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King Edward Point Diary — January 2012

With 2011 on South Georgia being cast into the history books, 2012 started in earnest and once again the King Edward Point gang enjoyed a busy, varied and challenging start to the New Year.

As always, BAS science and South Georgia government projects featured heavily on the agenda, and our fisheries biologist, Katie Brigden MSc, Bsc (Hons) continued her hard work collecting samples and compiling key data for the on-going fisheries monitoring program on South Georgia. A large part of Katie’s work involves undertaking plankton trawls aboard the Fisheries Patrol vessel Pharos SG, and the beginning of January saw Katie back at sea trawling along pre determined transects in Cumberland East Bay and Rosita Harbour some 40 nautical miles along the coast from KEP. The samples collected are carefully sorted, weighed and analysed in the James Cook laboratory and the data will contribute to an overall appraisal of the health of the local fishery, and its impact on the wider ecosystems. In addition to this, Katie has also been involved this month in a bird study on Prion Island in connection with the on going rat eradication project.

Katie Brigden with Wandering Albatross Chick on Prion Island. (Photo: Alastair Wilson)
Katie Brigden with Wandering Albatross Chick on Prion Island. (Photo: Alastair Wilson)
Katie in the lab (Photo: Alastair Wilson)
Katie in the lab (Photo: Alastair Wilson)

Further monitoring of the higher predator populations on the island, namely the Antarctic Fur Seal and Gentoo penguin colonies continued too and our other full time scientist Alastair Wilson Msc, BSc (Hons) lead a gang of willing volunteers to the study beach at Maiviken to undertake the first of this year’s seal pup weight surveys. This survey will provide important data about the health of the higher predatory populations on the island to the long term marine monitoring program, and again ensures that krill and fish stocks remain abundant for the animals that rely on them. Data so far this year is very encouraging, and a healthy number of pups have been counted and their food sources appear very good with lots of fat pups recorded. Alastair has also continued his work analyzing scat samples which again will help closely monitor the state of the seal’s diet.

Gentoo penguin and chicks (Photo: Katie Brigden)
Gentoo penguin and chicks (Photo: Katie Brigden)

Visiting scientist Sue Gregory from the Cambridge based marine science department arrived in January, and en-route conducted this year’s ground fish survey aboard the fishing vessel New Polar. Around 30 trawls where carried out, and a large amount of data and samples where recovered from the Shag Rocks area on the different species caught, in particular Mackerel Icefish. Data was gathered on length, frequency, sex and maturity; and stomach samples were taken for analysis back at KEP to provide information on diet and feeding habits. Groundfish Surveys like this one have been carried out since the late 1980s, with the purpose to provide an estimate of the standing stock and age structure of the mackerel icefish and inform fisheries management in SG waters.

Mackerel Icefish (Photo: Katie Brigden)
Mackerel Icefish (Photo: Katie Brigden)

The science theme continued in other disciplines too, and Dr Kieron Fraser, one of our resident government officers carried out some further data collection on the Barff Peninsula to assist with the improvement of the BAS map of the area. The project, headed by Adrian Fox of the BAS Mapping and geographic information systems department (or MAGIC for short) is an SG government lead initiative to further improve the accuracy and detailing of some of the maps used in South Georgia, using detailed aerial photographs supplied by the Royal Navy, with the geo-referencing being done using a very sophisticated GPS system. Conspicuous and unambiguous sites are identified on the photographs and Kieron was then deployed via the base boats to set up the GPS to take positional data for the site. The readings take over an hour, such is the accuracy of the equipment, and a position to within centimeters is achievable. The maps will be an invaluable asset during phase two of the habitat restoration project which will be underway next year.

Dr Kieron Fraser using the GPS equipment. (Photo: Matt Kenney)
Dr Kieron Fraser using the GPS equipment. (Photo: Matt Kenney)

Phase two of the habitat restoration project, a project designed to eradicate all none-native species of plant and animal from the island, will concentrate on the population of reindeer on the Barff and Busen peninsulas. The reindeer have been monitored carefully over the past few years, and a detailed study in to their impact has been completed. The best option for the protection of native plants, animals and birdlife has been determined, and the complete eradication of the animals will be managed by a group of professional reindeer herders from Norway. Representatives of the Statins Nature Oppsin in Norway have been on the island throughout January, and the boating department have been busy deploying them using the boats in to various sites around the locality so they can study the herds and plan for their capture.

Reindeer herd on the Barff Peninsula (Photo: Matt Kenney)
Reindeer herd on the Barff Peninsula (Photo: Matt Kenney)

January was a busy month for shipping too, and 23 vessels came and went throughout. Most of these vessels are visiting cruise ships, and in total nearly 2000 visitors passed through. The weather made its mark for one of these tourist visits, and after landing some 56 passengers ashore, the zodiac drivers where unable to retrieve them as the wind increased to storm force 10, and 70 knot gusted ripped through the cove. Visibility dropped drastically in flying spume, and the ship was forced to weigh anchor and seek more sea room away from the rocky coastline. The team here pulled together and invited all 56 in to the base for tea and biscuits. Emergency blankets and beds where prepared incase the wind forced them to shelter overnight, but thankfully after a couple of hours the gale blew out and the passengers where once again re-united with their ship. The base staff where left to polish off the soup and pasta which had been made for them!

Another welcome visitor this month was the South African research ship SA Aghulas, who stopped by during her science cruise. The vessel stayed at anchor for the day and invited some of us on board for tours. It was a great opportunity for science workers from different national Antarctic programs to come together to share ideas and methods.

January saw the history books re-opened with the arrival of Lieutenant Colonel Chris Nunn OBE Royal Marines and his wife Siobhan. Mr Nunn was the commander of ‘M’ Company, Royal Marines and was heavily involved in military operations in South Georgia during 1982. Mr Nunn gave a fascinating and very even-handed presentation on the islands tumultuous past, and the role of his company during the Falkland Islands conflict; and it was a privilege for base staff to host Mr and Mrs Nunn for a week and facilitate an important visit for a retired war veteran to see the eminent progress made by BAS and the Government of South Georgia since the end of the war. Mr Nunn commented on his satisfaction at seeing the island return once again to a place of peace and science, and was heartened to see the islands rich and diverse ecosystem return to the forefront of the agenda. He also bought with him a valuable archive of documents and artifacts which where kindly donated to the South Georgia heritage trust which has made a substantial contribution the recording of human history in the region.

Lt Col Chris Nunn OBE and his wife Siobhan at the Nordenskjold Glacier. (Photo: Matt Kenney)
Lt Col Chris Nunn OBE and his wife Siobhan at the Nordenskjold Glacier. (Photo: Matt Kenney)

The boating department where kept very busy running numerous support trips to the surrounding peninsulas for the various projects underway. January was also a busy month training this years incumbents in the safe use of the boats. When there is such a busy science agenda, much of the training comes ‘on-the-job’, but there was still time to carry out some dedicated training sessions, for example a towing exercise to simulate a broken down RIB. Despite some 50 hours of time amassed on the water, and the departure in December of Ashley Perrin (Mrs Boat) leaving me solo until the next boating officer, Paula O’Sullivan, arrives in March. I was still able to take a short weekend break to Harpon on the north coast of the Thatcher Peninsula — a fabulous place to spend a couple of days right next to the Lyell Glacier and tremendous views over Cumberland West Bay, with a small breeding colony of King Penguins situated on the old Moraine.

Harpon survival hut (Photo: Matt Kenney)
Harpon survival hut (Photo: Matt Kenney)
King Penguins at the Lyell Glacier (Photo: Matt Kenney)
King Penguins at the Lyell Glacier (Photo: Matt Kenney)

Lastly, this month KEP played host once again to the annual South Georgia half marathon. This grueling test of physical prowess takes the participant 13 miles through tussock, across rivers, up scree slopes and over the summit of Brown Mountain. This year’s winner overall was chief executive of the South Georgia Government — Dr Martin Collins — with an impressive time of 1 hour 47 minutes. In second place, with a very respectable 1 hour 52 minutes was the South Georgia post master Hugh Marsden, with SG Government bird biologist Andy Black coming in 3rd with a time of 1 hour 54 minutes. The ‘runkling’ class (those who intend on walking but running parts of the course) was won by base doctor John Weissmann with a time of 2 hours 27 minutes, and the winner of the walking category (by default as the only competitor in class!) was taken by Alastair Wilson with a respectable 3 hour 43 minute result. The wooden spoon went to Base mechanic Erny Duston with a time of 4 hours 58 minutes, but this was enough to see him take first place in the ‘nordic walking’ class, again as he was the only entrant, and there was some controversy over the validity of this renegade class. Erny, originally hailing from North Yorkshire, was pleased with the result however, and said afterwards “Well I had little chance in’t other classes, so I thought I would mek’ me own up… you know…”

Eventual marathon winner Dr Martin Collins approaches Maivaten hut. (Photo: Karl Erik)
Eventual marathon winner Dr Martin Collins approaches Maivaten hut. (Photo: Karl Erik)

Matt Kenney
Senior Boating Officer, KEP South Georgia.