28 Apr 2020
EARTH'S HIDDEN GEM: SOUTH GEORGIA
South Georgia Island
By Natalie Long, Social Media Specialist, WWF-Australia
There’s a remarkable island on this planet that goes by almost unnoticed. It’s located east of the most southern end of Argentina, and just north of Antarctica. On a map it appears as a tiny dot, measuring about 160 kilometres long and just 32 kilometres wide. Despite its size, this island is home to some of the extensive and most important penguin, seal and seabird breeding areas in the world.
The island is called South Georgia and it’s a definite must for everyone's bucket list. Stepping onto South Georgia is like stepping onto a David Attenborough film set, except you actually are - he was here (Episode 2, Our Planet “Frozen Worlds”). The wildlife here is unbelievably abundant, and the landscapes remarkably pristine. South Georgia is one of the world's best kept secrets, here’s why:
1. Saint Andrew’s Bay - a little section of South Georgia, just 3.2 km wide, where at least half a million king penguins thrive.
2. Macaroni penguins - This interesting little penguin is extra special due to its yellow crest feathers and chunky beak!
3. Elephant seals - It’s estimated that nearly half a million elephant seals line the shores of South Georgia in spring. Full grown males are known for their brutal and bloody fights.
4. King penguin chicks - also known as woolies. These baby king penguins keep their brown puffy feathers for about a year. They develop a thick layer of blubber that keeps them warm through the winter.
5. Baby fur seals - South Georgia is estimated to me home to about 95% of the global population of Antarctic fur seals.
6. Birds - South Georgia is known to be the home to over 100 million seabirds, including albatross, skuas, petrels, terns, and gulls. In addition to this, the island is home to the southernmost song bird in the world - the South Georgia Pipit as well as the South Georgia Pintail, both endemic to the island.
7. Wandering Albatross - The largest flying bird on Earth also calls this island home. Albatross wings can span up to three metres wide.
8. Stunning Landscapes - On South Georgia you won’t find any trees. The island is home to just 25 plant species, none of which are endemic to the island. Among these plants you can also find about 125 species of moss, 85 liverworts and more than 200 species of lichen. Together, these simple plants create a colorful polar landscape.
9. Environmental protection - South Georgia accomplished one of the world's most incredible conservation feats when the entire island was eradicated of dangerous and invasive rats. The rats had been introduced to the island by whalers and sealers as early as the late 18th century. The rats were a significant threat to native species as they were seen eating the eggs of seabirds. Poison bait was used over the island to eradicate the rats. Since the last baiting phase in 2015-16, there have been no signs of the invasive rodent. Bird species are already showing very dramatic signs of recovery.
South Georgia is a hidden gem. It’s almost incomprehensible how such a tiny island can hold such an enormous amount of thriving wildlife. It’s an awe-inspiring wonder that barely makes the list of a travel instagram influencer. Without doubt, it is the top of my list, coming up alongside Antarctica as the most indescribably beautiful, pristine and raw places I have ever visited, and possibly could ever visit. What stood out among all this was the incredible conservation efforts that play a key role across the island in keeping the environment as extraordinary as it is. How lucky are we that places like this still remain on Earth.