South Georgia Newsletter, December ’20 – January ’21

This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.
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Protect Sustain Inspire

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) is proud to share its new stewardship framework for SGSSI called ‘Protect Sustain Inspire’. This document has been developed to reflect our passion for environmental recovery and resilience through world-leading, evidence-based sustainable management. It sets out 4 guiding values that will underpin the Government of SGSSI’s vision; environmental protection, evidence-based decision-making, sustainability and openness.

This new, values-driven framework offers a fresh perspective on how the Government of SGSSI will manage activities in the Territory, and it comes at an exciting time.

This year is the start of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration and also sees the UK co-host COP26 in November. This document sits alongside these ambitious international fora which may cause a spotlight to shine on our activities like never before, so illustrating our good governance and sound management is all the more important.

Minister for the Polar Regions, Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, said: “Through this approach, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands will continue to be a beacon of conservation management, informed by the UK’s world leading scientific expertise.”

Nigel Phillips, HM Commissioner for SGSSI, said: “The Territory’s history reminds us that whilst human kind is capable of incredible achievements, it is also culpable of ill-informed destruction. It is in our gift to learn and to strive to do better. Thankfully, that is the story of the Territory today, with Sir David Attenborough describing South Georgia as “a global rarity, an eco-system in recovery”.

Helen Havercroft, CEO of the Government of SGGSI said “My team and I are entirely committed to the ambitious vision and goals set out in our new stewardship framework, and whilst the task ahead will not be simple, it will be extremely rewarding for all who will help us deliver our vision and drive for sustainable management and environmental recovery to safeguard the future of SGSSI.”

Download “Protect Sustain Inspire – A values-driven approach to the stewardship of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands 2021 – 2025” and “Questions and Answers for launch of the Stewardship Framework” – here.

Chief Executive Officer Recruitment

GSGSSI have started their search for a new Chief Executive Officer.

Could it be you?

  • Do you have passion to deliver environmental recovery and resilience through world-leading evidence-based sustainable management?
  • Do you want to lead a team that works hard every day to deliver for South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands?

Applications close on 8 March 2021.

Further information: here

Heavy Fuel Oil (Prohibition of Carriage and Use)

In December 2018, following the first 5 year independent review of our Marine Protected Area (MPA), a series of enhancements to the MPA were brought into legislation in mid-2019. We additionally committed to prohibiting the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil (HFO) through our Maritime Zone by 31 December 2020.  The legislation published is our meeting of that commitment.

View Gazette No 2 – here.

Giant Iceberg Mission Begins

(From British Antarctic Survey)

A research mission to determine the impact of the giant A-68a iceberg on one of the world’s most important ecosystems has departed from Stanley in the Falkland Islands. A team of scientists, led by British Antarctic Survey (BAS), will set sail on the National Oceanography Centre’s (NOC) ship bound for the sub-Antarctic island of South Georgia.

The huge berg broke away from Antarctica’s Larsen C Ice Shelf in 2017. After satellite images revealed its movement towards South Georgia, the science team put a proposal to NERC to fund an urgent mission south.  Images captured from the air by the MOD in late 2020 show that the iceberg is breaking up. It now consists of several icebergs named A68a-m. The team will investigate the impact of freshwater from the melting ice into a region of the ocean that sustains colonies of penguins, seals and whales. These waters are also home to some of the most sustainably managed fisheries in the world.

King Edward Point Research Station on the island of South Georgia.

Underwater robotic gliders will be deployed from the NOC research ship RRS James Cook, which will arrive at the icebergs in mid February.

Dr Mark Belchier, Director of Fisheries and Environment at Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands, said:

“With such events predicted to increase in frequency, understanding their impacts on SGSSI’s ecosystem is essential for informing the Government’s sustainable stewardship of the territory”.

The full article can be read on the British Antarctic Survey site here.

Possession Day – 17th January 2021

GSGSSI marked the 246th year since Captain Cook claimed South Georgia for King and country. On 17th January 1775 a small party of men landed on a beach beneath snowy peaks and tumbling glaciers. In charge was an officer by the name of James Cook; the British Flag was planted, a volley of musket shot was fired, and the land was claimed for His Britannic Majesty. Cook named the bay in which he landed Possession Bay, and on 17th January each year South Georgia marks ‘Possession Day’ with a bank holiday, an important reminder of the UK’s long and rich history in the Southern Ocean.


James Cook departed London in 1772 on his second world voyage aboard HMS Resolution. One of his objectives was to determine the existence of a great southern landmass which had been hypothesised. A hundred years previously an English merchant named Anthony de la Roche sheltered in a bay in the harsh Southern Ocean, and James Cook used those reports to aid his navigation. At first appearance South Georgia must have raised expectations that this was the vast landmass they were searching for; but as the ship charted the coast so the reality became clear and Cape Disappointment was thus marked.

The impact James Cook had on the islands cannot be underestimated. His reports of the spectacular wildlife present in epic numbers initiated an era of exploitation that cascaded through the ecosystem with the harvesting of seals, whales and fish. The men who came to develop these industries brought with them foreign plants and animals, both deliberately and accidentally, significantly altering the ecology of the island. The historical over-exploitation of natural resources was however unsustainable, and as industries became unprofitable and regulations restricted activities, the workers left, the pressures on the island reduced, and a new era of regeneration could begin.

Today, the Territory is a success story and a shining beacon in a world where it has become common-place for unsustainable human activity to result in environmental deterioration and a decline in biodiversity. Through the hard work and sustained active management of successive governments, we are proud that South Georgia is a global rarity – an ecosystem in recovery. This restoration has been championed through environmental remediation; ongoing habitat restoration projects and biosecurity measures; the establishment of a Marine Protected Area and science-led precautionary use of marine resources; the highly regulated permitting of visitors and fishing; and the removal of some of the most harmful alien species.

Whales are now returning to the 1,240,000 km2 maritime zone in numbers not seen for almost a century. Eradication of reindeer, rats and mice from South Georgia has allowed native vegetation, including tussac grass, to thrive and ground-nesting bird populations to recover, including species found nowhere else in the world such as the South Georgia Pintail duck and the South Georgia pipit, the world’s most southerly songbird. Whilst invasive plant management is ongoing, the presence of non-native vegetation on South Georgia provides a reminder of the need for excellent biosecurity and constant vigilance to reduce their impact on native species.

South Georgia is not immune to global environmental challenges, none of which are more important and unpredictable than climate change. As a barometer in the Southern hemisphere, what happens at South Georgia offers a glimpse of potential impacts across the whole world. Whilst the rapid glacial retreat at some sites is a clear sign of a warming planet, it is likely that climate change is affecting ecosystem processes at all levels. The world-leading science taking place at South Georgia will not only be critical to understanding and managing local impacts but will also enhance global knowledge of climate and environmental issues.

There are likely to be many other effects of climate change not yet fully understood, potentially even more so on the remote South Sandwich Islands. In order to raise awareness of these critical issues and influence positive change beyond our waters, we must work with the international community of people and organisations who play a part in the stewardship of the Territory, bringing together policy-makers, industry and scientists with the passion and determination to help bring about positive change.

Whilst traversing the north coast of the island, James Cook chose not to land at some of the glacier lined bays, saying “I did not think it worth my while to go and examine these places; for it did not seem probable that any one would ever be benefited by the discovery”. He could never have imagined the cruise ships that would bring visitors from around the world to marvel at the island today, or the armchair explorers who share in our enthusiasm through documentaries and social media. Our hope is that every single person who experiences South Georgia will become an ambassador for the islands with an understanding of the importance of sustainable environmental management, and that they can then also apply this knowledge to their own communities.

As a British Overseas Territory, SGSSI serves as an example of world-leading, evidence-based, sustainable management delivering globally-significant environmental recovery. The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands will continue to work in partnership with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office to maintain the remarkable success story that is unfolding on South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

Stamps – 2020

In 2020, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands launched four new stamp sets. Below is an overview. The stamps can be purchased at and

Royal Navy Ships
As a British Overseas Territory, South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands has a close relationship with the Royal Navy. On hand to provide reassurance, protect British sovereignty and support efforts to protect the environment, Royal Navy vessels are always a welcome sight.

The Royal Navy’s presence in the South Atlantic region typically is composed of a patrol vessel and a frigate which is supported by tankers from the Royal Fleet Auxiliary. The patrol vessels are typically based in the Falkland Islands and visit South Georgia on regular taskings. The officers and crew of these vessels become friends and colleagues for those who live in the Territory. When the moment came to bid farewell to the resident vessel HMS Clyde and welcome here replacement HMS Forth it was both a sombre and celebratory time.


From The Air
In recent years small unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have become increasingly popular. UAVs come in a range of sizes but the devices used on South Georgia are typically less than 7 kg and powered by battery. The advanced computer systems and sensors mean that they can be programmed to fly detailed flight paths, keep steady in turbulent winds and even return to their home station when batteries run low. These safety features are vital to make sure that the South Georgia environment and wildlife is not damaged during flights.

In South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands use of UAVs is restricted to projects authorised by the Government. However, they offer a different view of the world and have huge potential to collect valuable data in less time and cause less intrusion than multiple people in the field so in recent years a number of projects have been supported to use them.


Unsung Heroes
The story of Shackleton and his men is the stuff of legend. In 1915, with the loss of his vessel Endurance during the Imperial-Trans Antarctic Expedition there followed a story of survival, bravery and determination famed throughout the world. Shackleton and five of his men undertook an epic open boat journey across the Southern Ocean and the first ever overland crossing of South Georgia in order to raise the alarm and send help to crew members who were left behind battling for survival on Elephant Island. Famously, all of Shackleton’s men survived. Each individual stepped up where they had the skills and strength to do so, but also had the courage to put aside their ego and acknowledge weakness so as not to endanger their crewmates.

On their return to England in 1917 the First World War was raging. Despite knowing they may be called upon to make the ultimate sacrifice, Shackleton’s men did what they considered to be their duty and signed up to help the war effort. Whilst a handful of those men were recognised for specific acts of gallantry, previously recognised on a South Georgia stamp edition in 2019, most simply displayed the same selfless resolve they showed during the Endurance expedition. They were in effect Shackleton’s unsung heroes.


South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands are set against a backdrop of constant change. Until Captain Cook landed on the island in 1775 and claimed it for King George III, South Georgia was un-touched by man. The first sealing expeditions came just a few years later and human driven change began apace. Sealers decimated fur and elephant seal populations and inadvertently introduced rodents that predated native birds and changed the islands immeasurably. Shortly after the sealers left because their industry was no longer viable, a new wave of change came with the whaling industry. As demand for whale oil grew, large processing facilities and shipyards were built onshore and a host of harmful materials and non-native plant species were introduced to the environment. Abandoned in the 1960s, these facilities leave a valuable historic record and a host of environmental challenges in their wake. The oceans around South Georgia were once again exploited beyond their sustainable limit from overfishing in the 1990s. However, today nature takes the driving seat and SGSSI is an ecosystem in recovery.

More recently, the changes to South Georgia have mostly been in favour of the environment. Since becoming a Territory in its own right in 1985, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands has put the environment at the heart of its policies.

Each of the stamps in the new definitive represents an iconic image for SGSSI and has a story of restoration and hope.

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands In The News

Marine Developments: Spotlight on: South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands


Antarctic iceberg, once Earth’s biggest, suffers major split


British Antarctic Survey scientists lead urgent mission to South Georgia to assess impact of huge iceberg


Gentoo penguins in South Georgia enjoying an enlarged no-fishing zone


Gentoo Poo And Satellite Tracking Shows Way To Sustainable Krill Fishery


Penguins benefit from extended maritime zone


Flying with the albatross


Nearly a century after being extirpated, blue whales are moving back to South Georgia Island


The hopeful return of polar whales

Latest Videos And Photos

Science mission to A-68a iceberg.

RRS James Cook bound for iceberg A68a to determine the impact on ecosystems. Photo BAS.