Several research vessels coincided in South Georgia Island during the month of January plus HMS Protector involved in extensive surveying of South Sandwich Island for the UK Hydrographic Office, reports the latest edition of the South Georgia newsletter.
On January 6th the South African Antarctic research vessel SA Agulhas II called into King Edward Cove to drop off several weather buoys. These are deployed for the South African weather service by GSGSSI vessel Pharos SG during the winter.
US research vessel Ronald H Brown was in the maritime zone (MZ) for a week at the end of the month carrying out oceanographic research survey work. The British Antarctic Survey (BAS) vessel RRS Ernest Shackleton also passed through the MZ having called in at Bird Island.
HMS Protector has been working in the South Sandwich Island region. Using its multi beam echo sounder the ship gathered data along areas of the Douglas Straits between Southern Thule and Cook Island for the UK Hydrographic Office to fill in missing data in the Admiralty Charts.
At the same time a survey team were sent to Southern Thule Island – at the southern end of the volcanic island chain. The survey findings will be analyzed to assess the scale of any clean-up work required as a result of previous human presence and whether it would cause unacceptable disruption for the resident penguin colonies – there are more than 60,000 penguins including the chinstrap, adelie and gentoo species - as well as many other varieties of wildlife.
Commanding Officer of HMS Protector Captain Rhett Hatcher said: “Part of our tasking in this austral summer takes us to some very inhospitable and challenging environments but my team are well trained, extremely keen and privileged to see some of these islands that few people ever get to visit.”
The on-board divers were also deployed, one task being to check the landing beach for any rocks or other underwater obstructions that may damage the landing boats. Leading Diver Hayes said: “Diving into such cold temperatures is always challenging but once in it is amazing to see all the wildlife and environment around and underwater – it is quite unlike anywhere else. We were watched the whole time by groups of penguins who seemed intrigued to know what we were doing.”
The last Royal Navy ship to reach Thule Island was HMS York in 2010 but their efforts to get ashore were hampered by the inhospitable environment and changeable weather.
After the visit to Southern Thule the ship battled her way through extensive ice and thick fog to South Georgia to conduct further hydrographic and diving operations. A team of ten from the ship’s crew did a beach clean-up in Moraine Fjord, mainly of wreckage from the two nearby shipwrecked fishing vessels.