Location: St Andrews Bay, South Georgia Island
In today’s rapidly changing world nature invariably takes a back seat and in most cases is exploited beyond any sustainable level.
Not so long ago over a million elephant and bison roamed their respective continents and herds of Springbok took days to pass through South Africa’s arid Karoo. Such days are sadly a thing of the past but there are those few, often isolated places, where human footfall is scant and it is in these places where, for the fortunate few who visit them, one can glimpse what life on earth must have been like before the human pursuit of “progress” began.
Having travelled the length and breadth of the planet one place that stands out is a tiny speck in the ocean, over a 1000 miles East of South America, called South Georgia Island.
It is here, on this 100 odd mile-long island where some of the greatest densities of marine wildlife on the planet are to be found.
With scenery that is jaw-dropping and history that tells tales of incredible survival, cruelty and over-exploitation you find one incredible bay after another crammed with penguins, seals and sea birds.
I never forget the first time I set foot on what must be the jewel in South Georgia’s crown, St Andrews Bay. With a gentle offshore wind blowing it was the cacophony of sound that we could hear from our boat’s cabins that first made me aware that what I was about to see would in all likelihood defy belief. Setting foot ashore it was next the hustle and bustle, as tens of thousands of colorful 3 foot high penguins departed from and returned to the beach. As they did so they carefully navigated a route through thousands of ten thousand pound Southern Elephant seals. The scale of all the life was truly inconceivable.
When I closed my eyes it was if I were in the pits at a formula one race with 500 000 little formula one cars, in the form of king penguins, all simultaneously revving their engines. I simply sat down, stared, listened and engaged my senses. I was alone in paradise, alone from my kind but surrounded by so many others.
On the day I took this image my excitement levels reached fever pitch.
The previous night’s weather forecast showed no wind and clear skies for two hours around sunrise for the following day, a rare combination in this stormy tempestuous part of the world.
Added to this a medium-sized swell meant sea mist hanging over the beach as the pounding surf kicked up spray. At dawn, myself and a handful of others descended onto the beach as the first sign of sunrise colored the sky in an array of crimson and orange streaks. We knew it was going to be special.
I was moving as fast as I could down the beach being respectful to not frighten or be frightened by any of the wildlife as the first rays of light cast torch-like beams across the penguin rush hour. I knew I had but a few minutes to get into position and capture the dramatic scene before the clouds rolled over, the wind came up and the so very rare opportunity which had been gifted to me was over.
I clearly remember looking through the viewfinder, starring down the beach and seeing tens of thousands of penguins all crammed in the same frame with the most beautiful lighting imaginable. It was surreal. I remember feeling a huge mixture of emotions leaving St Andrews, one of great happiness for seeing this intoxicating abundance of wildlife and on the other hand feeling hungover from the knowledge that scenes like this had once played out all around our planet before our progress had begun.
Exhibition: 173cm x 77cm (68” x 30”)
Large: 146 cm x 62.5 cm (57.5″ x 24.7″)
Classic: 118cm x 52.4cm (56” x 25”)
© Chris Fallows 2018