Wednesday, March 28th 2001 - 21:00 UTC

UK Welcomes South Georgia handover to BAS Scientists

The withdrawal of British soldiers from South Georgia and its transfer to the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) has been widely welcomed in the United Kingdom.

A new £5.3 million (8-million dollar) science research centre at King Edward Point, largely paid for by the Ministry of Defence, is now the headquarters of eight scientists and support staff. Their task is to carry out research to maintain fishery stocks and prevent over-fishing around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, whose economy depends on fishing.

The handover ceremony by the Governor of the Falkland Islands, Mr Donald Lamont, who is also Commissioner for South Georgia, was attended by the Commander of British Forces in the South Atlantic, Air Commodore John Cliffe, and Councillor Richard Cockwell primarily responsible for Falklands fishery policy.

The move was welcomed by the London Times Newspaper with a leading article headlined "Rejoice! Rejoice!", echoing Margaret Thatcher's memorable phrase marking the recapture of South Georgia by British forces from Argentine military occupation in 1982. The Times says the new BAS environmental centre underpins hopes that the rich waters of the Southern Ocean can be opened up for fishing that balances catches with conservation while, as in the Falklands, earning the island revenue.

"It is also intended to make South Georgia -- one of the most spectacularly beautiful islands in the Antarctic Region and home to millions of breeding albatross, petrels, king penguins, fur seals and elephant seals -- a global model for conservation".

The Times calls it "an admirable new environmental management plan " based primarily on the principle of guardianship, insisting that all activity on the island must be subservient to the goal of protecting local species.

"This ecologically sensitive plan", the newspaper says, "fits in well with Britain's obligations under various Antarctic Treaties, especially the 1982 international Convention on the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR)".

The Times says Britain has already done much to nudge the Convention members towards stricter rules on conservation and fishing. It now seems ready to pay large sums for the careful stewardship of remote ocean territories where wildlife far outnumbers the human population. South Georgia now has the chance to become an oasis of Antarctic Conservation

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