Reducing the Human Footprint and Protecting Shackleton’s Heritage’

On South Georgia, breath-taking beauty contrasts with rusting whaling station relics, stark reminders of how nature was once exploited here on a monumental and unsustainable scale. Thankfully, times and attitudes have changed. Under the stewardship of the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI), the island is currently undergoing an extraordinary biological renaissance. South Georgia Heritage Trust’s decade-long Habitat Restoration Project, generously supported by Iridium, played a key role in this transformation by eradicating invasive rodents which preyed upon native birds.

However, there is still more work to be done to fully restore and protect South Georgia’s once pristine environment. Although the invasive rodents have now been successfully eliminated, other physical hazards and pollutants remain from the whaling era in some of the former whaling stations which are currently closed to visitors.

AIMS

SGHT and the University of Dundee’s Centre for Remote Environments (CRE), in collaboration with GSGSSI, are developing plans for an ambitious remediation effort to remove fuel oil, asbestos and other hazardous debris from some of the island’s former whaling stations and make these sites safer for wildlife and people.

As a first step, we aim to send a multidisciplinary survey team to South Georgia in late 2022. The team will comprise twelve specialists from Norway, the UK and the Falkland Islands, including experts in asbestos remediation, oil remediation and heritage restoration, along with a structural engineer, survey documenter, architect, SGHT representative and expedition leader. Together they will identify the challenges that would be faced during a clean-up operation and prepare a detailed feasibility report and costed plan of works. While on-island, the survey team will also establish the feasibility of stabilising and/or restoring certain key historic buildings, such as the Stromness Manager’s Villa.

The survey findings will inform major environmental and heritage conservation work that we will be undertaking over the next five years, the detail of which will be subject to the approval of GSGSSI once the survey is complete.

IMPACT AND PUBLIC BENEFIT

This work will give us the specialist information we need to roll back yet more of the historical damage that humans have caused to the once pristine environment of South Georgia, enabling us to shift our focus from the successful eradication of invasive rodents to tackling other human impacts such as historical pollutants and hazardous debris. Longer term, this will protect both wildlife and human visitors and help restore and protect South Georgia’s pristine environment. In future, this work may also enable greater access to parts of the island that are currently closed to visitors, helping them to understand the dark history of whaling and appreciate the vital importance of environmental stewardship.

Please support this initiative which will ultimately leave South Georgia in an even better environmental state than that in which we found it, benefiting humans and wildlife.

Please support this initiative which will ultimately leave South Georgia in an even better environmental state than that in which we found it, benefiting humans and wildlife.