SOUTH GEORGIA AND the south SANDWICH ISLANDS
South Georgia is situated 1290 km south east of the Falkland Islands and occupies an area of 3,755 sq km. It is a mountainous sub-Antarctic island, more than half of which is permanently ice covered, with Mount Paget rising to 2,934m.
The South Sandwich Islands lie 760 km south east of South Georgia and comprise a chain of eleven small volcanic islands stretching over 240 km.
The climate is wholly Antarctic and the islands may be surrounded by pack ice during the winter months.
The SGSSI maritime zone occupies in excess of 1,000,000 sq km of the Southern Ocean, equivalent to over four times the terrestrial area of the United Kingdom. Captain Cook claimed South Georgia for the UK in 1775, the year in which he also discovered the South Sandwich Islands. SGSSI has a rich heritage.
Its unique natural environment is internationally recognised and featured in the BBC’s Frozen Planet series in 2011. South Georgia has a prominent history as the gateway to Antarctica for polar explorers, including Sir Ernest Shackleton.
It was also a centre for land-based whaling during the early 20th Century, which provides much of the cultural heritage of the island.
The Territory is internationally recognised for its biological importance, and sustains major populations of seabirds and mammals, including globally threatened species.
The South Sandwich Islands represent a maritime ecosystem scarcely modified by human activities, their only inhabitants being millions of breeding penguins and other seabirds.
The principles of environmental protection and sustainable ecosystem management are enshrined within the Government of SGSSI’s legislation and policies including measures to protect against invasive and non-native species that threaten the natural environment. A programme to eradicate rats – which pose one of the greatest threats – from South Georgia is currently underway.
SGSSI has been under continuous British administration since 1908 apart from a short period of Argentine occupation in 1982. SGSSI has been a separate UK Overseas Territory since 1985, before which it was a Dependency of the Falkland Islands.
There is no indigenous population, although South Georgia is home to two scientific bases maintained by the British Antarctic Survey, as well as SGSSI Government representatives based at the Administrative Centre, King Edward Point.
SGSSI has its own constitution and is administered by a Commissioner, who is currently the person who holds the office of Governor of the Falkland Islands, based in Stanley.
The Commissioner is supported by officials of the Government of SGSSI. The Government of SGSSI is responsible for making its own laws which cover the principal activities of the Territory.
This legislation is in line with, and implements, regulations under the Antarctic Treaty System (including the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)) and other international agreements.
The UK retains overall responsibility for good governance, defence and foreign policy. In consultation with stakeholders the Government of SGSSI and the UK have developed complementary rolling five year strategies which underpin our respective activities.
SGSSI is self-inancing and generates income primarily through isheries and tourism. Fishing is the lifeblood of the economy and generates over 75% of the Territory’s revenue.
The toothish fishery exceeds the standards laid down by CCAMLR and is the third highest scoring Marine Stewardship Council certiied ishery in the world. Its management is underpinned by scientiic research, much of it conducted on South Georgia.
The Government of SGSSI also issues a range of stamps and coins annually which generated over £150,000 in revenue in 2010.
Tourism contributes over 15% of revenues and over 7000 visitors arrive in South Georgia every year, many of them en route to the Antarctic Peninsula.