The South Georgia Heritage Trust Habitat Restoration Project

December 9, 2014

As a premier provider of Antarctic expeditions, we consider the Quark team and our passengers stewards of the incredible environments we are privileged to visit. As such, we take great pride in supporting the work of organizations like South Georgia Heritage Trust, caretakers of the historic Grytviken church and leaders of the South Georgia Habitat Restoration Project.

SGtrust_pengplay

Penguins play in South Georgia - credit: South Georgia Heritage Trust

The ambitious £7.5 million Habitat Restoration Project aims to reverse the ecological destruction caused by invasive rodents, which were introduced by sealers and whalers to South Georgia over the last two centuries. Climate change is also wreaking havoc on the delicate island, causing the retreat of its glaciers, which in turn allows rats to gain a stronger foothold in the area.

SGtrust_Whale-Bone-Beach

Photo credit: Samantha Crimmin

Based in Dundee, Scotland, SGHT and its sister organisation, Friends of South Georgia Island out of Colorado, raise project funds. Every penny donated by Quark passengers to habitat restoration on South Georgia goes towards the SGHT. A representative for SGHT tells us, "We now have less than £1million to raise to complete the baiting work in 2015! Passengers’ donations help with every project cost, from the fuel to fly the helicopters, to food for the team, and even the monitoring devices to check that rats are no longer predating the birds in an area."

In fact, passenger donations will help fund a massive undertaking in January, 2015. An international team led by the Trust will depart the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas) for South Georgia in the third and final stage of this five-year endeavour to rid the island of millions of invasive rats and mice. More than a simple nuisance, these pests threaten the survival of one of the world's most significant seabird sanctuaries.

SGtrust_penguins

Photo credit: Samantha Crimmin

A SGHT announcement outlined the exciting mission it is leading:

"After 18 months of logistical preparations:

• 95 tonnes of bait has been manufactured and packed into shipping containers to make the long journey from Bell Labs in Wisconsin, USA to South Georgia.

• Three former air ambulance helicopters (one previously owned by Jackie Onassis) have completed their final engineering and flight checks at Oxford Airport in the U.K. and are already enroute.

• Members of Team Rat including three New Zealand pilots, two British engineers, two chefs and a doctor are making their own final preparations to join the RRS Ernest Shackleton, chartered from the British Antarctic Survey."

Signs of Recovery in Fragile Bird Populations

Two previous phases of the project were undertaken in 2011 and 2013. The Trust estimates these initial phases resulted in the removal of two-thirds of the island's rats. It's a project that's already five times larger than any other rodent eradication ever undertaken in history, anywhere in the world.

 SGtrust_albatross

Photo credit: Dave Merron

It's incredibly important if the diverse ecosystem of South Georgia is to survive. One of the most important breeding grounds in the world for penguins, the island is also home to albatross, prions, petrels, the South Georgia pintail and the South Georgia pipit.

Project Director, Professor Tony Martin from the University of Dundee, said, “Once you have experienced the magic of this extraordinary wildlife wilderness, you cannot ignore the fragility of this unique environment and the challenges it faces – it is a man-made problem, but we have a solution in our grasp.”

According to a Trust announcement, "Already there have been signs of recovery, with evidence of pipits breeding where previously they were absent, while pintail chicks have been sighted in areas where they have not been seen for a century or more. Yet the existence of these species still hangs by a thread. Where once there were dense clouds of birds flying, nesting, and breeding all over the island, rats have changed this landscape."

Help Save Bird Populations in South Georgia and The Falklands (Malvinas)

As we continue to take passengers to this incredible region on Antarctic holidays, we're proud to support this wonderful project as one of our Quark Expeditions Sustainability Initiatives. Join us as we cross the circle and experience the wildlife oasis that is South Georgia for yourself! Thanks to organizations like SGHT, man, animal and seabirds alike will be able to enjoy the best of South Georgia for generations to come.

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