South Georgia Newsletter, October – November 2020

This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.
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RAF A400m Aircraft Conducts Reconnaissance On A68a Iceberg

GSGSSI’s Logistics Officer Rebecca Honeybone accompanied the RAF on this flight as the representative for GSGSSI and was staggered by its beauty and size and that it seemed to appear out of the clouds from nowhere. There will be more information about the iceberg in the coming weeks as the British Antarctic Survey consider the potential impacts on wildlife and the ocean around South Georgia. There will also be the chance to see more of the incredible footage and images gathered during the flight.


An RAF A400M from British Forces South Atlantic Islands (BFSAI) has conducted reconnaissance of the A68a iceberg, currently travelling through the Southern Antarctic Front, remaining on its course towards the island of South Georgia.

Utilising A400M capabilities, the aircraft was able to observe with unprecedented detail cracks and fissures within the main body of the iceberg. A400M crew members and an officer from the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) were also able to visually identify ice debris in the surrounding waters.

“905 EAW proudly dispatched our Airbus A400M to collate data in support of the on-going efforts to understand the behaviour and potential effects of A68a. Guided by the satellite tracking, the A400M can get under the weather and closer to the iceberg, enabling more detailed observations. I know I speak on behalf of all of the crew involved when I say this is certainly a unique and unforgettable task to be involved in.’’ – Squadron Leader Michael Wilkinson, Officer Commanding 1312 Flt.

This iceberg would have usually attracted the attention of the numerous cruise ships in the Southern Ocean during the summer. However, with the global pandemic on-going, cruise ship traffic is negligible this year.

The sheer size of A68a meant it was impossible to capture its entirety in one single shot from the A400M, however, this reconnaissance has provided ‘close up’ imagery of the iceberg and surrounding waters for observers and scientists to enjoy and study. The data collected by A400M reconnaissance has been shared with both GSGSSI and British Antarctic Survey (BAS) who are following the progress of the A68a. The imagery stills, video footage and visual observations will all assist in predicting the iceberg’s future behaviour and ascertaining the scale of the threat to the local area.


Image 1 (1121): The A400M was able to get below the weather and cloud coverage, capturing the outline of the iceberg in unprecedented detail.


Image 2 (1525): Flying along the iceberg reveals the steep vertical sides, approximately 30m high.


Image 3 (1188): Closer imagery of the vertical sides uncovers tunnels under the iceberg, as well as deep fissures extending downwards. These highlight possible instabilities which, with further analysis, could indicate the iceberg’s subsequent behaviour.


Image 4 (1790): Large tabular icebergs can be visibly seen breaking off A68a. It is these tabular icebergs and debris that could pose a threat to patrol vessels including Royal Navy’s own HMS Forth and GSGSSI MV Pharos SG.


Image 5 (0767): Imagery of the waters surrounding show the large amount of A68a is disintegrating into growlers and brash ice.



For further information, contact Fg Off Hannah Jones at BFSAI Falklands Media Operations on +500 74204 or +500 751266.

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands Celebrates Inaugural Polar Pride Day

Diversity Flag through Antarctic Animals – Credit: Huw Griffiths

On the 18th of November, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands and the Government of the British Antarctic Territory (BAT) celebrated the inaugural Polar Pride Day. This day demonstrated a commitment to support and enhance Diversity in Polar Science.

To mark the day photos and stories were shared on social media using the hashtag #PolarPride.  At King Edward Point and Bird Island all station personnel got involved with celebrating this important day.

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

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 & Development Office Polar Regions Department, celebrates existing diversity, and takes an important step forward to promote and enhance Antarctic and sub-Antarctic science opportunities to under-represented groups, including women, people from ethnic minorities, BAME, LGBTQ+ community and people with a disability.

When the day was first declared, Minister for the Polar Regions, Baroness Sugg, said:

“#Polar Pride 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 Polar 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, said:

“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 GSGSSI, GBAT, the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development 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.

Big thanks to the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and the Government of British Antarctic Territory for funding the superb badges with the Pride in Polar Research logo.

Smell A Rat? How Biosecurity Dogs Safeguard South Georgia’s Ecology

Being somewhat quiet on the tourism side, we have been putting Sammy’s skills to broader use – outreach!

With much of the world in lockdown, we thought that a light-hearted look at the dog programme, complete with lots of pictures and videos of Sammy, would be just the thing. So, in November we advertised a presentation with the following teaser.


Then in early December we gave an online presentation titled ‘Smell a rat? How biosecurity dogs safeguard South Georgia’s ecology.’ The live presentation was blighted with technical gremlins, but despite that, and a few stressful minutes with 120 people watching us trying to fix Zoom (while Sammy barked at the door wanting the most poorly-timed comfort break in history), we overcame the gremlins, and the presentation was well received.

The dog programme has a lot to celebrate. Last year, Sammy searched over 70 vessels bound for South Georgia, including cruise ships, yachts and fishing vessels and of course our own patrol vessel MV Pharos SG. We are particularly proud of the fact that despite the pandemic, the dog team were able to check all the fishing vessels transiting through the Falklands to South Georgia.

Fishing vessel boardings are challenging! We boarded via launch which meant climbing pilot ladders and hauling Sammy up the side of the ship in a harness, as well as using accommodation ladders, and even man cages and cargo nets hauled by the ship’s crane. In the build-up for this, we had to do a lot of training with Sammy, mimicking these scenarios as best we could, hauling Sammy up the side of buildings and giving him plenty of treats, reassurance and encouragement. Of all places, the local secondary school proved to be the perfect harness training ground!


When it came time to board the fishing vessels for real, Sammy took it all in his stride. He didn’t even bat an eyelid at us in our full covid PPE! All of the vessels were given the ‘all clear’ for rodents before they sailed to South Georgia.

We worked with the British Antarctic Survey (BAS), Working Dogs For Conservation (WD4C) and Conservation K9 Consultancy (CK9C) to establish a UK dog programme capable of searching BAS vessels to GSGSSI’s stringent specifications. Sorry, a lot of acronyms there! Take a breath, there’s a few more coming…

The UK dog team searched the cargo vessel MV Billesborg in support of the KEP wharf build and again for the demobilisation, and more recently searched the RRS James Clark Ross and her cargo for BAS ahead of the 2020/21 Antarctic season. This is great news for South Georgia and means that vessels can be searched to stringent GSGSSI standards whether they are departing the UK or the Falkland Islands.

Anyway, I don’t want to give too much away, watch the presentation (minus the gremlins) for yourself.

South Georgia Congratulates Tristan da Cunha and Celebrates 4 Years of the Blue Belt Programme

GSGSSI would like to congratulate Tristan da Cunha on the establishment of their new Marine Protection Zone. With the establishment of this protected area, Tristan da Cunha joins South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands and other UK Overseas Territories, including Ascension, St Helena, Pitcairn and the British Indian Ocean Territory, in making a lasting commitment to protect the waters surrounding these incredible islands.

The announcement comes as the Blue Belt Programme, a UK Government initiative to support marine management in the OT’s, reaches a 4-year milestone. The SGSSI Marine Protected Area covers over 1.24 million square kilometres, and with today’s declaration from Tristan da Cunha, the Blue Belt Programme’s total protected area is now over 4.3 million square kilometres. This is the equivalent to more than 17 times the size of the UK and over 1% of the Earth’s ocean.

You can learn more about South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands involvement with the Blue Belt Programme – download here. [.docx]

Duty And Sacrifice – Shackleton’s Unsung Heroes

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands has released a new stamp set to honour the duty and sacrifice shown by Shackleton’s men during the First World War.



The story of Shackleton and his men is the stuff of legend. In 1915, with the loss of his vessel Endurance during the Imperial-Trans Antarctic Expedition there followed a story of survival, bravery and determination famed throughout the world. Shackleton and five of his men undertook an epic open boat journey across the Southern Ocean and the first ever overland crossing of South Georgia in order to raise the alarm and send help to crew members who were left behind battling for survival on Elephant Island. Famously, all of Shackleton’s men survived. Each individual stepped up where they had the skills and strength to do so, but also had the courage to put aside their ego and acknowledge weakness so as not to endanger their crew mates.

On their return to England in 1917 the First World War was raging. Despite knowing they may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, Shackleton’s men did what they considered to be their duty and signed up to help the war effort. Whilst a handful of those men were recognised for specific acts of gallantry, previously recognised on a South Georgia stamp edition in 2019, most simply displayed the same selfless resolve they showed during the Endurance expedition. They were in effect Shackleton’s unsung heroes.


70p – Timothy McCarthy 1888 – 1917 and SS Narragansett

McCarthy was an able seaman during the Endurance Expedition and due to his skills and resilience was one of the five men who accompanied Shackleton on the rescue mission to South Georgia.

Immediately on return to England, he signed up to the war effort as part of the Royal Navy Reserve and was deployed as a leading seaman on SS Narragansett. On transit between the south-west coast of Ireland and the Scilly Isles the vessel was torpedoed and he, along with all other 45 hands on board were killed. He was the first of the Endurance crew members to die in the war, just three weeks after returning from the expedition.


80p – Alfred Cheetham 1866 – 1918 and SS Prunelle

Cheetham was already an Antarctic veteran by the time he was serving as third officer on the Endurance having previously served as part of the Discovery and Terra Nova Expeditions. Worsley referred to him as “a pirate to his fingertips” and his cheerful disposition made him an invaluable boost to morale for the men left on Elephant Island.

On return to England, Cheetham learned that one of his sons had died serving on RMS Adriatic. Despite this personal tragedy, Cheetham enlisted in the Mercantile Marine and served aboard SS Prunelle. Just 2 miles from the safety of port, the vessel was targeted by a German submarine SM UB-112. The ensuing explosion sank the ship, killing 12 of the 16 crew, including Cheetham.


£1.05 – Huberht Taylor Hudson 1886 – 1942 – Mystery Q-ships

Hudson was a navigating officer in the Royal Navy who took part in the Endurance expedition as a mate. Able to turn his hand to many skills, Hudson proved an invaluable team member due to his ability to catch penguins for food whilst the party were trapped in the ice. The trials of the expedition took its toll on Hudson and by the time the party were rescued from Elephant Island he was in poor mental and physical health.

Nevertheless, Hudson also signed up to help the war effort and served on the ‘Mystery Q-ships’. These heavily armed merchant vessels had concealed weaponry and were designed as decoy vessels to lure enemy submarines into making surface attacks. Hudson survived WWI and such was his sense of duty that he later served in WWII as a Royal Navy Reserve Commodore when in 1942 he died when his vessel Pelayo was torpedoed by U-552.


£1.25 – Charles Green 1888 – 1974 and HMS Wakeful

Son of a master baker, Green ran away from home at 22 to join the Merchant Navy.  When in Buenos Aires, after hearing that Shackleton had fired his cook for drunkenness, Green signed up for the Endurance expedition. Working day and night in the galley whilst at sea, and continuing to cook for his crew mates when stranded on the pack ice, a few days after arrival on Elephant Island, Green collapsed from exhaustion.

When back in England he enlisted in the Royal Navy and continued to serve his country in the best way he knew how – as a cook. During WWI he served on the Destroyer HMS Wakeful and was injured when the vessel was attacked. He re-joined the Merchant Navy in 1919 and served on a range of ships until retirement in 1931. During WWII he continued to do his duty and worked as a Fire Watcher in the city of Hull. Green died in 1974 at the age of 85.  He was one of last members of the Endurance crew to pass away.


Lest we forget.


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

30th October 2020 – Environment Day

The 30th of Octrober was the first official Environment Day public holiday in South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands. Environment Day is a celebration of having the environment at the heart of all decisions and a commitment to value and protect all of South Georgia, from the whales, penguins and seals to the invertebrates and algae.

SGSSI are a rarity in that they are an ecosystem in recovery. All who care for the islands are proud of this but whilst acknowledging progress, must also acknowledge past harm. The first wave of overexploitation of the South Georgia environment came with the sealers and at the peak in 1800/1801 season 112,000 fur seal pelts were taken and the population rapidly crashed. Not long after in the 1900’s the whaling industry was responsible for death of 175,250 whales. As well as unsustainably harvesting natural resources, early human enterprises also inadvertently caused disaster by introduction of non-native species including rodents, reindeer and numerous invasive plants which had devastating impacts on native vegetation and birds

Today the environment is thought of as something to be cherished and shared. Success stories include habitat restoration projects to eradicate reindeer, rats and invasive plant species; a Marine Protected Area which marries robust environmental protection with sustainable fisheries; and visits that allow people to share in the wonder that is South Georgia but without harming the environment in the process

Looking to the future, our work to preserve and protect the environment of SGSSI is not done. In its national biodiversity action plan GSGSSI committed to designating terrestrial protected areas. Over the next 12 months, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands will work with stakeholders to develop the detail of these plans. Although great progress has been made on invasive plant management, we are committed to continuing this work. We are also planning to develop a South Georgia Ambassadors programme so that visitors are empowered to share the powerful story of South Georgia with the world.

Photo credit: Ian Parker / Unsplash

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands In The News

RAF releases video of world’s biggest iceberg


Scientists worry 1,620-square-mile iceberg could devastate wildlife on South Georgia Island


Scientists fear iceberg collision


SGHT Commission: Grytviken Whaling Station, South Georgia


Are Antarctic Blue Whales Coming Back From The Brink Of Extinction?


Blue whales have ‘rediscovered’ South Georgia


After a Century, Blue Whales Return to South Georgia Island


Antarctica’s blue whales return to South Georgia a century after they were nearly wiped out


‘Hugely exciting’: Blue whales returning to South Georgia after near extinction


Blue whale sightings off South Georgia raise hopes of recovery


RRS James Clark Ross in South Georgia after seven weeks sailing


South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands Celebrates Inaugural Polar Pride Day


Angus artist Michael Visocchi commissioned for sculpture commemorating conservation work


South Georgia whaling: Antarctic art marks a dark past


Antarctica: an ecosystem under threat – in pictures

Latest Videos And Photos

South Georgia Heritage Trust Artistic Commission: “Commensalis – the Spirit Tables of South Georgia.” SGHT has just unveiled a new artistic commission to shine a light on the story of humankind and the resurgence of the wildlife of South Georgia.


South Georgia (Island) from whaling history to conservation model – BBC News

Scientists at King Edward Point visited a macaroni penguin colony site on Barff Peninsula, accessible only by boat, earlier this month to check on the monitoring cameras before the penguins return!


Who said penguins can’t take to the skies? This expertly photographed ‘flying’ gentoo penguin suggests otherwise! © Esoibel