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Key points

  • The Great British Oceans coalition is disappointed that the UK and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Governments have not introduced full protection around the South Sandwich Islands, despite cross-party support from 285 politicians, alongside the UK public, scientists and conservationists.
  • In simple terms, as a result of today’s announcement, most of South Sandwich Islands waters, and the penguins, seals, whales and other animals that depend on them, are still not fully protected.
  • GBO will continue to campaign for the full protection of the South Sandwich Islands marine ecosystems.

Our reaction

As part of a broader campaign to enhance marine conservation in the UK’s Overseas Territories, Great British Oceans has pushed to fully protect the waters surrounding the South Sandwich Islands, a globally significant biodiversity hotspot encompassing an area of over 500,000 km2, and to enhance protection around South Georgia (see map).

The campaign has galvanized the support of 285 MPs, globally respected scientists, business leaders and ocean advocates such as UN Patron of the Oceans Lewis Pugh.


On 12th December 2018 the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) announced that: “No-take zones, which will be closed to all commercial fishing activity, will be expanded to cover 23% (284,000 km2) of the MPA [marine protected area]”.


Fully protected areas are shaded green in the below government map and this announcement includes the addition of 88,000 km2 new fully protected waters around the South Sandwich Islands.

South Sandwich Islands marine ecosystems

We are pleased that the Government’s previous stated concerns for enhancing protection around the South Sandwich Islands have partially been overcome. We are however disappointed at the scale of ambition expressed.


In choosing to fully protect the South Sandwich Trench, the Government has adopted the precautionary principle – prohibiting fishing activity as a means of countering a potential future threat.


There are no clear practical, diplomatic or financial obstacles to extending such an approach to the entire South Sandwich Islands Exclusive Economic Zone. It is within the UK’s gift to protect the entire 500,000 km2 marine region from the threat of exploitation.


Great British Oceans believes that the next chapter in the story of this UK Overseas Territory should be to lay down greater ambition for the ocean environment by fully protecting the wider ecosystems of the South Sandwich Islands. We welcomed the Ministerial Statement by Sir Alan Duncan acknowledging that current protections are not the “end of the story”, because growing climate change impacts and new science could drive enhanced protection of these waters in the future.


We look forward to working with the UK and South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Governments to ensure that the South Sandwich Islands finally receive the scale of protection that they so richly deserve.

South Georgia marine ecosystems

Great British Oceans acknowledges that the Government of SGSSI has enhanced some marine protections in the South Georgia portion of the EEZ. A 4,500 km² extension of closed areas around the island to protect Gentoo penguins during the harsh winter months and a move to take a more precautionary approach to the krill fishery by shortening the season by two months has been a campaign ask of members of the coalition since 2012, alongside our call to protect the South Sandwich Islands marine ecosystems.