Call for marine sanctuary around UK's South Sandwich Islands

The Government has been urged to create a marine sanctuary around islands in the South Atlantic which are "virtually untouched by humans".

Fully protecting 500,000 square kilometres (190,000 square miles) around the South Sandwich Islands would preserve wildlife including penguins, seals, seabirds and whales, conservationists said.

SEE ALSO: 15 places that are disappearing faster than you thought

SEE ALSO: 10 animals you probably didn't know were endangered

The call comes after British endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh completed a 1km (0.6 mile) swim in the freezing waters of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands - a UK overseas territory - in a bid to increase protection for the wildlife-rich area.

It is already affected by climate change, and while human activity around the South Sandwich Islands is limited, there are fears that industrial fishing fleets seeking new stocks could soon move in.

Taking the plunge in just his swimwear - into sea temperatures of just 2C and braving elephant seals in King Edward Cove, South Georgia - Mr Pugh became the first person to swim in the spot.

His 19-minute swim took him past the Grytviken Whaling Station, ending near the grave of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton.

Mr Pugh, who has swum in the Arctic and Antarctic and every ocean on Earth, had billed his latest swim as his most dangerous yet.

After the swim, he said there was a "lot of fear" because a previous event in July had gone wrong as he was in very cold water for too long, and because of the sheer quantity of animals in the area which had never seen a human swim before.

"There is nothing more frightening than swimming past a 3,000kg elephant seal lying on a beach. You just pray it stays there."

Lewis Pugh
British endurance swimmer Lewis Pugh completed a 1km swim in the freezing waters of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (Philip Toscano/PA)

South Georgia was targeted by the whaling industry in the past, and Mr Pugh said the whale bones he saw scattered on the seabed were a "very real reminder" of the importance of his swim.

"Today we are not just dealing with protecting one species, but the entire ecosystem is under threat from rapid climate change and the threat of industrial fishing which is so prevalent around the world."

He called on the UK Government to create a complete no-take zone around the South Sandwich Islands to protect them from fishing, and he also wants increased environmental protection for the waters around South Georgia.

Simon Reddy, director for the Pew Bertarelli Ocean Legacy project, said: "The South Sandwich Islands are virtually untouched by humans. By reclassifying the islands as a fully protected marine sanctuary, the UK would be safeguarding an internationally recognised biodiversity hot spot."

He said it would conserve the "unique environment" around the islands, protecting wildlife and the ecosystems of active underwater volcanoes, hydrothermal vents and seamounts.

The calls to protect the area comes as the Government is being urged to deliver on its pledge to create a "blue belt" of marine protected areas around UK overseas territories, focusing on Ascension Island, St Helena, Tristan da Cunha and the South Sandwich Islands, all in the southern Atlantic.

20 PHOTOS
Britain's exotic island wildlife
See Gallery
Britain's exotic island wildlife

This is a lovely marine nature reserve with woodland, maritime grassland, sand, shingle and rocky reef.  Here you'll find a black-backed gull breeding colony, thrift and grey seal. The site of a 12th century Benedictine chapel can be seen at the highest point of the island.  It’s open between Easter and September (weather and tide permitting).  Access to the island is managed for the benefit of wildlife.  An authorised passenger boat makes the 20 minute crossing from East Looe.  Check Cornwall Wildlife Trust’s website for details.  

Formed entirely of pebbles and once a true island, Foulney Island is now connected to the mainland by a man-made causeway built in the 19th century.  It’s great for Arctic and little tern breeding colonies, yellow-horned poppy, and thousands of waders in the winter.  Note that around high tide the island may be cut off for several hours.  Access is also restricted to designated paths during the breeding season.  For more information, visit the Cumbria Wildlife Trust website.  

With stunning views across Morecambe bay, this shingle island reserve is a fantastic place for bird watching.  In summer you can see nesting gulls, eiders, oystercatchers and ringed plovers.  Burnet moths and grayling butterflies are on the wing and viper's bugloss, yellow horned poppy and sea lavender are in flower. With miles of unspoilt coastline and spectacular views of the Lakeland fells it provides a  unique habitat.  The grey seal has made its home upon the island alongside rare sea birds which nest along the sands.  The noisy and distinctive natterjack toad also inhabits this wildlife-rich haven. For more information visit the Cumbria Wildlife Trust website.

Famous for its red squirrels with bird hides overlooking lakes, reedbed and the large, sheltered lagoon – important for overwintering and summer breeding birds.  It’s great for water vole, sika deer, red squirrel and large flocks of avocet.  Brownsea Island is open every day from mid-March to the beginning of November, with boats from Poole and Sandbanks. Landing fees may apply. 

For more information, visit the Dorset Wildlife Trust website.  Grid ref: SZ 028 878  

This is a small nature reserve with steep banks to the River Stour on one side and a wet, reedy area to the other on the river's old course.  With its dense vegetation, this little-visited area offers a retreat for water birds.  It’s great for goldfinch, comfrey, reed bunting and heron.  Mill Ham is accessed by a public footpath across fields and over a small bridge to the entrance.  Note the reserve itself is overgrown and without paths.  For more information, visit the Dorset Wildlife Trust website.  

Once the site of the Hounslow Gunpowder Mills, this is now a carefully managed mosaic of woodland, scrub and reedbed. Great for kingfisher, water vole and greater spotted woodpecker, the reserve is open at all times, with the visitor centre opening on the first and last Sunday of each month. For more information, visit the London Wildlife Trust website

This is an undisturbed sanctuary for birds, beetles and two rare molluscs – the two-lipped door snail and the German hairy snail – in the middle of the River Thames.  It is great for kingfisher and heron.  Access: Excellent views of the island from Isleworth waterfront and occasional boat access for work and open days – check London Wildlife Trust’s website for volunteering opportunities.  Grid ref: TQ 167 757  

Alongside flower-rich Mabey's Meadow, the willow woodland of Frays Island provides a perfect spot to see the beautiful River Colne.  It’s great for kingfisher, banded demoiselle and orchids in the summer.  Frays Island is next door to Mabey’s Meadow and accessible by footbridge. For more information, visit the London Wildlife Trust website.    

An enticing nature trail between two babbling arms of the River Wandle.  Wander through fruit trees and crack willow to a vibrant meadow.  It’s great for black poplar, kingfisher and the speckled wood butterfly.  Wilderness Island is open at all times, with public footpaths throughout. 

For more information, visit the London Wildlife Trust website.  Grid ref: TQ 282 653  

This rough grassland and shingle beach is connected by Bonners Salting saltmarsh to the Strood causeway.  Here you'll find short-eared owl, golden samphire, oystercatcher and shelduck. The island is open from 1 March – 31 August to Essex Wildlife Trust members only.  The mile-long crossing involves a number of single plank bridges without handrails, which can be slippery.  The path is also flooded at high tide. For more information, visit the Essex Wildlife Trust website.  

Completely surrounded by saltmarsh, this reserve of thorn thickets and flower-rich grassland is only linked to the mainland by two 19th century livestock causeways. Skipper’s Island is great for sea hog’s fennel, barn owl, adder’s tongue fern and flocks of brent geese in winter.  It is accessible via a private road and flooded pathways only by prior arrangement with Essex Wildlife Trust.  Visit the Essex Wildlife Trust website for more.
 
 
This is one of the few undeveloped areas of Portsmouth Harbour with saltmarsh, plant-rich shingle and an important high tide roost for wading birds.  It is great for sea lavender, golden samphire, common blue and meadow brown butterflies.  Note there is no access to the island itself, but it can be viewed from the Portchester coastline.  For more information, visit the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust website.  
Reclaimed from the sea in the 18th century, when a sea wall was built around the saltmarsh, Two Tree Island’s mudflats and lagoons attract a range of migrating winter birds and its grassland supports butterflies such as Essex skipper.  It is also great for saltmarsh plants, thousands of wildfowl and waders and short-eared owl in winter.  It is open at all times and accessed by road.  For more information, visit the Essex Wildlife Trust website. 

This is a well-wooded island on the River Avon which provides a refuge for wildfowl in the heart of Stratford.  It’s also great for mute swans.  There is no access to the reserve, but it can be viewed easily from the tramway footbridge to the south.  For more information, visit the Warwickshire Wildlife Trust website.  

This is a tiny, crescent-shaped wooded island in the River Nadder in the Salisbury suburb of Harnham.  Few have ever set foot on it to disturb its breeding birds. You'll find kingfisher, little grebe, reed warbler and sedge warbler.  Nadder Island can be viewed from the riverbank. For more information, visit the Wiltshire Wildlife Trust website.  

Scottish Wildlife Trust is a member of the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, which manages much of the island.  Visit for panoramic views, native woodland, raised bog and moorland.  It’s also a good spot for watching  Minke whale and bottlenose dolphin.  Caledonian MacBrayne ferries for foot passengers operate from Mallaig, and during the summer a private ferry runs daily (except Thursdays) from Arisaig, stopping for whales and dolphins.  For more information, visit the Scottish Wildlife Trust website.  

Cardigan Island comprises maritime cliff and grassland off the northern shore of the river Teifi estuary.  It has a long history of human use but is now only home to breeding seabirds; great for razorbill, shag, raven, rock pipit, chough and fulmar.  Access is by chartered boat from Cardigan or Gwbert only by permission of the Trust.  There are good views from Cemaes Head & Cardigan Island Farm Park. For more information, visit the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales website.  

Next to Skomer Island off the Pembrokeshire coast, in some of the most wildlife-rich waters of the UK.  Breeding seabirds, cetaceans, seals and migrant birds can all be seen here, including lesser black-backed gull, Manx shearwater, storm petrel and harbour porpoise.  Skokholm is open from April to September. Access is restricted to residential visitors and occasional Trust-organised day visits during the summer. 

For more information, visit the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales website.  Grid ref: SM 735 050

Skomer is well-known for its breeding seabirds and puffin colony, with sheltered bays and rugged coastline.  If you're lucky you'll see grey seal, Manx shearwater, storm petrel, chough and peregrine falcon. The island is also rich in historical remains and is covered by a carpet of bluebells each spring, even in the absence of woodland.  Skomer is open from April to September.  Passenger boats depart from Martin’s Haven - landing fees apply for non-members.  Limited accommodation is available on the island. For more information, visit the Wildlife Trust of South and West Wales website.  

This island is home to the third largest colony of cliff-nesting seabirds in Northern Ireland. The birds are monitored by staff each year.  It’s good for kittiwake, guillemot, peregrine falcon, coastal otter, seals and puffin.  It is open at all times but access is for members with permission only (boat required).  Otherwise it is best viewed from the mainland, at Portmuck. For more information, visit Ulster Wildlife's website.  

HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Read Full Story

FROM OUR PARTNERS