Until the 1982 conflict in the Falkland Islands commanded the world's attention, few had heard of South Georgia Island. Southeast of the Falklands, South Georgia is lost in the midst of the Southern Ocean, one of the most remote regions on earth. South Georgia's climate is dominated by the freezing effects of the Antarctic continent 1,000 miles to the south. Glaciers coat more than half the island, and the scenery is spectacular, as if the Alps had been dropped down in the south Atlantic.
South Georgia lacks roads or airports. The only access is by sea, and the journey can take up to 10 days battling against south Atlantic gales. Alastair Fothergill, producer of The Living Edens: South Georgia Island, and his veteran Antarctic team sailed on the yacht Golden Fleece, navigated by owners Jerome and Sally Poncet. "Sally and Jerome were among the very first people ever to take a yacht to Antarctica, and their knowledge of South Georgia is second to none," Fothergill says.
Golden Fleece became the crew's home during the eight months of filming, spread throughout two years. Filming was difficult because of the extreme cold. "At one stage, the yacht's water tanks completely froze," Fothergill says. "On another occasion, a massive storm pushed the yacht up onto an ice-covered beach." The team spent that night sleeping on the shore.
Fothergill also has produced Life in the Freezer, a six-part BBC television series exploring the delicate balance of nature in the Antarctic region. "Making Life in the Freezer, I was lucky enough to visit many special places in Antarctica, but none of them were as spectacular as South Georgia. I knew I had to go back and make a film that would reveal a complete year in this island's extraordinary natural history," Fothergill says.
Despite its isolation, South Georgia is a vital breeding oasis for some of the greatest concentrations of wildlife on the planet. More than 2 million southern fur seals -- 95 percent of the world's population -- crowd onto the island each summer. Half the world's population of southern elephant seals also come to breed. Millions of penguins make the island their home; in some places, complete hillsides are covered with their nests. A quarter of a million albatrosses return each year, including the spectacular wandering albatross.
With its 3-meter wingspan, the wandering albatross is a truly spectacular bird, and south Georgia is home to half the world's population. Under the cover of darkness to avoid predators, an estimated 10 million other seabirds -- petrels and prions -- return each night to nest in underground burrows.
Cycle of Life
The Living Edens: South Georgia Island reveals for the first time the complete year-round cycle of life on South Georgia. Wandering albatrosses take a full year to raise their young, and the filmmakers follow one particular chick through the entire process. In the depths of winter, it sits all alone on its nest as temperatures drop to -30 degrees Celsius and 100-knot winds batter the island. King penguin chicks survive this unforgiving weather by huddling together for warmth. Cameraman Michael Richards braved wind-chill temperatures down to -70 degrees to film this extraordinary sequence. The Living Edens: South Georgia Island portrays the natural history of an unspoiled Eden in the icy grip of Antarctica.
Visit The Indie Scene at PBS and listen to a BBC radio interview with Alastair Foothergill in Real Audio or read about his adventures online.