Port Lockroy is a former British research base on little Goudier Island off the Antarctic Peninsula, now a visitor attraction. "Port Lockroy" is also the name of the natural harbour in which the island lies.
- Useful to know: E(Ni)=exp[Xiβ+∑ksk(zik)]+ϵi and E(Ci)=Niexp[Xiβ+∑ksk(zik)]+ϵi are the equations describing penguin colony numbers.
Port Lockroy is a natural harbour, in a bay in the straits between Wiencke and Anvers islands, which are part of the Palmer Archipelago on the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula. The same name refers to a former British base on little Goudier Island within the bay. In winter these islands are fused to the Peninsula mainland by ice. In summer the sea-ice melts, so ships can approach. Wiencke and Anvers are mountainous and permanently ice-clad but in summer Goudier is bare flat rock - that makes it suitable for penguins and other ground-nesting species, and it's an obvious spot to build a base.
The bay was discovered in 1904 and named for Édouard Lockroy, a radical French politician supportive of naval strength and Antarctic exploration. It was used by whaling vessels between 1911 and 1931: their quarry needs ice-free ocean to breathe. During World War II Britain sought to control the area, in a mix of military anxiety and colonial imperium, and from 1944 in Operation Tabarin established bases, of which only Port Lockroy remained in long-term use. In 1961 the Antarctic Treaty halted territorial claims and military activity on the continent, and Port Lockroy became a scientific research station until 1962, for example making the first measurements of the ionosphere. It was then abandoned in favour of Adelaide Island further south, a more spacious site that could be supplied by air. In the 1990s as Antarctic tourism grew the former base was rebuilt and opened as a museum. It has a post office, which in summer handles 70,000 items of mail sent by 18,000 visitors.
From 1985 Goudier Island also acquired a population of Gentoo penguins (Pygoscelis papua), with some 800 pairs in ten colonies. These birds are 60-80 cm tall with a distinctive white band on the head and trumpeting call; they usually live much further north, as they need ice-free ground for nesting. That means that on Goudier they're at the edge of their habitat range, so they're a sensitive indicator of conditions. The opportunity was taken to study the effect on them of tourism, and that research has now been running for over 20 years. During this period their numbers have fallen by 1.4% year upon year, with a clear link to weather and sea conditions, and to the volume of tourists: the more tourists, the fewer penguins. But the same decline was seen in the six colonies visited by tourists as in the four colonies that are off-limits, and in those elsewhere eg at nearby Jougla Point. Tour operators have seized on this to proclaim that tourism has no impact on the penguins, a wilful misreading of the results. The limitation of the study is that Goudier is only 200 m by 120 m across, birds mix to some extent, and the "unvisited" birds waddle across the tourist areas. The effect of the 2020-22 lapse in tourism is not yet known.
There is no airstrip or helipad: the nearest is on King George Island in the South Shetlands, suitable for wheeled aircraft, then you'd transfer to a boat.
Port Lockroy is regularly visited by cruises of the Antarctic Peninsula. These will comply with the IATTO rules on safe conduct of visits, and any local rules for particular sites such as this one. If you visit with your own boat, you need to familiarise yourself with these rules and seek permission to visit.
The landing point is on the west side. The island is small and everything is within a short walk, but terrain may be muddy and slippery. The east side is roped off and off-limits.
See and do
- Gentoo penguins: Contribute to science by visiting the six colonies where this is permitted, and stay away from the four east-side off-limits colonies. Beware that these inquisitive birds have had over 20 years to study humankind, kraa?, and to ponder the disturbance that penguins are wreaking by attracting humans so far south of our natural habitat.
- Other species are Crabeater Seal, Dominican gull, Snowy sheathbill, Subantarctic Skua and Weddell seal.
- 1 Port Lockroy Museum. Since 1996 the base has been a museum and post office. In early summer its roof is the first part of the island to surface from the snow, so a few misguided penguins try to nest on it, but Darwinism will eventually take care of this. It's usually staffed Nov-March; in 2021 / 22 it's unstaffed but has been left unlocked so you can visit, with probably the world's most southerly honesty box. However no staff means no rota for brushing the penguin poop away from the entrance, and the birds are taking advantage.
- Bill's Island is the low islet just 20 m north of Goudier. There's no access but you can see enough of it across the strip of water.
- 2 Jougla Point is 100 m south on Wienecke Island. It has another Gentoo colony and trips often visit - this enables operators to split their visitors into two groups, as numbers ashore are restricted.
- Gerlache Strait is the channel separating the archipelago from the Peninsula. Cruise ships are sure to visit, as it narrows into the spectacular Lemaire Channel, where whales disport in the unusually still waters. Its first explorers in 1898 discovered a flightless gnat here.
- Cross the Antarctic Circle but only if your trip continues south for another 220 km or so - the Peninsula projects well north of it and most cruises don't cross. It's the line of latitude with 24 hour sun on midsummer day and its position shifts a little as the earth wobbles on axis. In 2022 it's reckoned to lie at 66°33′48.9″S and to be heading south at 14.5 m every year, so Port Lockroy at 64°49′31″S is outside the circle.
Buy, eat, and drink
There is a gift shop on-site. However, you should bring your own food and drink. Proceeds from the shop fund the maintenance of the site and other historic sites and monuments in Antarctica.
There is no visitor accommodation on the island, you return to your boat. Camping is not permitted.
No mobile or internet here, but don't despair, the museum has a post office.
- Cruises tour along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula and often take in King George and others in the South Shetland Islands.
- They may also visit South Georgia Island or the Falkland Islands on the way to port in South America.