Global Ocean Legacy

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands 


South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are situated more than 1,700 kilometers (1,050 miles) from the southern tip of South America in a remote expanse of the South Atlantic Ocean.  Forming part of the Antarctic ecosystem, the rich waters are full of plankton and krill which support one of the largest and most varied populations of seabirds and marine mammals on earth.  Overall, they have a higher diversity of species than the more temperate Galapagos Islands.

The islands provide habitat for more than four million Antarctic fur seals—more than 95 percent of the world’s population—and more than half of the world’s southern elephant seals.  Sperm, humpback, and other whale species are also frequently seen in the islands’ waters.

South Georgia has as many as 100 million seabirds, including vast numbers of penguins, albatross, prions, and petrels.  The Antarctic’s only songbird, the South Georgia pipit, of which only 6,000 remain, is found only on South Georgia.  The continued existence of this species is threatened by the spread of introduced rats on the island.  Zavodovski Island in the South Sandwich Islands has more than one million chinstrap penguins, the largest colony in the world.  

The South Sandwich Islands have no permanent inhabitants, while South Georgia has a transitory population of scientists, government officials and military personnel.  Both are mountainous and capped by glaciers. Volcanic in origin, the islands are surrounded by nutrient-rich waters.  The South Sandwich Trench, which at more than eight kilometers (five miles) is one of the deepest parts of the world’s ocean, includes thermal vents which are yet to be fully explored.

Captain James Cook first landed on South Georgia in 1775.  In the early 20th century, it was the destination of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic mission to save the crew of his ship, the Endurance.  In 1916, after an 800-mile voyage in a lifeboat, he reached South Georgia.  Crossing its ice cap on foot, he famously remarked:  “We had seen God in His splendours, heard the text that Nature renders.  We had reached the naked soul of man.”

A coalition of environmental non-profits, including Pew, is calling for protection of this spectacular region in the form of a large scale, fully protected marine reserve around the South Sandwich Islands and greater protection around South Georgia Island.

Did you know?

  • The islands have a higher diversity of species than the Galapagos Islands.
  • Zavodovski Island is home to the largest colony of chinstrap penguins in the world.
  • South Georgia Island is believed to have as many as 100 million seabirds.
  • This region is home to more than 95 percent of the world’s Antarctic fur seals.
  • These waters include the South Sandwich Trench, one of the deepest parts of the ocean. 

About Global Ocean Legacy

Global Ocean Legacy, a project of Pew and its partners, is working with local communities, governments and scientists around the world to protect and conserve some of our most important and unspoiled ocean environments.  Together we are establishing the world’s first generation of great marine parks by securing the designation of large, fully protected reserves.  To date, our efforts have helped to double the amount of safeguarded ocean habitat worldwide.

Where We Work

Global Ocean Legacy works with local communities, governments and scientists around the world to protect and conserve some of our most important and unspoiled ocean environments.

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media contact

Kevin Connor

Manager, Communications