SGSSI Marine Protected Area 5-Year Review Science Symposium

On the 13-14 June 2023, GSGSSI launched the second 5-year review of its Marine Protected Area (MPA) with a two-day science symposium. Over 80 participants joined us at the Aurora Innovation Centre in Cambridge and hybrid access enabled many additional experts to join remotely. The symposium was primarily targeted at individuals and organisations who play an active role in undertaking research and monitoring work within the MPA, however the event was also made available via an online webinar to allow anyone with an interest in SGSSI or marine management in general to watch the presentations.

The symposium was structured around the different themes within the SGSSI MPA Research and Monitoring Plan. This document was developed following the 2017/18 MPA review and provides the framework which guides scientific activities to improve knowledge and understanding of the SGSSI marine ecosystem. As we brought together the work that had been carried out since the last MPA review I think we even surprised ourselves with the breadth and depth of science that has been undertaken, with over 300 peer-reviewed papers relating to the SGSSI marine environment being published since 2018. The symposium agenda was undeniably ambitious with 51 presentations by speakers from 21 different organisations, but miraculously everyone kept to time! The thoughtful and engaging talks covered research on the whole ecosystem, from the tiniest plankton to mighty whales, showcasing projects which are fundamental in enabling GSGSSI to make evidence-based marine management decisions.


Presentation on methane seep communities during the Pelagic & Benthic Ecology session.


Once the presentations had concluded, we opened the floor to a lively discussion session where participants could ask questions, consider if current research and monitoring priorities remain and were being met, if emerging threats and challenges were being considered, and if there was anything missing that should be a new priority for the next five years. Some of the key messages from those discussions included the importance of maintaining long term monitoring programmes; a desire for security in future science funding and recognition of the importance of maintaining Blue Belt and Darwin Plus funding;  the need for a better understanding of krill flux in light of regional fishing activity, predator demands and potential climate change impacts; concerns over declining albatross populations and the need to reduce bycatch in fisheries beyond the SGSSI Maritime Zone; and ensuring that any domestic management decisions taken by GSGSSI don’t create unintended negative consequences in other regions.

Many scientific meetings focus on niche areas of expertise, however for this symposium we wanted to invite a diverse range of researchers all connected by the shared geographic link of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Bringing together physical oceanographers, benthic and pelagic ecologists, fisheries biologists, and higher predator specialists, along with experts in remote sensing, emerging technologies, data management, climate change, citizen science and the fishing industry, enabled individuals to appreciate how their work fits into the bigger picture of ecosystem management at SGSSI, and how SGSSI then fits within wider Southern Ocean management. We have been delighted to hear that the networking opportunities provided by the symposium have already led to discussions on integrating research themes and the potential for multidisciplinary collaborations. 


Networking during the evening reception


Following the review of scientific research within the MPA during the symposium, our next step will be to produce an analysis of progress on the different priorities within the Research and Monitoring Plan. A complementary review of the MPA management measures will then be carried out, whereby GSGSSI will undertake a Protected Area Management Effectiveness (PAME) assessment with support from external specialists. After a final call for evidence/comment, the two strands of science and management will then be brought together in an overarching evaluation to assess whether the MPA is continuing to meet its objectives, and to enable us to make evidence-based decisions on whether any further enhancements to the MPA are required. As our MPA doesn’t sit in isolation, the outcomes of international fisheries and conservation meetings in October may have ramifications for SGSSI, and therefore our expectation is that the overall MPA review won’t be completed until late 2023/early 2024.

Finally, the science symposium wouldn’t have been possible without all the people who generously gave their time to prepare presentations and participate in the proceedings, and we would particularly like to thank all our speakers for agreeing to make their slides publicly available on the GSGSSI website (see below). Our intention is to also make the recordings of these presentations available in due course. We would also like to thank the UK Government’s Blue Belt Programme for funding the symposium, and for the ongoing support that the Blue Belt offers the UK Overseas Territories in managing and protecting our marine environments.


Symposium group photo on the Aurora balcony.


Symposium Documents:

SGSSI 5-Year MPA Review Science Symposium abstracts & speaker biographies: here [.pdf, 0.8mb]

The Current MPA: here [.pdf, 5.2mb]
South Sandwich Islands: here [.pdf, 23.0mb]
Pelagic & Benthic Ecosystems: here [.pdf, 25.1mb]
Krill: here [.pdf, 20.0mb]
Fisheries: here [.pdf, 17.0mb]
Long Term Monitoring Sites: here [.pdf, 8.0mb]
Higher Predators: here [.pdf, 19.0mb]
Human Impacts: here  [.pdf, 9.7mb]
Climate Change: here  [.pdf, 9.1mb]
Future Work: here [.pdf, 10.4mb]