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South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) is a British Overseas Territory in the southern Atlantic Ocean

South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (GSGSSI) Annual Stakeholder Meeting

S. GEORGIA & S. SANDWICH
Friday, October 23, 2020, 08:00 (GMT + 9)

The GSGSSI Annual Stakeholder Meeting took place on the 24th September with attendees joining virtually.

Her Majesty’s Commissioner Nigel Phillips CBE, Speech to Stakeholders is given below. The additional presentations can also be downloaded.

We cannot consider 2020 without referencing COVID. Thankfully we have not had a case in South Georgia, but like the entire globe, everything has been touched by it. What has given me heart is that the years of developing partnerships has really paid off in the collaboration we have seen. Not everything can be overcome, for some this has been a dreadful time and there is no honesty in trying to put a happy spin on it. That does not mean however that we should entertain malaise and I will in my comments talk a little about how we are using this unwelcome pause to build back better. That we can think of building back at all is due to the support we have had from key partners, most especially the fishing industry, in keeping SGSSI solvent this winter. With the buoyancy that solvency brings, we will do all we can to work with all our partners to weather the storm together. We will never compromise our values and principles as a government, yet my team and I recognise that it is only through our collaboration with you that in 2020 we have reached a position after years of effort where South Georgia is a self-financing ecosystem in recovery, that is both protected from harmful activity and increasingly understood through science. That success is what partnership is all about to me. And that is why I will never apologise for prioritising it to the degree I do.

Fisheries

  • That we had a fishing season was down to collaboration and compromise. Critical to us however was 100% compliance with the Government fishing licence requirements, including full observer coverage, pre-licencing inspections and at seas inspections.
  • Licencing inspection themselves were an example of collaboration with the Falkland Islands, for we conducted them in Stanley, including rodent detection, rather than King Edward Point, allowing vessels to immediately proceed to fishing grounds and limit quarantine required by our Government Officers on South Georgia.
  • Enforcement was also an example of collaboration. Even before COVID dominated the agenda the Government worked with Falkland Island Government, Marine Management Organisation and others to identify suspected IUU connected with the vessel NIKA. That collaboration moved into working with Interpol and resulted in Panama listing the vessel as undertaking IUU activity.
  • And krill were another example of collaboration. We collaborated with the industry, ahead of it being a licencing condition, to carry our prescribed acoustic transect to collect in-season data on krill biomass. This will be developed for next season and will contribute to South Georgia’s and CCAMLR’s krill management strategy.

Visitor Management

  • Clearly cruise ship operations have been badly hit by COVID. The end of the last season saw some great collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and Falkland Island Government to help repatriate passengers.
  • Despite COVID, we are committed to keep South Georgia open in a manner that is safe for guests and our teams, including Government Officers. We are doing this because we understand the difficulties and we hope keeping the door open gives the tourist industry options and hope. The team has been working with colleagues at IAATO to ensure we have workable processes.
  • Working together the Government and South Georgia Heritage Trust have agreed a plan for the use of the ground floor space of the Mainstore, offering guests a chance to better understand what whaling. Whilst I deplore the practice with every fibre of my being, I can recognise the logistic skill and courage of those who participated in the industry. And if anyone doubts the dangers, the grave yards at each of the stations lay in silent testimony. We hope that broadening understanding will both enrich the visitor experience and educate people.
  • I would also like to thank SGHT for working closely with the team over the winter period to agree the closure of buildings at Grytviken including the museum and using that time so positively to push forward other outreach programmes.
  • Not wishing to squander a quieter season, we are bringing forward plans to establish comprehensive management plans for many of the key visitor sites. We already carried out a lot of work research in 2014, but we need now to consider terrestrial protection in a broader context. This, coupled with the introduction of an observer programme to support the monitoring of sites will boost our commitment to protection of both land and sea.

Infrastructure

  • Without a safe port, the delivery of our mission would be infinitely harder. The refurbishment and expansion of the KEP Wharf to accept the RRS Sir David Attenborough was therefore a major goal.
  • In what must be a rarity, the project was completed on time and within the revised, but agreed budget. The work was another triumph of logistics, as must be every successful endeavour in this part of the world. The collaboration in developing an affordable design was a master class in delivering fit for purpose, not gold plated. Maintaining our strict biosecurity protocols was a similarly impressive disciple.

UK Polar Regions Department Collaboration

  • CCAMLR – 2019 CCAMLR feels a long time ago, but it was a tour de force of collaboration, working extremely hard in the run up to place the Commissioner and whole UK delegation in a well-supported position with robust scientific evidence on which to build consensus.
  • I want to take the opportunity thank Jane and her team for their continued support of the SGSSI, not just in CCAMLR, but across the board. That work will continue into 2021 as I will in a moment briefly touch upon.
  • Staying with thanks yous. One person who has been working with GSGSSI for over 5 years but is about to move on is Stuart Doubleday. I would like to take a moment to thank Stuart for his commitment to South Georgia and the many many strands of work he helps us pull together and deliver. We wish him well in his new endeavours. 

Looking Forward 

  • New Visitor Guide – the SDA film – New incredible film to share the wonder of South Georgia – and I hope you would agree, is something of a coup! This sits well with the Extinction series by Sir David Attenborough, and makes clear that we all have a vital part to play in the stewardship of a place as special as South Georgia.
  • We are fast approaching our inaugural Environment Day on 30 October 2020. Environmental Protection is an intrinsic value in the GSGSSI decision making process and this day will provide an opportunity to share some of those highlights.
  • Invasive Plant Management – Renewing a quarter of a million-pound invasive plant management programme.
  • Next 5-year Strategy will be consulted on shortly and small meetings convened, virtually again, to share views and hear from a broad range of stakeholders. The key message is that we aim to carry on the good work, but to shift to a values based approach.
  • The Blue Belt programme is pushing forward the Management Plan for the MPA, encouraging Islands wide plans and committing to another 3 to 5 years of funding to support us further.
  • In 2021 the UK will host COP 26. It is clarion call for action on climate and the environment. As you would expect, not only are we listening, we will do our part. 

Expanding Capacity 

  • This Government is founded on good operations, but we are aspirational. Because SGSSI is what it is, we are committed to push forward as a global exemplar by developing, adopting and advocating best practise in the areas we touch. To do that well, we need to get policy and legislation in the right place and I am looking to determine how we might expand our capability and capacity to achieve that. More on that in the coming months.
  • And we will shortly be opening up our GO recruitment window. If your thought Shackleton’s job advert was the bees knees, it might be the job for you or someone you know. Please do get in touch with us if there are any leads, we are looking for special people to live and work in a special place.

Again, thank you all for the part you play in the success of SGSSI.

Presentations

Introduction to Science on SG 2020 [.pdf]

South Georgia Marine Ecosystems Science field update 2019-20 [.pdf]

Safeguarding the terrestrial environment of South Georgia [.pdf]

2019 Annual Report

GSGSSI has published the Annual Report covering the principal activities over 2019. As HE Commissioner, Nigel Philips CBE notes in his opening address, 2020 has been an extraordinary year and whilst it continues to be the Covid-19 pandemic that dominates our current thinking, it is valuable to reflect on the achievements of 2019. We showed that by working together with stakeholders we remain true to our principles of stewardship, environmental protection, world-class biosecurity measures and evidence-based decision making. The challenges of 2020 will not alter that commitment.

The report can be downloaded here.

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