South Georgia Newsletter, August – September 2020

This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.
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South Georgia – A Visitor’s Guide Film

(The film can be watched here.)

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) has launched its new film ‘South Georgia – A Visitor’s Guide’, narrated by Sir David Attenborough. The film has two key messages; firstly, it encourages visitors to respect and protect the island so their visit can be truly sustainable, but there is another message which is relevant to us all; proof that nature can recover, if we give it the chance.

The film tells the story of how with careful management, ambitious habitat restoration projects, dedication and the passing of time, an ecosystem was saved from disaster. Past human activities on South Georgia harmed the environment through sealing, industrial whaling and unregulated fishing. The introduction of rats, reindeers and invasive plants upset the delicate ecological balance on land, pushing some species to the brink of extinction. Today, through hard work and commitment, South Georgia is a global rarity; an ecosystem in recovery.

Fur seals now number around 5 million, that’s 95% of the global population. 400,000 nesting pairs of king penguins and their chicks jostle for space with nearly half a million southern elephant seals; South Georgia is home to the greatest concentration of seabirds and marine mammals on the planet.

Professor Dame Jane Francis DCMG, Director of the British Antarctic Survey said:

“South Georgia is a real gem in the Southern Ocean. The breath-taking scenery and stunning wildlife will fill you with awe and make you wonder at the incredible beauty of the island in its natural state. South Georgia shows us how much better our planet can be if we learn to live in balance with nature.”

Sir David Attenborough introduced the world to this remarkable place almost thirty years ago in the ground-breaking BBC series Life in Freezer. His association with the island has continued over the years with subsequent wildlife documentaries including Blue Planet and Frozen Planet. Passionate about the ongoing need to protect the ecology of South Georgia, Sir David has generously lent his voice and provided the narration for this new visitor film, in which he says:

“I’d like to invite you to… share the wonderful story of how an ecosystem can be saved from disaster. Let [South Georgia] it be your inspiration to seek out nature, and play your part in protecting and restoring our planet, whenever and however you can.”

Threats to South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands remain, but they are largely global environmental issues which need to be addressed on a global scale. Climate change is a shocking reality in South Georgia with glaciers retreating rapidly, whilst albatross numbers are declining as they remain vulnerable to unregulated fishing activities when foraging on the high seas far from our protected waters. Sadly, marine plastics are now reaching even the most remote places on earth.

His Excellency Nigel Phillips CBE, Commissioner for South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, said:

“It is a privilege to be Commissioner and custodian of one of the most remarkable places on earth. This film beautifully encompasses the outcomes of tireless work of many people over the decades that Sir David Attenborough has been visiting. It is only as a result of their endeavours that this film can tell such a moving story of an ecosystem in recovery. It will inspire, it may even take your breath away.

With an understanding of how small actions can have big repercussion, we aim to inspire visitors to live in a more environmentally sensitive way, that sustains our planet, and does not destroy it.

I extend my thanks to all those who have worked on this project, not least Sir David Attenborough, and the UK government for their funding support.”

Prior to landing on South Georgia, visitors will watch the film to better understand why it is important to follow the environmental protection guidelines set out by the GSGSSI. Gina Greer, Executive Director of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO) said:

“As a non-profit association dedicated to advocating safe and environmentally responsible travel to Antarctica and the sub-Antarctic islands, IAATO is thrilled by the release of ‘South Georgia – A Visitor’s Guide.

This beautifully shot short film perfectly encapsulates the years of partnership working between GSGSSI and IAATO Members to facilitate responsible travel, create ambassadors for this unique region and encourage environmentally sensitive behaviour by all those fortunate enough to visit the island.

IAATO is proud to have played a part in bringing ‘South Georgia – A Visitor’s Guide’ to fruition and we look forward to sharing it with future visitors.”

‘South Georgia – a Visitor’s Guide’ was produced by Silverback Films Ltd, using specially shot new footage, as well as footage donated by the BBC Archive and private individuals, Danny Georgeson, Ramon Benedet & David Sugden.

GSGSSI wishes to thank all who volunteered their passion, commitment and love of South Georgia to make the film possible, with special thanks to the crew and passengers of Hanseatic Nature, Bremen and Pharos SG.



Consultation Period Opens On A New SGSSI Strategic Framework

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands has opened the consultation period on a new strategic framework.

GSGSSI Chief Executive, Helen Havercroft, has invited Stakeholders and interested parties to take part in the consultation for the new strategic framework – comments be received on or before 16 November 2020:

Dear Stakeholders and interested parties,

I would like to invite you to provide feedback on the South Georgia & South Sandwich Islands strategic framework document: Inspire Protect Manage; 2021-2025. The document will replace our existing five-year strategy which expires at the end of this year. The new document represents a change in approach. Our aim is to set out our vision and guiding values in order that everyone can understand how the Government intends to approach the coming period. Subject to this consultation, we have identified the following values as the most representative: Environmental Protection, Evidence-Based Decision Making, Sustainability and Openness.

Of course we are not starting from zero and the 2016-2020 strategy made possible the shift to a values based approach that is now being proposed.

We welcome comments and views from all stakeholders on or before 16th November 2020 to ceo(at) Your comments will help put us in a great position for the start of 2021.

Together with the draft document there is a pro-forma feedback form which you might find helpful.

May I take this opportunity to wish you well in what continues to be very challenging times globally.

Yours sincerely,

Helen Havercroft

Chief Executive

The consultation document and feedback form can be downloaded from here.

2019 Annual Report

GSGSSI has published the Annual Report covering the principal activities over 2019. As HE Commissioner, Nigel Philips CBE notes in his opening address, 2020 has been an extraordinary year and whilst it continues to be the Covid-19 pandemic that dominates our current thinking, it is valuable to reflect on the achievements of 2019. We showed that by working together with stakeholders we remain true to our principles of stewardship, environmental protection, world-class biosecurity measures and evidence-based decision making. The challenges of 2020 will not alter that commitment.

The report can be downloaded here.


GSGSSI Annual Stakeholder Meeting

The GSGSSI Annual Stakeholder Meeting took place on the 24th September with attendees joining virtually.

Her Majesty’s Commissioner Nigel Phillips CBE, Speech to Stakeholders is given below. The additional presentations can also be downloaded.

We cannot consider 2020 without referencing COVID. Thankfully we have not had a case in South Georgia, but like the entire globe, everything has been touched by it. What has given me heart is that the years of developing partnerships has really paid off in the collaboration we have seen. Not everything can be overcome, for some this has been a dreadful time and there is no honesty in trying to put a happy spin on it. That does not mean however that we should entertain malaise and I will in my comments talk a little about how we are using this unwelcome pause to build back better. That we can think of building back at all is due to the support we have had from key partners, most especially the fishing industry, in keeping SGSSI solvent this winter. With the buoyancy that solvency brings, we will do all we can to work with all our partners to weather the storm together. We will never compromise our values and principles as a government, yet my team and I recognise that it is only through our collaboration with you that in 2020 we have reached a position after years of effort where South Georgia is a self-financing ecosystem in recovery, that is both protected from harmful activity and increasingly understood through science. That success is what partnership is all about to me. And that is why I will never apologise for prioritising it to the degree I do.


  • That we had a fishing season was down to collaboration and compromise. Critical to us however was 100% compliance with the Government fishing licence requirements, including full observer coverage, pre-licencing inspections and at seas inspections.
  • Licencing inspection themselves were an example of collaboration with the Falkland Islands, for we conducted them in Stanley, including rodent detection, rather than King Edward Point, allowing vessels to immediately proceed to fishing grounds and limit quarantine required by our Government Officers on South Georgia.
  • Enforcement was also an example of collaboration. Even before COVID dominated the agenda the Government worked with Falkland Island Government, Marine Management Organisation and others to identify suspected IUU connected with the vessel NIKA. That collaboration moved into working with Interpol and resulted in Panama listing the vessel as undertaking IUU activity.
  • And krill were another example of collaboration. We collaborated with the industry, ahead of it being a licencing condition, to carry our prescribed acoustic transect to collect in-season data on krill biomass. This will be developed for next season and will contribute to South Georgia’s and CCAMLR’s krill management strategy.


Visitor Management

  • Clearly cruise ship operations have been badly hit by COVID. The end of the last season saw some great collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and Falkland Island Government to help repatriate passengers.
  • Despite COVID, we are committed to keep South Georgia open in a manner that is safe for guests and our teams, including Government Officers. We are doing this because we understand the difficulties and we hope keeping the door open gives the tourist industry options and hope. The team has been working with colleagues at IAATO to ensure we have workable processes.
  • Working together the Government and South Georgia Heritage Trust have agreed a plan for the use of the ground floor space of the Mainstore, offering guests a chance to better understand what whaling. Whilst I deplore the practice with every fibre of my being, I can recognise the logistic skill and courage of those who participated in the industry. And if anyone doubts the dangers, the grave yards at each of the stations lay in silent testimony. We hope that broadening understanding will both enrich the visitor experience and educate people.
  • I would also like to thank SGHT for working closely with the team over the winter period to agree the closure of buildings at Grytviken including the museum and using that time so positively to push forward other outreach programmes.
  • Not wishing to squander a quieter season, we are bringing forward plans to establish comprehensive management plans for many of the key visitor sites. We already carried out a lot of work research in 2014, but we need now to consider terrestrial protection in a broader context. This, coupled with the introduction of an observer programme to support the monitoring of sites will boost our commitment to protection of both land and sea.



  • Without a safe port, the delivery of our mission would be infinitely harder. The refurbishment and expansion of the KEP Wharf to accept the RRS Sir David Attenborough was therefore a major goal.
  • In what must be a rarity, the project was completed on time and within the revised, but agreed budget. The work was another triumph of logistics, as must be every successful endeavour in this part of the world. The collaboration in developing an affordable design was a master class in delivering fit for purpose, not gold plated. Maintaining our strict biosecurity protocols was a similarly impressive disciple.


UK Polar Regions Department Collaboration

  • CCAMLR – 2019 CCAMLR feels a long time ago, but it was a tour de force of collaboration, working extremely hard in the run up to place the Commissioner and whole UK delegation in a well-supported position with robust scientific evidence on which to build consensus.
  • I want to take the opportunity thank Jane and her team for their continued support of the SGSSI, not just in CCAMLR, but across the board. That work will continue into 2021 as I will in a moment briefly touch upon.
  • Staying with thanks yous. One person who has been working with GSGSSI for over 5 years but is about to move on is Stuart Doubleday. I would like to take a moment to thank Stuart for his commitment to South Georgia and the many many strands of work he helps us pull together and deliver. We wish him well in his new endeavours.


Looking Forward

  • New Visitor Guide – the SDA film – New incredible film to share the wonder of South Georgia – and I hope you would agree, is something of a coup! This sits well with the Extinction series by Sir David Attenborough, and makes clear that we all have a vital part to play in the stewardship of a place as special as South Georgia.
  • We are fast approaching our inaugural Environment Day on 30 October 2020. Environmental Protection is an intrinsic value in the GSGSSI decision making process and this day will provide an opportunity to share some of those highlights.
  • Invasive Plant Management – Renewing a quarter of a million-pound invasive plant management programme.
  • Next 5-year Strategy will be consulted on shortly and small meetings convened, virtually again, to share views and hear from a broad range of stakeholders. The key message is that we aim to carry on the good work, but to shift to a values based approach.
  • The Blue Belt programme is pushing forward the Management Plan for the MPA, encouraging Islands wide plans and committing to another 3 to 5 years of funding to support us further.
  • In 2021 the UK will host COP 26. It is clarion call for action on climate and the environment. As you would expect, not only are we listening, we will do our part.


Expanding Capacity

  • This Government is founded on good operations, but we are aspirational. Because SGSSI is what it is, we are committed to push forward as a global exemplar by developing, adopting and advocating best practise in the areas we touch. To do that well, we need to get policy and legislation in the right place and I am looking to determine how we might expand our capability and capacity to achieve that. More on that in the coming months.
  • And we will shortly be opening up our GO recruitment window. If your thought Shackleton’s job advert was the bees knees, it might be the job for you or someone you know. Please do get in touch with us if there are any leads, we are looking for special people to live and work in a special place.

Again, thank you all for the part you play in the success of SGSSI.

Tourist Season Update

During the uncertain times the pandemic has presented, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands were glad to be able to speak directly to tourism industry representatives on the 5th August during a virtual meeting hosted by IAATO.

Her Majesty’s Commissioner, Nigel Phillips CBE opened the meeting with a welcome address explaining why we are striving to support a tourism season as part of our longer view on the management and protection of South Georgia. The Commissioner noted that South Georgia is a destination and not a gateway, and as such is dependent on international travel restrictions, and those implemented by gateway authorities, but the message was clear ‘If you can get here, we are open.’

CEO Helen Havercroft went on the explain that in order to facilitate safe visits, the Government requires assurance from vessel operators that the risk of COVID-19 had been adequately mitigated against prior to arrival. Vessels with known COVID-19 cases would not be permitted entry.

Ross James, Visitor Management Officer described GSGSSI’s Health Declaration system which sets out to risk assess each vessel and provide a sliding scale of response to risk, with scope for allowing visits to uninhabited parts of South Georgia only.

It was impressed upon attendees that for any visits to be considered, there would be no relaxation of environmental standards, indeed the system devised increases the stakes and encourages operators to ensure that the very best standards of biosecurity are applied.

The full presentation is available by downloading here [.pdf, 2.1 mb]

We Are Recruiting!

We are recruiting Government Officers and expanding the complement of staff that covers the wide range of duties on South Georgia throughout the year.

This role of Government Officer is primarily based on South Georgia working in rotation with others. You will be the principal point of contact for vessels entering our Maritime Zone, co-ordinating Government administration on the Territory and leading our compliance and enforcement function. Steve and Emma are our current Government Officers handle a huge array of tasks in all weathers. A couple of highlights this year include maintaining a fully compliant fishery despite the global backdrop of COVID and managing the Territory during extensive development works to the King Edward Point wharf.

It’s an exciting time to join GSGSSI as we refresh our 5 year strategy and we look forward to receiving applications from a wide variety of different backgrounds. As part of a small team you will help deliver key strategic projects that will preserve and protect the delicate balance of an ecosystem in recovery. As our lead person for Government in the Territory you will be accountable and responsible for various government functions, not least as a representative of the Government and its position as a UK Overseas Territory.

Commissioner, Nigel Phillips noted “If you thought Shackleton’s job advert was the bee’s knees, this might be the job for you or someone you know. Please do get in touch with us, we are looking for special people to live and work in this unique place”.

Update – the closing date for applications has now ended.

The Magic Of The Viola Captured In Words And Pictures

‘Heading Home’ by Steve Fletcher

A writer and an artist who discovered the stories of the Viola by way of a cultural competition have now been inspired to use their work to spread the word about her exploits.

The pair took first place in their respective categories in the “One Thousands Words” competition organised by the Viola Trust, challenging creatives to paint a picture or write a short story.

Alison Riley, whose writing desk at her home in Hornsea overlooks the North Sea, came up with a poem, “Far From Home” which charted key aspects of the Viola’s long and proud history and delighted judges drawn from the Viola trustees.

Steve Fletcher, a Hull-born sculptor and artist, submitted two works which he painted in his home studio at Patrington in East Yorkshire. The winning entry, “Heading Home”, shows the Viola in her fishing days, sailing past the chalk cliffs of Flamborough Head and Bempton on her way back to Hull.

Alison is now in touch with Dr Robb Robinson, a Viola trustee and renowned maritime historian, to research further details of the ship’s history with a view to writing more poems and stories.

Steve has offered to assist the Viola Trust by completing more paintings depicting other phases of the Viola’s career.

Norman Court, Project Manager for the Viola Trust, said: “We are delighted that the competition encouraged such talented people to explore the stories of the Viola and to create such wonderful work.

“We are extremely impressed with the quality of entries which we received from artists and writers and we will use the work of Alison, Steve and the other finalists to promote the Viola and help to raise awareness of our campaign to bring her back to Hull. We hope to stage an exhibition of the works as soon as circumstances permit.”

Far From Home
Here lies Dias,
Seven thousand, seven hundred and forty four miles from home,
Like an old bod, beached with her mariners’ memories,
Long weeks at sea long since gone by the board.
She’s still keeping an eye out for elephant seals,
Dreaming of whales in the South Atlantic,
Laid low listening to seabirds’ shanties,
Not speaking of the wars.

Here lies Kapduen,
Seven thousand, seven hundred and forty four miles from home,
Short of ten men to hold her on a course north,
Even at this stretch she’s striking the souls of East Yorkshire’s fishermen,
Ringing the hearts of Hull’s finest like a ship’s bell struck,
To think of one of theirs so far from home.
Sun-bleached paint and rust flakes from her hull
Falling like snow into the water.

Here lies Viola,
Seven thousand, seven hundred and forty four miles from home.
Nineteen seventy-four, snow-scuttled in Grytviken,
Castled by ice, pillars of frozen water heavy as dead whales.
Odd to think that a champion of North Sea storms,
Victor over submarines, could fall victim to midwinter’s snow.
Viewing her from high on the hill, old Ernest shakes his head,
As though to say, “Viola, it’s time you were home.”

By Alison Riley.

Wandering Albatross Tracking At Bird Island

Alexandra Dodds is albatross zoological field assistant at the British Antarctic Survey Bird Island Research Station in South Georgia. The team have been working hard over the austral winter, conducting important long-term monitoring of the local wildlife. In her latest blog, Alexandra explains how the Bird Island team are helping to monitor wandering albatross flight patterns and breeding behaviour – informing global efforts to protect this vulnerable species.

Why are wandering albatross populations declining?

Wandering albatrosses are magnificent aviators famously known for having the largest wingspan of any flying bird, but in recent decades their life on the high seas has become more hazardous. In total, 21 out of the 22 albatross species are classified as globally threatened, and two as Critically Endangered, according to the World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List. The main threat faced by wandering albatrosses is bycatch in fisheries, where the birds are accidentally caught in fishing gear.

Albatrosses are opportunistic surface feeders who prey mainly on squid and fish. These ocean giants are often attracted by the prospect of an easy meal of fish discards and baited hooks from long-line fishing vessels and trawlers, resulting in the death of tens of thousands of albatrosses every year. The main cause of death or injury is when they scavenge on baited long-line hooks or collide with trawler cables.


Wandering albatross in flight in South Georgia. Credit: Alexandra Dodds.


How can tracking wandering albatross flight patterns and breeding behaviour help conservation efforts?

With support from my fellow winterers at Bird Island Research Station, I have been conducting fieldwork for a Darwin Plus funded research project, in partnership with BirdLife International. The ‘Bycatch risk of wandering albatrosses from radar detection’ project has been working to link habitat preference, at-sea activity patterns and detections from novel bird-borne radars. The project aims to quantify interactions of tracked wandering albatrosses with legal and Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing vessels. Along with focussing on breeding adults during chick rearing, the project is also investigating where adults taking a year off from breeding, and adults not yet breeding go to find food.

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

Amateur Radio Licences

Over the last 4 months the Falkland Islands Communication Regulator has been revalidating Falkland Islands Amateur Radio Licences. The key reason for this was to bring the Amateur Radio Licences into compliance with the Communication Ordinance 2019. However, this has thrown up that South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (and the British Antarctic Territory) is not covered by the provisions of the jurisdiction of the Falkland Island Communications Regulator.

The administrations for BAT and SGSSI are seeking to secure a long term solution to this problem. In the meantime, The Falkland Islands Communication Regulator has agreed to provide temporary licences. Should you have any questions regarding this matter please do not hesitate to contact the Falkland Islands Communication Regulator by email:


Photo: Mike Gloistein @gm0hcq

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands In The News

Sir David Attenborough praises South Georgia’s wilderness – ‘Global rarity’

“The 18-minute mini-documentary says the British Overseas Territory’s fur seals have recovered from the brink of extinction to a population of five million. They jostle for space on the beaches with 500,000 southern elephant seals and 400,000 nesting pairs of king penguins.”


South Georgia announces the launching of a ‘Visitor’s Guide’ film narrated by Sir David Attenborough


A Visitor’s Guide: Frequently Asked Questions Where is South Georgia?


South Georgia Island once rat infested, becomes a rat-free bird sanctuary


South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands: Macaroni penguin featured on new, small-sized gold Proof coins

“South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands have released new gold Proof coins which include a motif that will be seen on colour-produced 50-pence coins released later this year as part of a four-coin series featuring one of the region’s most well-known wildlife species”

Latest Videos And Photos

Small, but mighty! The tiny South Georgia pipit was pushed to the brink of extinction by invasive rats and mice. But since South Georgia has been rodent free, their numbers have increased rapidly.


This lucky fish will escape the plate though, tagged and released by a scientific observer as part of our stock assessment process. [Photo: A. Mjønes]

Constructing a New Wharf for King Edward Point in South Georgia