A Biophysical and Economic Profile of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands as Potential Large-Scale Antarctic Protected Areas
The current hiatus in the establishment of a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) in the Antarctic means that other routes to conservation are required. The protection of overseas territories in the Antarctic and sub-Antarctic represents one way to advance the initiation of such a network. This review of the physical and biological features of the United Kingdom (U.K.) overseas territories of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is undertaken to estimate the importance of the islands in terms of marine conservation in the Southern Ocean and globally. The economy and management of SGSSI are also analysed, and the question of whether the islands already have sufficient protection to constitute part of an Antarctic network of MPAs is assessed. The SGSSI comprise unique geological and physical features, a diverse marine biota, including a significant proportion of endemic species and globally important breeding populations of marine predators. Regardless of past exploitation of biotic resources, such as seals, whales and finfish, SGSSI would make a significant contribution to biological diversity in an Antarctic network of MPAs. At present, conservation measures do not adequately protect all of the biological features that render the islands so important in terms of conservation at a regional and global level. However, a general lack of data on Antarctic marine ecosystems (particularly needed for SGSSSI) makes it difficult to assess this fully. One barrier to achieving more complete protection is the continuing emphasis on fishing effort in these waters by U.K. government. Other non-U.K. Antarctic overseas territories of conservation importance are also compromised as MPAs because of the exploitation of fisheries resources in their waters. The possible non-use values of SGSSI as well as the importance of ecosystem services that are indirectly used by people are outlined in this review. Technology is improving the potential for management of remote MPAs, particularly in the context of incursion by illegal fishing activities and use of satellite surveillance for enforcement of fisheries and conservation regulations. The conflict between commercial exploitation and conservation of Antarctic marine living resources is explored.