15 April: South Georgia on my mind (Scotia Arc Expedition 2013)
You can imagine by now that we are all champing at the bit to arrive at South Georgia and begin our next round of sampling.
It’s an amazing place steeped in history, despite being so remotely located in the Southern Ocean. Like a few places down here, it is claimed by the UK, but contested by Argentina. So its political history is quite rich for such a remote place.
The first person to land here was Captain James Cook, in 1775. The 19th century saw South Georgia act as a base for sealing and whaling activities. In 1904, a Norwegian called Carl Larsen established the first land-based station there. Grytviken remained in operation until 1965.
The largest whale ever caught was landed at Grytviken, and sadly, the waters of that beautiful bay were often red with blood. The ruins of Grytviken are an important reminder of what humans are capable of.
On the 23 Feb 2012, the territory’s government declared the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protection Area. At over 1 million square kilometers, this is the largest protected area in the world!
South Georgia is also the resting place of the famous Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. When his expedition ship, the Endurance, got stuck in ice in 1915 in the Weddell Sea, the expeditioners spent several months on floating ice floes (and eventually life boats) until they made it to Elephant island.
Shackleton and five more men then took one of the reinforced lifeboats, and made an incredible journey to South Georgia, culminating in a cross-island hike of more than 50km in 36 hours. It’s a truly amazing feat.
In 1922, Shackleton was again at South Georgia and passed away from a heart attack. He was buried there, a suitable resting place for one of the last heroic explorers.