The South Sandwich Islands

About the territory

The South Sandwich Islands are a chain of eleven islands in an arc about 400 km in length which forms part of the Scotia Arc that runs from the tip of South America through to the South Orkney and South Shetland Islands. They lie approximately 500 km southeast of South Georgia between 26o 14’ to 28o 01’ West and 56o 18’ to 59o 28’ South. The total land area is 310 km2 and the islands are volcanic with almost all of them showing recent activity. The larger islands are mainly covered by ice whilst the smaller ones are almost ice-free in summer. The islands lie south of the Polar Front and during the winter period (May – November) the islands are generally icebound and recorded temperature extremes at Southern Thule Island temperatures varied between -29.8oC and + 17.7oC.

The South Sandwich Islands were first sighted and named by Captain James Cook in 1775. Sealers arrived in the islands in 1818 and the Russian explorer Bellingshausen visited the northernmost island, Zavodovski, in 1819. Visitors to the island are infrequent but visits by yachts and cruise ships are increasing, particularly to Zavodovski, Saunders and Candlemas Islands. There are automatic weather stations on Zavodovski and Southern Thule, operated by the South African Government with permission from the Government of South Georgia. There are no human inhabitants. In 1985 South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands became a separate UK Overseas Territory with a Commissioner, based in the Falkland Islands, as Head of Government.


Vegetation is sparse and mainly comprises mosses, lichen and algae. There is only one vascular plant species Antarctic Hair Grass (Deschampsia antarctica). There are no native terrestrial mammals but small numbers of fur seals breed on some of the islands. Sixteen seabird species breed on the islands.

Policy/Strategy background

The GSGSSI has an Environment Charter signed jointly with the UK Government. Guiding Principle 7 is to safeguard and restore native species, habitats and landscape features, and control or eradicate invasive species. Under the associated commitment 2 the GSGSSI will ensure the protection and restoration of key habitats, species and landscape features through legislation and appropriate management structures and mechanisms, including a protected area policy, and attempt the control and eradication of invasive species.

A South Atlantic Invasive Species Strategy and Action Plan agreed by the Governments of Ascension Island, Saint Helena, Tristan da Cunha, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands was published in October 2010. This set out a number of strategic aims for the South Atlantic Overseas Territories in order to develop effective prevention and response measures for invasive species and thus reduce damage to their natural heritage, communities, livelihoods and options for future development. Key actions are grouped under five objectives: (A) Building awareness and support; (B) Co-ordination, co-operation and capacity-building; (C) Prevention; (D) Monitoring, early detection and rapid response; (E) Control, management and restoration.

The GSGSSI has a five year Strategy (2010-2015) (external link) which includes, under Environmental Management, sections on the management of non-native species and biosecurity. The former section includes an objective to survey the South Sandwich islands for non-native species. The section on biosecurity has key objectives relating to review of the biosecurity regime, monitoring, exchange and incorporation of best practice from elsewhere and the development of robust monitoring and response systems for new introductions. 

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