South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, also claimed by Argentina. They are administered from the Falkland Islands by UK civil commissioner Howard Pearce, representing Queen Elizabeth II. Defence is the responsibility of the United Kingdom. Since 1982, the territory celebrates Liberation Day on June 14. A constitution was adopted October 3, 1985. The legal system is based on English Common Law.
South Georgia (Pepys Island)
Anthony de la Roche, a London merchant sighted the island in 1675 and it was named Pepys Island by William Dampier in 1684. It was rediscovered in 1775 by Captain James Cook. Throughout the nineteenth century it was a sealers' base and, in the following century, a whalers' base until whaling ended mid-century.
During World War II (Autumn 1943 - Autumn 1944) the island housed a small (14 people) Norwegian military garrison to protect the island from Japanese invasion.
The Falklands War was precipitated on 19 March 1982 when a group of Argentineans, posing as scrap metal merchants, occupied South Georgia at an abandoned whaling station at Leith Harbor . The commander of the Argentinian Garrison was Alfredo Astiz, a Captain in the Argentine Navy who, years later, was convicted of felonies commited during the Dirty War in Argentina. He renamed the island Isla San Pedro when he proclaimed Argentine authority over South Georgia on April 2. The island was recaptured by British forces on 25 April (Operation Paraquet).
The research station at King Edward Point, near the former Norwegian whaling station of Grytviken, became a small military garrison after the Falklands War. This returned to civilian use in 2001 and is operated by the British Antarctic Survey. The British Antarctic Survey also has a biological station on Bird Island, off the northwest end of South Georgia. The South Sandwich Islands are uninhabited.
NASA satellite image of South Georgia island covered with snow.
South Georgia lies in the South Atlantic Ocean, about 1390 km south by east of the Falkland Islands, in 54-55°S, 36-38°W. It has a land area of 4066 km² (1600 sq. mi). It is mountainous, with 11 peaks over 2,000 m high, their slopes furrowed with deep gorges filled with glaciers (Fortuna Glacier being the largest). Geologically, it consists of gneiss and argillaceous schists, with no trace of fossils, showing that the island is, like the Falkland Islands, a surviving fragment of some greater land-mass now vanished, most probably indicating a former extension of the Andean system. The German expedition sent out to observe the transit of Venus was stationed at Royal Bay, on the south-east side of the island in 1882.
The climate in the islands is 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. Mount Paget on South Georgia is 2,934 m high. The islands have prevailing weather conditions that generally make them difficult to approach by ship; they are also subject to active volcanism. The north coast of South Georgia has several large bays, which provide good anchorage; reindeer, introduced early in the 20th century, live on South Georgia.
Some fishing takes place in adjacent waters. There is a potential source of income from harvesting fin fish and krill. The islands receive income from postage stamps produced in the UK. The territory has revenues of less than $300,000 against expenditures of nearly $500,000. The territory uses data code SX, and has the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) .gs.
The islands were initially named "South" Sandwich Islands to distinguish them from the then "Sandwich Islands" now known as "Hawaii". The southern eight islands were discovered by James Cook in 1775. The northern three by Fabian Gottlieb von Bellingshausen in 1819. The 11 small islands forming the (South) Sandwich archipelago are, from north to south:
- Leskov (the smallest)
- Montagu (the largest)
Islands 1 through 5 are collectively known as Traversay Islands, while islands 9 through 11 are collectively known as Southern Thule.
Argentina's claim over South Georgia (Pepys Island) and the South Sandwich Islands was based on the fact that these dependencies were administered by the Falkland Islands. However, this was done purely for a form of convenience. Geographically speaking, the Falklands are not a part of either dependency. The Sandwich Islands are highly volcanic with the very deep Sandwich Trench along their eastern rim. Port Faraday, in the lee of Morrell Island, Southern Thule, was occupied by Argentina from 1976 to 1982, in the guise of a research base named Corbeta Uruguay. This base was the last Argentinian Presence to be removed at the end of the Falklands War.
- King Edward Point research station (http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/Living_and_Working/Stations/King_Edward_Point/index.html)
- Bird Island research station (http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/Living_and_Working/Stations/Bird_Island/)
- CIA World Factbook entry (http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/sx.html)
- South Georgia official website (http://www.sgisland.org/pages/sghome.htm)
- A Postcard from South Georgia (http://monolith.com.au/south_georgia/) by Roderick Eime
- Photos from South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (http://www.pbase.com/world/south_georgia_and_the_south_sandwich) from Pbase.com