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Location South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands
Central coordinates 36o 47.00' West  54o 17.00' South
IBA criteria A1, A2, A4i, A4ii
Area 358,600 ha
Altitude 0 - 2,965m
Year of IBA assessment 2005





Site description South Georgia and its associated smaller offshore islands, islets and stacks lie between the parallels of 53 30S and 55 00'S, and between the meridians of 34 30'W and 42 00'W. These islands are very isolated, lying about 1400 km east-south-east of the Falkland Islands, 1550 km north-east of Cape Dubouzet (the nearest point on the Antarctic continent), 2150 km east of Dungeness (South America's nearest mainland point) and 4800 km from Cape Town, South Africa. The nearest land is Zavodovski Island, the northernmost island in the South Sandwich Islands group, 550 km to the east-south-east.

Populations of IBA trigger species

Species Season Period Population estimate Quality of estimate IBA Criteria IUCN Category
Wilson's Storm-petrel Oceanites oceanicus breeding  1979  600,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Black-bellied Storm-petrel Fregetta tropica breeding  1979  10,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Yellow-billed Pintail Anas georgica breeding  1987  1,000 breeding pairs  unknown  A4i  Least Concern 
Macaroni Penguin Eudyptes chrysolophus breeding  2004  1,000,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Vulnerable 
King Penguin Aptenodytes patagonicus breeding  2002  45,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua breeding  1987  10,500 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Near Threatened 
Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris breeding  2003  90,600 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Near Threatened 
Grey-headed Albatross Thalassarche chrysostoma breeding  2003-2004  77,436 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Endangered 
Wandering Albatross Diomedea exulans breeding  2004  2,857 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Vulnerable 
Light-mantled Albatross Phoebetria palpebrata breeding  1976  7,500 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Near Threatened 
Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus breeding  1987  5,000 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Least Concern 
Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli breeding  1987  4,310 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Least Concern 
Cape Petrel Daption capense breeding  1987  10,000 breeding pairs  unknown  A4ii  Least Concern 
Blue Petrel Halobaena caerulea breeding  1979  70,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Antarctic Prion Pachyptila desolata breeding  1979  22,000,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis breeding  1979  2,000,000 breeding pairs  good  A1, A4ii  Vulnerable 
South Georgia Diving-petrel Pelecanoides georgicus breeding  1979  2,000,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Common Diving-petrel Pelecanoides urinatrix breeding  1979  3,800,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Phalacrocorax atriceps breeding  1997  10,322 breeding pairs  good  A4i  Not Recognised 
Snowy Sheathbill Chionis albus breeding  1979  2,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Least Concern 
Antarctic Tern Sterna vittata breeding  1979  2,500 breeding pairs  good  A4i  Least Concern 
Catharacta lonnbergi breeding  1979  1,000 breeding pairs  good  A4ii  Not Recognised 
South Georgia Pipit Anthus antarcticus breeding  2004  3,000 breeding pairs  good  A2  Near Threatened 

Habitats

IUCN habitat Habitat detail Extent (% of site)
Sea Open Sea; Rock stacks & coastal islets  major
Coastline Sea cliffs and rocky shores  major

Other biodiversity Antarctic fur seals Arctocephalus gazella (3 million individuals and increasing), southern elephant seals Mirounga leonina (400,000 individuals) and Weddell seals Leptonychotes weddelli (30 adult females) breed on South Georgia. Leopard seals Hydrurga leptonyx and crabeater seals Lobodon carcinophagus are regular visitors. There are no endemic plants. About one third of the 230 species of arthropod fauna are endemic. One species is preyed upon by an introduced carabid. All insects are at risk of predation by rats and mice. There are 70 species of freshwater invertebrates and 6 species of spiders. The coastal waters are inhabited by small numbers of Orcinus orca (LR/cd), Eubalaena australis, Balaenoptera musculus, B. physalus, B. borealis, B. acutorostrata, Megaptera novaeangliae, Physeter catodon, Hyperoodon planifrons, Globicephala melas, Lagenorhynchus cruciger, Australophocaena dioptrica, and unidentified beaked whales.

Protection status The site includes 2 Areas of Special Tourist Interest, 2 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and 1 Specially Protected Area (SPA), all proclaimed in 1975. The 2 SSSIs and SPA have been included in the list of 5 proposed Protected Areas, and all rat-free areas have been proposed as Environmentally Sensitive Areas, but without enforcing legislation. Predation on seabirds by rats, overgrazing of native vegetation by reindeer and the introduction of alien plants and insects are altering the native flora and fauna of large areas of the site. The greatest and most immediate threat to the environment is the introduction and spread of Norway rats. Despite the unique biodiversity of South Georgia's rodent-free areas, the majority of them and notably the entire rat-free mainland coast are completely unprotected. Increased glacial retreat and global warming may present additional potential threats if ice barriers that currently isolate rat-free areas disappear. Rats were successfully eradicated from Grass Island (30 ha.) in 2000 and the Government has expressed an intention to support further eradication programmes, including extirpation of at least one of the two herds of introduced reindeer. Other threats include unlicensed fishing within the Maritime Zone, pollutants from vessels passing through territorial waters and more critically, those that are wrecked on the islands' shores, and the dispersal of pollutants from the abandoned whaling stations (believed to be minimal). Trawl and longline fisheries are believed to be a major cause of mortality of South Georgia's Wandering, Black-browed and Grey-headed Albatrosses and White-chinned Petrels. Fishing activity within the Maritime Zone around South Georgia is regulated by internationally adopted measures agreed by the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR). Measures taken to reduce the number of birds killed within the Zone have proved to be extremely effective and regular fisheries surveillance ensures there are no illegal or unregulated fishing activities. However, it is apparent that fishing activities outside the Zone continue to be responsible for significant numbers of deaths, with over 4% of breeding Wandering and Black-browed Albatrosses killed annually. Indiscriminate use of deck and ice lights on board any type of vessel presents considerable risks to the island's burrowing petrel populations and there are several reports of large numbers of burrowing petrels of several species being killed by bird strike. Expansion of the fur seal population at South Georgia has significantly impacted seabirds in areas of high seal density, through destruction of breeding habitat in tussac grassland. Burrow-nesting petrels, South Georgia Pintail and South Georgia Pipits are particularly affected if the loss of protective foliage cover leads to increased skua predation. Burrow entrances may be blocked or damaged by seals, and courting Wandering Albatrosses abandon traditional display sites. The constant disturbance from repeated passage of seals has resulted in a redistribution of nest sites for this species and for giant petrels in certain areas.

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Recommended citation  BirdLife International (2014) Important Bird Areas factsheet: South Georgia - mainland, islands, islets and stacks. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/08/2014

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