Round South Georgia / by Jerry

28th Feb '13

Still on the RSS Ernest Shackleton, preparing to leave South Georgia and head to the Falklands, where I will hopefully get my tooth fixed before returning on the same boat, being dropped off back at Bird Island at last call.

The last few days have been spent travelling round some of the bays south of King Edward Point and Grytviken, seeing a few other old, rusty and collapsed whaling stations nestled at the edge of impressive wide bays with huge glaciers pouring into them from between huge, snowy peaks.

On the way there's been icebergs drifting past and bays full of smaller, broken ice chunks. Between them swim King and Gentoo Penguins, or groups of Fur Seals, grouped together and leaping clear of the water, porpoising, to travel quicker.

The reason for these travels is that the ship is supporting the South Georgia Heritage Trust in it's habitat restoration project. The main thrust of this at the moment is rodent eradication. Rats and mice were introduced by accident many years ago, when they would have been prevalent on old whaling ships. As on many other islands across the world they have been a menace, particularly to the ground-nesting seabirds – albatrosses, petrels, prions and terns - upon whose eggs and chicks they prey. The rats are mainly around the old whaling stations, with their range limited by the glaciers. But with those glaciers retreating at an increasing rate there is an urgent need to remove any rats before they can spread further.

I've spent a good deal of time up on the top deck, watching the helicopters drop off fuel, bait, supplies and camping equipment in the bays. A small team will be staying out until the onset of winter, around May, distributing the bait and checking on its effectiveness.

There are now many measures in place to prevent further introduction of non-native species – not just rats but alien flora as well. Thankfully Bird Island has never been invaded by land-based predators, hence the abundance of albatrosses and burrowing birds.

It is a similar story in the UK. Islands where I've worked; The Farnes, Skomer and Skokholm, have never been home to land-predators and the result is high numbers of burrow-nesting birds like Puffins and Manx Shearwaters. Projects like this one in South Georgia can and do work though, as islands like Ramsey and Lundy show; having recently rid themselves of rats they are experiencing an increase in ground-nesting birds.

There were bigger icebergs than this, but not many others with faces. 

Groups of Fur Seals regularly swam round the boat, porpoising to move quicker.

Chunks of ice in Fortuna Bay.
The old whaling station at Husvik.