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Signy Island Diary — January 2010

We started off the year with a day off work and a wonderful four course meal prepared by Dirk Briggs. Despite starting with a day off work, January would turn out to be a very busy month for us at Signy. Up until now us technician guys had been busy doing smaller jobs and preparation for the generator replacement project. Now with the interruptions of Christmas and New Year behind us we could get started with our planned projects.

Early on in the month we had a scare with the communication systems as we went “Dark” (a term we picked up from Jack Bauer of the TV series 24, to indicate not having any communications, thanks to Mike Dunn who got most of us hooked on the series). Lucky for us our base commander Matt Jobson was able to fix the problem after a long broken up conversation with the communication technicians over the sat phone.

As we were working on the generators, most of our time was spent indoors in the generator shed. This meant that we had little chance to have a look around Signy but the long hours paid off as by the 11th January we were able to use the first of the new generators to power the base. By the 14th we had the second new generator completed too so both new generators were now ready to power the base.

As we were so busy we did not see much of the scientists and it was usually only at tea time that we would hear from them what they had been doing that day. They too were very busy with their research as it was just the two of them with no support from a GA this season and as the tech team had been really busy they had little help from us this month.

Some of the jobs Dirk and Mike did do this month were the base seal count which started on the 2nd January and consists of counting the seals around base every night before tea. The two of them also made regular trips to Gourlay, Cummings Cove and North Point to record the breeding success of the Chinstrap Adélie and Gentoo penguins.

Every now and again the base would feel empty as Mike and Dirk would stay out overnight to give themselves more time out in the field to monitor the Adélie fledglings, do Chinstrap chick counts and do litter sweeps of three different beaches to record how much man made waste is washed up on Signy’s beaches. I was surprised to learn from Mike that despite Signy being so isolated and remote, the beaches often get man made waste washed up on shore.

As the month drew to a close Dirk and Mike got even busier as Dirk’s departure from Signy was fast approaching. Their month ended with the weighing of the Adélie fledglings and a survey of the Southern Giant Petrel breeding pairs.

Once we had completed the generator replacements we started on our next project which was the replacement of the fuel line that runs from the main fuel storage tank to the generator shed. Before we could actually start any work on the fuel line we needed to move the elephant seals out of our way. We spent the morning banging bin lids together to try and get the seals to move away. As soon as they had all moved off we constructed a temporary fence that we hoped would keep the seals from returning. With us now having the space to work we started the smelly job of digging up the old pipeline. The reason it was so smelly was because where the pipeline goes into the generator shed is a spot that is a favourite with the seals and they spend most days sleeping in that area (and as they are not the most hygienic animals) they tend to use that spot not just as a sleeping place but as a toilet too!

The boys at work
The boys at work

The rest of the month flew by as we worked on our projects and by the end of the month we had completed the main fuel line. The seal fences we had put up had stood up all this time and kept them out but on Saturday the 30th January a large male thought he would test them and with his weight had no problem in crushing the timber and getting inside our working area. Although the fuel line was completed by this time, we had not yet completed the walkway that will pass over the pipeline and give the pipeline protection against the seals. Lucky for us Mike who was on earlies and Tony heard when he broke in and with the bin lids they were able to drive the seal out and away from the fuel line.

Signy County Council
Signy County Council

With the two biggest projects of the season completed, it feels like we have had a successful first half to our season, hopefully the momentum will stay with us so we have just as a good second half to our stay here on Signy.

Gerry Hattingh