- Higher diversity of species than the Galapagos Islands.
- Home to more than 95 percent of the world’s Antarctic fur seals.
- Largest colony of chinstrap penguins in the world.
- South Georgia Island is believed to have as many as 100 million seabirds.
- Site of the South Sandwich Trench, one of the deepest parts of the ocean.
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are situated more than 1,700 kilometers (1,050 miles) from the southern tip of South America in a remote expanse of the South Atlantic Ocean. Forming part of the Antarctic ecosystem, the islands host one of the largest and most diverse populations of seabirds and marine mammals on Earth. Overall, they have a higher diversity of species than the more temperate Galapagos Islands.
Captain James Cook first landed on South Georgia in 1775. In the early 20th century, it was the destination of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s epic mission to save the crew of his ship, the Endurance. In 1916, after an 800-mile voyage in a lifeboat, he reached South Georgia. Crossing its ice cap on foot, he famously remarked: “We had seen God in His splendours, heard the text that Nature renders. We had reached the naked soul of man.”
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands have no permanent inhabitants and are mountainous and capped by glaciers. Volcanic in origin, the islands are surrounded by nutrient-rich waters that also contain the South Sandwich Trench, which is more than eight kilometers (five miles) deep and one of the deepest parts of the world’s ocean.
The islands provide habitat for more than 4 million Antarctic fur seals—more than 95 percent of the world’s population—and over half of the world’s southern elephant seals. Sperm, humpback, and other whale species are also frequently seen in the islands’ waters.
South Georgia has as many as 100 million seabirds, including vast numbers of penguins, albatross, prions, and petrels. Zavodovski Island in the South Sandwich Islands has more than 1 million chinstrap penguins, the largest colony in the world. The Antarctic’s only songbird, the South Georgia pipit, of which only 6,000 remain, is found only on South Georgia. The continued existence of this species is threatened by the spread of introduced rats on South Georgia.