South Georgia marine conservation

South Georgia and its waters host vast numbers of two of the world’s most iconic seafaring birds – the albatross and penguin. Work to protect these species here is crucial.

Gentoo penguin


South Georgia is home to globally significant populations of wandering, black-browed and grey-headed albatrosses, as well as macaroni, gentoo and king penguins.

Despite protection on land and at sea, population declines in some of these species continue to be of urgent concern.

The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands (SGSSI) established itself as a world leader in working with the fishing industry to address seabird bycatch in its maritime zone. And in 2012, a large (1.07million km square) ‘sustainable use’ Marine Protected Area (MPA) was established.

Declines in the populations of wandering and grey-headed albatross and concerns about disturbances to gentoo penguins from krill fishing mean further work is needed to protect this UK Overseas Territory’s precious wildlife.

The RSPB is working in a new albatross conservation partnership with the Government of South Georgia and with other partners to enhance marine protections.


  • To understand the over-winter feeding requirements of gentoo penguins around South Georgia to ensure the species is adequately protected by the designation and effective management of its Marine Protected Area.
  • In areas of the high seas identified as ‘hotspots’ for albatrosses breeding in South Georgia, to work with tuna fishing fleets to reduce the risk of birds being drowned as ‘bycatch’.
  • To support work to define new marine Important Bird and Biodiversity Areas (IBA) and Key Biodiversity Areas around South Georgia. 

Planned Work

Gentoo penguin tracking and the Marine Protection Area review

Penguins have evolved amazing adaptions which allow them to live in some of the world's most challenging marine environments. Some can survive in temperatures as low -60°C or drink seawater.

Extremely agile and quick in the water, gentoo penguins are the fastest of all the penguin species, reaching underwater speeds of 36 km/h (22 mph).

Krill is an important food source for gentoo penguins, which are residents in South Georgia through the winter. The krill fishery around South Georgia is closed during the summer but still continues to operate during winter.

Vital new tracking of gentoo penguins will allow us to understand if this fishery competes with these penguins for food during the winter and therefore whether the species is adequately protected by the current management of the marine protected area. Results will be fed into the 2018 marine protected area review being conducted by the South Georgia Government.

Albatross conservation

Albatrosses are some of the most iconic species in the Southern Ocean and South Georgia is home to wandering, black-browed and grey-headed albatross. Despite being well protected within the Territory, both on land and at sea in the Marine Protected Area, populations are still in decline. Evidence suggests that incidental mortality (bycatch) in fisheries outside South Georgia's waters is the greatest threat.

Studies have been conducted to identify the areas, seasons and fleets of highest overlap between global tuna fisheries and South Georgia albatrosses. With a better understanding of where these graceful wanderers face the highest risk, we can work with Regional Fisheries Management Organisations and fisheries operators to reduce losses of South Georgia's magnificent albatrosses.

Identification of marine IBA and KBAs

Despite the richness of its wildlife, there are currently no confirmed areas of marine Important Bird & Biodiversity Areas (IBAs) in South Georgia waters.

The RSPB and BirdLife International are founder members of the new Key Biodiversity Area (KBA) partnership, helping to identify ‘sites that contribute to the global persistence of biodiversity’ for all threatened plant and animal species in terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystems.

Developments in tracking techniques have revolutionized our understanding of the at-sea distributions, movements, ecology and activity patterns of marine species.

Utilising this tracking and data will allow the identification of biodiversity hotspots for formal protection under IBA or KBA designations under IBA or KBA criteria, providing further information to strengthen the marine protected area.


The Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands and the UK Government continue to support the conservation of the region’s wildlife eg. through the development of Conservation Action Plans and reviews of the Marine Protected Area.

The RSPB is a founding member of the Great British Oceans coalition, a collaborative body working to enhance the protection of the marine environment in the UK's Overseas Territories.

The British Antarctic Survey is one of the foremost international institutes for research into polar environments and has been instrumental in conducting seabird tracking across this region since 1991.


Our programmes in South Georgia have relied on key organisations:

The Truell Conservation Foundation has donated a large grant to enable the study of gentoo penguins off South Georgia. Using satellite tracking to discover the birds’ dependencies at sea reflects the foundation’s mission to conserve precious ecosystems by harnessing technology. 


The PEW Charitable Trusts are a key funder of work to monitor the health of the oceans and wildlife around South Georgia, with the aim of contributing cutting-edge science to inform the 2018 marine protected area review.

Tagged with: Country: UK Habitat: Marine and intertidal Project status: Ongoing Project classification: Ongoing Project types: Site protection Project types: Species protection