South Georgia Newsletter, June – July 2020

This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.
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South Georgia Stands Ready To Welcome Visitors

The COVID-19 pandemic presents a range of obstacles to navigate in order for the 2020/21 tourism season to take place, however GSGSSI is committed to meet the challenge and facilitate visits where possible, without compromising on our commitment to safe and environmentally sensitive tourism.

South Georgia remains free from COVID-19 and we will be taking extra precautions to ensure the safety of staff and visitors. We have been working on a detailed plan to help deliver a tourism season and develop measures to provide the safeguards needed to protect South Georgia.

These measures and precautions are in addition to a host of measures and precautions that IAATO and vessel operators will take to ensure the safety of their guests and staff before reaching South Georgia.

A new 3-part Health Declaration will be in place to ensure vessels are properly risk assessed, before arrival into the Maritime Zone, again before landing at Grytviken and a third element ensures that contact tracing is achieved should anybody test positive for COVID-19 in the 14 days following the visit.

Vessels with confirmed COVID-19 cases will not be permitted to land, but vessels which have more generic flu-like symptoms but do not believe they are COVID-19 will be able to land outside of Grytviken if they have dispensation to do so. Landings at Grytviken will only be permitted if assurance can be provided that the vessel is free from COVID-19.

For the first visit of the season, dispensation to land outside of Grytviken will be given on successful completion of the online Permit Holder Briefing and Assessment, and dispensation is maintained by passing the biosecurity audit undertaken at each visit to Grytviken.

All indoor spaces at Grytviken will be closed e.g. Museum, Church, Gift Shop, Post Office and Toilets. Grytviken whaling station and the cemetery will be open for visitors to explore and a ‘remote’ Post Office service will be available for visitors to post letters or purchase gifts. King Edward Point will be out of bounds.

Administration Fee: A fee to cover the cost of applications that are subsequently cancelled was set to be introduced this season, and as such it is referenced in the Visiting South Georgia 2020/21 booklet however, in light of the ongoing global COVID-19 situation and the uncertainty that exists in the market place, its introduction has been postponed for 12 months. The Visiting South Georgia 2020/21 guide includes this new fee. The late application fee (less than 60 days) remains in place and will be applied. 

New policy for the use of HOV & ROVs. We have published a new policy governing the use of Human Occupied Vehicles and Remotely Operated Vehicles in the SGSSI Maritime Zones. Operators wishing to use submersibles can now apply to do so by filling in the relevant application form as an annex to the Vessel or Yacht Visit Application.

The Vessel Visit Application form has been changed to accommodate the use of HOVs & ROVs, and we have removed the section from the Vessel Visit Application which asked for predicted itineraries. We will accept completed applications from the 1st July, and to facilitate for the later opening of the ship scheduler, we can now accept the form in separate parts, enabling operators to submit part 1 now, and part 2 after the ship scheduler opens.

Cooper Bay: Last season samples were successfully collected at Cooper Bay to identify if the site is safe to reopen after more than a decade closed due to an outbreak of avian cholera. So far, all test results have come back negative for pathogens, and although work is still ongoing, we hope to be in a position to reopen the site later in the 2020/21 season – watch this space!

Prion Island: We are planning extensive works to improve the boardwalk over the 2020/21 season, and to accommodate that Prion Island will be closed for the duration of the season – apologies for any disappointment this may cause. Zodiac cruising to observe the wandering albatross is still possible.

South Georgia – A Visitors Guide: We’ve created a new briefing film which is mandatory viewing for everyone going ashore and will provide an insight into the work that goes into protecting South Georgia, and inspire visitors to play their part. There will be more news on this soon when the film is ready for distribution.

The 2020/21 Season documentation and application forms are available here:

‘From the Air’ Stamps Released


In recent years small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have become increasingly popular.  UAVs come in a range of sizes but the devices used on South Georgia are typically less than 7 kg and powered by battery. The advanced computer systems and sensors mean that they can be programmed to fly detailed flight paths, keep steady in turbulent winds and even return to their home station when batteries run low. These safety features are vital to make sure that the South Georgia environment and wildlife is not damaged during flights.

In South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands use of UAVs is restricted to projects authorised by the Government. However, they offer a different view on the world and have huge potential to collect valuable data in less time and cause less intrusion than multiple people in the field so in recent years a number of projects have been supported to use them.

As many of South Georgia’s coastal areas are crowded with wildlife, particularly during the breeding season, an early application was to use UAVs to conduct surveys. By flying at a safe height above the beaches and bays, operators were able to get a unique bird’s eye view. This meant it was possible to accurately count the number of animals without having to cause disturbance by walking on the beach or approaching in a boat. Being able to quickly assess the number of animals in an area has meant it is possible to closely track how wildlife changes through the seasons.  In the future the information we get from this data will form part of our visitor management plans.

Closely linked to surveys of wildlife are surveys of the environment that they inhabit. Programming UAVs to fly in a grid pattern over the coastline has meant it is possible to create detailed maps not just of land and sea but also the amount and type of vegetation cover. This information can help track how species are recovering after the removal of invasive species and how ground in front of glaciers is colonised after the ice retreats.  Whilst some ground-truthing of data in these newly exposed and pristine pieces of land is still required, UAV methodology largely removes the need for physical transects to be completed.

As well as getting a new perspective on current activities on South Georgia, UAVs can be used to get an insight to the past. The rich cultural heritage of the island from early sealing expeditions through to the whaling industry of the 1900’s has left its mark. Although some artefacts are visible from the ground, by taking to the sky it is possible to see a new level of detail and reveal structures not seen for hundreds of years.  As nature reclaims these spaces this record is all the more important.

Of course, the incredible footage of the South Georgia landscape and its wildlife is too good not to share and so another key use of UAVs has been for outreach and media projects. Use of UAVs allows filmmakers to show wildlife like we have never seen it before. As animals are unaware of the UAVs flying many meters above them they behave naturally whilst we, as custodians of this environment gain insight to their world.

This series of stamps celebrates some of the unique perspectives gained through these projects.

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

18 November declared Pride Day in the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands

Diversity Flag through Antarctic Animals – Credit: Huw Griffiths


The Government of the British Antarctic Territory (BAT) and the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich  have celebrated the contribution of LGBTQ+ people by declaring 18 November as Pride Day in the Territories. The declaration demonstrates a commitment to support and enhance Diversity in Polar Science.

To mark the day the rainbow flag will be flown in both Territories, special events will be held and photos and stories will be posted on social media using the hashtag #PolarPride.

18 November is International day of LGBTQ+ people in STEM for 2020 and it is hoped that #PolarPride will become an offshoot of this since the Territories are such a strong focus for science, technology, engineering and maths.

November marks the start of summer in BAT and SGSSI: a season where we welcome visitors from all backgrounds to discover the wonders of these Territories. GBAT and GSGSSI are proud to offer same-sex marriages in both Territories and look forward to hosting the first same-sex marriages in these Territories in the future.

As part of a series of activities and initiatives to mark the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica, the Diversity in UK Polar Science initiative, conceived and funded by the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office Polar Regions Department, celebrates existing diversity, and takes an important step forward to promote and enhance Antarctic science opportunities to under-represented groups, including women, people from ethnic minorities, BAME, LGBTQ+ community and people with a disability.

Minister for Polar Regions, Baroness Sugg says:

“#PolarPride will be an opportunity for those working in the British Antarctic Territory and South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands to celebrate diversity and show their support for LGBTQ+ colleagues.  I also hope colleagues in the UK will get involved, to make everyone feel included to play their role in understanding and protecting the amazing Polar Regions”

Dr Huw Griffiths, a bio-geographer at British Antarctic Survey and a member of the LGBTQ+ community, says:

“This announcement feels like a huge step forward and a visible symbol of inclusion and support for the LGBTQI+ community working in BAS, SGSSI and in international polar research.”

“We started Pride in Polar Research two years ago when an early career researcher reached out seeking solutions to the isolation and discrimination they faced. At the time these issues weren’t openly talked about in the scientific community. This announcement shows the important progress we are making towards greater inclusivity.”



The GBAT, GSGSSI, the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) are proud to support the #DiversityinPolarScience initiative: – a ground-breaking project that celebrates existing diversity in UK Polar Science and aims to deliver a more inclusive future for all.

The FCO and GBAT have also supported the funding of badges with the Pride in Polar Research logo.

Darwin Plus Initiative: Round 9, 2020/21

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands is proud to promote and encourage science that contributes to developing and upholding best-practice environmental management and that supports the active management and good governance of the Territory.

We are therefore delighted by the announcement of the latest round of Darwin Initiative funding and welcome applications that will contribute to the broader aims of the Government.


To allow GSGSSI to consider requests for support we require the following:

  1. Completed Darwin application form
  2. A separate document which identifies in detail what resources/facilities/support are being requested from GSGSSI e.g. project partner, funding, letter of support, logistics, staff time, accommodation, boat time, waiving of fees etc. This should also include frequency of project meetings and workshops where GSGSSI will be required/requested to attend. This will allow us to assess whether costings are accurate and fully cover all aspects of undertaking fieldwork on SGSSI and any GSGSSI project involvement.
  3. Written motivation outlining how this project aligns with current GSGSSI management challenges or builds on previous scientific endeavour. As appropriate, this should clearly reference the questions it will help GSGSSI address.
  4. An outline of how GSGSSI will be included in any outreach and PR and how that supports Government.


These documents should be submitted to GSGSSI at sue.gregory(at) no later than 25 August 2020 (10 working days prior to the Darwin Stage 1 submission deadline of 08 September 2020).

Except in exceptional circumstances will not be able to support or prioritise submissions made later than this deadline.

Applicants should be aware that access to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is currently constrained due to the COVID 19 pandemic and may continue to be so for the foreseeable future.

* Please note that for Darwin funding, it is important applicants provide GSGSSI with as much information as possible at the Stage 1 application phase. If invited to submit a Stage 2 application, GSGSSI will invite applicants to provide further details as the project develops. Projects that have not sought to engage GSGSSI during Stage 1 will not be eligible to receive a letter of support for Stage 2.


Isolated Winter Fieldwork On Bird Island

Albatross zoological field assistant Alexandra Dodds shares experiences of the isolated winter fieldwork at British Antarctic Survey (BAS) Bird Island Research Station in South Georgia. The team are conducting important long-term science, monitoring the varied animal residents of the island.


Albatross zoological field assistant Alexandra Dodds and one of Bird Island’s resident wandering albatrosses. Photo: Ana Carneiro


Living in isolation

During the austral winter three of the five BAS Antarctic stations are staffed; here at Bird Island, we are the smallest wintering team, made up of three zoological field assistants and one station technician – so we often feel the most isolated! The best description of wintering on Bird Island I have heard is; “That’s the closest you’ll get to being in outer space without leaving the planet!” We are now deep in the midst of our winter season which spans from the last ship call in March until we see the RRS James Clark Ross on the horizon again in November.


Saying goodbye to the RRS James Clark Ross for the winter on Bird Island. Photo: Alexandra Dodds


Continuing regular communication with friends and family back home has been important to the team, particularly to those with elderly relatives. We may be remote, but we still get post, with visiting ships delivering mail sacks from Stanley, Falkland Islands, albeit infrequently, throughout the year. Getting the mail is always a great morale boost!

At the end of last year, I wrote a blog for the Albatross Task Force about working with albatrosses and life on the island. It was coming up to peak breeding season for all of our animals. Now, during the austral winter, the island has a very different atmosphere.

The last of our mollymawk (medium sized species) albatross chicks fledged at the end of May, leaving behind eerily empty and silent albatross colonies. There are still a few southern giant petrel chicks getting ready to fledge so Freya is still checking their nests each week. The strangest bird colony to see empty and silent throughout winter is Big Mac, our largest macaroni penguin colony. But, while the macaroni penguins are out to sea for the winter, little gatherings of gentoo penguins come to the island for some respite in the evenings. The gentoos have even been joined by a chinstrap or two; a rare visitor here!

Read the full article at the British Antarctic Survey website here.

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands In The News

An abandoned British Island reclaimed by nature

“With no permanent residents and millions of animals, South Georgia island is one of the world’s most biodiverse places. Yet, few Brits have ever heard of it.”


The penguin that changed my life and inspired my mission to see all 18 species

“Why we felt compelled to take on this adventure can best be explained by an encounter I had with a penguin on South Georgia Island.”


Toothfish season underway at South Georgia

“The Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands, GSGSSI, usually celebrates the toothfish fishery on the 4th September each year – Toothfish day. However, this season celebrations started early, when, on the 1st May the first vessels arrived at South Georgia for the start of the 2020 fishing season.”


South Sandwich Islands sailing: Skip Novak on an ambitious scientific mission

“Skip Novak provided logistic support for an ambitious scientific mission to the remote South Sandwich Islands archipelago of the southern ocean”

Latest Videos And Photos

Behind the Lens: An Emotional Walk through Grytviken, South Georgia

Boating Officer Charlie (right) & Station General Assistant Dee in the RIB doing a science pick up from Harpon Bay, South Georgia. Photo: Antarctic Survey


Gentoo penguins returning to Maiviken Bay in South Georgia. The team at King Edward Point monitor the breeding success of Antarctic fur seals and gentoo penguins at Maiviken. Photo: Kate Owen