Tristan da Cunha is a small, isolated island of volcanic origin in the South Atlantic. It is almost circular in shape and has an area of 98 sq km. Gough Island, Inaccessible and Nightingale islands make up the Tristan da Cunha Group. A team of South African meteorologists live on Gough.

Inaccessible and Nightingale are uninhabited. The nearest neighbours to the group are St Helena, 2,100 km to the north. Cape Town is 2,400 km to the east. Tristan da Cunha was discovered in 1506 by the Portuguese navigator Tristao da Cunha who did not land but named the island after himself.

It was garrisoned and possessed by the British in 1816. There are no air services. Transport to and from the island is provided by nine return sailings a year from Cape Town by fishery concession vessels and a further annual visit by the South African research vessel, SA Agulhas.

Due to heavy seas the harbour is accessible for only 60 to 70 days a year. Improvements to the harbour are vital to Tristan da Cunha’s future.

The islands have very distinctive endemic flora and fauna and are important breeding grounds for many seabirds. Gough and Inaccessible Islands have UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.

The volcano is still active and last erupted in October 1961. The population was evacuated to the UK, but returned in 1963. Government Executive authority for the Territory is exercised by the Governor resident on St Helena, either directly or through the resident Administrator of Tristan. There is an Island Council.

The Governor receives advice from the Island Council and consults the Island Council when making laws. The composition and functions of the Island Council are prescribed by law.

The Island Council consists of the Administrator, who is President, eight elected members, at least one of whom must be a woman and three members appointed by the Administrator.

The Chief Islander is appointed by the President and is the councillor who declares himself or herself willing to act as Chief Islander and who receives the most votes for that post.


Tristan da Cunha is largely self-sufficient.

The economy relies predominantly on the income from the island’s highly sustainable lobster fishery.

Fluctuating market demand and prices for Tristan lobster has a direct effect on Territory revenue and government reserves have been substantially depleted in recent years. Other sources of current income – a small scale tourist industry based on three or four tourist ships per annum and the sale of stamps and coins – are limited and further potential economic developments, such as the sale of mineral water, will require considerable capital investment.

Despite the economic challenges, the Tristan Government is committed to trying to balance its budget through efficiencies and effective management of the finances.

Annual bilateral assistance to Tristan da Cunha is modest and consists of support for the provision of medical care and assistance with education, public works and government reform.

In addition the UK has funded several repairs to Tristan’s harbour, and is working with the Tristan Government in developing a longer term plan for the harbour.

Key facts

> Currency - Pound Sterling

> Population - 245

> Capital - Edinburgh of the Seven Seas

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