South Georgia Newsletter, June 2015

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What Future For Alien Plants On South Georgia?

Following the eradication of invasive rodents and reindeer, work to manage non-native plants is taking a high priority. The DEFRA funded Darwin plus project ‘strategic management of invasive alien plants on South Georgia’ has completed its first year of operations. The priority for this season was to undertake comprehensive surveys to fill gaps in distribution which will enable a weed management strategy to be drafted.

More than 6,000 ha was surveyed over the course of the summer. Following the removal of reindeer and cessation of grazing in Stromness Bay in the past two years and the more recent removal of reindeer from the Barff Peninsula, many previously unnoticed plants are showing themselves as they grow above surrounding vegetation. This meant it was possible to see plants in flower for the first time which made their detection easier.

Field teams also worked to undertake herbicide control on high priority species such as Cardamine glacialis and Sagina procumbens. Four sweeps of the Cardamine glacialis sites were completed this season. Seed pods were collected and disposed of. Targets were sprayed with contact and pre-emergent herbicides. This combination is providing effective and sustained control. Two sweeps of the Sagina procumbens sites in Grytviken, Leith and Husvik were completed and overall numbers of plants appear to be in decline. For the first time, Sagina was found outside the whaling stations near Husvik and two new sites were discovered. Both sites were treated and will be monitored into the future.

Herbicide trials were established to determine the efficacy of herbicides at low rates of concentration on common targets and non-targets in an attempt to find a tool for management.

Overall it was a highly productive field season for alien plant control on South Georgia. A continued strategic approach to island wide weed control will reduce the impact of non native species and contribute to the overall objective of habitat restoration on South Georgia.

A full report on this seasons activities can be downloaded from here.

Dias – New Stamp Issue

Sheetlet depicting armed trawler Viola and an airship sinking a German U-boat.
Sheetlet depicting armed trawler Viola and an airship sinking a German U-boat.

A new stamp issue celebrating the long and varied career of the vessel Dias, was released on June 21st.

The steamer Dias - formerly Viola - has had a long and remarkable history. Few other vessels can claim to have “seen action” in both the Great War and the Falklands War. Built in 1906 as a steam trawler in Beverley, East Yorkshire, Viola was originally part of a North Sea boxing fleet operated by the Hellyer Steam Fishing Company of Hull. Charles Hellyer, the owner, named almost every vessel in his fleet after Shakespearian characters.

Boxing fleets were an early form of industrial fishing. The trawlers worked far out in the North Sea for weeks on end but almost every day they transferred their catches of fish to fast steam cutters which then ran for the River Thames to offload the catch to Billingsgate Market. Satisfying London’s almost insatiable demand for fish was a hazardous business and many vessels were lost, including Viola’s sister ship, Antonio which vanished without trace on only its second voyage.

70p stamp depicting Viola as a trawler working in the boxing fleet.
70p stamp depicting Viola as a trawler working in the boxing fleet.

When the Great War broke out Viola was quickly requisitioned and armed by the Admiralty. The trawler and its crew of fishermen were sent straight off into the fogs and uncertainties of the grim war at sea. For more than four years this little vessel was on the front line of the maritime conflict, steaming thousands of miles on patrol - far more than any single dreadnought - across seas infested with mines and U-boats. Viola patrolled first off the Shetland Islands and then later along the east coast of England, surviving everything the enemy and seas could throw at her. The vessel had numerous encounters with the enemy and was involved in the sinking of two U-boats. More than 3000 fishing vessels and their crews saw active service during the Great War and today Dias is almost the only survivor.

70p stamp depicting Viola as an armed trawler on patrol.
70p stamp depicting Viola as an armed trawler on patrol.

After the return of peace, Viola was sold to Norwegian owners, renamed Kapduen, and was one of the first trawlers in Norway, but within a few years it was converted into a whale catcher, with a new bridge forward of the funnel, and then renamed Dias.

The vessel’s whaling career spanned a number of years in the 1920s and involved voyages to the African coast but these expeditions brought little commercial success. In 1927 the vessel was sold to Compania Argentina de Pesca Sociedad Anonima, known as Pesca for short. Pesca operated from Grytviken in South Georgia and used the vessel for sealing.

80p stamp depicting Dias as a whale catcher.
80p stamp depicting Dias as a whale catcher.

Henceforward, Dias was primarily used for taking elephant seals. This activity was carefully regulated by the Falkland Islands Government and is one of the few examples of sustainable hunting of sea mammals - in contrast to whaling. The island was split into divisions, one of which was rested each year. Only adult bulls could be taken and a close season was introduced. As a result, the elephant seal stocks around South Georgia remained viable throughout the period they were exploited.

£1.25 stamp depicting Viola as a support vessel for elephant sealing.
£1.25 stamp depicting Viola as a support vessel for elephant sealing.

With it’s large fish-hold providing considerable cargo-carrying capacity, Dias was in demand to support expeditions both to South Georgia and the South Atlantic. These included the relief of the Argentine meteorological station at Laurie Island. The round trip from South Georgia to the South Orkneys took around twelve days but depended on ice conditions. On at least one occasion, an earlier attempt by another ship to relieve the weather station failed so the ex-trawler was called in and succeeded in getting through.

Other expeditions supported by Dias were: the Kohl-Larsen Expedition of 1928/9 which made the first cinematographic film of the island; the British South Georgia Expedition and topographical surveys carried out by Duncan Carse; biological work carried out by the Falkland Islands Government, and the Bird Island Expedition. Its use for such work over many decades must make the ex-trawler one of the longest serving vessels to be involved in South Atlantic expeditions.

In 1960 Pesca sold out to the British firm Albion Star. In 1964/5 the whaling station at Grytviken was closed and Dias, together with Petrel and Albatros, was mothballed and laid up. A caretaker looked after them until 1971 but a few years later the vessels sank at their moorings under the weight of accumulated winter snow.

During the Falklands War, South Georgia was briefly occupied by Argentina but British forces liberated the island in an action fought in the neighbourhood of the old trawler. The action to re-take the island involved the disabling of the Argentinean submarine Santa Fé. This was the first time helicopters had disabled a submarine in war and a remarkable reminder of the fact that in the Great War Viola had been involved in the first action in which an airship had been involved in the sinking of a U-boat.

Today Dias, Albatros and Petrel still lie at Grytviken. Dias and Petrel were refloated in 2004 and hauled into their present position.

Dias has a unique place in twentieth century maritime history. It is the oldest surviving steam trawler with its engine still intact and one of the few vessels still around which fought in the 1914-1918 conflict.

For further details read: Robinson, R. and I. Hart, ‘Viola: the life and times of a Hull Steam Trawler’ published by Lodestar Books, 2014.

Three New Coins Released For 2015

Three new coins dated 2015 have been issued for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands:

240th Anniversary of the Discovery of South Georgia by Captain James Cook: The British explorer, navigator and cartographer Captain James Cook made the first landing, survey and mapping of South Georgia whilst aboard HMS Resolution. On January 17th 1775 he took possession of the island in the name of the king and named it ‘Isle of Georgia’. The event is commemorated in this new coin. Cook’s expedition continued to circumnavigate the globe at an extreme southern latitude, becoming the first to cross the Antarctic Circle. January 17th, ‘Possession Day’, is celebrated with a public holiday in South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands. The design on the coin features Cook’s ship Resolution in the waters of Antarctica. A large iceberg can be seen in the background with a sailor from the ship hacking at a smaller iceberg in the foreground to obtain water for the ship.

Coat of Arms: This coin celebrates the 30th anniversary of the granting of the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands coat of arms. The coat of arms was granted in 1985 upon the creation of the Territory. Prior to 1985 South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands was a Dependency of the Falkland Islands.

The new coin features the coat of arms which shows a shield containing a golden lion rampant holding a torch representing the United Kingdom. The background of the shield consists of blue and white estoiles from the arms of James Cook who discovered the islands. The coat of arms also features a fur seal, a macaroni penguin, a reindeer and the Territory’s motto “Leo terram propram protegat” (which translated means ‘the lion protects his own land’).

Humpback Whale: Another coin has been released in the wildlife series featuring the humpback whale. Found in oceans and seas around the world, the humpback whale is a species of baleen whale and is one of the larger of the whale family, ranging from 12-16 metres in length and weighing around 36,000 kilograms. Humpbacks are the acrobats of the oceans and are known for breaching and slapping the water. Their vocalisations are the noisiest and most complex of all the whales. Humpbacks sometimes travel in large groups and, when hunting, cooperate by blowing a wall of bubbles as they swim to the surface in a spiral path, forcing their prey of krill, plankton and small fish into a tight bunch (known as bubble-net feeding). The new coin shows a breaching humpback whale with an iceberg in the background.

All the new coins have a face value of £2 and the obverse of the coins features an effigy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by Ian Rank-Broadley FRBS. The coins are available in uncirculated cupro-nickel and a limited edition proof sterling silver from Pobjoy Mint.

The Stories That Old Bag Could Tell

The Keswick Museum & Art Gallery is borrowing some mountaineering kit that belonged to Tom Price. Image
The Keswick Museum & Art Gallery is borrowing some mountaineering kit that belonged to Tom Price. Image

Two artefacts from the South Georgia Museum were couriered 13,000 kilometres to the UK so that they can go on display at the Keswick Museum & Art Gallery in northern England. The well-used old sleeping bag and primus stove will form part of a display on mountaineer Tom Price. Tom, a Keswick local, had many outdoor adventures, some of which are recorded in a number of books. One of his adventures brought him to South Georgia as a member of Duncan Carse’s South Georgia Surveys which mapped the island in the 1950s. These important surveys are marked with a large display of artefacts in the South Georgia Museum. The display represents one of the survey field camps and includes a tent, skis, sledge and clothing all used on the South Georgia Surveys and includes the two artefacts which are now on loan.

Curator Deirdre Mitchell carefully packed the sleeping bag and stove to ensure they were undamaged during the long journey, and Museum Director Sarah Lurcock carried them with her when she went on holiday at the end of the southern tourist season.

Keswick Museum & Art Gallery, which reopened in 2014 following a major refurbishment, will host the exhibition on Tom Price later this year. The exhibition will highlight his remarkable life and Keswick Museum’s curators Sue and Maxine are working with Tom’s friends and family to tell his story through objects, photos, film footage and the fantastic body of paintings which he left on his death in 2013. Looking at the sleeping bag you can see it must have accompanied Tom on many of his adventures. The lining is frayed and mended, the cloth faded by age and exposure to the sun.

The exhibition called “Inspiring Adventure: The Life and Work of Tom Price” opens at Keswick Museum & Art Gallery on 12th November.

The sleeping bag and stove are usually on display in the South Georgia Museum with other items from the South Georgia Surveys.
The sleeping bag and stove are usually on display in the South Georgia Museum with other items from the South Georgia Surveys.

Bird Island Diary

By Alastair Wilson, Zoological Field Assistant and Winter Station Leader at the British Antarctic Survey station on Bird Island.

Proving to my niece that the sun can shine at BI.
Proving to my niece that the sun can shine at BI.

Located at the Western end of South Georgia, Bird Island sits directly in the path of approaching weather, and is often enveloped in cloud and mist. My 3 year old niece, having seen the BI webcam a few times, has asked the question: “why does it always rain on Bird Island”! So when the weather is nice, we try and make the most of it. I took a few photographs including the beautiful view from Molly Hill (above), with the sun breaking through the thick cloud.

Macaroni penguins, one of my main study species, spend the winter out at sea foraging, only returning to the island in the spring. Gentoo penguins however don't venture as far and come back to land to roost each night. Often they will roost at a breeding site, but occasionally they appear on other beaches too. It's a lovely surprise when they all start appearing on the beach in front of base, wandering around, and often coming up to the base itself with a curious attitude.

Gentoo Penguins and a moon halo. Photos Alastair Wilson.
Gentoo Penguins and a moon halo. Photos Alastair Wilson.

Midwinter At Bird Island And KEP

(Based on text from Alastair Wilson)

The KEP midwinterers.
The KEP midwinterers.

The main event on the island in June is the celebration of mid-winter. June the 21st, the solstice is a big celebration across the Antarctic and on the sub-Antarctic islands.

In the week leading up to midwinter all of the stations share mid-winter greetings cards, emailing round a photograph and their best wishes. We even received letters thanking us for all our hard work from the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and the President of the USA, Barack Obama. It is interesting to see all the different people and stations scattered around the Antarctic, and to feel something of a community sharing in this celebration.

Around mid-winter the base personnel at KEP and Bird Island try and take some time off to relax and enjoy ourselves, and do group activities.

The four BI midwinterers dressed and ready for the midwinter meal.
The four BI midwinterers dressed and ready for the midwinter meal.

In the run up to the big day the kitchen is always a busy place with people making a variety of treats and dishes for the mid-winter dinner. The BI Station Leader Alistair Wilson was in the kitchen making breakfast in bed for everyone when he received a call from BBC 6 music, asking if he would do a live interview with Cerys Matthews as she was dedicating her whole show to midwinter! This scuppered the careful timing of his cooking and by the time the interview finished everyone was sitting around the table: pancakes, bacon, maple syrup, croissants, bucks fizz, tea, coffee…a perfect start to the day.

An icy dip at KEP.
An icy dip at KEP.

Looking at the photograph below of the midwinter swim…who honestly wishes they could have done it?! The compensation is warming up in the sauna after and then getting smartly dressed for the mid-winter dinner.

The menu below is for the midwinter feast served up at BI later that day. It is quite impressive the inventiveness that can go into creating a feast from the dried, frozen and tinned food we have on the stations:

Canapés: chilli devilled eggs, bocconcini skewers, squash frittatas, pea puree & sundried tomatoes, potted crab.

Starter: Baked camembert and a walnut dip served with breadsticks.

Main: Roasted reindeer, jerk ham, pear and blue cheese tart with walnut pastry served with roasted potatoes, honey and lemon thyme-roasted carrots, baked spiced sweet potato mash, stuffing cakes, garam masala roasted sprouts and a red wine jus.

Dessert: A trio of mango parfait with coconut sorbet, salted caramel tart with praline macaroons, praline cream and vanilla ice cream, and chocolate fondant with nougatine biscuit and toffee sauce.

There are more people around the table for the KEP midwinter banquet. Photo Matthew Phillips.
There are more people around the table for the KEP midwinter banquet. Photo Matthew Phillips.

After dinner it was time to exchange mid-winter presents. Earlier in the year we each drew a name out of a hat, and over the last couple of months we have been crafting and constructing a gift for one of the other winterers. As always a lot of thought, time and effort goes into making these presents for each other.

A wood theme prevails for the handcrafted midwinter presents made at KEP.
A wood theme prevails for the handcrafted midwinter presents made at KEP.

Welly wanging at KEP. Photo Matthew Phillips.
Welly wanging at KEP. Photo Matthew Phillips.

Over the next few days there was a variety of fun activities when the weather allowed. These were often quite inventive including a life-sized 'snakes and ladders' board at Bird Island with squares covering slippery tussac, where sometimes you were chased by angry seals, and at KEP the popular sport of ‘welly wanging’ in the snow.

Now the excesses of mid-winter have passed we have dusted off the exercise bikes and gym equipment to take part in the annual ’Race Antarctica’, more about that next month….

South Georgia Snippets

Walkers and climbers on the Thatcher Peninsula have two newly named peaks to help them navigate. Two peaks that rise to the west of Bore Valley have been named after two men who were members of the Swedish Antarctic Expedition (1901-1904) which was led by Otto Nordenskjöld.

Andersson Peaks are named after Dr Johan Gunnar Andersson (1874-1960), Second in Command and Geologist on the expedition who first walked through Bore Valley from Maiviken to discover Grytviken, a route that would have taken him just below the mountain that now bears his name. Andersson Peaks is made up of two peaks, approximately 534m at its highest point, north of Mount Hodges.

Skottsberg Mount is named after Carl Johan Frederik Skottsberg (1880-1963), who was the botanist on the expedition and who camped at Maiviken to explore and map the area.

Skottsberg Mount is approximately 503m at its highest point, and is south-east of Stenhouse Peak and south of Camp Peak. Both newly named features are used as landmarks when navigating from Grytviken to Carr Valley.

Inspiring Explorers Expedition 2015: Young people are being asked to take part in a South Georgia adventure as part of a special Shackleton Centenary South Georgia Expedition in October. The New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust (NZAHT) ‘Inspiring Explorers Expedition 2015’ will be the opportunity of a life-time for three young people as they participate in a fully-sponsored ski-touring trip attempting to repeat Shackleton’s crossing of South Georgia from King Haakon Bay to Stromness to mark the centenary of the original crossing. The young people selected will need to identify with either Britain, New Zealand or Ireland as they will nominally represent the nationalities of Shackleton, Worsley and Crean, who famously undertook the expedition a century ago in May 1916.

The three young adventurers chosen for this amazing expedition will be accompanied by NZAHT’s Executive Director Nigel Watson and will be led by two professional, internationally qualified One Ocean Expeditions mountain guides. Applications close at midnight in New Zealand on August 2nd.

Shackleton’s granddaughter, The Hon. Alexandra Shackleton, is the Expedition Patron. The expedition will be supported by One Ocean Expeditions on their vessel Akademik Sergey Vavilov which will be on a special South Georgia circumnavigation trip from October 17th to 30th 2015. One Ocean Expeditions is inviting members, supporters and friends of the NZAHT and the expedition team to participate in the expedition by joining the scheduled commercial trip and One Ocean will donate a percentage of the trip cost to the NZAHT.

Natural South Georgia: Get a quick fix of the island you love by watching a lovely 3-minute long video that gets you up close with some of South Georgia’s natural fauna and flora. Click here.

Dates For Your Diary

A hundred years ago Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition was underway and so most of the events highlighted in this section relate to Shackleton Centenary events. Shackleton had strong links with South Georgia and is buried at Grytviken.

The Yorkshire Ones in Antarctica: An exhibition to commemorate Shackleton’s Endurance Expedition through art and to commemorate the Hull locals involved in the expedition. The artists, whose works include textiles, ceramics and metal works are also mainly local. The exhibition opened on July 3rd and runs until the end of October at the Hull Maritime Museum. Open daily.

By Endurance we Conquer: Shackleton and his men: The Polar Museum at Scott Polar Research Institute in Cambridge will host a centenary exhibition to commemorate all the men that sailed with Shackleton aboard the Endurance. The men in the Ross Sea Party that laid the supply depots for the planned crossing of the Antarctic continent, and three of whom lost their lives, will also be commemorated.

The exhibition opens on September 22nd 2015 and will run until June 18th 2016.

Penguin City Weekend: A Shackleton themed weekend in Edinburgh, Scotland is being organised by the South Georgia Association and is open to everyone.

Edinburgh has many links with South Georgia and to Sir Ernest Shackleton. The two-day meeting will be centred on Edinburgh Zoo.

The weekend event is on Friday 30th and Saturday 31st October 2015 and is expected to be popular. Numbers are limited so apply early: email.

One More Photo

Ice crystals photographed by Alastair Wilson
Ice crystals photographed by Alastair Wilson

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