South Sandwich Islands

The South Sandwich Islands are located about 4,000 km north of Antarctica and 2,700 km east of South America, where the Southern Ocean meets the Atlantic.

The South Sandwich Islands host about half of the world’s chinstrap penguin population (1.3 million breeding pairs), approximately 95,000 breeding pairs of macaroni penguins, more than 100,000 breeding pairs of Adélie penguins, and several thousand breeding pairs of gentoo penguins.

Home to whales, fur seals, albatrosses, the waters surrounding the South Sandwich Islands are teeming with wildlife. Among the other features of this rich and unique ecosystem are deep-sea hydrothermal vents, seamounts, and the South Sandwich Trench, which is 8 km deep.

The creation of this marine reserve will give scientists a rare opportunity to study the impact of a changing climate due to the islands’ location at a biogeographic boundary between the warmer, free-flowing waters of the Atlantic to the north and the colder, ice-packed Southern Ocean to the south.

In 2012, the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands designated the waters around the islands a marine protected area (MPA). While its total area is 1.07 million km2, only 2 percent of it has been fully protected from fishing and other resource extraction. The remaining 98 percent was classified as “sustainable use,” which has left it open to commercial fishing and, potentially, other industrial activity.

The Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy[1] has been working to support the Great British Oceans coalition’s ‘Back the Blue Belt’ campaign[2], in particular to fully protect a 529,000 km2 marine reserve in the remote waters surrounding the South Sandwich Islands.

The coalition includes the Pew Trusts, Blue Marine Foundation, Greenpeace, the Marine Conservation Society, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, and the Zoological Society of London.

Protection of waters in the Southern Ocean would build momentum for further safeguards of the seas around Antarctica.

[1] The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Bertarelli Foundation joined forces in 2017 to create the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project. Their aim is to create the first generation of ecologically significant and effective marine reserves around the world. The project builds on a decade of work by the two organizations to protect the ocean. Between them, they have helped obtain designations to safeguard 8.2 million square kilometres of ocean by working with philanthropic partners, indigenous groups, community leaders, government officials, and scientists. Since 2010, the Bertarelli Foundation has helped protect the ocean for future generations, through both marine conservation and collaborative marine science research.

[2] The UK Government’s “Blue Belt” commitment is to provide long-term protection for more than 4 million km2 of marine environment across its overseas territories.