Amazing Facts about South Georgia Island Travel
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands make up an archipelago located about 1,340 miles east of Argentina’s Cabo Virgenes. South Georgia played an important role in the history of Arctic exploration, but little is known about this small, isolated island. From its disputed ownership to its founder, here are five facts about South Georgia Island.
The territory of South Georgia Island is disputed.
It’s 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 the area’s ownership. Despite the fact that they’ve never occupied the territory, Argentina has asserted that South Georgia should fall under their jurisdiction based on proximity.
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. Typically, there are about thirty people living on the island at any one time, most of whom are conducting scientific research. In summer, when more research is being done, the number rises to around forty. Outside of research, a handful of people work at the island’s only museum, and there’s also a British government officer on-site to conduct official business, a position that rotates every few years.
The lack of permanent residents could also be due to South Georgia’s lack of arable land. The island is covered in ice and snow for most of the year, and most of the terrain is steep and rocky, consisting primarily of mountains and glaciers. Vegetation does appear in summer, but it's limited to a few varieties of grasses and mosses.
It’s the final resting place of Ernest Shackleton.
Explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton first traversed the waters surrounding the island in 1916 during an expedition to Antarctica and the South Atlantic — an ill-fated journey. The explorer was in South Georgia once again in 1927 but tragically never made it off the island, dying from a heart attack. He’s 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 set foot on South Georgia, in 1775. The famed explorer extensively documented his visit to the island and spoke of the abundance of elephant seals and fur seals that he encountered. His reports proved to be highly unfortunate for the seal population, as flocks of hunters quickly headed to South Georgia in search of their next prize.
The government is working to get seabirds back on the island.
Brought in on ships of the early exploratory missions, rats have 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. Thankfully, these measures have proven successful, and it’s hoped that, with the rodents that prey upon bird eggs now under control, some ten million seabirds will return to South Georgia.
With varied wildlife and intriguingly icy landscapes, as well as the chance to follow in the footsteps of Captain Cook, South Georgia can be quite an adventure!