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South Georgia Newsletter October 2005

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Illegal Longliner “Elqui” Scuttled

”Elqui” under tow enroute to her last anchorage.


The charges go off.


The vessel sinks quickly.
“Elqui” sinks in three minutes.

A longliner, arrested for illegal fishing of toothfish in South Georgia waters in March, was scuttled off Shag Rocks in the Falklands on October 6th.

“Elqui”, registered in Guinea, was forfeit to GSGSSI when fines of £250,000 imposed by the court went unpaid by the vessel owners Geneagles Corporation. Determined the vessel should not be used to fish illegally again, the Government faced the problem of how best to dispose of her. The vessel was in such unsound condition it was too expensive to make her safe for the long journey to a scrap yard. The alternative decided on was also an expensive exercise; several weeks were spent cleaning the vessel of all possible pollutants and hazards before scuttling her.

UK military bomb disposal experts set charges inside the hull before Fishery Patrol Vessel “Sigma” towed the “Elqui” to the chosen disposal site south of Lively Island. At first light on the 6th, Marine Engineer Mike McKay and the GSGSSI Operations Manager Gordon Liddle went aboard “Elqui” to open valves, portholes and hatch covers to allow the vessel to sink faster. The military then boarded to place the detonators, and once they were safely back on “Sigma” Assistant Operations Manager Richard McKee pressed the remote firing device.“It went with a big bang and took just three minutes to go down,” said Fisheries Officer Craig Copek who was on “Sigma” at the time.

The South Georgia Authorities hope the scuttling of “Elqui” will send a strong message to anyone thinking of fishing illegally in South Georgia or the Falklands. In a statement after the sinking they said, “We have the skills and abilities locally, and the determination, to ensure that the strongest actions possible are taken to preserve our fish stocks and marine environment and to protect the rights of honest fishermen who pay for licences to fish in our waters.”


First Kayak Circumnavigation of South Georgia Completed


The kayakers the day they set out on the circumnavigation of South Georgia  
18 days later the paddlers return to Cumberland bay having successfully completed the first circumnavigation of the Island.

18 days was all it took Graham Charles, Marcus Waters and Mark Jones of the ‘Around South Georgia Expedition’ to complete the first circumnavigation of the Island by kayak. The three New Zealanders set out from King Edward Point at 3.30pm on October 13th in snow and poor visibility. They were supported by the yacht “Northanger” which put food drops in at two places on the coast for the paddlers to pick up en route.

They found it very cold, as did the yacht, especially on the southern side of the Island, colder than they had previously experienced in the Antarctic, otherwise the weather favoured them with reasonably calm conditions. By the 27th they had rounded the southern end of the Island, treating themselves to a lazy afternoon at Gold Harbour before a quick paddle up the coast to return to KEP in glorious sunshine and calm at 5pm on the 31st. They were welcomed back by all the residents of the Island with banners, champagne and even a saxophonist playing the New Zealand national anthem.

En route the three adventurers were filming themselves, and updating a website www.adventurephilosophy.com every couple of days. The film will be used to make the group’s third expedition documentary. They have previously completed kayak expeditions in Chile and the Antarctic.
The expedition had taken one and a half years to plan, and used strengthened kayaks with two layers of Kevlar on the hulls, and three layers at either end, to help them cope with batterings during beach and surf landings. The boats had also been specially modified with lifting attachments so all three men could carry the heavy fully packed boats up the beaches, or even lift them out of the water onto the support yacht in an emergency.

Before setting out they said the fierce katabatic winds South Georgia is famed for were one of their biggest worries. “It’s not a huge distance, about 600 kilometres round, but the weather and the exposed coasts makes this a unique challenge. In kayaking circles the circumnavigation of South Georgia is seen as being a last Mt Everest.”

They arrived very early in the season for two main reasons: to avoid the height of the fur seal season, which would make landing on beaches to camp overnight a problem; and because they were aware of another kayak expedition planning to attempt the same trip this summer. They admitted the latter had made it more of a race situation.

Well, now the race is over, in a time not even these experienced paddlers would have foreseen, just eighteen days. Indeed they have done it so fast they have a month before the yacht has to leave the Island to connect with flight bookings home. They had been looking forward to enjoying the scenery and wildlife on the way round, perhaps now they will have time to experience these at leisure.

Triumphant kiwis

The paddle round South Georgia has been attempted twice before, in 1991 a team of Royal Anglians tried it and reached Drygalksi Fjord, and in 1996/97 by an unsupported group of three kayakers. They decided not to carry on down the very difficult southwest coast and ended up pulling their kayaks over the glacier at Shackleton Gap from King Haakon Bay to reach the northeast coast again.


The Wrong Villa


The Manager’s Villa at Stromness, long thought to be the one Shackleton knocked on the door of, was not built until later.  
The Foremen’s Quarters, the small white building on the right, was probably the Mangers Villa in 1916.

For many years people have assumed the Managers Villa at Stromness was the same one that Shackleton knocked on the door of at the end of his epic voyage to save his shipwrecked crew at Elephant Island. This history, as well as the buildings pivotal role in the whaling station, has lead to many calls for the Villa to be preserved. There is a plaque outside the Villa commemorating the Shackleton story, and the bath from the building was taken by the South Georgia Museum as it was supposed to be the same one Shackleton had bathed in, however it now seems it may be a case of the wrong villa.

During a recent Whaling and History symposium, at Sandefjord in Norway, South Georgia a Norwegian historian, Professor Bjørn Basberg, voiced his doubts, and photographs and documents that have turned up since seem to confirm that the current Managers Villa had not been built by 1916 when Shackleton passed through. At that time the Mangers Villa was a smaller building later used as the Foremen’s quarters. A group from the Norwegian branch of the South Georgia Heritage Trust will be evaluating the earlier Villa later this summer to see if it is suitable for preservation work.

New evidence will be published in an article by Professor Bjørn Basberg and Robert Burton, in the forthcoming ‘Polar Record’


‘Habitat Restoration Officer’ Post Created

A new job, Habitat Restoration Officer, has been created within GSGSSI to develop a long-term programme for the eradication of invasive mammals on South Georgia. The Habitat Restoration Officer will be based in Stanley in the Falklands and will first focus on eradication of rats and mice from South Georgia. Rats inhabit most of the ice-free areas of mainland South Georgia, severely affecting breeding bird populations, especially the smaller burrowing petrels and prions. GSGSSI has already undertaken a considerable amount of work on understanding the rat problem with a view to eradication, and some of the early trials on offshore islands were successful. Mice are limited to only one or two small areas on the mainland.

The Government hopes funds can be raised through the South Georgia Heritage Trust for larger scale rodent eradications in the future, so the new Habitat Restoration Officer will be looking at the best way forward once funds are available.


New Tourist Season Underway


Yacht “Northanger” was first to arrive this season.  
Nordnorge, the first cruise ship of the season, sailing past the Elephant Seal colony at KEP.

The tourist season started with the arrival of the first yacht “Northanger” on October 12th. The yacht will be around the Island for up to six weeks whilst supporting a group of three kayakers (see above). Two other yachts arrived this month: “Le Sourire” arrived at KEP on the 21st under charter to a French film crew making a film about Patagonia, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands which will be used as a lecture around France; and “Tooluka”, with a party of Dutch tourists aboard, arrived on the 25th.
The first tour ship was “Nordnorge”, with 155 passengers aboard, enjoying some very nice weather for their two day programme on the Island on the 26th and 27th before heading for the Antarctic Peninsula.


New King Penguin Stamps and Postage Increase

The new King Penguin First Day cover and stamps.

King Penguins are the theme for the new set of six stamps, all priced 45 pence, being released on November 1st. On the same day the cost of posting an airmail postcard will increase to 45 pence, though all other postage rates remain unchanged.

Two of the photographs by Paul Sutherland, are particularly striking close-ups of the colourful neck area of King Penguins. The same six photographs featured on the new issue make up a collection of six small postcards.

A First Day Cover costing £3.40 accompanies the new King Penguin stamp issue.


Last Visit for “Grey Rover”


Grey Rover at anchor in Cumberland Bay.  
The RIC patrol.

RFA “Grey Rover” paid her last ever visit to South Georgia this month. The tanker, which has visited the Island many times over the years, either on her own or in company with a frigate or destroyer, will soon be decommissioned. She was meant to accompany “HMS Southampton”, which was unable to come when an engine refit took longer than hoped.

“Grey Rover” had a party of the Falkland Island Roulement Infantry Company (RIC) aboard who undertook a patrol on the Island.


MAGIC Awarded for South Georgia’s ‘Wildlife and Low-Flying Avoidance Map’

The South Georgia ‘Wildlife and low-flying avoidance map and booklet’ has won the British Cartographic Society’s ‘Bartholomew Award’ for originality and excellence in small scale and thematic cartography.
The 1:200,000 scale map showing the whole Island is intended as an overview or briefing room map, while the 15 map 1:100,000 scale laminated flip-over manual is designed for easy use by pilots in aircraft. The maps use zoned and shaded areas to highlight particularly sensitive areas aircraft should avoid such as bird colonies and areas of Special Conservation value. The map and manual were compiled by Andreas Cziferszky at the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Mapping and Geographic Information Center (MAGIC), using information on wildlife concentrations supplied by Sally Poncet of South Georgia Surveys, as part of a contract with the South Georgia Government.

A section of the award winning map, zoned and shaded areas represent particularly sensitive places where low flying should be avoided.


Norwegian Restoration Project Delayed

Plans by the Norwegian branch of the South Georgia Heritage Trust (www.sgisland.org) to refurbish the Managers Villa at Husvik have had to be delayed after they were unable to load their equipment on a tour ship as planned. Now “HMS Endurance” will be bringing the kit to the Island and the team of ten Norwegian volunteers hope to be able to undertake the project later in the summer, arriving in mid February for three weeks.

Husvik Managers Villa has been used and maintained by the various parties over the years and remains a useful and largely weatherproof building. With luck work undertaken by the Norwegian team will help maintain it for many years to come. The project has had considerable support in Norway, various suppliers in Sandefjord have donated materials and a donation of NRK500,000 from Vestfold County, and assistance from tour ship Nordnorge, have made the project possible.

Specialist equipment for use with asbestos hazards has also been packed and shipped so the team can take a look at Foremen’s Quarters (the old Mangers Villa) at Stromness to assess it for possible preservation work in the future (see story above.)


Weird Science


Plankton trawls are done to look for larval icefish like these..


Copepods like this Oithona similes, which is less than 1mm in length, are the most abundant animal on the planet.
A microscopic winged snail  
The transparent worm Tomopteris (all 4 photos by Jamie Watts)

In spring life in the seas around South Georgia increases massively. The KEP scientists have noticed the seas around us going greener with the spring bloom of phytoplankton, and their weekly plankton trawls, looking for larval icefish, are bringing in a thick pink soup of copepods which eat the phytoplankton. Scientist Jamie Watts said, “Through the winter a half hour tow yields a small teacupful of copepods, but a week before the gulls returned it was a coffee mug, then a jugful.”

It is no accident that this blossoming of the lower levels of the food-web in spring coincides with the arrival of seals, whales and seabirds to feed up and breed. Copepods are ideal food for larval fish and krill, which in turn go on to feed the penguins and other wildlife that is now crowding the islands shores.

Amongst the plankton have been some beautiful, if microscopic, animals such as a winged snail and the transparent worm Tomopteris.


SGA Visit to the Hydrographic Office

‘Charting South Georgia’ was the theme of the day for the South Georgia Association (SGA) visit to the Hydrographic Office (UKHO) at Taunton and two evening talks at a nearby hotel.

A group of 20 SGA members visited UKHO and enjoyed an excellent tour of the facility and collections. Andy Willett of UKHO showed the visitors round Chart Branch 9, which deals with the charting of South Georgia and the Antarctic as well as a large part of the Pacific.

SGA Chairman David Tatham described the UKHO archives as “a treasure chest of charts, atlases and printed books, tide tables and much else besides.” A highlight was seeing the Frank Worsley’s plotting sheet of the course of Shackleton’s ship “Endurance”, noting where she had sunk and the ship’s boats had carried on. SGA members were impressed to hear 90% of the worlds shipping uses charts drawn and printed in Taunton and that the UKHO is self supporting financially through sales of charts.

In the evening Dave Fletcher gave a slide talk showing his work with BAS surveying areas of the interior of South Georgia in the 1970’s, and Andy Willett brought along some more charts and talked about the charting of the Island. Finally Peter Langdon showed a television film from 1964, based on material he had taken whilst part of the Combined Services Expedition that climbed Mt Paget and crossed the Island following Shackleton’s route from King Haakon to Stromness.

(Thanks to SGA Chairman David Tatham for this report)


South Georgia Snippets

An Elephant Seal weaner

‘Tattered Nose’, on the left was beaten in this fifteen minute long battle. Photo to Steve Artis.

It has been another bumper year for the Elephant seal colony at KEP; nearly 190 cows came up to pup, equaling the previous best of recent years. The first weaners are starting to gather in the jetty area and play in the shallows in the late afternoon. ‘Tattered Nose’, the bull who was holding the harem last month, fared reasonably well. He was deposed in the biggest fight of the season so far, a bloody battle that lasted 15 minutes, but went on to be a successful beta bull holding the outer edges of the colony and mating successfully.

The Light-mantled Sooty Albatross were seen back on the 12th and have been picking nesting sites along the cliffs, and were shortly followed by the White-chin Petrels. The first Macaroni Penguins were back at Rookery Bay on the 28th, though the big colony at Hercules Bay was still empty two days later. Plump King Penguins have continued to haul out and form groups all round the bay, seeking out the remaining snow-patches to settle down and moult.

Skiers and walkers have had to be extra careful this month as the full strength ozone hole was over the island for a number of days, with reduced protection on many others, and the resulting sunburns on the less cautious made them red faced not only from the exposure but also from the embarrassment of being caught out.

Chris Sites the engineer from the University of California Seismic Department had a struggle to connect up the new satellite dish, working flat out for the weeks he was here. Even then it was down to the wire as to whether a suitable satellite could be sighted by the dish, as Mt Duse hid the planned satellite. The night before he left a suitable connection was finally made and it is hoped the link up of the base communications, giving a 24 hr open link, will go ahead later in the summer.


UCSD Engineer Chris Sites phones home whilst trying to get the new satellite dish to pick up a suitable signal.


Two Icefish vessels, “Sil” and “Betanzos” tried fishing for Icefish in the zone, but both left after an unsuccessful couple of weeks.

On October 21st the church bells were rung at noon to mark the 200th anniversary of the death of Nelson at the Battle of Trafalgar.

A previously unknown carved rock was discovered at Jason Harbour. No one has yet deciphered the carved letters fully, or been able to find out whether it was perhaps: the name of a ship; to mark a nearby grave; the work of a bored sealer or whaler or other.


The carved rock found at Jason Harbour.


Five more people have arrived to swell the numbers at KEP: Nick Atkinson returns to complete the summer staff for the Museum; Charlotte Routh is the new Doctor; Tim Burton will be here for three weeks training the BAS personnel in outdoor crafts; the Governments On Site Representative David Peck returns to set things up prior to the return of the building contractors; and Ali Dean returned from two months holiday to take up the position of Base Commander for a second year.

With the tourist season now well underway we look forward to a busy November with three more yachts expected soon, five others coming later in the month, and eight tour ship visits.


South Georgia’s Garden in Dundee

Greater Burnet

South Georgia Ferns.

The plants brought back by the British Schools Exploring Society 2003/4 Footsteps of Shackleton Expedition have been planted out in the South Georgia garden in the University of Dundee’s botanical gardens. The Curator, Alastair Hood, has specially prepared the garden with an additional flow of underground water for the wet plants such as the Antarctic Buttercup. The greater Burnet and ferns appear to be thriving in Dundee’s climate.


Penguin News Update
(from www.penguin-news.com)

One of the first toothfish caught for the hatchery

Note as at 4 November: News has been received the toothfish have subsequently died.

First steps for toothfish hatchery

THE new temporary toothfish hatchery at Stanley’s port, FIPASS, took its first major steps this week with the arrival of a number of live specimens.

On Wednesday, following a trawl by Fishery Patrol Vessel Dorada, the Consolidated Fisheries Ltd (CFL) and Fortuna Ltd hatchery received three toothfish.

Hamish Wylie reported that one “was not looking too well” but the other two soon tuned into the artificial current and seemed content with their surroundings.

The company’s original plan was to catch some pregnant females and mature males in July so that eggs could be stripped and placed in incubation.

Due to unforeseen problems this was not successful. Now, Mr Wylie said, a variety of fish are being placed in the hatchery fish pond to monitor their “adjustment and behaviour” prior to the next spawning season.

Mr Wylie said it was encouraging that the fish are surviving Stanley Harbour water with only rudimentary treatment. “They have also been successful at hatching fish eggs from both South Georgia and the Falklands taken from depths up to 1,100m.

“The life span of the fish after hatching was encouraging and indicated that the water currently being taken from the harbour at FIPASS was not likely to present a problem.

“Samples have also been sent to Germany for thorough analysis to find out everything possible about what the water may contain.”

The main problem with catching toothfish using a trawler, such as Dorada, said Mr Wylie, is that the rough skins of the grenadier fish which are habitually caught at the same time strip a lot of scales off the toothfish.

“They also need time to decompress on their way to the surface, the ideal situation being pauses as they are brought up to sea level.”

Holding tanks are being made to enable CFL longliners to provide the hatchery with line and pot-caught fish which should prove to be more successful.

Mr Wylie said the company needs to build a permanent facility to enable it to develop the necessary knowledge to grow the fish commercially. “Toothfish is an extremely high value fish, and if successful, toothfish farming could provide another significant source of income and employment for the Islands.”


Interesting Links

A recent image of Cumberland Bay taken by astronauts on the International Space Station, can be seen here.

An intersting article on climate change here.


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