New South Sandwich Islands research

British Antarctic Survey

A special issue of the journal Deep-Sea Research which includes contributions from British Antarctic Survey (BAS) scientists features a range of new research which increases our understanding of the understudied South Sandwich Islands.

The South Sandwich Islands are an isolated island group in the Southern Ocean. The waters surrounding the islands are an important habitat for migrating whales and are host to a vast array of marine benthic life. The islands are also an important habitat and refuge for penguins and other seabirds. Despite this, the region has historically been understudied and was identified as “data-poor” in a 2017 review conducted by the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Now, a special edition of the journal Deep-Sea Research dedicated entirely to the ecology of the South Sandwich Islands has helped to address this data gap and shed new light on this biologically important region. The issue features ten original papers which answer important questions about the islands’ oceanography, ecology and feeding areas which support predators such as whales and penguins.

A body of water
Candlemas Island, a small uninhabited island of the Candlemas Islands in the South Sandwich Islands. Photo: Mark Belchier

Among the new papers included in the special issue is a study by BAS fish ecologist, Philip Hollyman in which fish and invertebrates collected by fisheries were used to investigate distribution of scavenging communities across the islands. For the first time, the study identified seawater temperature a key driver of the scavenger community structure which suggests communities could be disrupted under climate change scenarios. Other contributions include a study by BAS ecological modeller, Sally Thorpe and Eugene Murphy, which demonstrates the role of the islands in deflecting the flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). The ACC is the worlds largest ocean current and is essential to the stability of the Antarctic ice sheet.

Saunders Island, a crescent-shaped island which lies between Candlemas Island and Montagu Island in the South Sandwich Islands. Photo: Gemma Clucas

While the papers included in the issue address some important data gaps, they also highlight how little is known about the South Sandwich Islands and surrounding oceans and suggest future research priorities.

Dr Martin Collins, BAS Ecosystems Team senior scientist and lead editor of the special issue says:

“The South Sandwich region includes the deepest part of the Southern Ocean, some unique hydrothermal habitats and highly productive surface waters, which support globally significant populations of seabirds and whales. This collection of papers is an important addition to our knowledge of this understudied region and will help inform future management of the area”

You can access the full special issue and learn more about all of the papers included on the Deep-Sea Research website.

You can learn more about the South Sandwich Islands including their history, governance ecological significance on the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands website.

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