South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are a United Kingdom Overseas Territory located in the South Atlantic Ocean.
The SGSSI are a group of sub-Antarctic islands, located in the South Atlantic Ocean. This region is located to the east of the southern tip of South America and north of Antarctica. The islands include the Shags Rocks, Clerke Rocks, Black Rocks, South Georgia Island, South Sandwich Islands, and Bird Island. The largest of these islands is the South Georgia Island. The South Sandwich Islands are a chain of smaller islands: Zavodovski Island, Leskov Island, Visokoi Island, Candlemass Island and Vindication Island, Saunders Island, Bristol Island, Bellingshausen, Southern Thule, and the Cook Islands.
These islands lie about one thousand kilometers east of the islands of Falkland. The islands are spread over a land area of about 3,903 square kilometers. The land in this islands rises steeply from the sea making the landscape rugged and mountainous. The highest point in this islands region is the Mount Paget which is about 2,294m. While most of the South Georgia Island is permanently barren with mountains covered in glaciers, the South Sandwich Islands constitute volcanoes, some of which are active.
In 1775, an explorer, Captain James Cook named the South Georgia islands “the Isle of Georgia” honoring King George III of Britain. That same year, he came across another group of islands, the Sandwich Islands and named them "Sandwich Land.” "South" was added to differentiate the islands from the other Sandwich Islands, now referred to as the Hawaiian Islands.
In 1775, The UK claimed supremacy over South Georgia and in 1908; over the South Sandwich Islands. 1985 marked the formation of the territory of "South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.” Argentina declared rule over South Georgia in 1927, and the South Sandwich Islands in 1938. Argentina’s claim over South Georgia led to the 1982 Falklands War, during which Argentina’s forces shortly occupied the islands. The South Georgie and South Sandwich Islands became an seperate territory from the Falkland Islands in 18Argentina still claims sovereignty over SGSSI.
SGSSI have no indigenous residents. Initially, seal hunters and whalers established settlements on these islands. Besides there existed a military command post in South Georgia until March 2001, when it was withdrawn. Today very few people are present on the islands. The only permanent settlements are the different research stations at the King Edward point, Grytviken, and the Bird Island. King Edward point is a Seat of Government hosting a British Government Officer and a host of scientists of the British Antarctic Survey. Some scientists also reside at Bird Island. The occupants of the Grytviken are museum staff. The South Sandwich Islands have no inhabitants today as they are prone to active volcanism.
Elephant seal and king penguins on the beach of South Georgia Island.
Flora and Fauna
The islands are host to a variety of endemic plant and animals species. The marine system surrounding the islands is one of the most biodiverse ecosystems on earth leading to the creation of the 410,000 sq mi Marine Protected Area. In addition, the islands were classification as an Important Bird Area. Seals, penguins, and sea birds frequent the islands, including several endemic species of birds including the South Georgia shag, pipit, and pintail species. Land areas without permanent snow or ice cover host the Scotia Sea Islands tundra with almost 500 endemic plant species.