South Georgia Newsletter, Feb 2016 – March 2016

This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.
To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here

National Biodiversity Action Plan

NBSPGrabThe Biodiversity Action Plan for South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands 2016-2020 details how GSGSSI will meet its environmental commitments over the next five years.

The plan sets out an ambitious vision for how GSGSSI will work in partnership with experts and stakeholders in the UK and the rest of the world to conserve the biodiversity and ecosystem function of the Territory. It has been developed following extensive consultation.

You can read more about this and download the document here.

Non-Native Plant Management Strategy for South Georgia

Management of non-native species is a high priority for South Georgia and in recent years tremendous progress has been made in restoring natural habitats by eradicating rodents and reindeer. In 2014, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) was successful in applying for funding from the UK Government funded Darwin Plus initiative to progress a strategy to manage invasive plants.

In March, GSGSSI launched its non-native plant management strategy for South Georgia.

You can read more and download the South Georgia Non-Native Plant Management Strategy here.


Regulated Activity Permit

If you are visiting South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands for a purpose other than tourism, a Regulated Activity Permit (RAP) may be required.

There are three categories of application depending on the complexity of your project. This will ensure that environmental assessments are scalable and commensurate with the potential impacts of activities, and appropriate safety and search and rescue provision is in place. Some activities require a permit under the Wildlife and Protected Areas Ordinance 2011 (WPA), particularly where they involve interactions with wildlife, plants and/or import or export of samples. This permitting requirement will be incorporated within the RAP application process. Failure to have a permit or breaking the terms of a permit could be a criminal offence under the WPA.

For more information and to download the documents go to the Regulated Activity Permit page.

Private Yacht Issued With Formal Warning

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands has issued a formal warning to the Master of SV Jonathan.

The warning was issued as a result of an unauthorised landing at a site clearly designated as a no landing site in GSGSSI’s visit application documentation.

As a result of this warning, any future visits by the Master of SV Jonathan, if permitted, may be subject to additional conditions, which may include carrying a government observer (at cost).

GSGSSI remains committed to facilitating visits that are safe, responsible, and environmentally sensitive. Visitors to South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are reminded of the need to study carefully and adhere to the conditions attached to any permission to visit. Visit applicants can access the relevant documentation and information on the GSGSSI website or by contacting GSGSSI directly.

GSGSSI Consultation On The Legislative Review

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands has launched its consultations on two proposals as part of its legislation review: income tax and administration of justice.

Modernising GSGSSI’s legislation is a key part of its strategy and over the coming months consultation papers will be launched on this website about subjects including immigration, application of English law, customs and crime. Consultations will be open for 6 weeks and all our stakeholders are encouraged to participate and provide comments.

Full details and downloads here.

Draft Policy on the Release and Movement of Artefacts

South Georgia has a unique heritage, which includes the remains of the former whaling stations and their historic buildings, wrecks and hulks, sealing artefacts, early expeditions and sites of historic interest. There are important links to polar exploration and science, including Sir Ernest Shackleton.

We recognise the widespread interest in South Georgia’s heritage. Our Strategy 2016- 2020 sets out the Government’s desire to make its heritage more accessible. The Grytviken museum has an important role in showcasing and communicating South Georgia’s heritage and in enhancing the visitor experience. We will also encourage the return of artefacts previously removed without permission from South Georgia to the museum or GSGSSI. While the Government’s presumption is that South Georgia’s heritage should remain in situ, we recognise the need to bring South Georgia’s heritage to people who will be unable to visit South Georgia in person. There is also interest from some parties in the ex-situ restoration of specific heritage items.

This draft policy on the release of heritage artefacts from SGSSI has been developed by the Government pursuant to the GSGSSI’s 5 year strategy.  In developing this draft, GSGSSI has consulted with the Government’s Heritage Advisory Panel to reach agreement on the proposed policy.  Any comments from stakeholders would be welcomed and these should be directed please to Richard McKee before 19th April.

Download: Draft Release of Artefacts from SGSSI [pdf, 0.1mb]

SGSSI Coin Series Highlights Ocean Zones

SGA-TITANIUM-IN-BOX-AND-SLEEVE1_300x300The Pobjoy Mint has launched its latest coin series for 2016 on behalf of the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

The new set of coins features creatures found in different ocean zone habitats: the Epipelagic (Daylight) zone from the surface to 200 meters in depth; the Mesopelagic (Twilight) zone from 200 meters to 1,000 meters in depth; and the Bathypelagic (Midnight) zone from 1,000 meters to 4,000 meters in depth to which no light penetrates but which makes up 90% of the ocean.

More information about the coins and how to purchase them can be found on the Pobjoy site.

GSGSSI Major Incident Exercise

A series of preliminary training exercises in recent months culminated in a Major Incident Exercise, which was held at King Edward Point on 17 March.

The main objectives were to test the Government’s incident plan and the ability of the KEP station team, with limited capacity, to receive and implement the medical triage of survivors being landed ashore following a major incident on a vessel. Overseen by the Government Officers, the exercise was principally intended to be a learning experience for all involved and this was also an opportunity to engage staff in the Falkland Islands and review the Government’s major incident stores at Grytviken and KEP.

The exercise was supported throughout by the visiting warship HMS Clyde.  For the purpose of the exercise, HMS Clyde assumed the role of a stricken fishing vessel, with the ship’s company taking on the part of incident survivors with varying degrees of injuries. HMS Clyde’s officers were also able to provide oversight and an assessment of the exercise, whilst they themselves gained a much better understanding of the incident response capabilities ashore.

The scale of the exercise would not have been possible without the support of HMS Clyde and valuable lessons were identified. GSGSSI’s sincere thanks go to HMS Clyde’s Commanding Officer and all the ship’s company for their assistance.




Royal Television Society Award for Interactive Visitor Kiosks



The Shadow Industries team have received the RTS award for the development of the interactive visitor kiosks multimedia project – installed at the Grytviken Museum, the Norwegian Museum in Oslo (Fram Museum) and the whaling museum in Sandefjord.

The project was funded by the Norwegian Government and GSGSSI.

It enables visitors to navigate virtually through the LIDAR laser imagery of the former whaling stations whilst also viewing embedded historic images of the structures and interviews of the men who worked in the stations.


Bird Island Blogs

Exploring an island abundant with wildlife by James Robbins, BAS

Bird Island has undergone several changes since the last diary entry in November. The summer breeding season is in full swing, and in some cases is starting to quieten down already. There are many chicks up on the hills and in the colonies now, and the majority of the fur seal pups have been born and are now being led up into the tussock by their mothers. The human inhabitants also received new arrivals, with the RRS James Clark Ross dropping off Jerry (station leader, and previous penguin and petrel ZFA), Tim (incoming penguin and petrel ZFA), Ian (tech services), and me (James, incoming seal ZFA), at first call.


The summer team before a hearty Christmas dinner.

The summer team before a hearty Christmas dinner.


We’ve all settled in to our respective roles and daily life here, and I can’t quite believe the abundance and diversity of wildlife that surrounds us. It’s amazing to look out of the living room window and watch as fur seal females are rounded up by the males, give birth, go to sea to feed, and then return to be reunited with their pups. We’ve been monitoring this spectacle, not only incidentally from our windows, but also from twice-daily trips to the seal study beach. We observe from a raised gantry, with the beach below divided into a grid pattern. This allows us to record where males hold territory, and where females arrive and give birth. We also count how many females are on the beach every day, to investigate which factors contribute to attendance.


The study beach on a snowy day.

The study beach on a snowy day.


Until population data is modelled against many variables across several years we cannot claim to understand the reasons for what we observe in the field; however the seals are still giving birth to pups at this late stage, when they had stopped last year. There have also been a slightly reduced number of females on the beach and pups born overall. It will be interesting to see the output of the models once they have been run, to see the actual change, rather than merely what we have observed. We expect that within the next few weeks, pups will stop being born, bringing an end to our trips to the study beach.


A curious pup investigates a snowy sheathbill.

A curious pup investigates a snowy sheathbill.


Many of the large territory-holding males have now left the beaches, heading south to feed and rebuild their fat reserves. This means that moving around base is a little easier, as is searching for females on the beaches and up in the tussock. As the busy period for the seal ZFA’s comes to an end, I’ll start to learn more from Siân about what to expect after she leaves at last call, including how to correctly identify leopard seal individuals from photographs.


Curious pups make the perfect models.

Curious pups make the perfect models.


For now though, I’m looking forward to having a bit more spare time to watch the macaroni penguin chicks grow, and to explore the parts of the island I haven’t seen yet.


Macaroni penguins with their chicks.

Macaroni penguins with their chicks.

Search and Rescue on Bird Island by Jerry Gilliam, BAS

Bird Island Research Station has a small staff team; no more than 10 in summer and just four over winter. We have no doctor on station though all staff receives excellent pre-deployment first aid training from the BAS Medical Unit, with one or two individuals spending a few days on the front line in an A&E department to broaden their experience.

However well skills are taught they can be quickly forgotten so we try and have a training session once a week, on an otherwise quiet evening, where we go over some aspect of rescue, recovery or medical skills. One week it could be a discussion about hypothermia, then practicing putting a stretcher together, then CPR practice with our own dummy.


Search & Rescue indoor practice: testing restraint in the spinal board and assembly of the stretcher.

Search & Rescue indoor practice: testing restraint in the spinal board and assembly of the stretcher.


Earlier in the season we sat around the table and had a serious discussion about what we would do if someone severely injured themselves in the field. Bird Island has some steep, slippery terrain and people frequently work alone. The importance of regular radio contact is hammered home, as is the necessity of always carrying spare warm clothing and an emergency aid kit. During our table-top exercise I sat down with the Emergency Action Plan and talked through the extremely useful flow chart it contains, detailing priority actions and who to contact.

With field-work calming down a bit in the last few weeks I have been on the look-out for a good occasion to put this formally into practice. So last Friday everyone was told to be available for the afternoon, while one of the departing staff went round the beach and lay at an awkward angle at the base of a cliff. I was able to sit back and observe the response and was pleased at the calm, organised and efficient way at which those on station, particularly the upcoming winter team, dealt with the incident. A fast search party took the emergency medical bags and warm clothing and quickly located the casualty, reporting back enough detail for a second party to head out with stretcher, spinal board and other necessary equipment. On station we had someone consulting the doctor at King Edward Point and talking to Cambridge, relaying important information to those in the field.


Search & Rescue: The second party arrives at the scene of the incident with the stretcher, but they aren’t the only ones to show an interest as a curious fur seal pup wants a sniff of the casualty

Search & Rescue: The second party arrives at the scene of the incident with the stretcher, but they aren’t the only ones to show an interest as a curious fur seal pup wants a sniff of the casualty


Despite apparently serious injuries our casualty was soon back indoors, after a short stretcher ride to demonstrate how tiring it can be for those struggling along the uneven terrain. Around a cup of tea we debriefed and reviewed the incident, with everyone happy and more confident in their abilities to respond to any problems, but also more aware of how difficult it can be and how self-aware they need to be in any situation.


Search and Rescue: making sure the casualty is secure in the spinal board before attaching an oxygen mask and transferring her to the stretcher

Search and Rescue: making sure the casualty is secure in the spinal board before attaching an oxygen mask and transferring her to the stretcher

SGSSI in the News

Easter Monday 1916: An Irish-British crew begin one of the greatest boat journeys ever

On Easter Monday 1916, “a momentous historical event was getting under way – as an Irish-British team led by Kildare-born Ernest Shackleton began what’s now considered one of the greatest small boat journeys of all time.”


An Irishman’s Diary: Mrs Chippy, the Scottish carpenter and the Antarctic

“On April 24th, 1916 Shackleton and five companions, including McNish and Crean, set off on what proved to be an epic journey of survival. After 15 harrowing days it reached the shore of South Georgia.”


Cruises from Cape Horn to South Georgia in the footsteps of historic adventurers

“Pretty much every corner of the world’s oceans can be reached on a cruise today, making it easy not to give much thought to the extreme dangers encountered by the first explorers and navigators “


South Georgia Island: A Wilderness Replenished

“When you tell people that you’re going to South Georgia, some will ask if you’re changing planes in Atlanta. In fact, the name belongs to an island near Antarctica”


Heacham man back with Georgia on his mind

“Just a couple of weeks ago, Heacham electrician Ray Thirkettle set sail from South Georgia on a five-day voyage to the Falklands.”


Happy HEAT: More than 150,000 penguin parents huddle together to keep their young chicks warm in spectacular images

“Spectacular images show the gigantic scale of penguin parenthood when part of one of the world’s largest King Penguin colonies. Hundreds of thousands of penguins huddle together for warmth in the harsh wintery conditions, just like the Emperor Penguins immortalised in the animated film Happy Feet.”


Extremely rare blonde seal cub stands out from the crowd

“Blonde seals are extremely rare – it is believed that they make up much less than one percent of the fur seal population.The cute images were shot in the South Georgia Islands by renowned wildlife photographer Roie Galitz earlier this year.”


What books were taken to the Antarctic 100 years ago?

“When Sir Ernest Shackleton set off for Antarctica on his ship Endurance, he made sure he had plenty of reading material. But details of precisely what books he took have remained hidden in this photograph – until now”


Life on the sub Antarctic island of South Georgia

“Life on the sub Antarctic Island of South Georgia working for BAS is an amazing experience. South Georgia has the perfect combination of spectacular landscape and incredible wildlife.”


Shackleton expedition successfully crosses South Georgia

“A team of Naval adventurers have just completed an arduous journey from Antarctica and crossed South Georgia following in the footsteps of Sir Ernest Shackleton.”

Diary Dates

  • 29th April 2016: SGA Spring Meeting and AGM including Tom Hart talk, “Spies in our mist: Camera-Based Conservation for the Southern Ocean”.

  • 19 – 20 September 2016: The Historical Antarctic Sealing Industry Conference 2016

Latest South Georgia Videos

Spectacular images show the gigantic scale of penguin parenthood when part of one of the world’s largest King Penguin colonies. Captured by nature photographer Roie Galitz.


A spherical video puts you next to a King Penguin colony on South Georgia. Grab
the video to spin around [Chrome only]. By Grant Humphries.