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No News is Good News
A Black-browed Albatross. Photo by Andy Barker.
Once again the South Georgia toothfish season has been completed without any reported catches of birds on the longlines. As this is the third year in a row with no birds reported, it is not really worthy of headline news, but it is still a remarkable achievement.
Worldwide there are increased efforts by organisations like Birdlife International and the RSPB’s ‘Save the Albatross’ campaign to reduce seabird mortality in other fisheries.
The co-operation of the licensed fishing vessels in the South Georgia Fisheries zone, implementing the various mitigation measures to reduce the chances of birds interacting with the longlines, shows what could be achieved elsewhere with the education and co-operation of the fishing industry and good management of the fisheries.
Weather Buoys Deployed for South Africa
One of the weather buoys being deployed from the stern of the Fishery Patrol Vessel.
Chart showing the eastward drift towards South Africa of a weather buoy deployed between the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.
Weather buoys being deployed from the Fishery Patrol Vessel (FPV) “Pharos SG” between the Falklands and South Georgia are helping to plug a gap in information needed to predict the weather for South Africa.
The South African Weather Service (SAWS) co-operates with other international agencies in deploying about 40 weather buoys a year. Buoys are dropped opportunistically from vessels like South African Antarctic supply ship “SA Agulhas” as she travelled to Gough Island and the Antarctic region in the summer season, but in the past that gave no coverage of the area further west. Johan van der Merwe of SAWS explained that the problem was aggravated because the buoys drift with the ocean currents from west to east, so in April and May, when it would be useful to have data to help predict the winter storms that hit Cape Town, the buoys would have drifted past South Africa into the South Indian Ocean. This left a data gap in the South Atlantic, the breeding ground of the storms that approach South Africa.
SAWS approached the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) last year to see if they would allow the FPV to deploy six weather buoys as an experiment. It was lucky that the Royal Navy vessel “HMS Edinburgh” was in Cape Town at the time and agreed to deliver the buoys, which are each the size of a large football, to the Falklands.
The experiment has worked out well. Weather buoys have been deployed much further west than the SAWS can achieve using their own ships, and, as the FPV sails all year round, the buoys can be deployed at intervals to keep a constant stream of data arriving about conditions in the South Atlantic.
The buoys transmit information about the ambient temperature, sea surface temperature and air pressure every 90 seconds. Some also collect information on salinity, wind speed and wind direction. The data is fed into the Global Communications System, so is available to anyone to use. The drift of the buoys themselves is used by oceanographers to study the ocean currents.
It has been found that buoys deployed close to the Falkland Islands tend to drift northeast. If they want the buoys to drift east then SAWS ask for them to be deployed about halfway between the Falklands and South Georgia. They have also found a buoy deployed at about 45°S and 45°W, an area called ‘spook’, does not drift much at all.
The buoys last an average of 18 months, though occasionally may keep operating for three years, during which time some have managed to circumnavigate the Antarctic and slip through the relatively tiny gap between the tip of South America and the tip of the Antarctic peninsula, the Drake Passage, back into the South Atlantic.
So far four buoys have been deployed by the FPV, and the information has been very useful. Now SAWS plan to use the FPV to deploy 8 weather buoys next year. The “SA Agulhas” will deliver them to King Edward Point (KEP) in January.
SAWS also have a weather station that is replaced every year on Southern Thule in the South Sandwich Islands.
Fishing and Shipping News
“Argos Helena” coming alongside the jetty at KEP to drop off science samples at the end of the fishing season.
August 21st was the busiest shipping day this month. Government Officer Patrick Lurcock boarded three reefers and three krill trawlers that day to do the paperwork for transhipments and harbour visits.
Seven transhipments were made in Cumberland Bay East this month, and two longliners came alongside the jetty at KEP to drop off scientific samples and collect stores when they finished fishing.
The toothfish fishery was closed on August 24th by CCAMLR (Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources). Several of the longliners had already caught their TAC (Total Allowable Catch) before then and left the zone. The remaining vessels were hampered by poor weather this month, but catches improved when the weather did and the remaining six longliners managed to take almost all the individual TAC set for their vessel by the time the fishery was closed. The longliners left the fishery, travelling via Stanley, Falklands, where their catch is offloaded, weighed and inspected as part of the verification process required for the MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) certified fishery and the chain of custody. Andy Hough of Moody Marine observed this operation during the course of his annual assessment of both the MSC certified fishery and the certified Chain of Custody. By the end of the month all of the available berths in Stanley were occupied by South Georgia longliners either awaiting inspection, undergoing inspection, or back-loading their catch.
Two krill trawlers finished and left the SG Fishing zone. Stormy weather affected the remaining three krill vessels, lowering catches. At the end of the month one vessel sailed for the South Sandwich Islands to search for Krill there, without success.
The icefish trawler continued fishing throughout the month, and came in to collect a new license on August 14th.
Once she had finished fishing for toothfish, the longliner “Argos Georgia” laid some experimental crab pots and had reasonable results.
Goodbye “Dumbarton Castle”
“HMS Dumbarton Castle” has paid her last ever visit to South Georgia. The South Atlantic guard ship is shortly to be replaced by the new vessel “HMS Clyde”.
Built in Aberdeen, the ship was commissioned 25 years ago and sailed straight down to the Falklands to assist in the conflict. It has been fitting then that some of her last duties have been to participate in the various events to mark the 25th Anniversary of the Liberation of the Islands.
Thick snow started to fall just as “HMS Dumbarton Castle” came alongside the KEP jetty.
“Dumbarton Castle” arrived alongside the jetty at KEP on the morning of August 24th, just as it started to snow heavily. A good-natured snowball fight erupted as soon as the ship was secured, setting the tone for an excellent and fun two-day visit.
The track to Grytviken was closed due to avalanche risk, but the ship used its rigid inflatable to ferry off-duty crewmembers across to Grytviken.
A group of Resident Infantry Company came down with the ship and made a two-day patrol on the Island. On the morning the ship left a service was held in the church, with KEP Electrician Andrew Chase playing the organ in accompaniment to the hymns. Earlier that morning about fifteen brave members of the ships company, including the ships Captain, had a winter swim before racing up the snow banks to warm up again in the KEP sauna.
The Captain read a lesson at the church service.
The ship took two of the KEP personnel off for a day and a night. Plans to visit St Andrews Bay had to be shelved in high winds, so the ship headed south for Drygalski Fjord. This was the Captain’s fifth attempt to visit the fjord. When he has been to South Georgia before, twice his ship was diverted to assist in search and rescue operations, and twice the ship was unable to get into the spectacular fjord due to bad weather. It was a case of fifth time lucky. Though the weather was far from perfect, it was good enough for the ship to go up to the end of the fjord before returning to KEP later that day to drop the two passengers.
No doubt living up to her affectionate nickname “Bouncy Castle”, the ship encountered a force nine gale on her way back to the Falklands.
The new ship “HMS Clyde” will arrive in the Falklands soon, and shortly afterwards “HMS Dumbarton Castle” will start her homeward journey, one the crew are greatly looking forward to as they will visit many exciting ports, and go through the Panama Canal en route. Once back in the UK the ship will be decommissioned from the Navy.
A good proportion of the crew turned up for a winter dip. You would get out quickly too if the water temperature was zero!
New South Georgia Museum Website Launched
A new website for the museum has been developed - it can be viewed here: www.sgmuseum.gs
A partial database of the South Georgia Museum artifacts has been included. This is a work in progress and will be completed in the coming months.
Southern Endurance BSES Team Start Training
Some of the young expedition hopefuls on Cadair Idris in Wales during the selection weekend in May. Photo by Pat Parsons.
Twelve Young Explorers, joining the first of a new programme of BSES expeditions coming to South Georgia, gathered for a weekend of training in Capel Curig, North Wales on August 17th. The expedition members now have three months to train and prepare for the adventures ahead.
BSES Expeditions is a youth development charity which aims to provide young people with inspirational and challenging scientific expeditions to remote, wild environments and so develop their confidence, teamwork, leadership and spirit of adventure and exploration. BSES have developed a new programme, in connection with the Royal Navy's ice patrol ship “HMS Endurance”, which will run for the next five years, called “Southern Endurance”. The expeditions will spend time in the Falkland Islands, Antarctic and South Georgia. The commitment to five years of expeditions has created an exciting opportunity for the expeditions to get involved in longer-term studies. The science programme will focus on investigating climate change and global warming in addition to contributing to practical conservation projects.
This year’s expedition starts in mid November when the group spends three weeks in the Falkland Islands. Starting on Barren Island, they will spend 10 days helping to construct a jetty that will aid tourist landings whilst helping to protect a vulnerable Giant Petrel colony. They will also conduct the first bird surveys on some nearby smaller islands, and a spider survey, and will help to restore damaged land with a tussac-replanting programme. Another 10 days will be spent training in essential skills for safe travel in the mountains, and marking the 25th Anniversary of the Falkland War with tours of the battlefield areas. They then join “HMS Endurance” which will take them to the Hope Bay area of the Antarctic Peninsula where they will collect geological samples over a two-day period before sailing on to South Georgia, arriving in mid December.
The expedition will make their base camp in Fortuna Bay, from where they will continue the search for the stove abandoned by Shackleton, Worsley and Crean on the final leg of their extraordinary journey to rescue their shipwrecked fellow crewmembers on Elephant Island. The abandoned stove is thought to be somewhere on Breakwind Ridge, high above Fortuna Bay. The group will also carry out scientific work in the fields of meteorology, botany and glaciology and will be hunting for other examples of a new species of spider. Only one of the spiders has so far been found on the Island. The base camp, near the Konig Glacier, will be a good place to launch out from for some of the adventurous plans that include glacier travel, ski mountaineering and an ascent of some of the local peaks. The principal mountaineering objective is Admiralty Peak (945m).
“HMS Endurance” will pick up the Expedition in late December; they will spend Christmas at Grytviken, before returning home via the Falklands.
A King Penguin that hauled out at King Edward Point on August 21st had heavy black oil coating one side of its breast. The bird was preening the affected area, trying to clean off the oil.
The penguin was captured by the two boatmen Martony Vaughan and Charles Swift, and after getting advice from the scientists at Bird Island, Martony and the Doctor Mel DeSouza cleaned the affected area of feathers with detergent. The bird was kept overnight in an upturned crab pot in the boatshed to recover.
The oiled penguin was kept in a crab pot overnight to recover from being cleaned.
Next morning a small audience gathered to watch and see what happened when the penguin was released. Martony carried the bird under his arm down to the beach and set him down, then moved away. The penguin looked about a bit, stretched, threw back its head and called twice then waddled to the sea edge and took to the water for a short while, prompting one watcher to say it was like watching a ‘Disney’ film. The penguin hauled out again a short distance down the beach, but shortly after had taken off for good.
The oiled penguin was successfully cleaned, and released the next day.
Bird Island News By Donald Malone, Zoological Field Assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Base at Bird Island
Well after a great month of lovely clear calm cold sunny days during July, the weather has most definitely taken a turn for the worse during August. A misty mank has shrouded the island for most of the month, accompanied with a rise in temperature causing big thaws of the ice and snow, and regular strong winds battering the place and whipping up the surrounding seas into a fury, with huge waves smashing the coastline. These storms have brought in some interesting stuff, with us finding 3 large inflatable fishing buoys washed up along the beaches.
“He Shoots, He Scores!” Photo by Fabrice Le Bouard
These storms have also had a disastrous effect on some of the wildlife, after one particular fierce night Robbo was dismayed to find over ten of the Wandering Albatross chicks up on the meadows blown off their nests. The chicks had then been tumbled across the ground causing fatal damage to their wings. As I am sure you can imagine this was a very distressing thing for us all to witness, and the last thing that such a threatened species needs in its fight for survival. It just acts as a reminder of the force of Mother Nature, and not all the island inhabitants are lucky enough to have a nice comfortable base to shelter from its effects.
Wanderer chick that survived. Photo by Donald Malone
The change in the weather has also led to a reduction in the number of Leopard Seals being spotted hauled out on the beaches, they like nice sunny calm days to snooze away topping up their tans!
However, we have still been having a few regulars, including one lady who appears to be blind in one eye, however this does not seem to have impaired her ability to catch both penguins and Fur Seals, as I have found out going through regular scats she has kindly left for me! Fabrice was lucky enough to witness the gruesome spectacle of another individual making a kill of a Fur Seal in Prince Creek.
Stripped to Bone! A Leopard Seal enjoying its meal. Photo by Fabrice Le Bouard
This month has also seen half the human inhabitants of the island have their birthdays in the same week, with Robbo’s and mine falling within five days of each other, so a week for fun and games! We finally got a decent day’s weather for mine, so we all managed to get up the hill for day of skiing, boarding and sledging, with a certain base member deciding it would be a good idea to go skiing in only a penguin thong!! I will not go into details, the less known the better trust me, I am still trying to blank the image from my memory!
Some fun in sun and snow! Photo by Fabrice Le Bouard
To celebrate Robbo’s birthday a few days later we decided on a soak in the hot tub, it’s our only chance for a bath, and while it would be even better with some members of the fairer sex present, was still nice to have first hot bath in a while! We also squeezed in a game of web darts against our BAS colleagues down at Rothera base on the Antarctic Peninsula this week, us proving victorious, yet again the BI motto wins through “Always outnumbered, never out gunned!” The earlier game this winter against our neighbours at KEP is still a contentious undecided issue we feel!
That Winning Feeling! Photo by Fabrice Le Bouard
Seal is Early Tourist Souvenir
The little fur covered seal paperweight, with a possible Shackleton connection, highlighted in last month’s newsletter has been identified as most likely an early example of a polar tourism souvenir.
A Norwegian Whaling Museum was able to put the owner, Alison Parsons, in touch with a German specialist Klaus Barthelmess. Klaus explained that regular arctic tourism started in the early 1890’s, and almost immediately people in the north started to sell local curios and souvenirs to the tourists. Klaus has a collection of such artefacts including one that sounds similar to Alison’s seal, a Norwegian-made tourist ‘kitsch’ walrus made of seal skin stretched over a body of wood.
“Alison’s seal model seems to have been intended as a paperweight from the start, …with its heavy metal body, a leather bottom surface and a cover of some speckled seal skin, for which harbour seal and grey seal are the most likely provenances.“ Klaus wrote “I am quite confident that this is an example of early tourist ‘kitsch’ or trinkets. I would tend to date it between the 1890s and 1950s.”
The probable countries of origin of manufacture or sale are all the North Atlantic nations from which artic tourism was conducted, including Norway.
Klaus could not help to explain why Alison’s father thought the seal had a connection to Shackleton, but has encouraged Alison to donate it to an institute where such an object with its sealing, polar and probable early tourism context would be appreciated and where it could be properly preserved. Alison plans to offer it to the Gilbert White Museum in Selbourne, Hampshire (UK) which has an ’Oates Gallery’ with fur items on display.
South Georgia Snippets
The month started with a Search and Rescue practice, a cliff rescue in deep snow. The fire alarms went off midmorning on August 2nd, summoning everybody for the practice emergency. The ‘casualty’, a dummy weighted with 60kg of sandbags to add realism, was located on a cliff ledge. With deep snow everywhere we needed snowshoes, skis and sledges to move ourselves and the medical and climbing kit required for the rescue up to Hope Point. Specialist cliff rescue techniques had to be used to get the ‘casualty’ onto a stretcher and hauled up the cliff, the seismic hut made a handy anchor for all the ropes. Once the slow haul up the cliff was complete the ‘casualty’ was moved to the pulk to be sledged down the hill to the surgery. The exercise took just over three hours and went well, offering some valuable lessons for possible future rescues.
The ‘casualty’ had to be hoisted up a cliff as part of the search and rescue exercise. Photo by Melanie DeSouza.
All three scientists left on August 20th aboard the FPV “Pharos SG”. They sailed to the Falklands where they joined FPV “Dorada” for the month long ‘science cruise’. As a farewell we had a barbecue on a cold but gloriously starry night. It has to be said the base is a far less glamorous place with those three gone.
That left just 8 of us on the Island, which went down to just 6 when a further two went off with the Navy for a cruise round the Island. That must be the smallest number of people on the Island in a very long time.
Our glamorous science team on their way out for the ‘science cruise.’
A snowy barbeque. Photo by Martony Vaughan.
Folks got away on a couple of trips this month. One group went to Cave Point at the northern end of the Barff Peninsula. They had hoped to see a lot of Gentoo Penguins there, but were a little disappointed. The group that got dropped over to Maiviken and slept in the cave there did better. The return of the Gentoos at dusk on a winter evening has become the “must see” sight of this winter. The birds pour out of the sea and up the beaches in waves, before waddling up to their hillside roosts.
Mel and Andrew on a ski trip. Photo by Anjali Pande.
Gentoo Penguins coming in to roost at dusk. Photo by Anjali Pande.
The culinary event of the month was a gift of about 15 Spider Crabs for the pot by one of the departing longliners. In no time Charles had huge pots of water boiling on the stoves in the kitchen, and that night we all sat down to a feast of fresh crab legs.
Not many Spider Crabs fit in even a big pot!
The approach of spring is making itself evident. At last the deep snow has consolidated making travel on skis much easier. The huge accumulations of snow on the roofs started melting and slid off in vast heavy ice sheets that took down every single snow-strip, broke solar panels and bent chimneys.
The ducks in the Cove have been trilling and flirting, and, right on cue at the end of the month, the first Elephant Seal bulls with breeding on their minds started hauling up and bellowing.
With the science girls gone, it was three lads who took the science fishing boat “Quest” out into lumpy waters to do the monthly plankton trawl. It may not have been very comfortable out there, but they were rewarded by a fantastic interaction with a pod of Orcas (Killer Whales). The whales were swimming right under the boat.
The first Elephant Seal bull of spring
Some of the birds that stay around over winter, and the first Elephant Seal bull of spring.
View of the Month
Don’t forget to see this month’s 'View of the Month' - available on the South Georgia Heritage Trust website.
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