Whale blubber tanks are only slightly smaller than oil refinery tanks.
The tanks and town buildings of Stromness Bay were uniformly red from the rust and looked peaceful set at the base of glaciers and in the green grass at the water’s edge.
This Mad Max like setting belied the peacefulness of the bay and mountains: the buildings were built with asbestos insulation and it was dangerous to land and disturb the carcinogenic fibres.
The size of the tanks disturbed me. We were still hunting whales, our 7 billion inhabitants of this fragile earth. We were still building tanks, but now there were many more, mainly in the hot arid desert regions of our earth, filled with fossil oil. We are still so inefficient and have so much to learn.
After lunch we moored in the bay of Grytviken and were introduced to the Director of the South Georgia Heritage Trust, Sarah Lurcock who presented on the history of the trust and the Rat Eradication Project. Rats are exotic to the islands and arrived with the numerous shipwrecks. They breed like rats (or rabbits) and eats small bird eggs to the point that they almost eradicated the South Georgia Pipit, and endemic species and the most southerly passerine in the world.
The program started with a pilot study, which used helicopters to drop poison pellets with minimal secondary fallout. They are currently completing the second phase and have the third and last phase to complete to have eradicated the rodent from the island. Interestingly, the effect of global warming is felt here. Before the glaciers would reach the sea and form district geographic barriers to the rat movement, but now with them receding there is a beach between the wall of ice and the sea, which the rats use to traverse to previously, unexplored (or now eradicated) areas. So there is some urgency to use the remaining barriers to optmise the rat eradication program.
Grytviken is the capital of South Georgia. The buildings have been cleared of asbestos and there is a museum, post office and a research station. About twenty people live on the island in summer. Our ship’s historian, Kate Murray, did and internship there last year and indeed she was the kingpin in getting us to Sir Ernest Shackleton’s grave in the cemetery of Grytviken.
For those not familiar with the one greatest explorers of our world it is best to read his book “South” it is well worth it. He stands out as a great leader of men in desperate times.
The landing at Grytviken was somber with our toast at his grave. A wee dram of whiskey burnt our throats and the brought life to his grave.
There is a Mexican belief related to All Saints’ Day:
“We all die three times. The first is when the body ceases its function. The second is when the soil covers our grave. The last is when our name is no longer spoken.”
Ernest Schackleton will live forever.
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