From sealing to the MPA-A history of exploitation, conservation and management of marine living resources at the South Sandwich Islands

Mark Belchier, Martin A. Collins, Susan Gregory, Philip R. Hollyman, Marta Söffker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
8 Downloads (Pure)


The exploitation of marine resources of the South Sandwich Islands (SSI) began with the hunting of fur seals for their pelts in the early decades of the 19th Century. Pelagic whaling in the region started a century later with catches recorded until the mid-1970s. Blue and fin whales dominated the catches accounting for 80% of the total. Trawl fisheries for demersal finfish and krill (Euphausia superba) were established around many sub-Antarctic islands in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, but they did not become established at the South Sandwich Islands despite fisheries research expeditions from several nations visiting the region during this period. The first licensed demersal longline fishery for toothfish (Dissostichus spp.) was initiated by a UK flagged vessel in 2005 following earlier expeditions by Chilean and Bulgarian fishing vessels. The fishery for toothfish is now conducted by a maximum of two vessels and represents the only fishing carried out in the SSI region with total annual catches of around 40 t per annum, with a fishing footprint restricted to less than 4% of the SSI Maritime Zone (MZ). This MZ extends 200 nm from the island chain and forms the eastern half of the 1.24 million km2 MZ of the UK Overseas Territory of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) which was established in 1993. The MZ around the SSI lies within the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) management Subarea 48.4. Fishing within the MZ is licensed by the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) who, under domestic legislation, are required to adopt all fisheries management regulations that have been agreed for the region each year by CCAMLR. In addition, a suite of additional management measures are enforced. In 2012, GSGSSI established a sustainable use Marine Protected Area (MPA) within the SGSSI MZ to conserve the marine biodiversity of the region. Enhancements were introduced in 2013 and 2019 extending No-Take Zones (NTZs), where all fishing is prohibited, across 261,000 km2 of the MZ around the SSI including the deepest regions of the Southern Ocean, the South Sandwich Trench. The SSI marine ecosystem has been relatively poorly studied but has recently been a focus of two dedicated UK research cruises providing a considerable new amount of information to assist with the management of this remote marine region.
Original languageEnglish
Article number105056
JournalDeep-Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography
Early online date14 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2022


  • South Sandwich Islands
  • Marine Protected Area
  • Fisheries Management
  • Sub-Antarctic

Cite this