Wanaka pilot’s Falklands tour
Peter Garden carrying an underslung load in the majestic setting of South Georgia.
Wanaka helicopter pilot, Peter Garden, has returned from the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia. He was one of six New Zealanders in a British team, which called itself the “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.”
For the last four months of the southern summer, the party was engaged in the aerial eradication by poison of rats that infest South Georgia. By the time the team left to come home as the bitter winter approached, Peter says the aerial poisoning programme had been completed in about two thirds of the island.
It is indeed a harsh climate at the latitude of South Georgia; Peter says it was minus 14 degrees Celsius when the party left the island. Despite the bitter climate, where snow storms in summer are not unknown, Peter says he enjoyed undertaking the aerial poisoning programme.
He says he is anxious to return in 2015 when the final one quarter of the area of South Georgia will be the subject of poisoning and the programme completed.
He says he enjoys the remoteness of South Georgia despite the climate and the rugged terrain. Garden first went to the island in April 2011 for a six week contract on rat eradication. The total eradication programme, which if funded by the United Kingdoms (which claims sovereignty over South Georgia) is costing about £8 million (NZ$16 million).
Peter says South Georgia has about a 60 percent permanent snow and ice coverage. The other 40 percent is clear for six months of the year and it is in the vegetated areas around the coastline where the rats are poisoned. He says the South Georgia poisoning programme has a problem with avoiding the destruction of non-target wildlife. However this has now been overcome.
There is still a dispute between the British and Argentinian governments over the sovereignty of the Falklands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands that has yet to be resolved. This means that while access to South Georgia from Argentina would be more convenient, the British expedition, mounted by the South Georgia Trust and in which Peter was engaged, was unable to travel to its destination from that country and made its way to South Georgia from Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands.
Peter was flight operations manager for the expedition which has a team of four helicopter pilots. The island is bigger than Stewart Island and last year a large area was cleared of rats. Totalling 80,000 sq. ha. South Georgia will be the biggest island in the world to have been cleared of rodents when the present operation has been completed. The team to which Peter was attached numbered about 26 and they were all there for about four months. The terrain and climate preclude any operations over the severe sub-Antarctic winter and the expedition will resume its activities in 2015.
Indeed it was the hostile environment that caused the Norwegians to cease whaling from South Georgia leaving behind them a deserted village, the rats and wild reindeer, which was a major consideration for the team in dropping poisoned bait.
The remoteness of South Georgia, the climate and the political situation all pose problems that would not arise in many other parts of the world. To ship helicopters back and forth from the Falklands, 1400km. away from South Georgia is excessively expensive. Also the cost of sheltering the helicopters from the dreadful weather which can occur at any time can be very expensive.
- Report by Peter Owens, photograph by Peter Garden.
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