South Georgia Newsletter, February – March 2021

This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.
To subscribe to the SGIsland News Alerts list click here. You can view the mailing list manager’s GDPR Statement here.

HRH Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh – South Georgia’s First Royal Visitor

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands invited David Tatham, a former Commissioner and editor of the Dictionary of Falklands Biography, for an account of Prince Philip’s visit to South Georgia in January 1957.

We wish to thank David for helping us honour Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh following his sad death on 9 April 2021.


South Georgia’s First Royal Visitor

The death of HRH Prince Philip on 9 April 2021 had an immediate impact on viewing figures for the Dictionary of Falklands Biography (DFB) website – visitors almost doubled in number. Readers must have realised that the DFB offered a clear and concise account of the visit of the Prince to the Falkland Islands and to South Georgia in 1957.

The DFB’s account of the Prince’s visit to the Antarctic stations and to South Georgia (all of which were counted as ‘dependencies’ of the Falkland Islands in those days – FIDS for short) was provided by the Prince’s Archivist and Librarian, Dame Anne Griffiths, who had herself been on board the Royal Yacht Britannia as one of two secretaries during the tour. They were the first British women to cross the Antarctic Circle on New Year’s Eve 1956.

In 1956 the Prince had been deputed by the Queen to open the Olympic Games which took place that year in the Australian city of Melbourne. He took the slow journey home, travelling on the Royal Yacht Britannia, via New Zealand (which he left on 17 December). The yacht called at the FIDS bases in Antarctica from 1-4 January and was joined by the Governor of the Falklands Islands Sir Raynor ARTHUR who had travelled south in HMS Protector. The DFB website has a link to a Pathé News report of the Prince in Antarctica which features the hazardous ship to ship transfer of the Prince in a fishery basket from a whale catcher to Britannia.

With the administrator of South Georgia (Major Robert Spivey) at the Shackleton Cross at King Edward Point. The Royal Yacht Britannia in the background.

The Royal Yacht arrived in Stanley on 7 January 1957 and the Duke, by now sporting a fair beard (he had not shaved since New Zealand) embarked on an intense programme of visits, introductions, horse races and a ball. At the races Prince Philip competed in the ‘sailors race’ which he won riding Les HARDY’s horse Italia, which had never before won a race. The Royal Marine band from Britannia played All the nice girls love a sailor! A very full account of the Prince’s time in the Falklands is contained in an article in the 2020 Falkland Islands Journal (pages 218-229) by Benjamin Jaffrey (aged 14) whose work won the Community School prize of the Jane and Alistair Cameron Memorial Trust. Britannia sailed from Fox Bay in West Falkland on 9 January and reached South Georgia on the twelfth.

At this point, I prefer to let Dame Anne Griffiths give her eye-witness account:

At 9 am on 12 January Britannia anchored in Leith Harbour, South Georgia, amid magnificent Antarctic scenery on a lovely sunny day. The Duke of Edinburgh and his party went ashore and toured the Salvesen whaling factory before embarking in the whale catcher Southern Jester (Captain and Master Gunner Nochart NILSEN) for the twenty mile run down the coast to Grytviken, the Pesca station and factory. On the way an old packing case was thrown into the sea and the gunner demonstrated his skill and the gun’s capabilities by blowing it to bits at a range of 70 yards. Nilsen, when asked if it was a case of whisky he had fired at, replied “If it had been I’d have missed”.

The whaling plan at Grytviken, January 1957. Kenelm PIERCE-BUTLER, the manager of the company Pesca briefs Prince Philip. Wearing the beret is Pierce-Butler’s secretary, Erling Larsen.

At Grytviken His Royal Highness re-joined Britannia and entertained a small party to lunch. Then he went ashore to visit the government station at King Edward Point and saw the Post Office-cum-Customs office, the Radio and the Met Station before walking along the beach to the headland where the plain white cross in memory of Sir Ernest SHACKLETON stands. He watched two fin whales being flensed in the factory and then visited Shackleton’s grave in the cemetery.

When Prince Philip returned on board, Britannia sailed at high speed to the Bay of Isles where he landed close to the large King and Gentoo Penguin rookeries and spent some time watching these splendid birds. After dark the Royal Yacht sailed for Gough Island [in mid-Atlantic].

Prince Philip sent the following message to the Governor:

“As I leave the Falkland Islands and the Dependencies I want you to know how much I have enjoyed the last ten days and the many interesting things I have seen in these Islands.

Please thank the Falkland Islands Legislative Council for their very kind message of farewell on my departure and I would be most grateful if you would express my gratitude and appreciation to all the people who had a hand in making my visit such a pleasant and enjoyable experience, to all the people of the Falkland Islands for their welcome, the leaders and members of the FIDS bases and the whaling companies of South Georgia. I send you all my very best wishes for a happy and prosperous future. Philip”

South Georgia has changed enormously since the Prince’s visit in 1957. The whaling industry, which employed over 1,000 men on the Island, abandoned South Georgia in the mid-1960s and hunting whales has become environmentally unacceptable since then. Two imported species – rats and reindeer – have been removed from the Island and the human presence has been reduced to a few environmental scientists and administrators.

Despite revisiting the Falkland Islands in 1991, alas, the Prince did not visit South Georgia a second time.

PLEASE NOTE: The DFB is now freely available on line (just Google ‘Falklands biographies’) and, where a name is printed in capitals above, a brief biography of that person will be found on the website.

Dog Team Certification

One of the things that sets our Biosecurity Dog Programme apart from others is that ours is certified. But what does that mean, and who cares?

Well, the stakes are high for our dog team. If they get it wrong it could mean one of two things; a false positive result could mean that we stop or delay a ship going to South Georgia for no good reason. That’s expensive for the ship, and we certainly don’t want to cause delays unless there is good cause to. Worse still, a false negative could mean that we allow a ship to go to South Georgia thinking it’s rodent free, when in fact it isn’t and poses a real risk of rodent invasion. So, to prevent us getting it wrong we work to the highest possible standards in year-round training for both the handler and the dog, and verify these standards externally through a certification process so that the vessels we search can have complete confidence in us.

At the start of the programme, the tricky thing was that we (Government & WD4C) were the first to establish a programme of this kind, so there were no pre-existing rodent detector dog certification procedures for us to adopt. WD4C had to develop a new annual certification procedure which would stand up to scrutiny. Dog Handler Naomi flew to Virginia USA to complete her training, and along with biosecurity dog Sammy, completed the final stages of training under the watchful gaze of WD4C. The team were then independently verified by Virginia Recovery Canines and certified by WD4C.

This year, covid threw a spanner in the works, as we all know it’s no longer easy to jump on a plane and travel across the globe. Luckily, a bit of lateral thinking, superb remote support from WD4C, and the assistance of the Royal Air Force Dog Section based at Mount Pleasant, here in the Falkland Islands, we devised a way to complete the same high level of testing without flying someone in.

On certification day we followed the processes set out by WD4C, filming the whole process with a GoPro so it can be reviewed remotely. With the dog team (handler & dog) safely out of the way so they couldn’t accidentally sneak a peek, we hid a range of target odours in various parts of the ship, including: a dead rat, mouse faeces and a live mouse. The dog team had no idea where these scents were, so when they went on board afterwards and swept the ship for signs of rodents, it was as close to a real life scenario as possible. The whole operation was overseen by the external RAF dog handler, whose job it was to assess the dog team’s performance to a set of criteria and report his recommendations back to WD4C.

The dog team did an incredible job, not only pinpointing the target odour locations, which were well hidden behind cargo and in service panels, but Naomi used Sammy’s body language to determine which target was live, and which were the faeces and the dead rat. In a real life scenario, it is important that we can tell the difference between the presence of a living rodent, and some older rodent scent left by faeces, urine or a dead animal.

And the result? Well yes you guessed it, our dog team Naomi & Sammy passed with flying colours.

Certification is a great way to ensure a dog team are effective and to independently check that the dog team are up to scratch but the real effectiveness of the team comes from training regularly in real life scenarios, and continuing to problem solve and improve as the programme continues. Sammy and Naomi train almost daily and take every opportunity to make sure they are up to certification standard every day.

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands Coins – 2020

In 2020 the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands launched five new coin sets.

(Further information at Pobjoy Mint.)


Nursing Tribute
This proof fine silver £2 coin, commemorates 200 years since the birth of Florence Nightingale who was the founder of modern nursing. The techniques and skills pioneered by Florence Nightingale are vital to the medical support provided on South Georgia now and in the past. In the former whaling stations, the historic hospital sites and cemeteries provide mute testament to how dangerous life could be and underlines the importance of healthcare then as now.

The design of this new coin features a heart in the centre with the trace of a heartbeat running across the heart. The heart is then surrounded by the beautiful feathered wings of an angel symbolising the protection of the care workers that has been given to those who were affected. The surround of the coin features six core values of every modern nurse, known as the 6Cs … Competence, Communication, Care, Courage, Commitment and Compassion along with the Coat of Arms of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

The 6 C’s are values which are core to nursing, but the message of caring whether it be for people or wildlife and the environment are applicable more widely and never more relevant than in current times of global environmental change.

In light of the global covid-19 pandemic, there is a groundswell of appreciation of modern healthcare. As a remote and isolated island Territory, strenuous efforts have been made to prevent the disease reaching South Georgia. Keeping people safe through quarantine, testing and preventing the spread of the disease are key to South Georgia as elsewhere.








HMS Resolution
This 50p coin features the HMS Resolution in honour of the 250th Anniversary of the Ship’s Launch.

In 1775, Captain Cook made the first landing, surveying and mapping of South Georgia in the HMS Resolution. As instructed by the admiralty, on 17th January 1776, he took possession of the Island for Britain and renamed the land “Isle of Georgia” for King George III.

The design of our stunning new 50p coin features Cook’s ship, the HMS Resolution, which was a sloop of the Royal Navy that called it “the Ship of my Choice and the fittest for service of any I have seen”.

As instructed by the admiralty, on the 17th January 1775 he took possession for Britain and renamed the island ‘Isle of Georgia ‘for King George III. This year is the 245th Anniversary of this day which is celebrated as possession day, a public holiday in South Georgia and& South Sandwich Islands.








Penguin 50p
A series of 50p coins features designs of penguin species found within the Territory.

Chinstrap Penguin, named after the band of dark feathers under its chin, which looks like a strap keeping their hat on. The largest colony on the uninhabited South Sandwich Islands of Zavodovski hosts approximately 1.2 million breeding pairs of Chinstrap Penguins.

The Gentoo penguin is easily recognisable by the wide white stripe which extends across its head like a bonnet. No one knows where the name ‘Gentoo’ comes from but they do live up to their Latin name Pygoscelis which means brush-tailed. The Gentoo has the most prominent tail of all penguins which sticks out behind and sweeps from side to side as they walk.

At first glance, the King Penguin appears to be very similar to the closely related Emperor Penguin. However, the King Penguin can be distinguished from its relative by a solid bright orange patch on the cheek which contrasts with their dark feathers. The King Penguin is the 2nd largest species of penguin in the world and over half a million pairs inhabit in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

The Macaroni Penguin was given its name by early English explorers who compare the orange/yellow plume feathers of the Macaroni Penguin to the feathers found in a hat known as a “Macaroni”. These orange feathers make this penguin stand out from the rest as they provide a striking contrast against the penguins’ environment.























Macaroni Penguin £4
Using the same design as the 50p, a gold proof £4 was also issued.








Sub-polar Zone £2
The special series which features world climatic zones has South Georgia to represent the sub-Polar zone. The silver £2 coin features iconic South Georgia imagery including king penguins, native plants and a field hut used by scientists.

Antarctic Homecoming – RRS James Clark Ross Arrives In Harwich For The Final Time

(From the British Antarctic Survey)

The RRS James Clark Ross arrived in Harwich yesterday, completing its final season with British Antarctic Survey. After 30 years of service, the ship will soon be sold.

The ship returns to the UK after a five-and-a-half-month mission to deliver scientific and operational staff to Antarctica, and to resupply the UK stations in Antarctica for another year. The ship brings home 26 crew members and 33 research and support staff, leaving wintering teams at Rothera, King Edward Point and Bird Island to spend the next 12-18 months on station.

RRS James Clark Ross arrives in Antarctica


RRS James Clark Ross’ final season has been one like no other, with the ongoing impacts of Covid-19 meaning that the ship’s crew was on board for longer than usual and the scope of Antarctic research season was shorter than usual.

For the past three decades the JCR has fulfilled her role as a world-leading research platform for biological, oceanographic and geophysical research. She contains some of Britain’s most advanced facilities for oceanographic research in both Antarctica and the Arctic.

JCR departs King Edward Point. Paulo O’Sullivan, BAS

Professor Dame Jane Francis, Director of BAS said:

“The RRS James Clark Ross has been more than a workplace to her crew and those who sailed on her, it has been a home. As we look forward to a new era with the RRS Sir David Attenborough, the JCR joins the fleet of former BAS research ships that helped change the way we understand our world.”

The RRS James Clark Ross was built by Swan Hunter Shipbuilders in the UK and launched by HM The Queen in 1990. She will be replaced with the RRS Sir David Attenborough (SDA). The SDA will make her maiden voyage to Antarctica later this year.

End Of Giant Iceberg A-68

(From the British Antarctic Survey)

The mission to determine the impact of the giant A-68a iceberg on the important marine ecosystem of sub-Antarctic South Georgia is a success according to a team of researchers and engineers, from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) and National Oceanography Centre (NOC). This week (Monday 19 April) the U.S National Ice Center declared ‘the end’ of the A68 iceberg, because its fragments are now too small to track. This coincides with the return of the mission ship to Southampton in the UK last week (13 April).

The team are piloting two submersible robotic gliders deployed in mid-February from the NOC-operated research ship RRS James Cook. The gliders named ‘Doombar – 405’ and ‘HSB – 439’, were launched into the water some 200kms offshore from South Georgia. Their mission was to monitor the effects of the melting of the ‘mega-berg’ on the ecosystem.

The mission took place on the National Oceanography Centre’s RRS James Cook. Photo credit_NOC


Dr Alexander Brearley, an oceanographer at BAS, who is co-leading piloting of the gliders, says:

“The experiment has provided us with a unique opportunity to understand the impact of a melting and fragmenting iceberg on the both physical properties and ecosystem of the Southern Ocean around South Georgia. Our highly-equipped autonomous vehicles have allowed us to take measurements closer to the icebergs than our research ship could safely manage, giving us new insights into how iceberg meltwater and the mineral dust it carries affects both ocean circulation and productivity of the ecosystem.”

The mission was a high risk as gliders are not usually deployed so near icebergs. After a few days, 405 was overtaken by an iceberg and spent two weeks stuck under the ice. However, it extracted itself and was piloted to look at the downstream effects of the iceberg on the most biologically productive regions north of the island. Unfortunately, the team lost connection with the second glider 439, in late February, but are cautiously optimistic that it may re-appear.

Two gliders were deployed in February 2021. Photo credit_Jacqui Waterhouse @NOC.


The full article can be read on the British Antarctic Survey website here.

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands In The News

Giant iceberg misses South Georgia Island and breaks up rapidly


Pobjoy Mint — South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands: New 50-pence coins commemorate the 120th anniversary of the launch of RRS Discovery


BirdLife International Marine Programme: International Women’s Day 2021


‘Strange pale penguin’: rare yellow and white bird discovered among king penguins in Atlantic


Robot gliders probe huge iceberg’s impact on penguin island’s ecosystem


Jarlath Cunnane’s Replica Boat Build of the Shackleton Antarctic Expedition Lifeboat Continues Apace

Latest Videos And Photos

Virtual Flight over the Island of South Georgia in Microsoft Flight Simulator

The A400M regularly conducts Maritime Radar Reconnaissance (MRR) within the BFSAI’s Joint Operational Area. – British Forces South Atlantic Islands (BFSAI)


HMS FORTH, one of the Batch 2 River Class Offshore Patrol Vessels, maintains a permanent Royal Navy presence in the South Atlantic Ocean – British Forces South Atlantic Islands (BFSAI)