South Georgia Newsletter, April – June 2021

This newsletter is not produced by GSGSSI; it does not necessarily reflect their views.
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Happy Midwinter From Team GSGSSI!

Pathway to Protection for South Georgia & the South Sandwich Island

On the 24th June, the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands announced its intention to designate Terrestrial Protected Areas that will cover the entire landmass of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

This announcement is an important step to support the aspirational vision of ‘environmental recovery and resilience through world-leading evidence-based sustainable management’ as detailed in Protect Sustain Inspire [.pdf], the new stewardship framework for the Islands published in January 2021.

The creation of Terrestrial Protected Areas, complements the Marine Protected Area , which covers the whole 1.24m km2 maritime zone and is an exemplar in delivering world-class protection, coupled with sustainable use. This is a model that works for nature and works for society.  Bringing a similar rigour to the 3,800kmlandmass marks an important step in consolidating existing protection measures and careful management and enshrining them in law.

As the stewards for this precious UK Overseas Territory the Government are seeking to create the conditions to enhance the protection of the incredible biodiversity whist still ensuring it is accessible to visitors to enjoy. Facilitation of visits means people will have the opportunity to experience these amazing habitats and develop collective knowledge about the biodiversity of the island. The Government aims to deliver a truly sustainable visitor experience, supporting this global rarity; an ecosystem in recovery.

Today’s announcement builds on the 1st September 2020 release of the mandatory visitor film narrated by the naturalist and broadcaster Sir David Attenborough. An inspirational look at how the territory is sustainably managed and why the steps each visitor is asked to take are so vital to the Islands’ protection.

Ensuring that there is a Territory worth protecting is only possible because of ongoing careful and active management, ambitious habitat restoration projects, putting in place rigorous biosecurity measures to help protect native flora and fauna and very importantly the sustained commitment of many individuals and organisations to sustainable management. But the message is clear – past human activity harmed the environment.  The introduction of rats, reindeer and invasive plant species upset the delicate ecological balance on land, pushing some species to the brink of extinction. But rather than close the Territory to everyone, it is managed in a sustainable and precautionary way allowing every visitor a chance to witness something spectacular; the wildness and wonder of South Georgia.

A modern framework that builds upon current policies and legislation will help further protect and promote the incredibly rich biodiversity of the islands. The global community of stakeholders has been asked for their help in getting this right.

The announcement today draws attention to the ambitions and invites others to get involved with how to progress our terrestrial protection. Before the end of 2022 it is anticipated that there will be a consultation on the management plans for each Protected Area so there is agreed understanding on what is being protected and why.

Phase I.

“Pathway to Protection” sees the development of the South Georgia Protected Area which will focus on protection of the ecosystem and promotion of biodiversity, facilitating globally significant science alongside sustainable visits.

A South Sandwich Islands Protected Area will recognise their pristine nature, absence of introduced species and strengthen the inherent protection that arises from their inaccessibility.

Following this announcement the Government will prepare, in consultation with its global community of stakeholders, the management plan in preparation for Protected Areas legislation to be drafted.

Phase II will see further work undertaken to identify areas within South Georgia that need additional research, monitoring and management within the Protected Area.

His Excellency Nigel Phillips CBE, Commissioner for South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands said:

“The incredible success of the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area demonstrates how working in collaboration with partners can leverage a precautionary approach to our maritime environment.  We will now extend that approach to our landmass.  The South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands Terrestrial Protected Area will drive a coherent and consistent methodology in delivering our vision and associated strategic objectives across the entire Territory.  In pursuit of this goal, we will be relentless in strengthening the protections we afford nature and this announcement marks the latest step in the values based approach set out in our stewardship framework: Protect Sustain Inspire.  Let South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands be your inspiration”

Lord (Tariq) Ahmad of Wimbledon, Minister for the Polar Regions said:

“I very much welcome this new announcement by the Government of SGSSI to reinforce the high standards of Terrestrial Protection across the Territory. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) continues to work in close partnership with the Government of SGSSI to support the ongoing conservation and sustainable management of the Territory.”

Professor Dame Jane Francis DCMG, Director of the British Antarctic Survey said:

“With South Georgia increasingly in the limelight as a result of the science being undertaken on land and in the ocean it is important that areas needing special protection are given just that.  British Antarctic Survey looks forward to working closely with the Government as Phase II takes shape on how local science can enhance policy and have a global impact.”

Chief Executive of JNCC, Dr Gemma Harper said:

“JNCC is excited to be a part of the next chapter in the conservation of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The Government of SGSSI has shown real commitment to the protection of species such as Albatrosses and Petrels through its highly successful marine protected area and the intention to create territory wide terrestrial protected areas.  We look forward to working with the Government of SGSSI to deliver the next stage of the project, as part of our commitment to working with our nature rich Overseas Territories.”

Amanda Lynnes, IAATO Director of Environment & Science Coordination, said:

“South Georgia has long been close to IAATO’s heart, with its abundant wildlife, breath taking scenery and rich history. For decades we have closely collaborated with the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands to enable our visitors to sensitively and responsibly experience the magic of the islands first-hand. We look forward to contributing to this next exciting phase of protected area management and the continued conservation of this precious place for many generations to come.”

Colin Clubbe, Head of Conservation Science, Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, said:

“The Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands has been in the vanguard of strong environmental stewardship for many years, leading the world in setting and implementing ambitious policies with clear targets for conserving the fragile biodiversity wilderness under their protection. This is exemplified by their recently published 5-year Strategic Framework: Protect, Sustain, Inspire. Establishing this Pathway to 100% Protection for Terrestrial Protected Areas will bring the terrestrial sphere in line with their well-established Marine Protected Area which is a strong reason to celebrate. GSGSSI’s on-going commitment to managing, monitoring and controlling invasive species is a clear example of their approach not only to protecting terrestrial ecosystems but to improving and recovering them through active and informed conservation interventions. I am delighted to see this announcement which signals GSGSSI’s intention to continue its exemplar environmental management of these fragile islands to ensure their long-term future”

GSGSSI Chief Executive Officer And Government Officer Posts

Chief Executive Officer

Welcome Laura Sinclair Willis as our new Chief Executive Officer

After a thorough and competitive recruitment process the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands have the pleasure of announcing the next Chief Executive will be Laura Sinclair Willis.

Laura comes with extensive experience in the public, private and charitable sectors.

A languages graduate, she enjoyed a successful career in the UK police service and thence the private sector, before moving into conservation as a member of the senior team with National Trust Wales. Having previously served overseas in roles with the Ministry of Defence and the United Nations, Laura is looking forward to living and working in the Falkland Islands with her family from July 2021.

Of her new role, Laura says: “I am humbled to have been trusted with the stewardship of such a beautiful and internationally significant part of the world. I look forward to working with the team, and our partners and stakeholders, to further develop the government’s reputation for world-class sustainable management”

Laura will be travelling soon to the Falklands to take up her role. There will a short period of handover with Helen Havercroft during which Laura will be meeting with many of our stakeholders and friends.

 

Government Officer News

In October of 2020 The Government of SGSSI recruited to 4 Government Officer Posts. This was a huge exercise with over 400 valid applications submitted. After 2 rounds of sifting and extensive interviewing we are thrilled to announce that Ben Swain, Sam Balderson, Vicki Foster and Steve Waugh were successful. Steve and Ben are currently on South Georgia with partners Sol and Miriam. They are in the midst of inspecting and licencing the Toothfish and Krill fishing vessels. Sam is heading down to South Georgia this week to join them. They are all already making a big impact on station life. Vicki will be heading to the Falklands shortly to commence quarantine and work in the Stanley office for a few weeks before relieving Steve Waugh as he comes off South Georgia at the end of his 6 month rotation.

Recruiting for these posts is of critical importance if we are to deliver on our vision of environmental recovery and resilience through world-leading evidence-based sustainable management.

 

More details about all the people who make up the Government can be found here.

Financial Statements And Audit Report For The Year Ended 31st December 2019

The Chief Executive Helen Havercroft is pleased to publish the audited 2019 accounts for the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands. Given the global travel chaos created by the dreadful COVID pandemic completion of the accounts has been delayed but I would like to thank the collaborative effort by everyone involved to get them successfully completed. 2019 feels a while ago and these accounts reflect a period before our tourism sector and the industry as a whole was so adversely effected by the pandemic. The 2019 accounts show that prudent spending has led to an increase in our surplus by over £2m boosting our General Reserve to over £12m.

This report (and previous reports) can be downloaded here.

An Eye In The Sky: Monitoring Animal Colonies Using Drones In The Subantarctic

(From the British Antarctic Survey)

Scientists have conducted the first population study of penguins, seals and albatross using Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones on the subantarctic South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands to understand how factors such as climate change and fishing are impacting the delicate ecosystems.

The research is published this month in Frontiers in Marine Science and carried out on South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; located in the Southern Ocean approximately 1,300 km to the east of the Falkland Islands. These isolated islands are home to millions of penguins, seals and seabirds. Until recently, they could only be regularly monitored by researchers during ground-based surveys, with a focus on colonies that were more easily accessible and small enough to be accurately and safely studied.

Aerial photo captured by a UAV over St Andrews Bay in South Georgia, with elephant seals and king penguins. BAS/John Dickens

Scientists have conducted the first population study of penguins, seals and albatross using Unoccupied Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones on the subantarctic South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands to understand how factors such as climate change and fishing are impacting the delicate ecosystems.

The research is published this month in Frontiers in Marine Science and carried out on South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands; located in the Southern Ocean approximately 1,300 km to the east of the Falkland Islands. These isolated islands are home to millions of penguins, seals and seabirds. Until recently, they could only be regularly monitored by researchers during ground-based surveys, with a focus on colonies that were more easily accessible and small enough to be accurately and safely studied.

The research took place between October 2019 and January 2020 over seven locations on South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. The scientists used a commercially available quadcopter which was manually piloted over penguin, seal and seabird colonies, at a suitable height so that it would not cause any disturbance, and set to take photographs every few seconds. These photographs were later stitched together to form a large orthomosaic, or aerial map of the area from which an accurate and validated count of the animals could be made from the safety of a desk.

The full article can be read on the British Antarctic Survey site here.

South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands In The News

Wildlife-rich UK Overseas Territory announces plans to protect all its land area.

www.standard.co.uk/news

and polarjournal.ch , en.mercopress.com

 

Wish I were there: South Georgia on my mind.
www.ft.com

 

Royal Navy takes bomb disposal experts to South Georgia to remove Falklands War munitions.
en.mercopress.com

 

A68: Iceberg that became a social media star melts away.
www.bbc.co.uk

 

Leave no trace: exploring the fragile frontiers of Antarctica and South Georgia.
www.nationalgeographic.co.uk

 

South Georgia: The First Hurdle in Saving Britain’s Islands.
www.islandconservation.org

Latest Videos And Photos

Pathway To Protection

Some of the crew of our Fisheries Patrol Vessel Pharos SG hard at work protecting the waters around South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

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