King Edward Point Research Station, King Edward Point, Cumberland East Bay, South Georgia

Position
Lat. 54°16'59"S, Long. 36°30'0"W
Occupied
1909 to present. By BAS 1969–82, then 2001–present. The British army occupied a garrison on the island 1982–2001
Staff
Summer: 22, Winter: 12

King Edward Point is a centre for applied fisheries research.  Owned by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) and operated by British Antarctic Survey (BAS) this facility provides critical research to support sustainable fishing in this important location in the Southern Ocean.

Surrounded by mountains and glaciers the subantarctic island of South Georgia is an important haven for wildlife.  Research conducted here informs the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – the international organisations that sets catch limits for the commercial fisheries in this region.   The waters around South Georgia are among the most sustainably-managed in the world.  In addition to its research activities on the island BAS also plays a key role in supporting GSGSSI Officers who are responsible for regulating fishing activity around South Georgia.

BAS staff regularly give science talks and presentations to the 8,000 tourists, onboard cruise ships, who come to see the island’s wildlife and heritage sites each year.  This is a key part of BAS’s public engagement programme to highlight the importance and relevance of research for conservation and management.

Location

Surrounded by spectacular scenery, dominated by mountains and glaciers, King Edward Point is about 1,400km (860 miles) south-east of the Falkland Islands.  Around 170 km long and between 2 km and 40 km wide, South Georgia’s main mountain range, the Allardyce range, has its highest point at Mount Paget (2,960 m).

Located midway along South Georgia, King Edward Point Research Station lies at the entrance to King Edward Cove, a small bay within Cumberland East Bay. Access is by ship only.

King Edward Point Research Station, South Georgia.
King Edward Point Research Station, South Georgia.

Working at King Edward Point

In summer, between 20-40 people usually live at King Edward Point station. During the winter there are 10 staff.

The GSGSSI employs three Government Officers who live and work at King Edward Point on an overlapping rota.

BAS staff are employed on contracts of 16 to 26 months. They include: one fisheries scientist; one zoological field assistant (seals & penguins); two boating officers; two technicians (electrical and mechanical); a doctor and a Station Leader.

Administration and status

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a UK Overseas Territory, administered by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI). Based at Stanley in the Falkland Islands, the Government is represented at King Edward Point by a Government Officer.

BAS staff at King Edward Point provide logistic and boating support for the GSGSSI as well as delivering an agreed science plan.

Climate

Surrounded by cold waters originating in Antarctica, South Georgia’s climate is harsher than expected from its latitude. More than half of the island is permanently covered by ice, and many large glaciers flow from its highest peaks – a sharp contrast to the green coastal belt of vegetation.

Protected by the surrounding mountains, King Edward Point’s weather is usually drier and calmer than the rest of South Georgia. Temperatures vary from -15°C to +20°C and although winter and summer seasons are well defined, snow can fall at any time. The island is usually snow covered from May to October.

The island of South Georgia is approximately 170km long and varies in width from two to 40km. Its long axis lies in a north-west to south-east direction.

Wildlife

From gentoo, macaroni and king penguins, to giant petrels, pintail ducks and sooty albatross, South Georgia is an important wildlife haven.

Together with South Sandwich, the islands are home to five million seals of four different species, and 65 million breeding birds of 30 different species including the world’s only subantarctic songbird, the endemic South Georgia pipit.

Eleven of the 30 species of breeding birds on South Georgia are listed as threatened or near-threatened by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).

In summer, elephant seals and fur seals breed on the beach in front of the research station. Across Cumberland East Bay, the Barff Peninsula is a favourite area for King Edward Point staff to take recreational travel trips to visit the king penguins at St Andrew’s Bay.

The waters around the islands are an important habitat for migrating whales, and are rich in fish and Antarctic krill – a key link in the Southern Ocean food web.

South Georgia has abundant populations of seabirds, including penguins. Several sites are within walking distance of King Edward Point.

Environmental protection

BAS policy is to minimise our impact on the environment in which we work (see the BAS Environment Office). We take this responsibility seriously at King Edward Point and have introduced control measures, policy and procedures initiated by the GSGSSI and BAS. The BAS policies are in line with the GSGSSI Environmental Charter.

Habitat restoration

Rats were accidentally introduced to South Georgia by sealing and whaling ships, and have devastated populations of ground-nesting birds, including the South Georgia pipit.

In 2011, the South Georgia Heritage Trust embarked on the world’s largest rat eradication programme. By 2015, after three seasons of fieldwork, the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project laid its last load of bait.

The ambitious project took advantage of the fact that South Georgia’s rat populations are naturally divided by the island’s glaciers, allowing Team Rat (as it became known) to target specific peninsulas.

The team used helicopters to lay more than 800 loads of bait over 1,000 km2 and populations of the South Georgian pipit are already beginning to recover. BAS staff have found several successful broods and the pipit’s song has been heard on the Thatcher Peninsula for the first time in decades.

Preventing introduction of other non-native species

The subantarctic climate of South Georgia is mild enough for foreign plants and animal species to survive. Dandelions, cow parsley and other non-native plants are already populating areas around the derelict whaling stations.

At King Edward Point, every care is taken to reduce the risk of further spreading these introduced species to other parts of the island and ensure no new alien species are introduced.

Fresh produce is inspected in a purpose-built secure building and washed upon delivery, and any non-native species found are preserved and returned for identification. New protocols ensure that before arrival, visitors scrub their footwear and inspect their clothing, particularly velcro in waterproofs to remove any visual signs of seeds and soils.

Station life

Staff take turns to cook, clean and make bread. Traditionally, a more formal three-course meal is prepared for Saturday evenings.

To ensure their safety, station staff receive training in navigation and search and rescue techniques both in the UK and on arrival. The doctor provides first aid training and more advanced training on medical equipment. Remote medical support is  provided by the BAS Medical Unit in the UK.

The annual first call of cargo, food and general supplies occurs in November by one of the BAS ships. In addtion the GSGSSI fisheries patrol vessel, Pharos SG, sails between the Falklands and South Georgia usually on a monthly basis, ensuring regular supplies of mail and fresh food. There is no runway at King Edward Point.

The team makes its own entertainment – from hill walking, skiing, a half marathon, model yacht racing, film nights, and an annual entry to the Antarctic film festival.

Purpose

King Edward Point Research Station is a centre for research into the sustainable management of commercial fisheries around the island of South Georgia.  BAS scientists work in its laboratories to conduct research on behalf of the GSGSSI and support its administrative presence on the island.

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) reinvests revenue from fisheries and tourism into the science that underpins the long-term management of its natural resources.

Research

A core BAS research goal is to provide sound scientific advice to assist in the sustainable management of the valuable commercial fisheries around the island.

This work assists the stock assessments and population modelling of target species conducted for the GSGSSI by the Marine Resources Assessment Group Ltd (MRAG) in London and complements existing research conducted by BAS biologists in the Southern Ocean.

BAS conservation biology research includes South Georgia’s gentoo penguins and Antarctic fur seals. Krill is difficult and expensive to monitor directly, so monitoring penguins and seals – species that depend on krill – is a good way of monitoring the overall health of the ecosystem, including krill.

Fishing activity around South Georgia is regulated by internationally adopted measures agreed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). In contrast to other multilateral fisheries conventions, CCAMLR is concerned not only with the regulation of fishing, but also has a mandate to conserve the ecosystem. This ecosystem approach, which considers the whole Southern Ocean to be a suite of interlinked systems, distinguishes CCAMLR from other multilateral fisheries conventions.

Investigations at King Edward Point involve the analysis of specimens and data obtained from a number of sources. Collaboration with the CCAMLR scientific observer programme enables samples of target and by-catch species to be collected for analysis from the commercial fishery operating around South Georgia.

Field research sampling the spawning adult population and larval distribution and abundance of the Mackerel icefish (C.gunnari) within the bays around King Edward Point is conducted from the station’s workboat. In addition, fish surveys using chartered fishing or research vessels operating around South Georgia (such as the biennial trawl survey currently undertaken by collaboration between MRAG and BAS) involve scientists from the King Edward Point laboratory.

Such surveys are undertaken to assess the standing stock of icefish and juvenile toothfish but are also used to provide information and specimens of other target species such as stone crabs and non-target species such as skates, rays and grenadiers.

Around 20 vessels registered in a number of countries including the UK (Falkland Islands), Chile, Uruguay, Spain and South Africa are licensed each year by GSGSSI to fish within South Georgia’s 200-nautical-mile Maritime Zone.

Currently three species are exploited commercially from the cold rich waters around South Georgia. A longline fishery for the Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eliginoides) takes place during the austral winter. In the austral summer, pelagic trawlers take catches of the Mackerel icefish (Chamsocephalus gunnari). Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) are fished during the winter months as fishing grounds further south towards the Antarctic continent become icebound.

Exploratory fisheries for both stone crabs (Paralomis spp.) and squid (Martialia hyadesi) have recently taken place within the South Georgia Maritime Zone and it is thought that unexploited stocks of these species have the potential to support new commercial fisheries.

Earth observation research

In 2015, a new meteor radar was installed at King Edward Point to discover more about how small mountainous islands in large oceans impact global atmospheric circulation through gravity wave propagation.

Part of the South Georgia Wave Experiment (SG-WEX) run by the University of Bath, BAS, the Met Office and the University of Leeds, the radar works by detecting meteors or shooting stars as they enter the Earth atmosphere. By tracking the speed and direction of meteor trails, the radar provides information on the wind in that part of the atmosphere.

In 2011, the British Geological Survey (BGS) re-established the King Edward Point magnetic observatory, extending observations made by BAS from 1975 to 1982. The observatory plugs a significant gap in the global network of magnetic observatories, allowing better monitoring of the South Atlantic Anomaly and changes occurring deep within the Earth.

 



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