South America and South Atlantic Islands
South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (British Overseas Territory)
Last reviewed: 6 September 2007
- South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (British Overseas Territory) today
SOUTH GEORGIA AND SOUTH SANDWICH TODAY
Status: British Overseas Territory
Area: Some 170km long, varying in width from 2 to 40 km
Population: No indigenous population
Capital City: King Edward Point (Administrative Centre)
People: Not applicable (N/A)
Currency: Pound Sterling
Major political parties: None
Commissioner: : His Excellency Alan Huckle
Assistant Commissioner: Paul Martinez
GSGSSI Chief Executive Officer: Ms Harriet Hall
Natural and Cultural Heritage
South Georgia has a rich heritage stemming from its past prominence as a staging post for Antarctic discovery and the sealing and whaling industries it supported. As a result, South Georgia is increasingly becoming a popular tourist destination and important for scientific research. The Territory is of great importance for sub-Antarctic flora and fauna. South Georgia is the breeding ground for some 85% of the world’s Southern Fur Seal population as well as globally significant populations of elephant seals, albatrosses, petrels and penguins. Reindeer were introduced in about 1910 by Norwegian whaling companies. Only the coastal fringes of South Georgia support vegetation, mainly in the form of tussock grass. The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) recognises the Islands’ significance for global conservation and is committed to providing a sustainable policy framework which conserves, manages and protects the Islands’ rich natural environment, whilst at the same time allowing for human activities and for the generation of revenue which allows this to be achieved. This framework was set out in the 2000 and 2006 South Georgia Environmental Management Plans. The South Sandwich Islands represent a maritime ecosystem scarcely modified by human activities, their only inhabitants being millions of breeding penguins and other seabirds.
In 1993, concerns about illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing led GSGSSI to extend its maritime jurisdiction to 200 nautical miles around the Territory and to implement a fisheries conservation and management regime to control access to the fishery. Management of the fishery is conducted under SGSSI law and follows procedures and regulations laid down by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). All vessels wishing to fish within the Territory’s Maritime Zone must be licensed by the Director of Fisheries. The number of licences and amount of quota available each year is based on the Total Allowable Catch set by the CCAMLR Commission. A range of vessels of various flags are licensed annually, including a number from the UK’s Overseas Territories of the Falkland Islands and St Helena. Main target species include Patagonian Toothfish, Icefish, Krill and Crab. Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing in SGSSI waters, as elsewhere, has posed a serious threat to the conservation of fish stocks, and to populations of sea birds which may be caught inadvertently in such operations. The Government of SGSSI takes this threat seriously and devotes a significant proportion of annual revenue towards scientific research and fisheries surveillance. This helps to ensure that the Director of Fisheries has the best advice on which to base management decisions, that only licensed vessels operate in the fishery, and that they comply fully with their licence conditions and applicable CCAMLR Conservation Measures. This commitment to the sustainable management of the fishery was reflected in the successful certification of the South Georgia Patagonian Toothfish fishery by the Marine Stewardship Council (www.msc.org) in March 2004. This development – which was warmly welcomed by the FCO – means that the South Georgia Toothfish fishery is the first commercial fishery in the Southern Ocean to be certified by the MSC and will, it is hoped, encourage other administrations to adopt similar management policies and practices for the conservation of fish stocks and other wildlife. MSC certification is the first stage in an ongoing process that will see GSGSSI working with the MSC’s certifier to enhance even further its management of the Toothfish fishery.
The SGSSI authorities welcome visitors to the territory. Prospective visitors should note that the only available travel services to South Georgia are those provided by cruise ship, yacht and expedition companies (and that there are no road links on any of the Islands). The prevalent westerly storms and lack of sheltered anchorages make landing on any of the South Sandwich Islands difficult. Visas are not required but visitors must carry a passport valid for a minimum of six months. On arrival in South Georgia waters, visitors must report to the Government Officer at King Edward Point, Cumberland Bay East. All visitors, irrespective of their nationality and mode of transport, must apply to the Commissioner at least 60 days in advance of their journey for permission to land on the Islands. You can obtain application forms from the Commissioner’s Office (see details above), or online from the official South Georgia Government website at www.sgisland.org. Individual tourists or visitors on cruise ships, yachts or expeditions need not complete personal applications providing their tour operator/visit organiser has done so. Changeable weather conditions and other factors may affect plans.
You should provide details of all places at which you may wish to land even if, in the event, some are not visited. There is a £100 per visitor landing fee for those wishing to land on South Georgia. Applications from visitors who plan to spend one or more nights ashore on any of the Territory’s islands are classed as expeditions and these must be submitted to a panel of experts for assessment. All such Expedition Applications attract a processing fee. Permission to visit is granted on the basis of the detail provided in the Application Form. All places at which the visitor wishes to go ashore must be included on the form. Some areas are more vulnerable to disturbance, and the Commissioner reserves the right to refuse entry to these areas (and to any area) at any time. Applicants should consult the booklet ‘Information for Visitors to South Georgia’ issued by the Commissioner for South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands before setting out on their journey. Submission of an application is taken to mean that the applicant has read and understood the provisions in that booklet and will abide by them. Visitors can purchase stamps from the Post Office and stamps and gifts from the Museum shop on South Georgia. Both accept Pounds Sterling and US dollars cash and travellers cheques. The Museum shop accepts VISA and Mastercard credit cards but not American Express.
HEALTH AND SAFETY
Prospective visitors to SGSSI must be aware that there are no search and rescue facilities in the Territory. Medical facilities for the South Georgia Government Staff are very limited. Visitors are therefore strongly advised to take out comprehensive medical insurance (where this is not covered by their tour operator/visit organiser). Operators of cruise vessels must make fully adequate insurance arrangements to cover any liability of their own or of the SGSSI Government against any claim for liability in respect of anything occurring in SGSSI or their waters to any of their passengers or any member of their crew. Permission for visits by a cruise vessel is given on that basis. Weather conditions and terrain are harsh and unpredictable, the interior is not fully mapped and nearby waters are not always accurately or completely charted. Visitors are advised to take precautions against sunburn, which can be a problem in this sub-polar region.
All of the historic buildings of the former whaling stations at Prince Olav Harbour, Leith Harbour, Stromness and Husvik are in a dangerous state of disrepair and wind-blown debris including asbestos dust presents a significant health risk at all. Visitors are prohibited from entering or approaching within two hundred metres of the former whaling stations, unless directed otherwise by the Commissioner’s Office or the Government Officer at King Edward Point. Grytviken whaling station has undergone an extensive programme of remedial works to remove asbestos and make the buildings safe. Access to part of the site is presently restricted.