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South Georgia marine reserve: a ‘land grab’ in the ocean?

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South Georgia, by Scott Henderson
Riches of the ocean have been protected around South Georgia, a British overseas territory (picture: Scott Henderson/

The creation of a vast marine reserve around South Georgia could be seen as a way of grabbing territory for the UK, a political analyst has warned.

“Given that Argentina claims sovereignty over the newly protected areas,” says Dr James Allan, “the British government’s decision is a reminder of how environmental matters are often closely intertwined with political agendas.”

A million square kilometres of ocean around the British territory of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands were declared a marine reserve last month. Fishing will be banned in a 20,000-square-kilometre zone around the islands, which are home to seven species of globally threatened sea bird, including the wandering albatross.

South Georgia is richer in unique species than even the celebrated Galápagos islands, according to a study completed in 2011.

Dr Allan, of the consultancy firm Maplecroft, says the UK’s intentions are “ostensibly noble”, but that designating protection zones can provide a means by which “power can be extended over both space and political rivals.”

He says theorits will say the UK has “created space” in the ocean: “That is, by drawing new lines on a map the distant government has awarded itself a new territorial scale through which its power can be exercised… to subjugate the interests of other groups.”

He compares the move with the creation of a national park near Jerusalem, between two Arab neighbourhoods: “Opponents claim the designation is simply a land grab.”


New South Atlantic marine reserve will raise political tensions
UK protects ocean for fish and albatross South Georgia

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