South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands

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South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Leo terram propriam protegat (Latin) (English: "Let the lion protect his own land")
Anthem: "God Save the King"
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in United Kingdom.svg
Location of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean
Sovereign state Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
Separation from Falkland Islands 3 October 1985
and largest settlement
King Edward Point
54°17′00″S36°30′00″W / 54.28333°S 36.50000°W / -54.28333; -36.50000
Official languages English
  • South Georgian
  • South Sandwich Islander
Government Directly administered dependency under a constitutional monarchy
Charles III
Alison Blake
Government of the United Kingdom
Zac Goldsmith
3,903 km2 (1,507 sq mi)(not ranked)
Currency Falkland Islands pound (£) (FKP)
Time zone UTC−02:00
Date formatdd/mm/yyyy
Driving side left
Calling code +500
UK postcode
SIQQ 1xx
ISO 3166 code GS
Internet TLD .gs

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a British Overseas Territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean. It is a remote and inhospitable collection of islands, consisting of South Georgia and a chain of smaller islands known as the South Sandwich Islands. South Georgia is 165 kilometres (103 mi) long and 35 kilometres (22 mi) wide and is by far the largest island in the territory. The South Sandwich Islands lie about 700 kilometres (430 mi) southeast of South Georgia. The territory's total land area is 3,903 km2 (1,507 sq mi). [1] The Falkland Islands are about 1,300 kilometres (810 mi) west from its nearest point.


The South Sandwich Islands are uninhabited, and a very small non-permanent population resides on South Georgia. [2] There are no scheduled passenger flights or ferries to or from the territory, although visits by cruise liners to South Georgia are increasingly popular, with several thousand visitors each summer.

The United Kingdom claimed sovereignty over South Georgia in 1775 and the South Sandwich Islands in 1908. The territory of "South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands" was formed in 1985; [3] previously, it had been governed as part of the Falkland Islands Dependencies. Argentina claimed South Georgia in 1927 and claimed the South Sandwich Islands in 1938.

Argentina maintained a naval station, Corbeta Uruguay, on Thule Island in the South Sandwich Islands from 1976 until 1982 when it was closed by the Royal Navy. The Argentine claim over South Georgia contributed to the 1982 Falklands War, during which Argentine forces briefly occupied the island. Argentina continues to claim sovereignty over South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands as part of the Tierra del Fuego, Antártida e Islas del Atlántico Sur Province.

Toothfish are vital to the islands' economy; as a result, Toothfish Day is celebrated on 4 September as a bank holiday in the territory. [4]


South Georgia

17th to 19th centuries

Richard William Seale's map of 1744, showing Roche Island and noting its discovery in 1675 Seale-1744.png
Richard William Seale's map of 1744, showing Roche Island and noting its discovery in 1675

The island of South Georgia was first sighted in 1675 by Anthony de la Roché, a London merchant and (despite his French name) an Englishman. [5] The island appeared as Roche Island on early maps. [6] The commercial Spanish ship León, operating out of Saint-Malo sighted it on 28 June or 29 June 1756. [7]

James Cook circumnavigated the island in 1775 and made the first landing. He claimed the territory for the Kingdom of Great Britain, naming it the "Isle of Georgia" in honour of King George III of the United Kingdom. British arrangements for the government of South Georgia were established under 1843 British letters patent.

In 1882–1883 a German expedition for the first International Polar Year set up its base at Royal Bay on the southeast side of the island. The scientists of this group observed the transit of Venus and recorded waves produced by the 1883 eruption of Krakatoa. Seal hunting at South Georgia began in 1786 and continued throughout the 19th century. The waters proved treacherous and a number of vessels were wrecked there, such as Earl Spencer, in late-1801. [8]

20th and 21st centuries

Norwegian Lutheran Church at Grytviken Grytviken church.jpg
Norwegian Lutheran Church at Grytviken

South Georgia became a base for whaling beginning in the 20th century. A Norwegian, Carl Anton Larsen, established the first land-based whaling station and first permanent habitation at Grytviken in 1904. It operated through his Argentine Fishing Company, which settled in Grytviken. [7] [9] The station operated until 1965. Whaling stations operated under leases granted by the Governor of the Falkland Islands. The seven stations, all on the north coast with its sheltered harbours, were, from the west to east:

The whaling stations' tryworks were unpleasant and dangerous places to work. One was called "a charnel house boiling wholesale in Vaseline" by an early 20th-century visitor. Tim Flannery wrote that its "putrid vapors [resembled] the pong of bad fish, manure, and a tanning works mixed together", and noted one bizarre peril: "A rotting whale could fill with gas to bursting, ejecting a fetus the size of a motor vehicle with sufficient force to kill a man." [10]

South Georgia, photographed by Frank Hurley during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition PanoramaOfSouthGeorgia.jpg
South Georgia, photographed by Frank Hurley during the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition

With the end of the whaling industry, the stations were abandoned. Apart from a few preserved buildings such as the South Georgia Museum and Norwegian Lutheran Church at Grytviken, only their decaying remains survive. From 1905, the Argentine Meteorological Office cooperated in maintaining a meteorological observatory at Grytviken under the British lease requirements of the whaling station until these changed in 1949.

In 1908, the United Kingdom issued further letters patent that established constitutional arrangements for its possessions in the South Atlantic. The letters covered South Georgia, the South Orkneys, the South Shetlands, the South Sandwich Islands, and Graham Land. The claim was extended in 1917 to include a sector of Antarctica reaching to the South Pole. In 1909, an administrative centre and residence were established at King Edward Point on South Georgia, near the whaling station of Grytviken. A permanent local British administration and resident magistrate exercised effective possession, enforcement of British law, and regulation of all economic, scientific, and other activities in the territory, which was then governed as the Falkland Islands Dependencies. In about 1912, what is according to some accounts the largest whale ever caught, a blue whale of 110 feet (34 m), was landed at Grytviken. [11] [12]

In April 1916, Ernest Shackleton's Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition became stranded on Elephant Island, some 800 miles (1,300 km) southwest of South Georgia. Shackleton and five companions set out in a small boat to summon help, and on 10 May, after an epic voyage, they landed at King Haakon Bay on South Georgia's south coast. While three stayed at the coast, Shackleton and the two others, Tom Crean and Frank Worsley, went on to cover 22 miles (35 km) over the spine of the mountainous island to reach help at Stromness whaling station. The remaining 22 members of the expedition, who had stayed on Elephant Island, were subsequently rescued. In January 1922, during a later expedition, Shackleton died on board ship while moored in King Edward Cove, South Georgia. He is buried at Grytviken. The ashes of another noted Antarctic explorer, Frank Wild, who had been Shackleton's second-in-command on the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, were interred next to Shackleton in 2011.[ citation needed ]

Historical and modern settlements of South Georgia Island SG-Settlements.png
Historical and modern settlements of South Georgia Island

Argentina claimed South Georgia in 1927. [13] The basis of this claim and of a later claim in 1938 to the South Sandwich Islands has been questioned. [14] During the Second World War, the Royal Navy deployed an armed merchant vessel to patrol South Georgian and Antarctic waters against German raiders, along with two four-inch shore guns (still present) protecting Cumberland Bay and Stromness Bay, which were operated by volunteers from among the Norwegian whalers. The base at King Edward Point was expanded as a research facility in 1949–1950 by the British Antarctic Survey, which until 1962 was called the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey.

The Falklands War was precipitated on 19 March 1982 when a group of Argentinians (most of them Argentine Marines in mufti), posing as scrap-metal merchants, occupied the abandoned whaling station at Leith Harbour on South Georgia. On 3 April, Argentine troops attacked and occupied Grytviken. Among the commanding officers of the Argentine garrison was Alfredo Astiz, a captain in the Argentine Navy who was convicted years later of crimes against humanity committed during the Dirty War in Argentina. The island was recaptured by British forces on 25 April, in Operation Paraquet.

In 1985, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands ceased to be administered as a Falkland Islands Dependency and became a separate territory. The King Edward Point base, which had become a small military garrison after the Falklands War, returned to civilian use in 2001 and is now operated by the British Antarctic Survey.

South Sandwich Islands

Captain James Cook discovered the southern eight islands of the Sandwich Islands Group in 1775, although he lumped the southernmost three together, and their status as separate islands was not established until 1820 by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen. [15] The northern three islands were discovered by Bellingshausen in 1819. The islands were tentatively named "Sandwich Land" by Cook, although he also commented that they might be a group of islands rather than a single body of land. The name was chosen in honour of John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, who was First Lord of the Admiralty. The word "South" was later added to distinguish them from the "Sandwich Islands", now known as the Hawaiian Islands.

Argentina claimed the South Sandwich Islands in 1938, and challenged British sovereignty in the Islands on several occasions. From 25 January 1955 to mid-1956, Argentina maintained the summer station Teniente Esquivel at Ferguson Bay on the southeastern coast of Thule Island. Argentina maintained a naval base (Corbeta Uruguay) from 1976 to 1982, in the lee (southern east coast) of the same island. Although the British discovered the presence of the Argentine base in 1976, [16] protested and tried to resolve the issue by diplomatic means, no effort was made to remove them by force until after the Falklands War. The base was removed on 20 June 1982.


Map of the islands Map of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.svg
Map of the islands

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a collection of islands in the South Atlantic Ocean. Most of the islands, rising steeply from the sea, are rugged and mountainous. At higher elevations, the islands are permanently covered with ice and snow.

South Georgia Group

The South Georgia Group lies about 1,390 kilometres (860 mi; 750 nmi) east-southeast of the Falkland Islands, at 54°–55°S, 36°–38°W. It comprises South Georgia Island itself, by far the largest island in the territory, and the islands that immediately surround it and some remote and isolated islets to the west and east-southeast. It has a total land area of 3,756 square kilometres (1,450 sq mi), including satellite islands, but excluding the South Sandwich Islands which form a separate island group.

Islands within the South Georgia Group

Grytviken 1989 Grytvikken hg.jpg

South Georgia Island lies at 54°15′S36°45′W / 54.250°S 36.750°W / -54.250; -36.750 Coordinates: 54°15′S36°45′W / 54.250°S 36.750°W / -54.250; -36.750 and has an area of 3,528 square kilometres (1,362 sq mi). It is mountainous and largely barren. Eleven peaks rise to over 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) high, their slopes furrowed with deep gorges filled with glaciers; the largest is Fortuna Glacier. The highest peak is Mount Paget in the Allardyce Range at 2,934 metres (9,626 ft).

Geologically, the island consists of gneiss and argillaceous schists with occasional tuffs and other sedimentary layers from which fossils have been recovered. [17] The island is a fragment of some greater land-mass now vanished and was probably a former extension of the Andean system.

Smaller islands and islets off the coast of South Georgia Island include:

These remote rocks are also considered part of the South Georgia Group:

  • Shag Rocks, 185 km (115 mi; 100 nmi) west-northwest of South Georgia Island
  • Black Rock, 169 km (105 mi; 91 nmi) west-northwest of South Georgia Island
  • Clerke Rocks, 56 km (35 mi; 30 nmi) east-southeast of South Georgia Island

South Sandwich Islands

Closeup map of the South Sandwich Islands South Sandwich Islands Map.svg
Closeup map of the South Sandwich Islands
NASA satellite photograph of Montagu Island Montagu Island Satellite Photograph.jpg
NASA satellite photograph of Montagu Island

The South Sandwich Islands (Spanish : Islas Sandwich del Sur) comprise 11 mostly volcanic islands (excluding tiny satellite islands and offshore rocks), with some active volcanoes. They form an island arc running north–south in the region 56°18'–59°27'S, 26°23'–28°08'W, between about 350 and 500 mi (300 and 430 nmi; 560 and 800 km) southeast of South Georgia.

The northernmost of the South Sandwich Islands form the Traversay Islands and Candlemas Islands groups, while the southernmost make up Southern Thule. The three largest islands  Saunders, Montagu, and Bristol  lie between the two. The Islands' highest point is Mount Belinda (1,370 m or 4,495 ft) on Montagu Island. The fourth highest peak, Mount Michael (990 m or 3,248 ft) on Saunders Island has a persistent lava lake, known to occur at only eight volcanoes in the world. [18] [19]

The South Sandwich Islands are uninhabited, though a permanently staffed Argentine research station was located on Thule Island from 1976 to 1982 (for details, see § History above). Automatic weather stations are on Thule Island and Zavodovski. To the northwest of Zavodovski Island is the Protector Shoal, a submarine volcano.

Map all coordinates using: OpenStreetMap  
Download coordinates as: KML

The South Sandwich Islands from north to south are:

(Spanish name)
AreaHighest peakLocation
Traversay Islands
(Archipiélago Marqués de Traverse)
Protector Shoal −27 m (−89 ft) 55°54′S28°06′W / 55.900°S 28.100°W / -55.900; -28.100 (Protector Shoal)
Zavodovski 25 km2 (9.7 sq mi) Mount Asphyxia
550 m (1,800 ft)
56°18′S27°34′W / 56.300°S 27.567°W / -56.300; -27.567 (Zavodovski)
Leskov 0.3 km2 (0.12 sq mi)Rudder Point
190 m (620 ft)
56°40′S28°08′W / 56.667°S 28.133°W / -56.667; -28.133 (Leskov)
Visokoi 35 km2 (14 sq mi) Mount Hodson
915 m (3,002 ft)
56°42′S27°13′W / 56.700°S 27.217°W / -56.700; -27.217 (Visokoi)
Candlemas Islands (sometimes included with Traversay Islands)
(Islas Candelaria)
14 km2 (5.4 sq mi) Mount Andromeda
550 m (1,800 ft)
57°05′S26°39′W / 57.083°S 26.650°W / -57.083; -26.650 (Candlemas)
5 km2 (1.9 sq mi) Quadrant Peak
430 m (1,410 ft)
57°06′S26°47′W / 57.100°S 26.783°W / -57.100; -26.783 (Vindication)
Central islands
Saunders 40 km2 (15 sq mi) Mount Michael
990 m (3,250 ft)
57°48′S26°28′W / 57.800°S 26.467°W / -57.800; -26.467 (Saunders)
110 km2 (42 sq mi) Mount Belinda
1,370 m (4,490 ft)
58°25′S26°23′W / 58.417°S 26.383°W / -58.417; -26.383 (Montagu)
(Blanco) or
46 km2 (18 sq mi)Mount Darnley
1,100 m (3,600 ft)
59°03′S26°30′W / 59.050°S 26.500°W / -59.050; -26.500 (Bristol)
Southern Thule
(Tule del Sur)
Bellingshausen 1 km2 (0.39 sq mi)Basilisk Peak
255 m (837 ft)
59°25′S27°05′W / 59.417°S 27.083°W / -59.417; -27.083 (Bellingshausen)
Cook 20 km2 (7.7 sq mi)Mount Harmer
1,115 m (3,658 ft)
59°26′S27°09′W / 59.433°S 27.150°W / -59.433; -27.150 (Cook)
Thule (or Morrell) Island 14 km2 (5.4 sq mi)Mount Larsen
710 m (2,330 ft)
59°27′S27°18′W / 59.450°S 27.300°W / -59.450; -27.300 (Thule)
Vysokaya Bank−89 m (−292 ft) 59°43′S27°58′W / 59.717°S 27.967°W / -59.717; -27.967 (Vysokaya Bank)
South Sandwich Islands
310 km2 (120 sq mi) Mount Belinda
1,370 m (4,490 ft)

A series of six passages separates each of the islands or island groups in the chain. They are, from north to south: Zavodovski Isl., Traverse passage, Visokoi Isl., Brown's passage, Candlemas Isl., Shackleton's passage, Saunders Isl., Larsen's passage, Montagu Isl., Biscoe's passage, Bristol Isl., Forsters Passage, Southern Thule. Nelson Channel is the passage between Candlemas and Vindication Island.

Extreme points


NASA satellite image of South Georgia Island covered with snow SouthGeorgiaIsland-EO.JPG
NASA satellite image of South Georgia Island covered with snow
The South Sandwich Islands connect with air currents to make wave patterns in clouds. Wave Clouds from South Sandwich Islands.jpg
The South Sandwich Islands connect with air currents to make wave patterns in clouds.
Royal Bay and South Georgia Island Royal Bay and South Georgia Island.jpg
Royal Bay and South Georgia Island

The climate is classified as polar, and the weather is highly variable and harsh; making a tundra (ET) in Köppen climate classification. Typical daily maximum temperatures in South Georgia at sea level are around 0 °C (32 °F) in winter (August) and 8 °C (46.4 °F) in summer (January). Winter minimum temperatures are typically about −5 °C (23 °F) and rarely dip below −10 °C (14 °F). Annual precipitation in South Georgia is about 1,500 mm (59.1 in), much of which falls as sleet or snow, which is possible the entire year. Inland, the snow line in summer is at an altitude of about 300 m (984 ft).

Westerly winds blow throughout the year interspersed with periods of calm—indeed, in 1963, 25% of winds were in the calm category at King Edward Point, and the mean wind speed of around 8 knots (9.2 mph; 15 km/h) is around half that of the Falkland Islands. This gives the eastern side of South Georgia (leeward side) a more pleasant climate than the exposed western side. The prevailing weather conditions generally make the islands difficult to approach by ship, though the north coast of South Georgia has several large bays which provide good anchorage.

Sunshine, as with many South Atlantic Islands, is low, at a maximum of just 21.5%. This amounts to around 1,000 hours of sunshine annually. The local topography, however, also contributes significantly to the low insolation. A study published during the early 1960s [20] indicated that sunshine recording instruments remained significantly obscured throughout the year and entirely obscured during June. It was estimated that the theoretical sunshine exposure minus obstructions would be around 14% at Bird Island and 35% at King Edward Point or, in hourly terms, ranging from around 650 hours in the west to 1,500 hours in the east. This illustrates the effect the Allardyce Range has in breaking up cloud cover.

Mountain winds rise over the western slopes of the mountains of South Georgia and down the eastern side and become much warmer and drier due to the Föhn effect; this produces the most pleasant conditions when temperatures can occasionally rise to over 20 °C (68 °F) on summer days. The highest temperature recorded at the King Edward Point meteorological station (often generically and less accurately called Grytviken) on the sheltered eastern side of South Georgia is 28.8 °C (83.8 °F). [21] Conversely, the highest recorded temperature at Bird Island on the windward western side is a mere 14.5 °C (58.1 °F). As one might expect, the sheltered eastern side can also record lower winter temperatures—the absolute minimum temperature for King Edward Point is −19.4 °C (−2.9 °F), but Bird Island just −11.4 °C (11.5 °F).

The seas surrounding South Georgia are cold throughout the year due to the proximity of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. They usually remain free of pack ice in winter, though thin ice may form in sheltered bays, and icebergs are common. [22] Sea temperatures drop to 0 °C (32 °F) in late August and rise to around 4 °C (39.2 °F) only in early April.

The South Sandwich Islands are much colder than South Georgia, being farther south and more exposed to cold outbreaks from the Antarctic continent. They are also surrounded by sea ice from the middle of May to late November (even longer at their southern end). [23] Recorded temperature extremes at South Thule Island have ranged from −29.8 to 17.7 °C (−21.6 to 63.9 °F).

Climate data for Bird Island, South Georgia, 1961–1990
Record high °C (°F)11.2
Average high °C (°F)5.5
Daily mean °C (°F)3.1
Average low °C (°F)0.7
Record low °C (°F)−2
Average precipitation mm (inches)84
Source 1: Climatic Research Unit, UEA [24]
Source 2: Météo Climat [25]
Climate data for Grytviken/King Edward Point, South Georgia, 1901–1950 (Sunshine 1931–1960)
Record high °C (°F)24.5
Average high °C (°F)8.4
Daily mean °C (°F)4.6
Average low °C (°F)1.4
Record low °C (°F)−4.1
Average precipitation mm (inches)92
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.1 mm)121314141215151411121111154
Average relative humidity (%)72696970747574737270697172
Mean monthly sunshine hours 15216012766341222741231711741671,282
Source 1: Globalbioclimatics/Salvador Rivas-Martínez [26]
Source 2: DMI/Danish Meteorology Institute (sun, humidity, and precipitation days 1931–1960) [27]


Executive power is vested in the monarch of the United Kingdom and is exercised by the Commissioner, a post held by the Governor of the Falkland Islands. The current Commissioner is Alison Blake, who took the post on 1 July 2022.

The executive, based in Stanley, Falkland Islands, made up of a Chief Executive, three Directors, two managers, and a Business Support Officer.

The Financial Secretary and Attorney General of the territory are appointed ex officio similar appointments in the Falkland Islands' government.

On the island itself, Government Officers manage vessel visits, fishing and tourism, and represent the government 'on the ground'. A summer Deputy Postmaster runs the Post Office at Grytviken during the tourism season.

As no permanent inhabitants live on the islands, no legislative council and no elections are needed. The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) manages the foreign relations of the territory. Since 1982, the territory celebrates Liberation Day on 25 April.

The constitution of the territory (adopted 3 October 1985), the manner in which its government is directed and the availability of judicial review were discussed in a series of litigations between 2001 and 2005 (see, in particular, Regina v. Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Appellant) ex parte Quark Fishing Limited [2005] UKHL 57 [28] ). Although its government is directed by the FCDO, it was held that, since it was acting as an agent of the Crown in right of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands rather than in right of the UK, its decisions under that direction could not be challenged as if they were in law decisions of a UK government department;[ clarification needed ] thus the European Convention on Human Rights did not apply.


Commercial sealing occurred on the islands between 1817 and 1909. During that period 20 visits are recorded by sealing vessels. [29]

Economic activity in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is limited. The territory has revenues of £6.3 million, 80% of which is derived from fishing licences (2020 figures). [30] Other sources of revenue are the sale of postage stamps and coins, tourism, and customs and harbour dues. [31]


Fishing takes place around South Georgia and in adjacent waters in some months of the year, with fishing licences sold by the territory for Patagonian toothfish, cod icefish and krill. Fishing licences bring in millions of pounds a year, most of which is spent on fishery protection and research. All fisheries are regulated and managed in accordance with the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) system.

In 2001 the South Georgia government was cited by the Marine Stewardship Council for its sustainable Patagonian toothfish fishery, certifying that South Georgia met the MSC's environmental standards. The certificate places limits on the timing and quantity of Patagonian toothfish that may be caught. [32]


Tourism has become a larger source of income in recent years, with many cruise ships and sailing yachts visiting the area (the only way to visit South Georgia is by sea; there are no airstrips on the Islands). The territory gains income from landing charges and the sale of souvenirs. Cruise ships often combine a Grytviken visit with a trip to the Antarctic Peninsula.

Charter yacht visits usually begin in the Falkland Islands, last between four and six weeks, and enable guests to visit remote harbours of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Sailing vessels are now required to anchor out and can no longer tie up to the old whaling piers on shore. One exception to this is the recently upgraded/repaired yacht berth at Grytviken. All other jetties at former whaling stations lie inside a 200 m (656 ft) exclusion zone; and berthing, or putting ropes ashore, at these is forbidden. Yachts visiting South Georgia are normally expected to report to the Government Officers at King Edward Point before moving round the island.

Postage stamps

This postage stamp depicting a fin whale was issued in 1963. Stamp South Georgia 1963 4d.jpg
This postage stamp depicting a fin whale was issued in 1963.

A large source of income from abroad also comes from the issue of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands postage stamps which are produced in the UK.

A reasonable issue policy (few sets of stamps are issued each year) along with attractive subject matter (especially whales) makes them popular with topical stamp collectors.

There are only four genuine first day cover sets from 16 March 1982 in existence. They were stamped at the South Georgia Post Office; all those in circulation were stamped elsewhere and sent out, but the only genuine ones were kept at the Post Office on South Georgia. These four sets were removed during the Falklands War by a member of staff of the British Antarctic Survey in the few moments the Argentinians allowed them to gather their belongings. Everything else was burnt, but these four sets were saved and brought to the UK by Robert Headland, BAS.


The pound sterling is the official currency of the islands, and the same notes and coins are used as in the United Kingdom.

Internet domain registration

The Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is .gs.


Southern giant petrel on South Georgia Island Giant petrel.jpg
Southern giant petrel on South Georgia Island
A colony of 200,000 king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) on Salisbury Plain King Penguins at Salisbury Plain (5719368307).jpg
A colony of 200,000 king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) on Salisbury Plain
King penguins at St Andrews Bay, South Georgia Island, 1996 King penguins on South Georgia Island.jpg
King penguins at St Andrews Bay, South Georgia Island, 1996


Native plants

The parts of the islands that are not permanently covered in snow or ice are part of the Scotia Sea Islands tundra ecoregion. In total there are 26 species of vascular plant native to South Georgia; six species of grass, four rushes, a single sedge, six ferns, one clubmoss and nine small forbs. There are also about 125 species of moss, 85 of liverworts and 150 lichens, as well as about 50 species of macrofungi. [33] There are no trees or shrubs on the islands. [34]

The largest plant is the tussock grass Poa flabellata . This grows mostly on raised beaches and steep slopes near the shore and may reach 2 m (7 ft). Other grasses include the tufted fescue ( Festuca contracta ), the Alpine cat's-tail ( Phleum alpinum ) and Antarctic hair-grass ( Deschampsia antarctica ), and one of the most common flowering plants is the greater burnet ( Acaena magellanica ). [33]

Introduced plants

A number of introduced species have become naturalised; many of these were introduced by whalers in cattle fodder, and some are considered invasive. [35]

There have been 76 introduced plant species recorded in South Georgia. 35 of these are considered eradicated, with 41 still considered present on the island. 33 of these species are planned for eradication by 2020. [36] It is considered important to control the spread of these exotic species as they readily enter this vulnerable, pristine ecosystem and outcompete populations of native flora for resources (e.g. light, nutrients) and negatively affect small, fragile habitats for the South Georgia fauna.

Current pest plant management efforts began in the early 2000s and are primarily targeted toward the species with easier expectations of eradication in the near-term (such as bittercress and procumbent pearlwort), with remaining species to be targeted in future seasons. These programmes involved the collaboration of the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Government, Royal Botanical Gardens Kew, UK Darwin Initiative and private contractors. [36]

The introduced plant species of South Georgia arrived primarily alongside human economic activities in the island and were mostly accidental, (before visitors had an understanding of their consequences). Annual meadow grass (Poa annua) is believed to have arrived approximately 1700 with the first sealers, and is now widespread across the island, particularly old sealing and whaling sites.  Dandelions are believed to have been introduced alongside whaling operations, via the practice of including a handful of soil from the deceased whaler's home country. Bittercress was first spotted in 2002 and is thought to have arrived alongside building supplies at King Edward Cove. Introductions have since slowed in recent decades with the introduction of thorough biosecurity protocols. Non-native species management will require several years of regular, dedicated follow-up treatments to ensure that all germinating seed currently in the soil is controlled prior to maturity before  success will be achieved. [37]


South Georgia supports many sea birds, including albatross, a large colony of king penguins, Macaroni penguins [38] and penguins of various other species, along with petrels, prions, shags, skuas, gulls and terns. Birds unique to the archipelago are the South Georgia shag, South Georgia pipit, and the South Georgia pintail. Both South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands have been identified as Important Bird Areas (IBA) by BirdLife International. [39]


Seals frequent the islands, and whales may be seen in the surrounding waters. There are no native land mammals, though reindeer, brown rats and mice were introduced to South Georgia through human activities.

Rats, brought to the island as stowaways on sealing and whaling ships in the late 18th century, [40] have caused much damage to native wildlife, destroying tens of millions of ground-nesting birds' eggs and chicks. While previously the island's glaciers formed a natural barrier to the spread of rats, these glaciers are now slowly melting as the climate warms. [41] In 2011, scientists instituted a four-year programme to entirely eradicate the rats and mice, in what would be by far the largest rodent eradication attempt in the world to date. [42] [43] [44] The project was led by zoologist Anthony Martin of The University of Dundee who stated, "This is a man-induced problem and it's about time that man put right earlier errors." [45] In July 2013, the success of the main phase of the extermination of the rats, which took place in May that year, was announced. 180 tonnes of rat poison, brodifacoum, were dropped over 70% of the island, in what was the world's largest ever operation of this kind. [46] Another 95 tonnes of rat poison was planned to be dropped by three helicopters in January 2015. [47] In June 2015 the eradication programme concluded, apparently successfully, with the island believed "very likely" to be rat free. In 2017–18, an intensive six-month search by the South Georgia Heritage Trust, using sniffer dogs and baited traps, found no evidence of rodent presence. [48] Monitoring will continue for a further two or three years. [49] In 2018, the number of South Georgia pipits had clearly increased. [50]

Reindeer were introduced to South Georgia in 1911 by Norwegian whalers for meat and for sport hunting. In February 2011, the authorities announced that due to the reindeer's detrimental effect on native species and the threat of their spreading to presently pristine areas, a complete cull would take place, leading to the eradication of reindeer from the island. [51] The eradication began in 2013 with 3,500 reindeer killed. Nearly all the rest were killed in early 2014, with the last (about 50) cleared in the 2014–15 southern summer. [52]

Marine ecosystem

The seas around South Georgia have a high level of biodiversity. In a recent study (2009–2011), South Georgia has been discovered to contain one of the highest levels of biodiversity among all the ecosystems on Earth. [53] In respect to species, marine inhabitants endemic to this ecosystem outnumber and (in respect to biodiversity) surpass well-known regions such as the Galápagos or Ecuador. [54] The marine ecosystem is thought to be vulnerable because its low temperatures mean that it can repair itself only very slowly. [55] On 23 February 2012, to protect marine biodiversity, the territory's government created the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area comprising 1.07 million km2 (410,000 sq mi). [56] [57] [58]

Wandering albatross at South Georgia Island Wonder albat.jpg
Wandering albatross at South Georgia Island
Antarctic Pearlwort at St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia Antarctic Pearlwort.jpg
Antarctic Pearlwort at St. Andrews Bay, South Georgia
South Georgia glacier and penguin colony South Georgia Photo by Sascha Grabow.jpg
South Georgia glacier and penguin colony


HMS Protector Royal Navy Antarctic Patrol Ship HMS Protector MOD 45153156.jpg
HMS Protector

After the Falklands War in 1982, a full-time British military presence was maintained at King Edward Point on South Georgia. This was scaled down during the 1990s until the last detachment left South Georgia in March 2001, after a new station had been built and occupied by the British Antarctic Survey. [59]

The main British military facility in the region is at RAF Mount Pleasant and the adjacent Mare Harbour naval base on East Falkland, and three Remote Radar Heads on the Falklands: RRH Mount Kent, RRH Byron Heights and RRH Mount Alice. A handful of British naval vessels patrol the region, visiting South Georgia a few times each year and sometimes deploying small infantry patrols. Flights by RAF Airbus A400M and Airbus A330 MRTT (named Atlas and Voyager by the RAF respectively) aircraft also occasionally patrol the territory.

A Royal Navy warship carries out the Atlantic Patrol Tasking South mission in the surrounding area.

HMS Endurance, the Royal Navy ice-patrol ship, operated in the South Georgia area during part of most southern summer seasons until her near loss due to flooding in 2008. She carried out hydrological and mapping work as well as assisting with scientific fieldwork for the British Antarctic Survey, film and photographic units, and youth expedition group BSES Expeditions. While the final decision on the fate of Endurance was pending, the Royal Navy chartered a Norwegian icebreaker, renamed HMS Protector, to act as replacement for three years. [60] In September 2013 the British Ministry of Defence purchased the ship outright. [61] It was announced on 7 October 2013 that Endurance would be sold for scrap. [62]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Antarctic</span> Polar region around Earths South Pole

The Antarctic is a polar region around Earth's South Pole, opposite the Arctic region around the North Pole. The Antarctic comprises the continent of Antarctica, the Kerguelen Plateau and other island territories located on the Antarctic Plate or south of the Antarctic Convergence. The Antarctic region includes the ice shelves, waters, and all the island territories in the Southern Ocean situated south of the Antarctic Convergence, a zone approximately 32 to 48 km wide varying in latitude seasonally. The region covers some 20 percent of the Southern Hemisphere, of which 5.5 percent is the surface area of the Antarctica continent itself. All of the land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude are administered under the Antarctic Treaty System. Biogeographically, the Antarctic realm is one of eight biogeographic realms of Earth's land surface.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Grytviken</span> Place in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, United Kingdom

Grytviken is a settlement on South Georgia in the South Atlantic and formerly a whaling station and the largest settlement on the island. It is located at the head of King Edward Cove within the larger Cumberland East Bay, considered the best harbour on the island. The location's name, meaning "pot bay", was coined in 1902 by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition and documented by the surveyor Johan Gunnar Andersson, after the expedition found old English try pots used to render seal oil at the site. Settlement was re-established on 16 November 1904 by Norwegian Antarctic explorer Carl Anton Larsen on the long-used site of former whaling settlements.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Georgia</span> Island in the South Atlantic Ocean

South Georgia is an island in the South Atlantic Ocean that is part of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It lies around 1,400 kilometres (870 mi) east of the Falkland Islands. Stretching in the east–west direction, South Georgia is around 170 kilometres (106 mi) long and has a maximum width of 35 kilometres (22 mi). The terrain is mountainous, with the central ridge rising to 2,935 metres (9,629 ft) at Mount Paget. The northern coast is indented with numerous bays and fjords, serving as good harbours.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">King Edward Point</span> Place in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, United Kingdom

King Edward Point is a permanent British Antarctic Survey research station on South Georgia island and is the capital of the British Overseas Territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. It is situated in Cumberland East Bay on the northeastern coast of the island. The settlement is the smallest capital in the world by population. It is sometimes confusingly referred to as Grytviken, which is the site of the disused whaling station, nearby at the head of King Edward Cove.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bird Island, South Georgia</span> Place in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, United Kingdom

Bird Island is 4.8 kilometres (3 mi) long and 800 metres (875 yd) wide, separated from the western end of South Georgia by Bird Sound. It is part of the British overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, also claimed by Argentina as part of Tierra del Fuego province.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fortuna Glacier</span>

Fortuna Glacier is a tidewater glacier at the mouth of Cumberland Bay on the island of South Georgia. It flows in a northeast direction to its terminus just west of Cape Best, with an eastern distributary almost reaching the west side of Fortuna Bay, on the north coast of South Georgia. It was named in about 1912, presumably after the whale catcher Fortuna, and is notable for two major events in the 20th Century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scotia Sea</span> Sea at the northern edge of the Southern Ocean at its boundary with the South Atlantic Ocean

The Scotia Sea is a sea located at the northern edge of the Southern Ocean at its boundary with the South Atlantic Ocean. It is bounded on the west by the Drake Passage and on the north, east, and south by the Scotia Arc, an undersea ridge and island arc system supporting various islands. The sea sits atop the Scotia Plate. It is named after the expedition ship Scotia. Many icebergs melt there.

HMS <i>Endurance</i> (1967) Royal Navy vessel

HMS Endurance was a Royal Navy ice patrol vessel that served from 1967 to 1991. She came to public notice when she was involved in the Falklands War of 1982. The final surrender of the war, in the South Sandwich Islands, took place aboard Endurance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Carl Anton Larsen</span> Whaler and Antarctic explorer

Carl Anton Larsen was a Norwegian-born whaler and Antarctic explorer who made important contributions to the exploration of Antarctica, the most significant being the first discovery of fossils for which he received the Back Grant from the Royal Geographical Society. In December 1893 he became the first person to ski in Antarctica on the Larsen Ice Shelf which was subsequently named after him. In 1904, Larsen re-founded a whaling settlement at Grytviken on the island of South Georgia. In 1910, after some years' residence on South Georgia, he renounced his Norwegian citizenship and took British citizenship. The Norwegian whale factory ship C.A. Larsen was named after him.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands</span>

The history of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is relatively recent. When European explorers discovered the islands, they were uninhabited, and their hostile climate, mountainous terrain, and remoteness made subsequent settlement difficult. Due to these conditions, human activity in the islands has largely consisted of sealing, whaling, and scientific surveys and research, interrupted by World War II and the Falklands War.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Leith Harbour</span> Place in South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, United Kingdom

Leith Harbour, also known as Port Leith, was a whaling station on the northeast coast of South Georgia, established and operated by Christian Salvesen Ltd, Edinburgh. The station was in operation from 1909 until 1965. It was the largest of seven whaling stations, situated near the mouth of Stromness Bay. One man prominently involved in setting up Leith Harbour was William Storm Harrison.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">King Edward Cove</span> Body of water

King Edward Cove is a sheltered cove in the west side of Cumberland East Bay, South Georgia. This cove and its surrounding features, frequented by early sealers at South Georgia, was charted by the Swedish Antarctic Expedition, 1901–04, under Otto Nordenskiöld who named it Grytviken. That name, meaning 'Pot Bay,' was subsequently assumed by the whaling station and settlement built in 1904. The cove got its present name in about 1906 for King Edward VII of the United Kingdom.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Georgia Museum</span> Institution centered around British South Atlantic history; Shackletons resting place

The South Georgia Museum is situated in Grytviken, near the administrative centre of the UK overseas territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Polar explorers Ernest Shackleton and Frank Wild are buried in Grytviken's graveyard. The museum was established in 1991 by Nigel Bonner.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Compañía Argentina de Pesca</span>

Compañía Argentina de Pesca was initiated by the British-Norwegian whaler and Antarctic explorer Carl A. Larsen, and established on 29 February 1904 by three foreign residents of Buenos Aires: the Norwegian consul P. Christophersen, H.H. Schlieper, and E. Tornquist. Larsen was the company's Manager, in which capacity he organized the building of Grytviken, the first land-based whaling station in Antarctica put into operation on 24 December 1904.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Falkland Islands Dependencies</span> Constitutional arrangement regarding the administration of various British dependencies

The Falkland Islands Dependencies was the constitutional arrangement from 1843 until 1985 for administering the various British territories in Sub-Antarctica and Antarctica which were governed from the Falkland Islands and its capital Port Stanley.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands sovereignty dispute</span>

British sovereignty of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is disputed by Argentina. The United Kingdom claimed South Georgia in 1775, annexed the islands in 1908, and has exercised de facto control with the exception of a brief period during the Falklands War in 1982, when the islands were partially controlled by Argentina. The dispute started in 1927 when Argentina claimed sovereignty over South Georgia, and subsequently expanded in scope with Argentina claiming the South Sandwich Islands in 1938. The islands have no indigenous population, and currently only have about 30 inhabitants.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Languages of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands</span>

The only official language of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is English, and this is spoken by almost everyone on a day-to-day basis. The islands' population is transient, and there never were any native South Georgians, although a handful of people have been born there.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Invasion of South Georgia</span> April 1982 battle during the Falklands War

The invasion of South Georgia, also known as the Battle of Grytviken or Operation Georgias, took place on 3 April 1982, when Argentine Navy forces seized control of the east coast of South Georgia after overpowering a small group of Royal Marines at Grytviken. Though outnumbered, the Royal Marines shot down a helicopter and hit several times the Argentine corvette ARA Guerrico before being forced to surrender. It was one of the first episodes of the Falklands War, immediately succeeding the invasion on the Falkland Islands the day before.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Reindeer in South Georgia</span>

Reindeer in South Georgia are an example of an animal which has been introduced outside its native range. The reindeer, a species of deer adapted to arctic and subarctic climates, was introduced to the subantarctic island of South Georgia by Norwegian whalers in the early 20th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nigel Bonner</span> British biologist

William Nigel Bonner was a British zoologist, Antarctic marine mammal specialist, author and ecologist. The topics of his books and scientific publications included marine animals, reindeer and the ecology of the Antarctic. He headed the Life Sciences Division of the British Antarctic Survey from 1974 to 1986, and served as deputy director from 1986 to 1988. Bonner received the Polar Medal in 1987, in recognition of his work in Antarctica.


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