South Georgia Newsletter, January 2022

This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.
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Bob Burton

The Government of South Georgia & The South Sandwich Islands was very saddened to hear of the passing of Robert (Bob) Burton on Saturday, 15th January. Bob had an association with the island spanning over seven decades having first visited in 1964 and in 2018 received the Morag Husband Campbell Medal from the South Georgia Association in recognition of his lifelong contribution to the island. Bob’s passion, advocacy and expert knowledge of South Georgia’s wildlife and history will be greatly missed and our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

A full obituary will be available in due course.

Covid-19 Policy For Visiting Vessels

GSGSSI has published a policy to provide clarification for vessel owners, agents, passengers, and crew over the procedure in place to enable visitation to South Georgia whilst minimising the risk of transmission of COVID-19 to those based on the island.

Vessels will be graded as either green, amber or red depending on their disease status, previous routing, time at sea and places visited.

The decision as to the grading of any particular vessel rests with the Government Officer at King Edward Point, South Georgia. Despite the challenges of the Coronavirus pandemic, GSGSSI remains committed to maintaining Customs and Immigration processes for visiting vessels, and to upholding the high biosecurity standards necessary to protect an ecosystem in recovery. To this end, Government Officers will continue to board those vessels graded as green.

The “KEP Protocol For Ship Visits” policy can be downloaded here.

New Research and Monitoring Plan for the South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area


A new Research and Monitoring Plan has been launched to help support the management of the South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area (MPA).

The MPA was designated in 2012 to conserve the region’s rich marine biodiversity and to provide a framework for marine environmental management and research, whilst still allowing sustainable use. The initial design of the MPA and the additional conservation measures implemented in 2013 and 2019 have all been founded on the best available scientific advice, and evidence-based management continues to be a priority.

In 2017/18 the first five-year review confirmed that the MPA was meeting its objectives and suggested a range of enhanced conservation measures. The review also identified gaps in current knowledge, and the need for a Research and Monitoring Plan (RMP) was highlighted as a priority. To address this, a project funded by the UK Government (Defra)’s Darwin Plus Initiative was undertaken at the British Antarctic Survey in partnership with the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI), to develop a draft plan in collaboration with the wider research community. Following consultation with a broad range of scientists and stakeholders to identify research and monitoring priorities, we are today pleased to launch the new RMP which will support GSGSSI’s commitment to evidence-based sustainable management.

The RMP is designed to be a framework through which any interested scientists and stakeholders are encouraged to collect, access and analyse data, including relevant baseline data and indicators. Data collected and analysed under this plan can be used as a basis to evaluate the effectiveness of the MPA in relation to its conservation and management objectives, to consider whether the boundaries of the MPA continue to encompass the features associated with specific MPA objectives, and to further understanding of the ecosystems and resources that the MPA protects. It is also important to continue evaluating potential threats to biodiversity, including from climate change, fishing and invasive species, as well as the impacts of tourism and scientific activities.

The RMP aims to guide scientific activities that will:

  • contribute to an increased understanding of the SGSSI marine ecosystem
  • assess the nature and extent of change
  • assess specific threats to biodiversity
  • provide information to evaluate the effectiveness of the MPA
  • inform the development of enhanced and responsive management as required

These activities include ongoing monitoring, as well as specific research to address questions related to the MPA objectives and to improve knowledge and understanding of the SGSSI marine ecosystem.

Darwin Plus project leader Dr Susie Grant (British Antarctic Survey) said:

“The Research and Monitoring Plan identifies key research questions to improve our understanding of the SGSSI marine ecosystem and how it is responding to change. It is a valuable resource to help scientists and stakeholders plan scientific activities that will contribute to the ongoing, science-based management of the MPA.”

The South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area Research and Monitoring Plan is available here.

In addition to the RMP, the Darwin Plus project has also developed an integrated online MPA Data Portal which will bring together a geographic information system (GIS) and information on ecology, physical environments, human activities and scientific research to enhance and support the management of the SGSSI MPA into the future. The MPA Data Portal will be launched later this year.

Spatial Segregation of Seabirds at South Georgia

(From British Antarctic Survey)

Seabirds are amongst the most globally threatened birds, often as a consequence of incidental mortality (bycatch) in fisheries. At South Georgia, wandering albatrosses have declined since the 1970s, and are listed by the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) as one of nine global High-Priority populations for conservation. Another species at South Georgia, the white-chinned petrel, is listed as Vulnerable by IUCN and is the species most commonly bycaught in Southern Ocean fisheries. Understanding the at-sea distributions and fisheries overlap of these species are key goals of the Albatross Conservation Action Plans and Marine Protected Area Research and Monitoring Plan of the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

In January 2022, Platform Terminal Transmitters (PTTs) were attached to breeding white-chinned petrels at Cooper Island and Bird Island, and wandering albatrosses at Prion Island.

This project was funded by Darwin Plus, GSGSSI and Friends of South Georgia Island.

The full article and the birds map showing near real-time tracking using the Argos system can be found at the BAS site here.

Sir Ernest Shackleton Service

On the 5th of January, a service was held at Hope Point Cross to mark 100 years to the day since the passing of Antarctic Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. In attendance was GSGSSI Chief Executive Laura Sinclair Willis, Sarah Whitby (Senior Magistrate), and members of the BAS, Indigena (non-native plant management) Museum, building and rodent detector dog teams.

The service was held at Hope Point cross, rather than the graveside, in recognition of the fact that Shackleton was not buried until a couple of months later when his body was repatriated from Montevideo. That service, in 1922, was also presided over by the Magistrate.

Below is a copy of the words spoken by Senior Magistrate Sarah Whitby:

‘Sir Ernest Shackleton died on the 5th Jan 1922 at around 3am, in his cabin on board his ship, the Quest . He suffered a heart attack. The Quest was moored just off shore here in Cumberland Bay.

He was 47 years old.

Shackleton was on his fourth Antarctic expedition, happily in South Georgia again because he was in the wild once more. He achieved greatness because of his polar exploration, on his second expedition he penetrated further south than anyone before, nearly reached the South Pole , only turning back to ensure that he and more importantly his team survived. He opened the way for Amundsen and Scott, which Amundsen fully recognised.

His leadership and mental resolve, the ability to keep men alive by strength of will had the quality of greatness.  Such a man is not easy to live with, and he had the humility to recognise that.

He loved literature, so I will end with the last words he wrote in his diary, a few words written in his honour and memory and some favourite poetry by Browning.’

The diary reads:

‘ A wonderful evening. In the darkening twilight I saw a lone star hover , gem like above the bay.’

Words written in his honour:

‘With Providence as his guide He persevered, endured, held fast. Staying sure to that which mattered most… He’s buried on South Georgia Island Near the seas that he fought and won, If ever you’re in need of endurance Think Shackleton! And press on!’

And finally Robert Browning:

I was ever a fighter, so one fight more,
The best and the last
I would hate that breath bandaged my eyes, and forebode,
And bade me creep past

No! Let me haste the whole of it, fate like my peers
The heroes of old
Bear the brunt, in a minute pay glad life’s arrears
Of pain darkness and cold;

For sudden the worst turns the best to the brave’

A toast to Ernest Shackleton!


Centenary of The Death of Sir Ernest Shackleton – Stamps Release

To mark 100 years since the death of Sir Ernest Shackleton, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, the British Antarctic Territory and the Falkland Islands, have joined together to release a series of stamps celebrating his life and achievements.

Shackleton rose to fame in 1915 when his vessel, the Endurance, became trapped in pack ice and sank. Against all the odds, Shackleton succeeded in getting all his men back to safety, a tale of resolve and selfless leadership that is celebrated as one of the greatest stories of human endeavour.

Shackleton led three major expeditions during what is now known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. His first journey south was in 1901, on the Antarctic expedition ship Discovery. Led by British naval officer Robert Falcon Scott, Shackleton and Edward Wilson trekked towards the pursuit for the South Pole in extremely difficult conditions. They got closer to the Pole than anyone previously.

In 1908, Shackleton returned to the Antarctic as the leader of his own expedition, on the ship Nimrod. They made many important scientific and geographical discoveries and set a new record by getting even closer to the South Pole. He was knighted on his return to Britain. The race for the South Pole ended in 1911 with Amundsen’s conquest and in 1914 Shackleton made his third, now well-known expedition, with the shipEndurance.

In 1921, Shackleton returned to the sub-Antarctic on the Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition. More commonly known as the Quest expedition, it was to be Shackleton’s fourth and final expedition. Large crowds gathered as the ship, Quest, left St Katherine Docks in London on 17 September 1921, with a crew comprising eight shipmates from the famous Endurance Expedition, keen to return to southern waters.

After arriving at the quiet waters of King Edward Cove in South Georgia, Shackleton unexpectedly died in the early hours of the morning on the 5th January 1922.

His final diary entry reads:

‘A wonderful evening. In the darkening twilight I saw a lone star hover, gem-like above the bay.’

Shackleton was buried on the 5 of March at the whaling station, Grytviken, a ceremony attended by the managers of the five stations on South Georgia and a hundred whalers and seamen.

A hiatus followed the return of Quest, with no significant expeditions to the Antarctic for another seven years. The Shackleton-Rowett Antarctic Expedition is remembered for the untimely death of its leader but also the end of the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

South Georgia was a fitting location for the end of a heroic story. Shackleton’s sudden death created a dramatic, if premature, finale. His death caused an outpouring of grief throughout the world with a sense of loss that still resonates today. Many visitors make the pilgrimage to South Georgia to visit the last resting place of Shackleton and toast “The Boss”.

The Quest ship doctor, Alexander Macklin recorded in his diary, ‘I think this is as the boss would have had it himself, standing lonely on an island far from civilization, surrounded by a stormy tempestuous sea, and in the vicinity of one of his greatest exploits.’

A century after his death his fame continues, yet his popularity is a relatively modern phenomenon. From 1980’s onwards various biographies and historic accounts of the polar expeditions saw Shackleton catapulted to stardom, something that was fleeting in his lifetime.

The events of the Endurance Expedition drew a new generation of followers seeking inspiration from the epic adventure and from Shackleton’s leadership style. Shackleton’s ability to overcome adversity, retain the loyalty of his men, and his extraordinary and ultimately successful efforts to rescue his Endurance crewmates still inspires people today.

The story of the Endurance Expedition has become legendary. His decision-making and guidance under pressure is celebrated in books, management courses, films, television and memorials today.  A portrait of him by Reginald Grenville Eves hangs in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Statues and busts of Shackleton can be seen outside of the Royal Geographical Society, London, at Athy, his birthplace in Ireland, and in the Church at Grytviken, South Georgia where he died.

In his own lifetime Sir Ernest Shackleton had won world renown as an intrepid Antarctic explorer. One hundred years later, tales of the explorer still capture the imagination and the enduring qualities that made Shackleton such a revered figure in polar world history ensure his continued appeal. As Apsley Cherry-Garrard, of Scott’s last expedition, wrote shortly after Shackleton’s death:

‘If I am in a devil of a hole and want to get out of it give me Shackleton every time.’

Fittingly the Shackleton family’s motto reads ‘Fortitudine vincimus’. By endurance we conquer.

More information on the stamps can be found at and the stamps are available to purchase through

With thanks to Jayne Pierce, South Georgia Museum for the text.

The Blue Belt Programme Stamps Release


GSGSSI has released a stamp set to celebrate its involvement in the UK Blue Belt Programme.

The UK Overseas Territories (OTs) are home to globally significant biodiversity. The UK Blue Belt Programme recognises this, and since 2016 has worked with the Governments of these Territories to enhance the protection and management of these precious marine environments.

The Blue Belt enhances marine protection by supporting work in five key areas:

  • understanding and protecting biodiversity
  • strengthening governance
  • managing human impacts
  • supporting sustainable fisheries management
  • supporting compliance and enforcement

The Blue Belt Programme helps UK OTs and the UK work together to improve understanding of the effectiveness of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) and how to improve them. This work is supported by two world leading organisations – the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) and the Marine Management Organisation (MMO).

The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area (SGSSI-MPA) is one of the world’s largest MPAs, covering an area of 1.24 million km2. The MPA aims to conserve the rich marine biodiversity within the Territory’s maritime zone and provides a framework for our marine environmental management and research needs. To help protect the marine environment all trawl fishing on the seafloor is prohibited throughout the MPA. Longline fishing for toothfish is limited to depths between 700 – 2250 m covering less than 6% of the MPA area to conserve biodiverse seafloor habitats. The longline fishery is also restricted to just 137 days a year in winter at South Georgia, which has helped to eliminate albatross bycatch. The South Georgia krill fishery is also confined to winter months when most species of krill feeding predators including penguins, seals and whales are absent or at much lower densities. No commercial krill fishing has taken place at the South Sandwich Islands for over 30 years when very small research catches were taken.

These stamps highlight and celebrate some of the key elements of the SGSSI MPA.

70p – Toothfish
Patagonian toothfish are large, long-lived, deep-water species, belonging to the Nototheniidae family. Today the SGSSI toothfish fishery is recognised by the Marine Stewardship Council as being one of the most sustainably managed in the world. The fishery has strict protocols in place to ensure that the environment is not harmed due to fishing activities. The fishery also generates revenue that is used to fund research into marine management including albatross conservation and efforts to further protect them.

80p – Pharos SG
Pharos SG is the dedicated SGSSI fisheries patrol vessel and helps ensure licensed vessels are compliant with fishery regulations and is instrumental in the fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing activity, which could seriously damage fish populations and the marine environment.

£1.05 – Gentoo Penguin
Krill is an important food source for gentoo penguins and so as part of the management of the MPA, their population status and foraging habits are continually monitored and management steps taken to reduce overlap with the fishery. As part of their higher predator monitoring programme, the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) monitor breeding success of gentoo penguins at Bird Island and Maiviken and have recently undertaken work to equip birds with satellite transmitters so as to better understand overlap between where the birds feed and licensed fishing activities.

£1.25 – Benthos
Although the biodiversity of the seabed is generally poorly understood, sampling around SGSSI indicates that there is a huge diversity and many species that are not found anywhere else. To protect this precious resource a number of special protection measures are in place within the MPA including no-take zones close to the coastline and specific benthic closed areas in regions where research has shown there is particularly high biodiversity. Cameras have been deployed across the MPA to assess the distribution and abundance of seafloor organisms.

More information on the stamps can be found at and the stamps are available to purchase through

CCAMLR 40 – 2021

The preliminary report of the 40th meeting of the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources has been published.

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands are liaising closely with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, as well as with fishing operators, to understand the implications for sub-area 48.3. Further updates will be provided in due course.

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands In The News

South Georgia: The museum at the end of the world reopens for business

“On the icy, southern edge of the Atlantic Ocean, just above the Antarctic circle, is a British island, a ghost town, and a museum.”


Plymouth-based Royal Navy ship delivers Covid jabs to South Georgia

“Sailors from HMS Protector have delivered Covid vaccines to scientists working in South Georgia.”


Satellites show ‘mega-iceberg’ released 152 billion tons of fresh water into ocean as it scraped past South Georgia

“152 billion tons of fresh water—equivalent to 20 times the volume of Loch Ness or 61 million Olympic-sized swimming pools, entered the seas around the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia when the megaberg A68A melted over three months in 2020/2021, according to a new study.”


Royal Navy drones in South Sandwich Islands penguin census

“A UK Royal Navy research ship is on a mission in one of the most remote and isolated spots on the planet using camera and sensor-equipped drones to study the effects of climate change on penguin populations of Antarctica’s South Sandwich Islands.”


South Georgia Shag shows alarming population decline

“Data has revealed that South Georgia Shag has suffered a dramatic decline during the last 40 years.”


HMS Protector pays tribute to explorer Shackleton at South Georgia on her trip to Antarctica

“Sailors from Ice Patrol HMS Protector paid tribute to legendary Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton – a century after he died pushing the boundaries of polar research. The crew of the icebreaker held a memorial service at his graveside on the island of South Georgia – the latest stop for the survey ship as she heads to the frozen continent for a summer of scientific research.”


Call of the Wild: Exploring the Beauty of South Georgia Island

“On an isolated island in the southern waters of the Atlantic Ocean, untrammeled landscapes—and curious bird life—abound.”


Blue whales return to South Georgia after near extinction

“An international research team led by UK scientists has revealed the return of critically endangered Antarctic blue whales to the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia, 50 years after whaling all but wiped them out. The new study follows recent research that humpback whales are also returning to the region.”

Latest Videos And Photos

King Penguins at Right Whale Bay, South Georgia Island.

Biosecurity Dog Sammy approaching South Georgia