During the last two hundred years human activities have had a detrimental influence on the marine environment through over-exploitation of natural resources, exploitation of sub-sea minerals, pollution and more recently climate change. Climate change now threatens the rich biodiversity of the marine environment due to temperature changes and ocean acidification. In order to maintain marine productivity, biodiversity and the associated ecosystem services it is essential that we act now to protect key parts of the marine environment. Creating Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in which human activities are either excluded or carefully managed provides an essential and effective mechanism for improving our management of the marine environment.
The seas around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are amongst the most productive and diverse in the Southern Ocean and provide food for a tremendous diversity of invertebrates, fish, marine mammals and seabirds. As well as being home to the iconic wandering albatross, South Georgia’s wildlife includes an estimated 4 million Antarctic fur seals (which were only recently removed from the IUCN endangered list), around 3 million penguins (king, macaroni, gentoo and chinstrap), plus large numbers of smaller albatross, petrels and prions. The waters around the South Sandwich Islands are less well known, but they support enormous numbers of seabirds, including the world's largest colony of chinstrap penguins with over 1 million breeding pairs.
On February 23rd 2012, as part of an on-going programme of sustainable management of the territory, the Government of South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands created one of the largest MPAs on the planet. The Marine Protected Areas Order created a sustainably managed MPA (IUCN Category VI) that is designed to ensure the protection and conservation of the region's rich and diverse marine life, whilst allowing sustainable and carefully regulated fisheries.
The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area encompasses the South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Maritime Zone north of 60°S and occupies 1.07 million km2 of ocean. This MPA includes No-take Zones (IUCN Category I) within 12 nautical miles of South Georgia, Clerke Rocks and Shag and Black Rocks and within 3 nautical miles of the South Sandwich Islands, totalling 20,431 km2. The No-take Zones provide refuges for fish species, protect spawning fish and avoid competition between fisheries and land-based foragers. The combined effect of these no-take zones is that 67 % of the shelf (< 200 m deep) is protected from any commercial fishing activity, with all depths shallower than 100 m protected.
The benthic fauna of South Georgia [£1.20 stamp] is considered as diverse as that of the Galapagos Islands and is now extremely well protected. Bottom trawling, which indiscriminately damages all animals in its path, is prohibited throughout the MPA. The only bottom fishing that is permitted is longlining for Patagonian toothfish [75p stamp], which only operates between 700 m and 2000 m and has limited impact on the benthic fauna. Within the toothfish fishing grounds there are additional closed areas in which only research fishing is permitted. The excellent management of the toothfish fishery has been recognised by the Marine Stewardship Council, who have certified the fishery as sustainable and well managed. The fishery achieved one of the highest scores of any fishery that has applied for certification.
The pelagic fauna, which includes Antarctic krill, lantern fish and squid [£1 stamp], is extremely abundant and provides the food for the large aggregations of seabirds (including penguins and albatross), seals and whales that forage in the waters of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. Fisheries operate for Antarctic krill and mackerel icefish, however these are very carefully managed with highly precautionary catch limits.
The South Georgia and South Sandwich Islands Marine Protected Area is patrolled by the Fisheries Protection Vessel, Pharos SG [65p stamp], protecting the unique wildlife, including the king penguins (Aptenodytes patagonicus) which also feature on this stamp.
In addition to fisheries, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are an important area for tourists, who arrive on cruise ships to experience the stunning scenery and spectacular wildlife, including elephant seals (Mirounga leonina) [65p stamp]. Around 6000 tourists visit South Georgia each year on small, expedition cruise ships.
A key part of any Marine Protected Area is monitoring. The wildlife of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands is monitored by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey from their research stations on Bird Island and at King Edward Point. Monitoring includes annual surveys of the breeding success of fur seals, penguins and albatross. Albatross chicks, such as the grey headed albatross [75p stamp] are weighed to determine their condition, which is an indication of the state of the waters in which the adults forage.
Further protection for the waters around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands may follow in future years, and will be based on scientific evidence. Recent work by scientists from the British Antarctic Survey and GSGSSI has examined the need for additional spatial and temporal protection and identified some key issues. In future the MPA is likely to be reinforced by a seasonal closure of the krill fishery and additional closed areas in the toothfish fishing areas.
Further information about the SGSSI Marine Protected Area can be found in the Management Plan, which can be downloaded from www.sgisland.gs.Technical details:Artist Leigh-Anne WolfaardtPrinter BDT International Process Stochastic Lithography Perforation 14 per 2cmsStamp size 30.56 x 38mmSheet Layout 10Release date 9 November, 2012Production Co-ordination Creative Direction (Worldwide) Ltd