~South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands~

A group of islands known as South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands lies 1,340 miles east of Argentina’s Cabo Virgens. South Georgia has played an important role in the history of Arctic exploration, but little is known about this small, isolated island. South Georgia Island has five interesting facts, starting with its disputed ownership.

The territory of South Georgia Island is disputed;

It is generally accepted that South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are under British jurisdiction and an official British Overseas Territory. However, since 1927, Argentina has also claimed ownership of the area. Despite the fact that they never occupied the territory, Argentina argued that South Georgia should fall under their jurisdiction based on proximity.

Whaling was the next industry to come to South Georgia when a whaling station was established at what was to become Gritviken in King Edward’s Cove in 1904, pictured below.

From then until the mid-1960s, South Georgia was one of the most important places in the world for the whaling industry. Whaling stations were established in seven harbors on the island, during which time thirteen floating factory ships were also used. The whaling stations were abandoned in 1965 and never reopened. They now stand as neglected reminders of an inglorious past. In recent years, many of the buildings have collapsed or been damaged to the point that they are now closed to all visitors, although some restoration efforts are underway.

Grytviken is the only site in South Georgia still occupied today by scientists and crew of the British Antarctic Survey. The name Grytviken means ‘Pot Cove’ after the sealing pots used to collect the seal blubber found there. It is the best harbor on the island, as it is a bay within a bay.

There are no permanent residents, and the terrain is inhospitable

Given South Georgia’s remote location and lack of infrastructure, no one lives there permanently. Usually, about thirty people live on the island at any one time, most of whom conduct scientific research. In the summer, when more research is done, the number rises to about forty. Outside of research, a handful of people work in the island’s only museum, and there’s also a British government official on-site doing official business, a position that changes every few years.

The lack of permanent residents could also be due to the lack of arable land in South Georgia. The island is covered with ice and snow during most of the year, and most of the terrain is steep and rocky, consisting primarily of mountains and glaciers. Vegetation appears during the summer but is limited to a few types of grasses and mosses.

It is the final resting place of Ernest Shackleton

Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton first crossed the waters around the island in 1916 during the Antarctic and South Atlantic Expedition – an ill-fated voyage. The explorer was in South Georgia again in 1927, but tragically never made it off the island, dying of a heart attack. He was buried in Grytviken, where you can still visit his grave.

The first visitor was Captain Cook

Captain James Cook was the first person known to have set foot on South Georgia, in 1775. The famous explorer extensively documented his visit to the island and spoke of the abundance of elephant seals and fur seals he encountered. His reports proved to be very unfortunate for the seal population, as flocks of hunters quickly made their way to South Georgia in search of their next prize.

The government is working to bring the seabirds back to the island

Brought aboard the ships of the early research missions, the rats had a disastrous effect on the island’s seabird community. To combat the problem, the local government is taking radical steps to eradicate the rat population. Fortunately, these measures have proven successful and it is hoped that with the rodents that prey on the birds’ eggs now under control, approximately ten million seabirds will return to South Georgia.

With diverse wildlife and intriguing icy landscapes, as well as the chance to follow in Captain Cook’s footsteps, South Georgia can be quite an adventure!

Read more: https://www.amazon.com/LIVING-WORKING-BOARD-CRUISE-SHIP-ebook/dp/B07XP9KYW9