by a talk on the environmental history of South Georgia and the Falklands. SGA events were held this year in Edinburgh and Cambridge. The SGA Chairman David Tatham spoke of the successful meeting held in Edinburgh in June 2004 and the number of interesting lectures that testified to the strong interest in the Island among Scots universities and other bodies.

The autumn meeting in Cambridge had been devoted to the one hundredth anniversary of the founding of Grytviken, with an interesting lecture by Robert Headland entitled “One Hundred Years of South Georgia”. The Association gave its approval for the start of a scheme of small grants to be made available to members for particular South Georgia projects, total expenditure would be about £1000 a year.
The Association is also planning a cruise to South Georgia in November 2006.

In the coming year there will be a visit to the Hydrographic Office in Taunton with lectures following on surveying in South Georgia, and a meeting in Hull. Kate Batty Smith of the South Georgia Desk in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office read a message to the SGA from GSGSSI, important points from the address are given elsewhere in this newsletter. The evening closed with a talk entitled “Far from Moderate” by Canon Stephen Palmer, formerly of the Cathedral in Stanley, Falklands, on the environmental history of the Island and of the Falkland Islands. “As far as South Georgia went, it was a story of human depredation, slightly restrained by successive Governors/Commissioners, concluding with the exhaustion of all the stocks of economic value. In conclusion, Stephen did confess to some optimism and applauded the current work of Government and the efforts of Falklands Conservation in protecting the wildlife of South Georgia and the Falklands.” Reported SGA Chairman and previous Commissioner David Tatham.


Harmonium Repaired

For many years the old harmonium in the whaler’s church at Grytviken, though still playable, has been missing a few notes, with stops that were no longer connected to the mechanism. Now BAS boatman and former Organ Builder Richard Johnson has repaired it to full working order. He was alerted to the sorry state of the harmonium before coming to the Island so was able to bring a few specialist parts and tools. The instrument was bought round the 1kilometre rough track on the forks of the JCB for repair in the carpenters shop at King Edward Point (KEP).
The harmonium was moved to the workshops at KEP on the forks of the JCB. Photo to Richard Johnson  

This was a modest job for Rich, who has had a ten-year career as an organ builder and has worked on the magnificent pipe organ in York Minster. He patched holes in the bellows with leather and recovered the foot pedals that operate the bellows, as well as reconnecting some of the action so all the notes and stops now work again. The work done so far was to get the instrument working properly in time for him to play it at the Christmas service.

He estimates the repairs will be good for another ten years, but he would like to do some more work on some of the reeds, and strip the winding and action down completely. This would be a big project and not one he envisages attempting before next summer. Rich explained that strictly speaking the instrument it is not a harmonium. A true harmonium blows air over the reed, whereas this instrument, more properly called an “American Organ” sucks air over the reeds.

It is not the original instrument that can be seen in early photographs of the church. The current one was probably built around the early 1900’s.

Richard Johnson, who mended the harmonium, plays it in the whalers church at Grytviken


Cemeteries of South Georgia Website

A website has been created so friends and relatives of those buried on South Georgia, who are unable to visit the remote Island, can at least see where the graves are and what they look like. The site can be found at www.wildisland.demon.co.uk and was developed by Patrick Lurcock largely based on work by Bob Headland.

The site starts with a brief description of the Island and then allows the visitor either to browse around each cemetery or to locate a particular grave from a list of names. Each person or grave is then briefly described on a small page containing a link to more detailed page that shows close-ups of any inscriptions on the graves, and any other information known. The refurbishment of some of the cemeteries by Patrick and his wife Sarah in 1998/99 is also documented on the site.

The project is not finished yet. Patrick intends to enhance the pages for each individual as more information, photographs etc. come to light. There is also the possibility of extending the work to encompass memorials and burial sites further afield such as Signy.


Signs Look Good for a King Penguin Colony at Penguin River

The first chick born at Penguin River two years ago. Photo by Patrick Lurcock

King Penguins are often seen in the Penguin River area, just round the coast from Grytviken, and groups about fifty strong come up to moult in later summer. Two years ago, amid the scruffy moulters, one courting pair laid their single egg and set about brooding it. Locals would walk round to check the progress of the lone parent, delighting when the chick was hatched, but sadly, soon after, the chick had gone.

Since then locals have hoped the parent birds would return to try again. To see breeding Kings means a journey by sea to either the small colony at Jason Harbour or by sea and a long hike to the vast colony at St Andrews Bay. This last summer breeding Kings returned to Penguin River, two breeding pairs brooded eggs and hatched chicks this time, but sadly the chicks did not survive long again. The parent birds are probably inexperienced, and the lack of other breeding birds around may add to the reduced survival chances of the chicks, but the number trying to breed may be growing so locals will keep their hopes up for a new colony within easy walking distance.


South Georgia Snippets

Storms at the beginning of the month threatened the roofs in Grytviken and stopped the planned move into Carse House until it calmed down on the 4th. A three days storm over the 22nd to the 24th threw seaweed and ice right up to the base of the main building at KEP, whilst the wind drove the rain up under the walls to wet floors inside. In the final two days of the month a strong southeasterly gale sent growlers and smaller chunks of ice across from the glaciers to mince the protective gabion baskets around the main sewage outlet. When the waves subsided, not one of the six rock-filled metal baskets remained.

Kris and Will pick up wire from the burst gabion baskets. Ice and waves pound the beach at KEP.

After recent problems with the science fishing boat “Quest” the science team were glad to get back to a more normal regime of net setting in Cumberland Bay. Two toothfish were caught this month as well as the exciting find of a spawning Icefish. It has been a good month for unusual wildlife sightings too: two Right Whales were seen in Cumberland Bay East; what looked like a young Leopard Seal was seen in the Cove; and at least four giant jellyfish have been seen in the Cove. The Pintail ducks are in large winter flocks and at least 11 Speckled Teal have been counted so far. The Teal numbers have been down in past years, so it is pleasing to see a few more this winter.

Assistant scientist Jamie Watts holds up a toothfish caught in nets in CBE, Chief Scientist Sarah Clarke sorting the net behind.

Locals are resigning themselves to the loss of direct sun on the Point for the next couple of months. Only a tiny area near the boatshed is getting any sun now, and that too will disappear in the first couple of days of June.

The invasive bittercress has been thriving despite colder conditions, lots of new seedlings have sprouted, and one was even found in flower!

The three-man team from Morrison FI Ltd took the opportunity of better weather to go out to assess the condition of some of the outlying huts used for camping and to store emergency
gear. The old cast iron stove in the historic hut at Jason Harbour was removed to KEP for refurbishment.
The Morrison team, the curators of the SG Museum Tim and Pauline Carr, and BAS IT Support team member Jeremy Robst left on the 10th. The Carrs will return to the island next month.


NOTE: Several of this month’s stories are based on the text of addresses made by GSGSSI to two association meetings, IAATO and the SGA. The full text of Assistant Operations Manager Richard McKee’s address to IAATO can be found here.

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