King Edward Point Diary – February 2008

28 February, 2008 King Edward Point

The BAS team at King Edward Point consists of nine people. The Base Commander, Doctor, three Scientists, a Generator Mechanic, and Electrical Technician and two Boatmen. Our main accommodation block, Everson House, has enough space that we have a double bunk room each. Larsen house, a completely self-contained block, also has four double bunk rooms, the surgery, its own kitchen and office space. There is always a Government Officer and a Post-Mistress/Master on base, and at handover any of these people, or Winterers, as the year-round staff are known, can be doubled up.

The summer season lasts from around mid-October to the end of March, at this our numbers are swollen in King Edward Point by three museum staff and any visitors that BAS or the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands invite to stay. We’re also in the very early days of selling science space and this season has proved that it is possible, with visitors coming in to do independent research with our logistical support. The season has been very busy with numbers reaching a high of 22 people in the middle of February…the base felt like it was bursting at the seams! We also cook on a rota basis, the person on ‘earlies’ gets up at 6am, makes bread, leaves it to prove then does a round of the station to make sure we haven’t suffered any leaks or damage in the night, the boats haven’t floated away, etc. They then start to prepare the dinner before going off to work. Breakfast and lunch are self-catering and everyone, even the Larsen residents, eat in Everson House, it’s more social that way!

Dinner is usually served around 7pm and the ‘lates’ person then stays up, sober, to clean up, make sure everyone has gone to bed and do a final night round at around midnight, but not always in that order as some of our more exuberant visitors have been known to stay up till dawn! It’s a daunting task cooking and cleaning for so many people, especially on a Saturday night, which is a more formal affair, with a three course meal and smart dress expected, but I’ve not had a bad meal since I’ve been here and the standard is incredibly high. Friday also sees the weekly scrub-out, all winterers and guests take part and the station gets a thorough clean, the waste is compacted and stored in containers for shipment either to the UK for recycling or the Falklands for disposal, the bar is restocked and all the communal areas cleaned.

The population of the Island is further increased by the Grytviken residents. In the Museum Villa we have two more Museum staff, and there is a construction camp just past the Whaling Station, run by Morrison Construction Plc, a former employer of mine! They are currently refurbishing the Hydro Electric Dam at Gull Lake, this was due to be completed this season but the decision has been taken to return next year to complete, connect and break down their camp. The dam will provide electricity for Grytviken and King Edward Point and will mean we can turn off our generators and return to a greener energy source. There have been between twelve and sixteen builders there this season, they’re fortunate enough to have a wonderful chef and have entertained us to BBQs and buffets on many weekend evenings. All these visitors, coupled with visiting Navy vessels, research ships, cruise ships and private yachts make for an exciting and exhausting social network and seldom do a few days go by without some event or other.

The station and research are run and maintained by the wintering team. Our main task is to support GSGSSI in the Toothfish Industry. This is one of several fisheries worldwide that is Marine Stewardship Council certified. The certification means that the fishery is managed in a sustainable manner. “It uses a product label to reward environmentally responsible fishery management and practices.” Our science team collects toothfish otoliths (earbones) and uses them to age the catch, this data is then used to set fishing quotas. Bycatch (anything else brought up by the longlines ie skate, birds) is also monitored and reported, as is catch size. The Government officer boards all the toothfish longliners and inspects them on arrival, checking their equipment, safety and standards all comply. This fishery is run in the winter season, starting at the end of April, and signals the start of a busy time for KEP, each longliner also hosts an official fisheries observer and while the longliners are in the bay we bring the observers onshore and entertain them, as well as briefing them on the samples we would like taken. There is also an Icefish and Krill fishery in operation in GSGSSI waters and squid jigging has been explored, this year there will be a visit from MSC in April as there’s a bid to certify the Icefish fishery.

The science team also do weekly plankton trawls, collecting plankton and fish larvae in specific sites in the bay on our small fishing vessel, Quest. This planktoning has recently been extended outwith the bay thanks to the fishery protection vessel, Pharos SG. This will hopefully show that the samples we are taking in the bay are similar to those in sites around the Island as a whole. The science team also collect samples and data for their personal research projects, this team is studying stomach contents, skate otoliths and plankton constituents. Our boatmen support GSGSSI in their work with the fishing vessels and are also heavily involved in moving BAS and visiting field parties around the bay, we have two 5.5m humber RIBs, two 10.5m jetboats and a small fishing boat. But as we’re such a small team here, everyone becomes involved when there are other tasks to do such as boating, radio cover, painting, cleaning as well as the routine of earlies and lates.

Team life is complex here, we work, eat and socialise together and small frictions cannot be left to sort themselves out. We can’t go home at the end of the working day, work is home and by that respect, 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week. We’re on standby should a yacht or ship arrive, if an alarm goes off everyone gets up to investigate…and our alarm system is complex and mysterious! And of course having so many visitors means that the entertaining is non-stop. Cruise ships also request talks and often invite several people from the base on board for dinner. This is a real pleasure but can also be a chore if you’re tired and are asked the same questions all over again. There’s a sense of calm slowly descending over the base and the team now that our visitors are starting to depart. Mid-February brought the final call of the RRS James Clark Ross, she took nine people away and brought one in, this has meant a quieter period, returning to a routine and looking forward to the winter and having what is most definitely perceived as ‘our home’ back to ourselves.

Mairi Macleod

KEP Base Commander