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South Georgia and the
South Sandwich Islands

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South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands


The islands lie approximately 1,000 km east of the Falkland Islands and have been under British administration since 1908, except for a brief period in 1982 when Argentina occupied them. Grytviken, on South Georgia, was a 19th and early 20th century whaling station. Famed explorer Ernest SHACKLETON stopped there in 1914 en route to his ill-fated attempt to cross Antarctica on foot. He returned some 20 months later with a few companions in a small boat and arranged a successful rescue for the rest of his crew, stranded off the Antarctic Peninsula. He died in 1922 on a subsequent expedition and is buried in Grytviken. Today, the station houses scientists from the British Antarctic Survey. The islands have large bird and seal populations, and, recognizing the importance of preserving the marine stocks in adjacent waters, the UK, in 1993, extended the exclusive fishing zone from 12 NM to 200 NM around each island.
Geography South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Southern South America, islands in the South Atlantic Ocean, east of the tip of South America
Geographic coordinates:
54 30 S, 37 00 W
Map references:
Antarctic Region
total: 3,903 sq km
note: includes Shag Rocks, Black Rock, Clerke Rocks, South Georgia Island, Bird Island, and the South Sandwich Islands, which consist of some nine islands
water: 0 sq km
land: 3,903 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly larger than Rhode Island
Land boundaries:
0 km
NA km
Maritime claims - as described in UNCLOS 1982 (see Notes and Definitions):
territorial sea: 12 NM
exclusive fishing zone: 200 NM
variable, with mostly westerly winds throughout the year interspersed with periods of calm; nearly all precipitation falls as snow
most of the islands, rising steeply from the sea, are rugged and mountainous; South Georgia is largely barren and has steep, glacier-covered mountains; the South Sandwich Islands are of volcanic origin with some active volcanoes
Elevation extremes:
lowest point: Atlantic Ocean 0 m
highest point: Mount Paget (South Georgia) 2,934 m
Natural resources:
Land use:
arable land: 0%
permanent crops: 0%
other: 100% (largely covered by permanent ice and snow with some sparse vegetation consisting of grass, moss, and lichen) (1998 est.)
Irrigated land:
0 sq km (1998 est.)
Natural hazards:
the South Sandwich Islands have prevailing weather conditions that generally make them difficult to approach by ship; they are also subject to active volcanism
Environment - current issues:
Geography - note:
the north coast of South Georgia has several large bays, which provide good anchorage; reindeer, introduced early in the 21st century, live on South Georgia
People South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
no indigenous inhabitants
note: the small military garrison on South Georgia withdrew in March 2001, to be replaced by a permanent group of scientists of the British Antarctic Survey, which also has a biological station on Bird Island; the South Sandwich Islands are uninhabited (July 2004 est.)
Government South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Country name:
conventional long form: South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
conventional short form: none
Dependency status:
overseas territory of the UK, also claimed by Argentina; administered from the Falkland Islands by a commissioner, who is concurrently governor of the Falkland Islands, representing Queen ELIZABETH II; Grytviken, formerly a whaling station on South Georgia, is a scientific base
National holiday:
Liberation Day, 14 June (1982)
adopted 3 October 1985
Legal system:
the laws of the UK, where applicable, apply; the senior magistrate from the Falkland Islands presides over the Magistrates Court
Diplomatic representation in the US:
none (overseas territory of the UK, also claimed by Argentina)
Diplomatic representation from the US:
none (overseas territory of the UK, also claimed by Argentina)
Flag description:
blue, with the flag of the UK in the upper hoist-side quadrant and the South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands coat of arms centered on the outer half of the flag; the coat of arms features a shield with a golden lion centered; the shield is supported by a fur seal on the left and a penguin on the right; a reindeer appears above the shield, and below it on a scroll is the motto LEO TERRAM PROPRIAM PROTEGAT (Let the Lion Protect its Own Land)
Economy South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Economy - overview:
Some fishing takes place in adjacent waters. There is a potential source of income from harvesting finfish and krill. The islands receive income from postage stamps produced in the UK, sale of fishing licenses, and harbor and landing fees from tourist vessels. Tourism from specialized cruise ships is increasing rapidly.
Communications South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Telephone system:
general assessment: NA
domestic: NA
international: coastal radiotelephone station at Grytviken
Radio broadcast stations:
0 (2003)
Television broadcast stations:
0 (2003)
Internet country code:
Transportation South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Ports and harbors:
none (2003 est.)
Military South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Military - note:
defense is the responsibility of the UK
Transnational Issues South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
Disputes - international:
briefly occupied by military force in 1982 - claimed by Argentina in constitution but declares it will no longer seek settlement by force