30th October 2020 – Environment Day
Today is the first official Environment Day public holiday in South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI). Environment Day is a celebration of having the environment at the heart of all decisions and a commitment to value and protect all of South Georgia, from the whales, penguins and seals to the invertebrates and algae.
SGSSI are a rarity in that they are an ecosystem in recovery. All who care for the islands are proud of this but whilst acknowledging progress, must also acknowledge past harm. The first wave of overexploitation of the South Georgia environment came with the sealers and at the peak in 1800/1801 season 112,000 fur seal pelts were taken and the population rapidly crashed. Not long after in the 1900’s the whaling industry was responsible for death of 175,250 whales. As well as unsustainably harvesting natural resources, early human enterprises also inadvertently caused disaster by introduction of non-native species including rodents, reindeer and numerous invasive plants which had devastating impacts on native vegetation and birds
Today the environment is thought of as something to be cherished and shared. Success stories include habitat restoration projects to eradicate reindeer, rats and invasive plant species; a Marine Protected Area which marries robust environmental protection with sustainable fisheries; and visits that allow people to share in the wonder that is South Georgia but without harming the environment in the process
Looking to the future, our work to preserve and protect the environment of SGSSI is not done. In its national biodiversity action plan GSGSSI committed to designating terrestrial protected areas. Over the next 12 months, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands will work with stakeholders to develop the detail of these plans. Although great progress has been made on invasive plant management, we are committed to continuing this work. We are also planning to develop a South Georgia Ambassadors programme so that visitors are empowered to share the powerful story of South Georgia with the world.