The Visitors

Photographs by Paul Gale

Every year some 50,000 tourists visit Antarctica, mostly by cruise ship from Ushuaia in Argentina. Very sensible precautions are taken to ensure that alien species are not introduced to the Antarctic Islands. Rodents, for example, on Prion Island would have a devastating effect on the breeding seabirds. We therefore checked all our camera bags and clothes for rodents before landing. This is very important. For example, I left my camera bag on the ground for 2 minutes (while I took some scenic photographs) during the "Shackleton walk" from Fortuna Bay to Stromness on South Georgia. In the bag was my packed lunch. Rodents take risks. There would be a small but finite chance that a rodent in a hole near my bag on South Georgia could hop into the bag to get my lunch - next day that same bag is on Prion Island. So I really checked it through before the landing. While the risks are small, remember that some 50,000 tourists do this every year. It only takes one, particularly a pregnant female mouse. Equally important is the practice of "hoovering" one's clothing to remove alien seeds. With climate change, an alien plant could significantly alter the fragile habitat on these islands.

The photograph below shows my mother with the King Penguins at St Andrew's Bay, South Georgia. .

and walking around the black-browed albatross colony on the Falklands..