British Antarctic Territory
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The British Antarctic Territory (BAT) is a sector of Antarctica claimed by the United Kingdom as one of its 14 British Overseas Territories. It comprises the region south of 60°S latitude and between longitudes 20°W and 80°W, forming a wedge shape that extends to the South Pole. The Territory was formed on 3 March 1962, although the UK's claim to this portion of the Antarctic dates back to Letters Patent of 1908 and 1917. The area now covered by the Territory includes three regions which, before 1962, were administered by the British as separate dependencies of the Falkland Islands: Graham Land, the South Orkney Islands, and the South Shetland Islands. Since the Antarctic Treaty came into force in 1961, Article 1 of which states "The treaty does not recognize, dispute, nor establish territorial sovereignty claims; no new claims shall be asserted while the treaty is in force", most countries do not recognise territorial claims in Antarctica.
The Territory overlaps the Antarctic claims of Argentina (Argentine Antarctica) and Chile (Antártica Chilena Province). It is inhabited by the staff of research and support stations operated and maintained by the British Antarctic Survey and other organisations, and stations of Argentina, Chile and other countries. There are no native inhabitants.
The United Kingdom has had a continuous presence in the far South Atlantic since 1833 when it reasserted sovereignty over the Falkland Islands. In 1908, the UK extended its territorial claim by declaring sovereignty over "South Georgia, the South Orkneys, the South Shetlands, and the Sandwich Islands, and Graham's Land, situated in the South Atlantic Ocean and on the Antarctic continent to the south of the 50th parallel of south latitude, and lying between the 20th and the 80th degrees of west longitude". All these territories were administered as Falkland Islands Dependencies from Stanley by the Governor of the Falkland Islands.
In 1917, the wording of the claim was modified, so as to, inter alia, unambiguously include all the territory in the sector stretching to the South Pole (thus encompassing all of the present-day British Antarctic Territory). The new claim covered "all islands and territories whatsoever between the 20th degree of west longitude and the 50th degree of west longitude which are situated south of the 50th parallel of south latitude; and all islands and territories whatsoever between the 50th degree of west longitude and the 80th degree of west longitude which are situated south of the 58th parallel of south latitude".
In 1943, at the height of World War II, the UK undertook a military operation known as Operation Tabarin, to provide reconnaissance and meteorological information in the South Atlantic Ocean. This "secret" wartime project became the civilian Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey and later the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). BAS is responsible for most of the United Kingdom's scientific research in Antarctica. In the 1950s the Antarctic Treaty was negotiated to demilitarise the region and retain Antarctica – defined as all land and ice shelves south of 60°S latitude – for peaceful research purposes. The treaty was passed in 1961.
The Antarctic Treaty, signed by all relevant regional claimants, does not in itself either recognise or dispute any territorial claims, leaving this matter to individual signatories. Most of the world's countries do not recognise any national claims to Antarctica. Britain, France, Norway, New Zealand and Australia, all of whom have territorial claims on the continent, mutually recognise each other's claims. Argentina and Chile dispute the British claim, and make their own counter-claims that overlap both Britain's and each other's (see Argentine Antarctica and Antártica Chilena Province).
The British Antarctic Territory includes the Antarctic Peninsula, the South Shetland Islands, South Orkney Islands and numerous other offshore islands, the Ronne Ice Shelf (Weddell Sea), parts of Coats Land, and a triangle of central continental Antarctica converging on the South Pole.
The Territory has a full suite of laws, and legal and postal administrations. Given the provisions of the Antarctic Treaty System, the Territory does not enforce its laws on foreign nations who maintain scientific bases within the Territory. It is self-financing, with income from the sale of postage stamps and income tax.
The territory is fully a part of the British Overseas Territories for nationality purposes. It is possible to hold British Overseas Territories citizenship (BOTC) by virtue of a connection with the Territory. Additionally, since the relevant provisions of the British Overseas Territories Act 2002 came into force on 21 May 2002, a BOTC connected with the territory would also hold British citizenship.
Although this territory's immigration laws would not allow for naturalisation, a person born in the territory before 1983 would hold BOTC (and British citizenship) on that basis. British citizenship and BOTC would also extend to the first generation born overseas. No people currently fall into this category. While Emilio Palma was born in the Antarctic territories claimed by the UK, he has not claimed British citizenship, and was automatically granted Argentine citizenship by the government since his parents were both Argentine citizens, and he was born in an Argentine base in Antarctica. Changes to British nationality law from 1 January 1983 ensure that no claims to BOTC or British citizenship by virtue of a connection to the territory can be made by those born from that date.
Since 1996, the historic base at Port Lockroy on Goudier Island has been staffed by the UK Antarctic Heritage Trust during the Antarctic summer. Receiving about 10,000 visitors a year, it is one of the most visited sites on the continent. Visitors can tour the museum, buy souvenirs, post mail, and view the large gentoo penguin colony.
A number of other nations maintain bases in the territory, many in the South Shetland Islands.
Postage stamps and coins
Despite the lack of permanent inhabitants, the British Antarctic Territory issues its own postage stamps. While some are actually used by visiting tourists and resident scientists, the bulk are sold overseas to collectors. The first issue came in 1963, an engraved set with 15 values ranging from ½d to one pound, featuring a portrait of Queen Elizabeth overlooking various scenes of human activity in Antarctica. Several additional issues in the 1960s were followed by a decimalisation issue in 1971 produced by overprinting the 1963 stamps.
In 2008/2009, as part of the celebrations of the centenary of the 1908 British territorial claim, the British Antarctic Territory issued its first ever legal-tender coin.
For more information on British currency in the general region, see The Sterling Currency in the South Atlantic and the Antarctic.
- International law for Antarctica, p. 652, Francesco Francioni and Tullio Scovazzi, 1996
- The Antarctic Treaty, National Science Foundation, Office of Polar Programs
- CIA World Factbook
- British Antarctic Territory, Country Facts, Foreign & Commonwealth Office
- Commonwealth Secretariat Website
- Research Stations in Antarctica. British Antarctic Survey. URL accessed on 2008-09-07.
- http://www.ingenia.org.uk/ingenia/articles.aspx?Index=334 Extreme Engineering: the challenges of working in Antarctica, Ingenia, September 2005
- Signy Research Station. British Antarctic Survey. URL accessed on 2008-09-07.
- Faraday Station - History. British Antarctic Survey. URL accessed on 2008-09-07.
- Port Lockroy. UK Antarctic Heritage Trust. URL accessed on 2008-09-07.
- The British Antarctic Territory Currency, Antarctic Heritage Trust