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   News and Events 

South Georgia Newsletter, June 2006

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The Death of Brigadier David Nicholls


It is with great regret that we report the untimely death of Brigadier David Nicholls (RM).

On the afternoon of the 4th July 2006, David Nicholls died suddenly from heart failure. David was unaware of any health problems, and was outwardly fit and extremely able. His passing creates a huge sense of loss for those family, friends and colleagues that are left. He was an incredible and inspirational gentle man.


The article posted on SGHT website reflects his achievements during the last few years of his life. His involvement with South Georgia really blossomed after completing a long and highly successful military career in the Royal Marines.

We will post a more complete tribute after the funeral and when we have more information about the many years of service he had prior to founding the SGHT, and with Project Atlantis.

His family have requested that any donations be made to the South Georgia Heritage Trust.

Rest In Peace David.


Latest Recorded Start to the Krill Season

It is the latest start to the krill season since local records began in 1993. The krill season has normally started by late May or early June.

The first krill trawler to arrived on June 26th. The rest of the fleet continues to fish further south near the South Shetland Islands, but other krill trawlers can be expected soon, especially as the first of this seasons catches at South Georgia have been good.

The krill season in South Georgia starts when the winter ice, forming in the fishing grounds further south, pushes the krill vessels north.  Recent satellite images of the area shows the sea ice is only now pushing north of the South Orkney Islands. It is possible that the late formation of sea ice is related to a cycle where the influence of an El Nino year is felt three years later in this region.

The expectation is that it will be a good krill season in the South Georgia Maritime Zone (SGMZ) this year as other vessels in the area have reported seeing a lot of krill mark on their echo sounders, and engineers have struggled to keep ships intake filters clear of krill.

In the toothfish fishery, two of the ten licensed vessels have completed their Total Allocated Catch and left the zone. Others have been going to Stanley, in the Falklands, to do mid-season transhipments.


Waste Not Want Not

Three truck loads of recyclable rubbish were collected at the dock side at Grimsby. Photo BAS.

More than a third of the waste shipped out of the British Antarctic Stations, including KEP and Bird Island, has gone for recycling. Three truck loads (140 cubic metres) of recyclable material, including paper, cardboard, plastic, aluminium, steel, glass, fabric, fluorescent tubes, batteries and electrical goods were collected at the dockside in Grimsby from the “RRS Ernest Shackleton” on May 11th.

Printer and toner cartridges are also recycled with the proceeds going to the NSPCC. Nine hundred cubic metres of demolition waste from South Georgia went to landfill in the Falkland Islands, where the landfill site is managed to meet stringent EU landfill standards. This waste was mainly from demolished buildings at Bird Island, following the building of the new base, and the clean up of old huts and experiment sites around South Georgia.

A new system came in at KEP last year for waste handling. Waxed cardboard boxes and bulk bags were used to package the waste, instead of the empty oil drums used in the past. Two iso-containers were brought in to store the filled boxes, the isos were painted green and placed behind the boatshed to minimise their visual impact. Once a year the filled boxes are loaded onto the BAS ship and shipped out. With careful management rats have been kept out of the waste handling room and waste storage isos. Regular visual checks for rat sign are made, and baited traps laid in these areas, with further checks made before the waste is loaded aboard the outgoing ship.


The amount of landfill waste produced by the KEP base has halved in the last year as people improve their recycling. Recycling and cost effectiveness will be enhanced from now on as the boxes used to package foodstuffs coming into the base are flat packed and stored ready to be used again later to store the outgoing waste.

KEP is one of the stations where BAS is considering installing a small incinerator to burn combustible landfill in the near future.

Will Reid and Dr Charlotte Routh working in the waste room at KEP    

(With thanks to BAS for information)


South Georgia Albatross in the News

South Georgia albatross have been in the UK news. On June 4th, an article entitled “Albatross numbers take a steep dive” appeared on the BBC News Online (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/5041800.stm). In it Dr Ben Sullivan of the RSPB states “The Albatross declines in South Georgia are the most drastic declines of albatross populations in the world…”, and highlights that in the last thirty years the South Georgia populations of three albatross species: Wandering Albatross; Black-browed Albatross; and Grey-headed Albatross, have declined by about a third, with the main cause of mortality being longline fishing on waters off South Africa and South America where the birds travel to feed.

Wildlife South Georgia Coin Set

The four new sub-Antarctic wildlife coin designs. Image by Pobjoy.

Four South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands coins featuring wildlife of the sub-Antarctic area have been recently released. The attractive set of four designs are: a Grey-headed Albatross and chick on the nest; a Humpback Whale and calf; two Elephant Seals underwater and a Rockhopper Penguin and chick.
Each coin has the name of the species depicted in the surround and the value “Two Pounds” at the base, with a portrait of HM Queen Elizabeth II by Ian Rank-Broadley on the other side.

The sterling silver coins are struck four times, to get a lustrous proof finish, and are a limited edition of 10,000. The coins are also produced in unlimited numbers of cupro-nickel coins.

The set, produced by Pobjoy Mint on behalf of GSGSSI, can be obtained from the Pobjoy website www.pobjoy.com and will be on sale locally in South Georgia in time for the new tourist season.


Alister Hardy Exhibition


Evening at Grytviken, Watercolour painted by A.C Hardy in 1927. Image from SAFHOS.   Alister Hardy deploying a CPR. Photo from SAHFOS

The 75th anniversary of the deployment of the first Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR) in the North Atlantic is celebrated at Plymouth Dome in July. The exhibition will have displays on: the history of the CPR survey; the work currently carried out by SAHFOS (the Sir Alister Hardy Foundation for Ocean Science); and an exhibition of Hardy’s watercolours that he painted on his travels to Antarctica as a member of the Discovery Investigations in the late 1920s.

Five years before the first North Sea deployment, Alister Hardy invented the prototype CPR specifically for the Discovery Investigations, which were based in and around South Georgia. Towed behind a ship at about 7 metres depth, the CPR works a bit like a film canister as a roll of silk collects plankton and transports them into a bath of formalin for later analysis. CPRs in use today are smaller than the original machine but essentially the same design. Merchant ships have voluntarily towed the recorders, during their normal sea passages, for the last 75 years, mainly in the North Atlantic and North Sea. More recently CPRs have been deployed again in Antarctic waters as well as in the Indian Ocean and Pacific.
The long data set held by SAHFOS has become increasingly important with modern concerns about global warming and climate change.

SAHFOS is a registered charity based in Plymouth. For more information look at their website www.sahfos.org 

The exhibition at the Plymouth Dome, Plymouth, Devon runs for four days from the July 14th – 17th.

Diagram of the CPR. Image from SAHFOS.


Day in the Life of a Toothfish Observer


Each of the longliners fishing in the SGMZ has a full time Government Fishery Observer aboard. Lindsay Jones has been coming here to do this demanding job for four years and described what it was like working on a small toothfish vessel during the southern winter on one of the roughest seas in the world.
“The day starts at a time set by my computer. A programme randomly selects when I will make my observations, day and night. I grab a coffee and a bite to eat from the fridge in the ships mess, then don my thermal waterproof deck-suit, with built in flotation, thermal wellies, balaclava, thick waterproof gloves and a safety harness before heading out on deck with a waterproof notebook to stand above the hauling bay for an hour. I watch the fishing line as it is hauled, and make records of the numbers of fish, crabs, bits of coral etc that come up on it. I also note if there are whales or seals around and what birds are about.

Fisheries Observer Lindsay Jones ashore at KEP

Each of the longliners fishing in the SGMZ has a full time Government Fishery Observer aboard. Lindsay Jones has been coming here to do this demanding job for four years and described what it was like working on a small toothfish vessel during the southern winter on one of the roughest seas in the world.
“The day starts at a time set by my computer. A programme randomly selects when I will make my observations, day and night. I grab a coffee and a bite to eat from the fridge in the ships mess, then don my thermal waterproof deck-suit, with built in flotation, thermal wellies, balaclava, thick waterproof gloves and a safety harness before heading out on deck with a waterproof notebook to stand above the hauling bay for an hour. I watch the fishing line as it is hauled, and make records of the numbers of fish, crabs, bits of coral etc that come up on it. I also note if there are whales or seals around and what birds are about.

Then I go down to the ships factory for an hour and a half. I have a small area in there where I can set up to make measurements of the Toothfish, noting their sex, length, maturity and weight. Even on the roughest days I have to cut through the heads and use tweezers to extract the small otoliths (earbones) for later analysis. I do the same for any bycatch such as Grenadier or Skate. Handling and weighing a 40-50Kg fish can be difficult using the spring balances when the ship is bouncing around.
I will select some of the live fish in good condition to tag and release, which will help with future monitoring of the fish stocks in the SGMZ.

Working in the factory can be a good laugh. About ten fishermen work around me, processing, wrapping and freezing the fish, and on good catch days there can be a bit of banter amongst us. Then I go on deck again and repeat the observations. I will do all this twice in a 24hr period, starting each period according to the computer prompt.

When not on deck or in the factory there are still the logbooks to be filled in, and lots of data entry from my measurements to be entered on my laptop.

If my computer tells me to do observations during the night, I will be monitoring the setting of the fishing gear, noting if the bird scaring lines are deployed, and checking the bait condition. I’ll visit the wheelhouse to note the ships position, speed and course, and the weather conditions and will record how many hooks are deployed and what length of line is laid. One line might have 4-8000 hooks and be 6-12 km long.

Despite working odd hours I try to have lunch and evening meals. I normally eat with the Officers and Engineers. Luckily I’m not fussy about my food. Whether the food is any good largely depends on what ship you are on. On the eastern vessels you may get rice, fish and kimchi (pickled cabbage) pretty much for every meal, on a Spanish ship the special Sunday meal is often pig trotter stew.
I sleep when I can between the random work periods and meal times. It really confuses the body clock, and I might be living like this for four months at a time. I normally have a cabin to myself, we are entitled to Officer Class accommodation, but the cabins are usually pretty tiny and basic, just a bunk and a small cupboard.

You don’t get a lot of spare time on board. We’ll watch a film while we eat. I might see half an hour of a film, and in the course of a whole season I might eventually have seen the whole thing!
At the end of a days work, whether it has been a good or a bad day mainly depends on the weather. If it’s been rough I may not have slept at all, and it makes the work harder, the ships continue to fish in almost all weathers. A good day might be if I have had a message from on shore, its made a big difference being able to use email on the ships, or if it was a beautiful sunrise or a calm day, or if the catch was good in which case there is probably a general good mood on board. I like to see the wildlife, especially the pods of whales, but I can’t show my excitement seeing them as they make the fishermen unhappy. I like it here in South Georgia, though we don’t often see the land, I just like being at sea, it gives me time to think.”

Lindsay, who is 44 and a member of his local lifeboat crew, was once a Scottish fisherman, and has also worked on the oil rigs. He spends about nine months a year observing in various fisheries. “Its tough work, but I get paid seven days a week, and whilst I’m at sea I can’t spend any of it. Once I get home to Lochinver in Scotland I can live like a Millionaire, going where I want, doing what I want, without needing to worry about money. I think I’ll carry on as an observer for a few years yet, and then I might consider applying to be a Scottish Fisheries Officer.“


Bird Island News


Bird Island highlanders. Photo by Helen Taylor   The brave three. Matt, having done it all before elected to be Official Photographer. A Leopard Seal shows off her unique spot pattern. Photo by Helen Taylor

Report by Helen Taylor, a vet and one of the resident scientists at the British Antarctic Survey base on Bird Island.

June on Bird Island began with a huge dump of snow and at last the skis could come out for the winter. Midwinter present production saw a frantic Chippie shed before midwinter’s day but some intricate projects meant that only 2 of the 12 potential presents were ready for the big day.

An entire week’s entertainment was planned including a pub-crawl, movie festivals, games nights and a 5-course feast on the big day. It is traditional on Bird Island to hold the winter “highland games” where competitions included welly wanging, archery, tossing the caber, snowball target throwing and Hamish the Haggis hurling.

As is also customary, a midwinter’s dip was made swimming between the 2 jetties in the bay, though a big thaw and pleasant weather made it less painful than in other years! The last of the British inter-base darts match saw Bird Island the undefeated champions, so we now plan to go international by challenging other bases around the Antarctic continent.

Donald has been celebrating the arrival of the first leopard seal of the season – a previously unseen female who posed nicely for photographs so that her spot pattern could be recorded in a new identification database.


ALS Sufferers Project given a South Georgia Touch

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) sufferer Fred Siwak’s campaign to raise awareness of the rare disease he suffers from was given a helping hand this month when Base Commander Ali Dean responded to his unusual request. Fred asked that she print out his artwork and then photograph it in a South Georgia setting and send him the photograph. He is trying to get his artwork photographed in every country on the globe.


Fred Siwak at his computer

ALS, also known as “Lou Gehrig’s”, or motor neuron, disease, is progressive and eventually fatal. It has no known cure and is characterised by the rapid, progressive death of the nerve cells that feed all the voluntary muscles in the body, including those used for breathing. ALS affects about one in 100,000 people.

When the disease left him unable to work, Fred decided to create art in pastels and doing lino-cuts. After a while he was unable to control his muscles sufficiently to do this and had to develop a way to use a computer to draw. Now he uses a mouse wedged between his hands, which he can move by moving his torso, and to type he uses a mouth stick. As the disease kept Fred increasingly trapped in his home, he decided to let his art do the travelling, raising awareness of ALS as it went. Initially friends took his art and photographed it on their travels but the project really took off when a group of African artists responded and were prepared to help him.




One of the photos Ali took of Fred’s art in South Georgia


“This project seems impossible sitting at home every day in my wheelchair.” he writes, “But it can come true with a little help from the kindness of strangers.” 

Freds artwork has been photographed in more than 127 countries now, at the pyramids, on Mt Everest even at Crozet Island, the South Pole, and now South Georgia.


South Georgia Snippets


When the snow came it deeply blanketed everything.   Rick Johnson cleans “Quest”’s hull with a high pressure hose.

Luckily the weather was calm on June 3rd when the boats were launched at night to collect a fisherman who needed medical treatment from his ship in the bay. In the following days the tussac area on Hope Point was like a dormitory for fat fur seals up to rest. Perhaps they knew the snow would soon come and cover over their comfy tussacs. During the night of June 9th and the next day, 35cms of snow fell, deeply blanketing everything, and trapping us on the Point for three days whilst we waited for the avalanche risk to reduce. Skis were out immediately, the keen skiers doing circuits of the Point, but the first proper ski got underway on June 13th when the track was declared open, and skiers could head for the foothills around Grytviken to dust off their telemark turns and snowploughs. Five days of great ski conditions followed before warmer weather caused a major thaw that left a difficult icy surface on everything. Most of those walking round the Point were then sporting snow chains on their boots to counteract the glassy icy surfaces.

The research fishing boat “Quest” was hauled out of the water on the high tide of June 12th for her annual maintenance. The hull looked colourful where ice bump had removed layers of paint to reveal other colours below. Many of the KEP team helped the two boatmen scraping and painting and a very smart boat was relaunched two weeks later.

In the winter the ducks flock together and are almost always present somewhere in the cove. This is the best time of year to count the small Speckled Teal population, whose favourite winter roost is in the shipwreck “Louise”. This year there are at least 15 teal, so numbers are up on recent years. 
Steve and Jude the King Penguin chicks at Penguin River are still doing well. Since the snow came they have moved down to the pebble beach at the mouth of the river.

There have been more Leopard Seal sightings, with two large animals, a male and a female seen on separate icebergs in CB East when the boats went out to drop hardy campers Emma and Steve on the Barff Peninsula at the end of the month.

A visitor arrived on the same ship as returning Tim and Pauline Carr. All three were delayed when the Fishery Patrol Vessel “Sigma” had to turn back to the Falklands with a compassionate case, but they did eventually arrive just in time for the delayed midwinter festivities. James de Waal has just finished a three-year tour as Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Santiago, Chile. During his five day stay he got a feel for life at the Point, spent time looking around the area, even trying his skill at cross county skiing, and was taken on a boat trip down Cumberland Bay West where a variety of icebergs added to the fabulous views of glaciers and mountains. He turned his demonstration of how to pour a perfect gin martini into performance art, with the gin bottle frozen into a lump of glacial ice. We now all know how to pour a Gibsons (with a pickled onion in it!).


James de Waal aboard one of the harbour launches.   “Monument Berg”, a large iceberg grounded off Dartmouth Point.


Midwinter Shenanigans


The twelve brave midwinter swimmers were in and out so fast it never got caught on this sites webcam!   The temporary bar in the electrician’s workshop, with its mock up electric chair, was quite shocking! Photo by Sarah Clarke.

Celebrations to mark midwinter day were postponed a day so the ship bringing returning residents Tim and Pauline Carr and a visitor could come in on June 21st. Well, in their last year on the Island we could not let Tim and Pauline off going for the midwinter’s swim now could we?

In the morning the Base Commander made breakfast in bed for everyone. The only other thing that could not be rescheduled was the midwinter’s broadcast, so that evening the BAS folks gathered in the communications room to listen to the BBC World Service. The half hour programme has base requested music, messages from families back home, and this year we were impressed to find the celebrity on the programme was Terry Wogan.

On the 22nd, at noon, all but three of us stripped down to swimming trunks and bathing suits for the dreaded midwinter dip. We had been careful to go in where the webcam, hosted on this site, would catch the action. (The webcam image updates every three minutes.) The weather was kind, the still air was a balmy zero, and sun shone on small bergs out in the bay. When the signal was given the 12 dippers raced in and out of the water, and up into the sauna across the snow, so fast there was no evidence caught on the webcam to show they swam at all! Then, perhaps fuelled by the schnapps handed out to help warm them inside-out whilst the sauna warmed them outside-in, several folks went swimming twice more!

At three we were gathered again, but now decked out in our finest clothes for the poshest do of the year, the midwinter feast. Champagne cocktails were served in the bar, then after the first three courses we returned to the bar for present giving. Each person had spent many hours in the weeks before handcrafting a gift for a person whose name had been pulled out of the proverbial. The standard of workman(woman)ship was stunning, with metal craft, sewing, carving, painting etc used to make a unique range of gifts from a footstool to a penknife and jewellery.

We then returned to the festive dinner table for the other eight courses, the feast stretching well into the night.

Other events for the holiday week included a pub quiz and a haunted pub crawl with nine bars in the spookier corners of KEP, including a full scale electric chair mock up in the electricians workshop, and a gruesome operation scene in the medical centre. Extreme poo-sticks had to be postponed due to inclement weather.

Remember to check out the “View of the Month” on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.

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