Fascinating glimpse into the human history of Antarctic exploration and discovery
Information about Stonington Island
For such a tiny, rock island (it’s less than half a mile by a quarter of a mile), Stonington holds a lot of the human history of Antarctica. It’s found in Marguerite Bay off the west of Graham Land, and it is one of the most southerly historic sites on the peninsula.
It was home to not one, but two winter expeditions. In 1939, the US Antarctic Service chose it as the location to build what became known as East Base. The buildings and artifacts here are now protected as a monument. Visitors can enter the main hut to experience something of what it would have been like to spend the dark and frozen winters on Stonington.
Later in the 1940s, the British chose the same small island for the location of their “Base E”. Again, visitors can enter the main hut and also the generator shed. Like the American base, there are other ancillary buildings that can’t be entered due to their status as protected monuments. There are permanent shutters on the windows of Base E, so your guide should provide you with torches if you venture inside.
In a solemn reminder of the harshness of the continent, there is also a gravesite where two expedition members are buried in coffins covered by simple stone cairns.
Stonington Island supports a colony of over 130 pairs of Antarctic Shags, as well as nesting sites for skuas and terns. As well as the landing there is a good Zodiac cruise around the island with the head of the nearby glaciers coming down from the polar plateau and to look out for seals and Adelie Penguins on the ice floes.
Later in the season fur seals and Humpback Whales can turn up at this southerly destination.
Interesting facts about Stonington Island
East Base is designated as Historic Site and Monument No. 55 under the Antarctic Treaty. It was established during the United States Antarctic Service Expedition led by Richard E. Byrd (1939-41), and was subsequently occupied during the Ronne Antarctic Research Expedition (1947-1948). The latter included Edith Ronne and Jenny Darlington, the first two women to overwinter in Antarctica. The buildings were also occupied and modified by the UK during the construction and operation of Base ‘E’. Base ‘E’ is designated as Historic Site and Monument No. 64 under the Antarctic Treaty. It was established by the UK in 1946, 100 m from the US East Base. The station closed in 1950 as sea ice conditions prevented access. It reopened in 1960 as the centre for field work in the south Antarctic Peninsula, and a new steel-framed, two story plywood hut was erected in 1961. Stonington served largely as a staging post for access to the peninsula via the North East Glacier. Up to 120 sledging dogs were spanned on the glacier above Stonington Island, which also served as runway for aircraft. The original Base ‘E’ was burnt down by accident in 1972 and only fragmentary remains mark the site. The station closed down in February 1975.