South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) are a remote archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean. They harbour a unique and diverse marine ecosystem, including whales, penguins, and seals. However, the region has been historically exploited for its natural resources, and the marine habitat is now recovering from this damage – at a time that industrial fisheries and climate impacts are causing contemporary complications for marine predators.
Recognizing the fragility and importance of this natural treasure, Great Blue Ocean and its partners are calling for the United Kingdom to create a South Atlantic Marine Wildlife Sanctuary by fully protect much of this marine environment.
Specifically, the campaign is asking the government to:
- Significantly expand the no-take zone around the South Sandwich Islands – potentially adding up to 400,000 square kilometres in new full protections.
- Close offshore areas of South Georgia to krill fishing, which are proven to be critical to returning and recovering whale populations.
- Set a more precautionary catch limit for krill around South Georgia.
The local ecosystem is making a slow recovery following centuries of exploitation. For example, whalers reduced the humpback population to approximately 450 individuals, but now, the population is estimated to be 27,000 – over 90% of its pre-industrial level. Protecting SGSSI is essential for the recovery of the marine ecosystem. Preventing industrial fishing in perpetuity around the South Sandwich Islands and the closure of key offshore areas of South Georgia to krill fishing would provide a sanctuary for whales, whilst helping to protect the food web of millions of penguins and seals. A more precautionary catch limit for krill would also help to ensure that the fishery is sustainable.
2023 is a critical year for the future of the species that call SGSSI home. The UK government is currently reviewing the SGSSI marine protected area as part of a periodic scientific review, and the Great Blue Ocean campaign is calling on the government to take this opportunity to adequately protect the region.
Via SGSSI the UK is the custodian of a globally significant biodiversity hotspot. By taking action and creating a South Atlantic Marine Wildlife Sanctuary, the government can help to ensure the recovery of the marine ecosystem and the future of the whales, penguins, and seals who call it home.
This Great Blue Ocean campaign is supported by the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy Project, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Bloomberg Philanthropies’ Bloomberg Ocean Initiative and Oceans 5, a sponsored project of Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors