King Edward Point is primarily a marine and fisheries research station. 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 the management of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area and the sustainable fisheries that are licensed by GSGSSI 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. The waters surrounding the islands were declared as a sustainable use Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2012 and research conducted here informs the management of the MPA and contributes to the broader management of the Southern Ocean, which is undertaken by the international treaty organisation, the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) – CCAMLR plays a key role in regulating fisheries in the Southern Ocean and in minimising any ecosystem impacts of that fishing. The waters around South Georgia are recognised as being among the most sustainably-managed in the world, with all the fisheries being certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council. 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, tourism and other activities around South Georgia.
BAS staff regularly give science talks and presentations to the 10,000+ 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.
South Georgia is situated about 1,400km (860 miles) south-east of the Falkland Islands. This mountainous and glaciated island is 170 km long and between 2 km and 40 km wide, with Mount Paget in the Allardyce Range reaching 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.
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 17 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.
BAS staff at King Edward Point provide logistic and boating support for the GSGSSI as well as delivering an agreed science plan.
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.
Together with South Sandwich islands, these 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.
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.
BAS policy is to minimise our impact on the environment in which we work. 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.
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. The pipit’s song can now be heard on the Thatcher Peninsula for the first time in decades.
Reindeer, which were introduced to two peninsulas by Norwegian whalers for food and recreation, were also eradicated from the island during 2011-2015 in a project run by the GSGSSI. The reindeer had caused significant damage to the island’s vegetation, including tussac grass, which is an important habitat for breeding birds.
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 biosecurity 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.
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 addition 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. Note that there is no aircraft 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.
King Edward Point (KEP) Research Station is operated by BAS under an agreement with the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The primary purpose of the station is to undertake research in support of the management of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area, including commercial fisheries for toothfish, icefish and krill.
The primary role of the research conducted at King Edward Point is to provide sound scientific advice to assist in the management of the MPA, with a major focus being science to support the sustainable management of the valuable commercial fisheries around the islands. This work underpins the stock assessments and population modelling of target species conducted for the GSGSSI by the Centre for Environment Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) and complements existing research conducted by BAS biologists in the Southern Ocean.
All fishing activity around South Georgia is regulated by internationally adopted measures agreed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) and by supplementary regulations issued by the GSGSSI. 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.
Currently four species are exploited commercially from the cold rich waters around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. A longline fishery targets Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eliginoides) in South Georgia, whilst a small research fishery targets both Patagonian and Antarctic (D. mawsoni) toothfish in the South Sandwich Islands. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified South Georgia toothfish fishery is restricted to the austral winter to minimise the risk of seabird by-catch. The pelagic trawl fishery for Antarctic krill (Euphausia superba) is also restricted to the winter months, in this case to avoid competition between the fishery and krill dependent predators, such as penguins and fur seals. Finally a small, MSC certified pelagic trawl fishery for mackerel icefish operates in some years.
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. A biennial trawl survey is conducted on the South Georgia shelf to monitor the status of mackerel icefish, assess the abundance of juvenile Patagonian toothfish, and assess the status of other demersal species. Samples from these surveys, such as stomach contents and otoliths, are analysed in the laboratories at KEP.
In addition, the KEP scientists undertake monthly plankton sampling in Cumberland Bay and the Bay of Isles from the GSGSSI Patrol vessel Pharos SG. These samples are analysed in the KEP laboratories and provide valuable data on seasonal and inter-annual variability in the abundance of fish larvae, Antarctic krill and other plankton.
KEP scientists also monitor the breeding success of Antarctic fur seals and gentoo penguins at Maiviken, which is a short walk from the station at KEP. Maiviken is designated as a CCAMLR Ecosystem Monitoring Programme (CEMP) site and data from this monitoring programme is submitted to CCAMLR on an annual basis. Giant petrel and elephant seal populations are also monitored in the vicinity of KEP on a seasonal basis.
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.
Paul Fox, Senior Responsible Officer for RRS Sir David Attenborough, has written a guest blog for a behind-the-scenes look at NERC’s commission of a new polar research ship for Britain and the associated Antarctic infrastructure modernisation programme.
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