South Georgia

About

South Georgia lies 1300 km SE of the Falkland Islands, and the South Sandwich Islands (SSI) a further 760 km SE. South Georgia is mountainous with many glaciers, permanent ice covering almost half of its total land-area of 3755km2. Part of the old whaling station at Grytviken has been converted into the South Georgia Museum. Once the largest ship-yard in the southern hemisphere due to whaling, the island is now uninhabited except for officials and researchers, although some of its government workers are stationed in Stanley, in the Falkland Islands.

The economy is based on commercial fishing for which licences are issued, tourism and the sale of stamps.

It is surrounded by over 70 islands, islets, stacks and rocks. The largest of these support a variety of vascular plants and breeding seabirds. With a backbone of steeply uplifted mountain ranges (Allardyce and Salvesen Ranges) and at least 20 peaks over 2,000m altitude culminating at 2,965m on the island’s summit, Mt Paget, South Georgia is the highest of all sub-antarctic islands. Much of the land is over 1,000 m altitude and at least half is covered in permanent ice and snow, with over 160 glaciers, many of which intersect a heavily indented coastline. Extensive ice-free peninsulas bounded by glaciers are typical of the north-east coast, where the permanent snow line starts at 400 to 600m altitude. The south-west coast is predominantly rock and ice, with a narrow coastal fringe of mainly tussac grassland and permanent snow and ice.

There are 25 species of vascular plants native to South Georgia, over 50 introduced vascular species which mostly occur around the old whaling stations, and about 125 species of mosses, 80 of liverworts and 150 of lichens.

It has huge seabird colonies whose total breeding population probably exceeds 30 million pairs. A total of 31 bird species has been recorded breeding, of which 27 are seabirds. Of these, there are six species of penguin, four species of albatrosses and 13 species of smaller petrels and related species. Endemic bird species include: the South Georgia pipit Anthus antarcticus the pintail Anas georgica georgica,the cormorant Phalacrocorax atriceps georgianus, confined to the island group, and the Antarctic tern Sterna vittata georgiae. Forty-five species of vagrant migrants have been recorded from the island and its inshore waters, including a number of waders.

The most numerous bird is the macaroni penguin Eudyptes chrysolophus, with more than two million breeding pairs. South Georgia is an important nesting site for the largest seabird in the world, the wandering albatross Diomedea exulans. There are further large seabird colonies in the South Sandwich Islands, with chinstrap penguin Pygoscelis antarcticus in vast numbers.

Several seal species breed on the two island groups and a number of cetacean species are frequently seen offshore.

Licensed commercial fishing for fin-fish, squid and krill takes places in the surrounding seas. Two research stations at Bird Island and King Edward Point undertake marine research to understand the biology of the Southern Ocean and support a sustainable fishery.

Rodents, inadvertently brought to the island by sealers and whalers from the late 1700s onwards, as well as reindeer, which were deliberately introduced in the early 1900s, have had a significant impact on the island’s ecosystem. In particular, huge numbers of ground-nesting birds, including the endemic pipit and the pintail, are eaten alive and their eggs and chicks are predated. Seabird colonies are more restricted to offshore rat-free islets than would be the natural situation. In 2010, conservationists commenced the first phase of a seven-year project to eradicate rats, by spreading a rodenticide in pellets by helicopter. To enable more effective restoration of habitat, non-native reindeer were removed with the help of Norwegian marksmen. In 2015, a nest of the pipit, was sighted in an area where rats have been removed, and even earlier, pintails were seen successfully rearing young.

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE). 

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Video

South Georgia – wildlife and heritage

 

Read more about the wildlife, history and cultural heritage of all of the UK Overseas Territories in the 704 page Britain’s Treasure Islands book (CLICK HERE).

Watch 42 ‘mini-documentaries’ that explore the wildlife, cultures and history of all of the UK Overseas Territories (CLICK HERE).