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South Georgia Newsletter, July 2007

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South Georgia Wiki

South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands now have their own online Encyclopedia.



Paul Shafi, from the Centre for Remote Enviroments (CRE), announced that: “Atlantis North, the trustee for the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Top Level Domain, have launched SGWiki – a South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands free online encyclopedia. This is very similar to the very popular Wikipedia, but it’s content focuses solely on South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands matters.

A Wiki is a collaborative website which can be directly edited by anyone. SGWiki is at an early stage and we are looking for contributions from the SG ‘community’. Instructions on how to contribute to the project are given on the front page of the website.”

You can find the new SGWiki at http://www.sgwiki.gs


CMG for Former SG Attorney General

Former South Georgia Attorney General, Mr David Lang CBE QC, who retired last year, was awarded a CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George) in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

The CMG, an award given to members of the Diplomatic Service and those who render service to UK interests overseas, was announced on June 16th. It has been awarded to David Lang in recognition of his nearly 20 year long service as Attorney General of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Falkland Islands.

Mr Lang, who has already been awarded a CBE for his work as Attorney General of the Turks and Caicos Islands, said he was, “surprised and delighted” with the new award.

Commissioner Alan Huckle described the CMG as a “fitting tribute” to Mr Lang’s “professional skills, wise counsel and long service as our Attorney General.”

Although officially retired, David Lang is currently under contract to the South Georgia Government to review the Territories’ legislation – including the drafting of new Bills to make sure the legal framework for implementing the Government’s ‘Plan for Progress’ is in place.
Info: Penguin News


GSGSSI Represented at Antarctic Tourism Meeting

Richard McKee, Executive Officer of The South Georgia Government, addressed the Annual General Meeting of IAATO (the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators) in Hobart, Tasmania. In his address, which can be found in full on this website, he highlighted that there will be new measures in place for the coming season to improve biosecurity on South Georgia.

Looking further ahead the meeting were also told that ‘Site Guidelines’ will be ready for the 2008/9 season covering the most sensitive visitor areas and those areas that currently receive the most visitors.

GSGSSI is currently reviewing its contingency planning for a major incident and is also considering implementing a 500 passenger upper limit for any ship landing passengers or visiting South Georgia from the start of the 2008/9 season. IAATO members were invited to let GSGSSI know their views on these and other matters such as passenger vessels that burn heavy fuel oil.



The construction of a boardwalk on Prion Island will go ahead this summer.

The Government is addressing some of the concerns raised as a result of the Initial Environmental Evaluation of the project, including the handrails. Handrails will be restricted to the steep sections, and further design modifications to the handrails are being considered - concerns had been raised that handrails may be an obstacle to flying birds.

Instead of camping on the island, the construction team will be using a yacht for support and accommodation. This will have the added benefit of helping to speed up the construction process. The work will start on February 1st 2008 and will last for about two months.

As the boardwalk has not yet been built, Prion Island will be closed this coming season from November 20th to January 7th, during the peak Fur Seal breeding period, which also coincides with the most sensitive time for the Wandering Albatross which breed on the island. Zodiac cruises around the island will still be allowed during this period.

It is hoped the boardwalk will be open in time for the 2008/9 season. Once installed, all visitors to the island will be required to remain on the boardwalk at all times.

The Government has extended “South Georgia Survey’s” permit to continue the annual Albatross and Prion surveys on Albatross and Prion Islands. Richard told the meeting, “As part of the survey, Sally Poncet will be monitoring for any potential impact to the Wanderer population on Prion Island following the construction of the boardwalk, either detrimental or beneficial. If any problems are identified, these will be thoroughly investigated and action taken. Should it ever be deemed necessary by South Georgia Government to remove the boardwalk then we will not hesitate to do so and the island will be closed to all visitors.”


Cooper Bay Chinstrap Colony

The Cooper Bay Chinstrap Penguin colony remains closed following an outbreak of avian cholera at the site a few years ago. Blood samples, taken from this and other penguin colonies to help establish if the site could be reopened to visitors, were lost by the UK laboratory. The Government is now working with BAS to try and obtain more blood samples next season.

The full text of the GSGSSI address to the 18th Annual General IAATO Meeting is available here.


South Georgia Albatross Gets Help Abroad

Grey-headed Albatross


A newly formed ‘Albatross Task Force Team’ has started work in Chile to reduce albatross and other seabird deaths due to interactions with the swordfish fishery. Wandering Albatrosses, Grey-headed Albatrosses and White-chinned Petrels from South Georgia are probably amongst the casualties of this fishery.

Ten years ago the RSPB and BirdLife International set out to create a team of 10 people across the world to work with fishermen to reduce seabird mortality due to their fishing methods. The work started in South Africa and in Brazil, and the latest expansion is a three-person ‘Chile Albatross Taskforce’. The new team was announced on the ‘Save the Albatross’ website on July 27th. www.savethealbatross.net

South Georgia Grey-headed Albatross are one of the birds threatened by the Chilean swordfish fishery. Photo by Robin Snape.    

About 17 ships work in the swordfish fishing fleet off the coast of Chile; an area used as a feeding ground by albatrosses and other seabirds not only from Chile but also birds from South Georgia and New Zealand. ‘Save the Albatross’ say, “..very little work has been done with this industry. No studies or mitigation work with fishermen has been undertaken. However there is circumstantial evidence that albatrosses are killed in this fishery.”

The new Chile Taskforce will be working with the swordfish fishermen on land and at sea, teaching them about the simple and cheap methods that have now been developed to reduce bird deaths on longlines. Some fishermen will be trained up so they can pass on the methods they learn to others.


Overview of the 2006/7 Tourist Season

Tourists visiting Grytviken cemetery

Tourists visiting Grytviken cemetery where Sir Ernest Shackleton is buried. Photo Patrick Lurcock.

Analysis of the figures from the 2006/7 tourist season show that it was the busiest season so far for cruise ships. Fifty-one cruise ship visits were made to South Georgia by 21 different vessels during the season.

Though there were more ships, fewer of them were large (>200 passengers), and with an overall occupancy for the season of 86%, there was a 4% decrease in passengers this year (5,214) compared to last. Comparisons of ships’ passenger capacity over the years show there is a continuing trend for larger ships to visit the Island.

Three of the ships were new to South Georgia. One ship made an exclusive South Georgia visit, but all the others were combining their visit to South Georgia with the Antarctic (many also visited the Falkland Islands). No tour ships visited the South Sandwich Islands this season.

Passengers were from 48 different nationalities, but the majority (65%) were from English speaking countries. Twenty eight percent of passengers were visiting from the USA, 24% from the UK and Germans made up the third biggest visitor group at 14%. There were notably more tourists visiting from Switzerland and Sweden than in previous years.

The 472 ship staff (lecturers, expedition leaders etc) came from 25 different countries; most from the USA, UK, Canada, Germany and Australia.

The 3,261 crew staffing the cruise ships came from a total of 51 different countries. Filipinos made the biggest group at 47%, followed by Russians (19%) and Germans (11%).

Ships with 150 passengers or less tend to spend more time in South Georgia than the larger vessels, averaging four days at South Georgia and visiting 10-12 different sites. Those with 50 passengers or less visit the most sites. By comparison the larger vessels average two to three days at South Georgia and visit 5-6 different sites.

The top ten sites visited by cruise ships were Grytviken, Gold Harbour, Stromness, Salisbury Plain, St Andrews, Prion Island, Fortuna Bay, King Edward Point, Cooper Bay and Right Whale Bay, in order of popularity. All vessels are required to call at Grytviken.

There was a small increase in the number of ships offering passengers the chance to go on an “extended walk”. The Shackleton walk from Fortuna to Stromness continues to be the most popular route offered. Nine hundred and thirty six passengers took part in a total of 24 walks following the last section of the heroic walk by Sir Ernest Shackleton, Frank Worsley and Tom Crean to save their shipmates stranded on Elephant Island.

Two ships offered passengers the opportunity to go kayaking in South Georgia. Two sites were used for this, four groups went paddling and a total of 87 passengers took part.

During their visit to Grytviken most of the cruise ships were offered the chance to have two different presentations made to their passengers. The three BAS scientists stationed at KEP offered a talk “Life and Science at KEP”, and Serita Suman, one of the Museum Assistants, offered a talk on “The works of the South Georgia Heritage Trust.”

The number of yacht visits was almost half that of the previous season. Eleven yachts made a total of 14 visits. Eight of these were on charter, and six on private visits. Two yachts had filming parties aboard, two had mountaineering expeditions, and one was being chartered by a science party.

Three ships and three yachts were given medical assistance by the Doctor based at King Edward Point.
A further 7 visits were made by military vessels. And there were several other visits from Fishery Patrol Vessels, Research and Fishing vessels.

The outlook for the coming 2007/2008 season is for a big increase in both cruise ship visits and passenger numbers. More on this in coming months.


Fishing and Shipping News

Reefer ”Adam”


trawl ramp

Reefer ”Adam” anchored off Hope Point. Photo Anjali Pande.   Using the trawl ramp to transfer the patient from the harbour launch back to his ship. Photo by Patrick Lurcock.

Cumberland Bay has been the scene of lots of activity this month. Most of the time there have been three big reefer vessels anchored within sight of the Point, with their attendant trawlers coming and going to tranship their catches of Krill. A total of eight transhipments or bunkerings were made.

Three more krill vessels were inspected and licensed, bringing the krill fleet briefly up to five vessels, before one then left the fishery. The krill fleet have had mixed fortunes, Krill catches were good at the beginning of the month, faded, then improved again by the end of the month.

Assistant Scientist Charlie Main, British Antarctic Survey (BAS) employee here at King Edward Point, was deployed on one of the krill trawlers as a Government Observer.

Some of the toothfish longline vessels were still away doing midseason transhipments in the Falkland Islands at the beginning of the month. The remainder of the TAC(Total Allowable Catch) for the SG Zone was allocated between nine of the longliners. Two vessels have since taken their individual TAC and left the zone for their end of season transhipments in Stanley, FI. One vessel came alongside at KEP on July 17th to collect the fishing pots it had dropped off for storage. Although well snowed in, with assistance from the JCB using its forks to lift the pots out of the deep snow, the pots were soon dug out and stowed back aboard.

One vessel came in with a medical emergency. The easiest way to bring the injured patient ashore was to use the ships trawl ramp to get him onto and off the harbour launch as he would not have been able to climb a pilot ladder.


Underwater Structure of the South Sandwich Islands Arc Revealed

The remote arc of islands that make up the South Sandwich Islands are rarely visited. Past surveys mean the above-sea structure of the volcanic chain of islands is reasonably well known, but new underwater survey work now reveals the bigger picture.

Bathymetry of the South Sandwich Island

Bathymetry of the South Sandwich Islands showing many new underwater ridges and landslide features.

Written by Phil Leat and Alex Tate, BAS Geoscience (This article is reproduced with kind permission of BAS):

A new survey has revealed the underwater structure of part of the South Sandwich Arc for the first time. Using the EM120 multibeam (SWATH) echosounder on the JCR, we surveyed the northern sector of the arc in a seven-day cruise in April and May, 2007.

The arc is a curved, roughly north-south chain of volcanoes in the South Atlantic which are building on the small South Sandwich plate in response to westward dipping subduction of the South American Plate. The tops of the largest volcanoes form islands that rise up to about 1,000m above sea level, and are typically covered by ice caps. The exposed parts of the islands have been investigated in the past and are reasonably well understood. However, the much larger, submerged parts of the volcanoes were virtually unknown until now. The new survey covered the area around the flanks of three islands – Zavodovski, Visokoi and Candlemas – as well as the entirely underwater Protector Shoal. No volcanic activity has been reported from Visokoi, but Zavodovski and Candlemas continually vent gas. The plume of sulphurous steam emitted from a crater near the western coast of Zavodovski is easily visible from ships several miles away. It has a claim to fame in that it is reckoned to be home to the largest penguin colony in the world, containing an estimated one to three million chinstraps and other varieties. The name of the western point of the island – Stench Point – is well given!

The survey was undertaken as part of the BAS’s Geological Sciences Long-Term Monitoring and Survey mapping of the Scotia Sea area.

steaming Zavodovski Island

A steaming Zavodovski Island. Photo by Alex Tate.



New BAS Website Launched

A new BAS website was launched on July 2nd. The website is designed to be easier to navigate, and to have more up to date content. We found plenty on it for those of us with a special interest in South Georgia.

On the home page you are alerted to the latest news from BAS, and “Science Paper of the Month”. There are also some fun features; the home page has a “Daily Image” feature, on two days I checked it out, July 29th and 30th, it had pictures from South Georgia. You can sign up for the “Daily Image” and also for the “Daily Penguin”. You can also see the temperatures: on all the bases; from where the two BAS ships are; and at the South Pole. I guess we have to stop harping on about how cold it is here in South Georgia at –2.6°C compared to –20.5° at Halley or –61° at the Pole!

I found it easy to navigate from the Home Page, through Living and Working/ Research Stations to find pages for Bird Island and for King Edward Point. There are then links to other pages with lots of relevant information such Administration, Research, Climate and Life on Base. There is a small gallery of photographs and a link to the BAS image collection at www.photo.antarctica.ac.uk'.

Another link takes you from the KEP page to our own www.sgisland.org webcam.

I would encourage you to look up the Base Diaries. These are written monthly, with a different base member each month taking a turn at authorship. There you can read about life on base from their different perspectives, with lots of photographs to illustrate them. It would seem they are a little behind at the moment as the last diary for KEP is April’s.

You can see the new BAS website at www.antarctica.ac.uk


New South Georgia Coin is a World First

front of the silver coin


reverse of the coin

The front of the silver coin with a processions of Emperor Penguins.

  The reverse of the coin, which has a crystal centre engraved with a King Penguin chick.

The latest South Georgia coin is the first coin ever to combine silver and crystal, a world first.
This novel and beautiful coin has an outer ring of proof sterling silver depicting Emperor Penguins and their chicks in various attitudes. The middle is crystal and has an engraved King Penguin chick.

Released in a limited edition of 5,000, the coin will be available directly from the mint at

As of June 1st Pobjoy Mint is also acting as the worldwide sales agents of the Post Office of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.


New Philately Publication

The Specialised Stamp Catalogue of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies…


A new full colour version of philatelic expert Stephan Heijtz’s “The Specialised Stamp Catalogue of the Falkland Islands and Dependencies…” is now available.

This is the only publication covering all aspect of South Georgia philately: stamps, postmarks and much else besides. The completely updated 272 page catalogue has a new improved layout to make it easier to read and use, and a lot of new information. The Catalogue includes 38 pages on South Georgia stamps, 4 pages on South Georgia postmarks and a section on South Georgia coins. There are colour illustrations of at least two stamps of every stamp issue and every postmark ever used on South Georgia.

The hardbound book costs £34, or it is available as a CD Rom for £24. For more information and details of where you can get a copy visit the website www.novastamps.com/stefan

The front cover of the new Catalogue.    



Shackleton’s Seal?

Shackleton’s Seal?

Can you tell us anything about this little seal?

Alison Parsons remembers her father telling her that the small fur covered seal he used as a paperweight had a connection to Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Alison inherited the seal, which is five inches long, from her father and would like to find out more about it. “It is made of sealskin, with a leather base and appears to have a metal body, since it is heavy.” she said. “My father mentioned that he obtained it from someone who told him it was linked with a Shackleton expedition in the early 20th century.”

Alison originally contacted the Scott Polar Research Institute, who suggested it may have been made by one of the whaling community in South Georgia, where Shackleton’s expedition teams spent some time.

Have you seen a similar object, or got a theory on who may have made it and where? If so, send us a message here.

Bird Island News

By Robin Snape, Zoological Field Assistant and winter Base Commander at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island.

Fabrice hoists his flag


On July 10th we had our first real snow and during the same week the temperature dropped down to -10°C. With calm weather the bay froze up with pancake ice. On the French national day of July 14th Fabrice hoisted his flag, which he spent the previous few days producing from pillowcases and paint, he even taught himself to use the manual sewing machine.






Proud Fabrice hoists his flag. Photo by Robin Snape

During the rest of the month we enjoyed brilliant skiing and snowboarding conditions so could get out and work off some of our mid-winter blubber. Whales have been a common sight and almost every time anyone goes up the hill at the moment we are seeing them, particularly Southern Right Whales very close to the island. Fabrice has been very lucky, or rather has a particularly keen eye.

Southern Right Whale fluke

Southern Right Whale fluke. (Photo by Fabrice Le Bouard).

On Friday 27th I was ambling back across the island, taking a longer route than I normally would to photograph Wandering Albatross chicks and to check for whales from the cliff tops. I glanced down to the foot of a cliff and noticed a Leopard Seal attacking something. I started taking photos and realised that it was a young Elephant Seal being attacked. We are more used to seeing leps taking smaller Fur Seal pups and penguins. This victim seemed huge, and I think was probably too large for the lep to bring to its death, as both animals disappeared and I saw the lep on its own skirting the coast later. Most amazingly, the elephant seal was branded with large numbers clearly legible in the photos, and may have been carrying some device. We are waiting for confirmation on the identification of this seal but we believe it may have been marked by a group working in the South Shetland Islands off the Antarctic Peninsula. Having not seen as many whales as Fabrice or Rob this season I was sure to gloat appropriately on arrival back at base.

Leopard Seal attacking an Elephant Seal.

Leopard Seal attacking an Elephant Seal. Photo Robin Snape.
Elephant Seal The Elephant Seal was clearly marked “838 ST”. Photo Robin Snape.

On the last Saturday night of the month, we enjoyed the usual three-course meal but with the full moon illuminating everything brightly we had to get out and enjoy it. We spent a long time perfecting some photography on the beach and walked up the hill to see the mainland bathed in moonlight. We then spent the rest of the night around the barbeque. A monstrously sized lep emerged from the water right next to us and we all agreed that it was the biggest we had ever seen. She was very chilled out and did not mind us admiring her. The following day, having hardly slept a wink, Don was very busy on his daily round as there were eight leps hauled out, seven of them all together on Main Bay.

Southern Right Whale fluke

“BI 07” using a head torch and a 15 second exposure. Photo by Fabrice Le Bouard.


South Georgia Snippets

Harriet Hall started her new job as Chief Executive for GSGSSI on July 16th. She continues to work at Government House in Stanley, Falklands.

There were two goodbyes this month, Steve Artis left the Island for the first time in nearly three years on July 3rd. Steve, who was employed by BAS as Technical Service Engineer for two years, stayed on to work for Morrisons FI Ltd over the summer then stayed as partner to the Government Officer(GO). Steve will return with Morrisons in November to work on the new hydro project. GO Emma Jones went away on her annual leave on July 27th, and will return in December. There is a tradition at KEP that when saying goodbye we perform a truly terrible Mexican wave.

“KEP departure”


We welcomed back the sun and our shadows this month. KEP residents eagerly watched the track of the sun as it crept daily further up the Point. By the end of the month sun would have started to stream into office windows again for a short while mid afternoon, if only they had not been blocked by snow. The ‘return of the sun’ barbeque was held this year on the back deck of the FPV “Pharos SG”. Despite an unpromising morning of light snow and overcast skies, faith was rewarded when the clouds parted and the sun came out just before the party started.

The Captain and crew of the “Pharos SG” were at it again, training, and testing out their new immersion suits by taking a very unseasonal dip in the harbour whilst their ship was alongside.
Off-duty crew set to building an impressive igloo on the jetty.

Others making a home in the snow were Anj, Mel and Andrew who dug a three-person snow hole over the course of two days and slept out in it the second night. They found it very warm and cosy.

A few people have managed to get some exercise skiing off base, but the exceptionally deep snow has kept the track to Grytviken closed due to avalanche risk much of the time. Indeed on July 20th many heavy avalanches tumbled down over the track, pushing snouts of snow into the Cove. Even when the track has been open, the snow is deep and soft and not good for skiing. Just moving about in the snow on the Point can feel akin to an Olympic obstacle course. Cold temperatures, down to –10°C with 20 knot winds add up to a wind-chill of –35°, pretty gnarly.

One group that did get out was dropped off at Maiviken by boat and stayed the night in the cave so they could watch one of South Georgia’s natural wonders, the Gentoo Penguins pouring out of the sea and up the beaches at twilight, to go to their overnight roosts on the low hills around the cove. The party skied back to base the next day on a rare pleasant morning.

Instead of skiing most have instead been getting their exercise in digging. Snow from the roof-falls is now so deep we have mainly given up digging windows to get a view, settling instead for letting some light in. In places the snow on the ground now reaches the snow on the roofs. Many doors are blocked by huge accumulations of snow, though we are working hard to keep the main fire exits usable. Of course, you no sooner dig out than there is another heavy snowfall and you are back to square one.

Before the snow got quite so high, several of us appreciated the novelty of seeing wildlife at eyelevel. The odd penguin coming up to roost at night has clambered up the snow-piles and settled down for the night just outside the windows. The effect is akin to looking at a fish in a tank on a shelf.

Snow settling on the surface of the freezing water continues to make life difficult for the boatmen. The intakes of the jet engines on the two harbour launches quickly get clogged filters in these conditions and both boatmen have developed their own methods for keeping the engines going in this busy boating period. The science fishing boat “Quest” was hauled out up the slipway into the boatshed for some maintenance. Deep snow made even finding and digging out the boat’s cradle difficult. The JCB was very useful for this, and has been kept busy keeping a track open up through the buildings, but even the JCB struggled at times, getting bogged down in the very deep soft snow. The walls of the track are easily a meter high and the whole effect of heaped up snow and vast arrays of icicles makes the base look like a winter palace on the outside whilst inside it has quite a subterranean feel.

Heavy winter in South Georgia

Similarly much digging has been needed to find and make the moorings useable for any ship coming alongside.

Out in Cumberland Bay East our visiting reefers will have been keeping a wary eye on several large and picturesque icebergs. One was described as looking like Sydney Opera House, but sadly no one got any photographs of it as it was so overcast and foggy at the time.

With plenty of winter ahead of us still, I think the little ditty that goes round in my head will stay there a while yet….”The more it snows, tiddly pom….”

Steve looks happy


Emma Jones

Steve looks happy to be going home after nearly three years on the Island.   Emma Jones also headed off on holiday.

The “Pharos SG” crew built an igloo.


Andrew starts digging a snow hole

The “Pharos SG” crew built an igloo.   Andrew starts digging a snow hole. Photo by Anjali Pande

Mel peeks out of the snow hole for three.


Andrew starts digging a snow hole

Mel peeks out of the snow hole for three.

  One of the “must see” sights of South Georgia, the Gentoo Penguins swarming out onto the beach at dusk. Photo by Patrick Lurcock

Deep snow from the roof falls


Pat digs out the windows on Carse House

Deep snow from the roof falls is blocking doors and windows.

  Pat digs out the windows on Carse House again!

“Quest” is hauled up the slipway

“Quest” is hauled up the slipway

One of the large bergs in the Bay
One of the large bergs in the Bay. Photo by Anjali Pande

View of the Month

Don’t forget to see this month’s 'View of the Month' - available very soon on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.


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