Falkland Islands

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Falkland Islands
Flag of Falkland Islands Coat of arms of Falkland Islands
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: "Desire the right"
Anthem: " God Save the Queen"
Location of Falkland Islands
(and largest city)
Official languages English
Demonym Falkland Islander
Government British Overseas Territory
 -  Head of state Queen Elizabeth II
 -  Governor Alan Huckle
 -  Chief Executive Tim Thorogood
British overseas territory
 -  Liberation Day 14 June 1982 
 -  Total 12,173 km² ( 162nd)
4,700  sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 0
 -  July 2005 estimate 3,060 ( 226th)
 -  Density 0.25/km² ( 240th)
0.65/sq mi
GDP ( PPP) 2005 estimate
 -  Total $75 million ( 223th)
 -  Per capita $25,000 (2002 estimate) ( not ranked)
HDI (n/a) n/a (n/a) ( n/a)
Currency Falkland Islands pound1 ( FKP)
Time zone ( UTC-4)
 -  Summer ( DST)  ( UTC-3)
Internet TLD .fk
Calling code +500
1 Fixed to the Pound sterling (GBP).

The Falkland Islands (Spanish: Islas Malvinas) are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean, located 300 miles (483 km) from the coast of Argentina, 671 miles (1,080 km) west of the Shag Rocks (South Georgia), and 584 miles (940 km) north of the British Antarctic Territory (which overlaps with the Argentine and Chilean claims to Antarctica in that region). They consist of two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland, together with 776 smaller islands. Stanley, on East Falkland, is the capital. The islands are a self-governing Overseas Territory of the United Kingdom, but have been the subject of a claim to sovereignty by Argentina since the re-establishment of British rule in 1833.

In pursuit of this claim in 1982, the islands were invaded by Argentina, precipitating the two-month-long undeclared Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, which resulted in the defeat and withdrawal of Argentine forces. Since the war there has been strong economic growth in both fisheries and tourism. The inhabitants of the islands are full British citizens (since a 1983 Act) and under Argentine Law are eligible for Argentine citizenship. Many trace their origins on the islands to early 19th-century Scottish immigration. The islands' residents reject the Argentine sovereignty claim.


The islands are referred to in the English language as "[The] Falkland Islands". This name dates from an expedition led by John Strong in 1690, who named the islands after his patron, Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount Falkland. The Spanish name for the islands, "Islas Malvinas", is derived from the French name "Îles Malouines", bestowed in 1764 by Louis Antoine de Bougainville, after the mariners and fishermen from the Breton port of Saint-Malo who became the island's first known settlers. The ISO designation is "Falkland Islands (Malvinas)".

As a result of the continuing sovereignty dispute, the use of many Spanish names is considered offensive in the Falkland Islands, particularly those associated with the 1982 invasion of the Falkland Islands. General Sir Jeremy Moore would not allow the use of Islas Malvinas in the surrender document, dismissing it as a propaganda term.


The Falkland Islands have had a complex history since their discovery, with France, Britain, Spain, and Argentina all claiming possession, and establishing as well as abandoning settlements on the islands. The Falklands Crisis of 1770 was nearly the cause of a war between a Franco-Spanish Alliance and Britain. The Spanish government's claim was continued by Argentina after the latter's independence in 1816 and the independence war in 1817. The United Kingdom returned to the islands in 1833 following the destruction of the Argentine settlement at Puerto Luis by the American sloop USS Lexington ( 28 December 1831). Argentina has continued to claim sovereignty over the islands, and the dispute was used by the military junta as a pretext to invade and briefly occupy the islands before being defeated in the two-month-long Falklands War in 1982 by a United Kingdom task force which returned the islands to British control.

The islands were uninhabited when they were first discovered by European explorers. There is disputed evidence of prior settlement, based on:

  • The existence of the Falkland Island fox, or Warrah (now extinct). It is thought that humans brought it to the islands, but it may have reached the islands via a land bridge when the sea level was much lower during the last ice age.
  • A scattering of undated artefacts including arrowheads and the remains of a canoe.

The first European explorer to sight the islands is widely thought to be Sebald de Weert, a Dutch sailor, in 1600. Although several British and Spanish historians maintain their own explorers discovered the islands earlier, some older maps, particularly Dutch ones, used the name "Sebald Islands", after de Weert.

In January 1690, English sailor John Strong, captain of the Welfare, was heading for Puerto Deseado (in Argentina); but driven off course by contrary winds, he reached the Sebald Islands instead and landed at Bold Cove. He sailed between the two principal islands and called the passage "Falkland Channel" (now Falkland Sound), after Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount Falkland (1659–1694), who as Commissioner of the Admiralty had financed the expedition, later becoming First Lord of the Admiralty. From this body of water the island group later took its collective English name.

Camp settlement.
Camp settlement.

The first settlement on the Falkland Islands, called Port St. Louis, was founded by the French navigator and military commander Louis Antoine de Bougainville in 1764 on Berkeley Sound, in present-day Port Louis, East Falkland.

Unaware of the French presence, in January 1765 British captain John Byron explored and claimed Saunders Island, at the western end of the group, where he named the harbour of Port Egmont, and sailed near other islands, which he also claimed for King George III. A British settlement was built at Port Egmont in 1766. Also in 1766, Spain acquired the French colony, and after assuming effective control in 1767, placed the islands under a governor subordinate to the Buenos Aires colonial administration. Spain attacked Port Egmont, ending the British presence there in 1770. The expulsion of the British settlement brought the two countries to the brink of war, but a peace treaty allowed the British to return to Port Egmont in 1771 with neither side relinquishing sovereignty.

As a result of economic pressures resulting from the forthcoming American War of Independence, the United Kingdom unilaterally chose to withdraw from many of her overseas settlements in 1774. Upon her withdrawal in 1776 the UK left behind a plaque asserting her claims. From then on, Spain alone maintained a settlement ruled from Buenos Aires under the control of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata until 1811. On leaving in 1811, Spain, too, left behind a plaque asserting her claims.

When Argentina declared its independence from Spain in 1816, it laid claim to the islands according to the uti possidetis principle, since they had been under the administrative jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of the Rio de la Plata. On 6 November 1820, Colonel David Jewett raised the flag of the United Provinces of the River Plate (Argentina) at Port Louis. Jewett was an American sailor and privateer in the employment of businessman Patrick Lynch to captain his ship, the frigate Heroína (Lynch had obtained a corsair licence from the Buenos Aires Supreme Director Jose Rondeau). Jewett had put into the islands the previous month, following a disastrous eight month voyage with most of his crew disabled by scurvy and disease. After resting in the islands and repairing his ship he returned to Buenos Aires.

Occupation began in 1828 with the foundation of a settlement and a penal colony. The settlement was destroyed by United States warships in 1831 after the Argentinian governor of the islands Luis Vernet seized U.S. seal hunting ships during a dispute over fishing rights. They left behind escaped prisoners and pirates. In November 1832, Argentina sent another governor who was killed in a mutiny.

In January 1833, British forces returned and informed the Argentine commander that they intended to reassert British sovereignty. The existing settlers were allowed to remain, with an Irish member of Vernet's settlement, William Dickson, appointed as the Islands' governor. Vernet's deputy, Matthew Brisbane, returned later that year and was informed that the British had no objections to the continuation of Vernet's business ventures provided there was no interference with British control.

Road sign to the capital.
Road sign to the capital.

The Royal Navy built a base at Stanley, and the islands became a strategic point for navigation around Cape Horn. A World War I naval battle, the Battle of Falkland Islands, took place in December 1914, with a British victory over the Germans. During World War II, Stanley served as a Royal Navy station and serviced ships which took part in the Battle of the River Plate.

Sovereignty over the islands became an issue again in the latter half of the 20th century. Argentina, which had never renounced its claim to the islands, saw the creation of the United Nations as an opportunity to present its case before the rest of the world. In 1945, upon signing the UN Charter, Argentina stated that it reserved its right to sovereignty of the islands, as well as its right to recover them. The United Kingdom responded in turn by stating that, as an essential precondition for the fulfilment of UN Resolution 1514, regarding the de-colonisation of all territories still under foreign occupation, the Falklanders first had to vote for the British withdrawal at a referendum to be held on the issue.

Talks between British and Argentine foreign missions took place in the 1960s, but failed to come to any meaningful conclusion. A major sticking point in all the negotiations was that the two thousand inhabitants of mainly British descent preferred that the islands remain British territory.

Argentine links

There were no air links to the islands until 1971, when the Argentine Air Force (FAA), which operates the state airline LADE, began amphibious flights between Comodoro Rivadavia and Stanley using Grumman HU-16 Albatross aircraft. Following a FAA request, the UK and Argentina reached an agreement for the FAA to construct the first runway. Flights began using Fokker F27 and continued with Fokker F28 aircraft twice a week until 1982. This was the only air link to the islands. YPF, the Argentine national oil and gas company, now part of Repsol YPF, supplied the islands' energy needs.

Falklands War

The flag of the Falklands was banned when Argentina invaded
The flag of the Falklands was banned when Argentina invaded

On 2 April 1982, Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands and other British territories in the South Atlantic (South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands). The military junta which had ruled Argentina since 1976 sought to maintain power by diverting public attention from the nation's poor economic performance. They attempted to do this by playing off long-standing feelings of the Argentines towards the islands. British writers hold that the United Kingdom's reduction in military capacity in the South Atlantic also encouraged the invasion.

The United Nations Security Council issued Resolution 502, calling on Argentina to withdraw forces from the Islands and for both parties to seek a diplomatic solution. International reaction ranged from support in the Latin America">Latin American countries (with the exception of Chile), to opposition in Europe (with the exception of Spain), the Commonwealth, and eventually the United States. The British sent an expeditionary force to retake the islands, leading to the Falklands War. After short but fierce naval and air battles, the British landed at San Carlos Water on 21 May, and a land campaign followed until the Argentine forces surrendered on 14 June.

Following the war, the British increased their military presence on the islands, constructing RAF Mount Pleasant and increasing the military garrison. Although the United Kingdom and Argentina resumed diplomatic relations in 1989, no further negotiations on sovereignty have taken place.


A Falkland stamp commemorating the coronation of King George VI of the United Kingdom.
A Falkland stamp commemorating the coronation of King George VI of the United Kingdom.

Executive authority is vested in the Queen and is exercised by the Governor on her behalf. The Governor is also responsible for the administration of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, as these islands have no native inhabitants. Defence and Foreign Affairs are the responsibility of the United Kingdom. The current Governor is Alan Huckle, appointed July 2006.

Under the constitution, the latest version of which came into force in 1985, there is an Executive Council and a Legislative Council of the Falkland Islands. The Executive Council, which advises the Governor, is also chaired by the Governor. It consists of the Chief Executive, Financial Secretary and three Legislative Councillors, who are elected by the other Legislative Councillors. The Legislative Council consists of the Chief Executive, Financial Secretary and the eight Legislative Councillors, of whom five are elected from Stanley and three from Camp, for four-year terms. It is presided over by the Speaker, currently Darwin Lewis Clifton.

The loss of the war against the United Kingdom over control of the islands led to the collapse of the Argentine military dictatorship in 1983. Disputes over control of the islands continue. In 1992 Argentina and Britain resumed diplomatic relations and reopened their embassies in each other's countries. In 1998, in retaliation for the arrest in London of the former Chilean president Augusto Pinochet, the Chilean government banned flights between Punta Arenas and Port Stanley, thus isolating the islands from the rest of the world. Uruguay and Brazil refused to authorise direct flights between their territories and Port Stanley, forcing the Islands' government to enter negotiations with the Argentine government which led to Argentina authorising direct flights between its territory and Stanley, on condition that Argentine citizens be allowed on the islands. In 2001, British Prime Minister Tony Blair became the first Prime Minister to visit Argentina since the war. On the twenty-second anniversary of the war, Argentina's President Néstor Kirchner gave a speech insisting that the islands would once again be part of Argentina. Kirchner, campaigning for president in 2003, regarded the islands as a top priority. In June 2003 the issue was brought before a United Nations committee, and attempts have been made to open talks with the United Kingdom to resolve the issue of the islands. As far as the Falkland Islands Government and people are concerned, there is no issue to resolve. The Falkland Islanders themselves are almost entirely British and maintain their allegiance to the United Kingdom.

On 2 April 2007 (exactly 25 years after the Argentine invasion), Argentina renewed its claim over the Falkland Islands, asking for the UK to resume talks on sovereignty.

Falkland Islanders were granted full British citizenship from 1 January 1983 under the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983.

22 September 2007, The Guardian reported the UK government was preparing to stake new claims on the sea floor around the Falklands and other UK remote island possessions, in order to exploit natural resources that may be present. In October 2007, a British spokeswoman confirmed that Britain intended to submit a claim to the UN to extend seabed territory around the Falklands and South Georgia, in advance of the expiry of the deadline for territorial claims following Britain's ratification of the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.. If the claim is disputed, the UN will suspend the claim until the dispute is settled. The claim is largely theoretical and does not affect the Antarctic treaty or confirm new rights upon Britain. Neither does it permit the exploitation of oil or gas reserves, since these are banned by a protocol to the treaty. It would enable Britain to police fishing within the zone to prevent over exploitation of natural resources by commercial fishing in line with Britain's obligations under the treaty. Nevertheless many commentators have criticised the move for going against the spirit of the Antarctic treaty. Argentina has indicated it will challenge any British claim to Antarctic territory and the area around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.


Map of the Falkland Islands.
Map of the Falkland Islands.
The position of the Falklands relative to Argentine and Chilean Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia
The position of the Falklands relative to Argentine and Chilean Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia
San Carlos Water, one of many inlets on East Falkland. The islands are heavily indented by sounds and fjords
San Carlos Water, one of many inlets on East Falkland. The islands are heavily indented by sounds and fjords

The Falkland Islands comprise two main islands, East Falkland and West Falkland (in Spanish Isla Gran Malvina and Isla Soledad respectively), and about 776 small islands. The total land area is 4,700  square miles (12,173  km²), approximately the same area as Connecticut or Northern Ireland, with a coastline estimated at 800 miles (1,288 km).

Much of the land is part of the two main islands separated by the Falkland Sound: East Falkland, home to the capital of Stanley and the majority of the population, and West Falkland. Both islands have mountain ranges, rising to 2,313 feet (705  m) at Mount Usborne on East Falkland. There are also some boggy plains, most notably Lafonia, on the southern half of East Falkland. Virtually the entire area of the islands is used as pasture for sheep.

Smaller islands surround the main two. They include Barren Island, Beaver Island, Bleaker Island, Carcass Island, George Island, Keppel Island, Lively Island, New Island, Pebble Island, Saunders Island, Sealion Island, Speedwell Island, Staats Island, Weddell Island, and West Point Island. The Jason Islands lie to the north west of the main archipelago, and Beauchene Island some distance to its south. Speedwell Island and George Island are split from East Falkland by Eagle Passage.

The islands claim a territorial sea of 12  nautical miles (22 km) and an exclusive fishing zone of 200 nautical miles (370 km), which has been a source of disagreement with Argentina.

Surrounded by cool South Atlantic waters, the Falkland Islands have a climate very much influenced by the ocean with a narrow annual temperature range of only 7°C. January averages about 9°C, with average daily high of 13°C, while July averages about 2°C with average daily high 4°C. Rainfall is relatively low at about 24 inches (610 mm). Humidity and winds, however, are constantly high. Snow is rare, but can occur at almost any time of year.

Biogeographically, the Falkland Islands are classified as part of the Neotropical realm, together with South America. It is also classified as part of the Antarctic Floristic Kingdom.


Sheep farming (as of 2002, there were 583,000 sheep on the island) was formerly the main source of income for the islands, and still plays an important part with high quality wool exports going to the UK, but efforts to diversify introduced in 1984 have made fishing the largest part of the economy and brought increasing income from tourism.

The government sale of fishing licences to foreign countries has brought in more than £40 million a year in revenues, and local fishing boats are also in operation. More than 75% of the fish taken are squid, and most exports are to Spain. Tourism has shown rapid growth, with more than 30,000 visitors in 2001. The islands have become a regular port of call for the growing market of cruise ships. Attractions include the scenery and wildlife conservation with penguins, seabirds, seals and sealions, as well as visits to battlefields, golf, fishing and wreck diving.

An agreement with Argentina had set the terms for exploitation of offshore resources including large oil reserves, however, in 2007 Argentina unilaterally withdrew from the agreement. In response, Falklands Oil and Gas Limited has signed an agreement with BHP Billiton to investigate the potential exploitation of oil reserves. Climatic conditions of the southern seas mean that exploitation will be a difficult task, though economically viable, and the continuing sovereignty dispute with Argentina is hampering progress.

Defence is provided by the UK, and British military expenditures make a significant contribution to the economy. The islands are self sufficient except for defence; exports account for more than £125 million a year.

The largest company in the islands used to be the Falkland Islands Company (FIC), a publicly quoted company on the London Stock Exchange which was responsible for the majority of the economic activity on the islands, though its farms were sold in 1991 to the Falkland Islands Government. The FIC now operates several retail outlets in Stanley and is involved in port services and shipping operation.

a Falkland Pound coin

The currency in use is the Falkland Pound, which remains in parity with the pound sterling. Sterling notes and coins circulate interchangeably with the local currency. The Falkland Islands also mint their own coins, and issue stamps, which forms a source of revenue from overseas collectors.


Christ Church Cathedral with whale bone arch, Stanley.
Christ Church Cathedral with whale bone arch, Stanley.

The population is 2,967 (July 2003 estimate), the majority of which are of British descent (approximately 70%), as a result of primarily Scottish and Welsh immigration to the islands. The native-born inhabitants call themselves "Islanders". Outsiders often call Islanders "Kelpers", from the kelp which grows profusely around the islands, but the name is no longer used in the Islands. Those people from the United Kingdom who have obtained Falkland Island status became what are known locally as 'belongers'. A few Islanders are of French, Gibraltarian (such as the Pitalaugas), Portuguese and Scandinavian descent. Some are the descendants of whalers who reached the Islands during the last two centuries. Furthermore there is a small minority of South American, mainly Chilean origin, and in more recent times many people from Saint Helena have also come to work in the Islands. The Falkland Islands have been a centre of English language learning for South Americans.

The main religion is Christianity. The main denominations are Church of England, Roman Catholic, United Free Church, and Lutheran-based denominations. Other smaller numbers of Christian churches are active, including Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh-day Adventist and Greek Orthodox; with the latter being due to Greek fishermen passing through. There is also a small Bahá'í presence .

Medical care

The Falkland Islands Government Health and Social Services Department provides medical care for the islands. The King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH) is Stanley's only hospital. It was partially military operated in the past but is now under complete civilian control. There are no ophthalmologists or opticians on the islands, although an optician from the United Kingdom visits about every six months and an ophthalmologist comes to do cataract surgery and eye exams on irregular intervals (once every few years). There are two dentists on the islands.

Broadcasting and telecommunications


  • PAL television, using the UK UHF allocation is standard.
  • FM stereo broadcasting using the UK allocation is standard.
  • MW broadcasting using 10 kHz steps (standard in ITU Region II).


The Falkland Islands has a modern telecommunications network providing fixed line telephone and ADSL and dial-up internet services in Stanley.

Telephony is provided to outlying settlements using microwave radio.

A GSM mobile network was installed in 2005 which provided coverage of Stanley, Mount Pleasant and surrounding areas.


There are a number of sports clubs on the Falklands, including Badminton, Clay Pigeon Shooting, Cricket, Football, Golf, Hockey, Netball, rugby union, Sailing, Swimming, Table Tennis and Volleyball. The Falklands compete in the biannual Island Games.


The Falkland Islands has two airports with paved runways. RAF Mount Pleasant, thirty miles west of Stanley, acts as the main international airport, with flights operated by the Royal Air Force to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, England via a refuelling stop at RAF Ascension Island. RAF flights are on TriStars although it is common for charter aircraft to be used if the TriStars are required for operational flights. At present (December 2007) the RAF air link is operated by Omni Air International, using DC-10s. Weekly flights are also available to/from Santiago, Chile, operated by LAN Airlines.

Port Stanley Airport is a smaller airport outside the city, and is used for internal flights. Most settlements have grass air strips which are served by Islander aircraft of the Falkland Islands Government Air Service (FIGAS). The internal flight schedule is decided a day in advance according to passenger needs and an announcement made on the radio detailing arrival and departure times the night before. The British International (BRINTEL) company also operate two Sikorsky S61N helicopters for passenger flights between the islands. The British Antarctic Survey operates a transcontinental air link between the Falkland Islands and the Rothera base airfield, servicing also other British bases in the British Antarctic Territory using a de Havilland Canada Dash 7.

The road network has been improved in recent years. However, not too many paved roads exist outside Stanley and the RAF base.

Landmines and ordnance

Approximately twenty five thousand land mines remaining from the 1982 war are securely and clearly fenced off. Free maps are available from the EOD ( Explosive Ordnance Disposal) office in Stanley. Care should still be taken as some beaches were mined, and there have been concerns the tides could have moved some mines. The same applies where mine fields are close to rivers. Care should be taken in case mines have been washed out of the marked area by flooding. There is also ordnance left over from the war, although finds of this type are becoming rarer with the passage of time.

In February 2005, the charity Landmine Action proposed a Kyoto-style credit scheme, which would see a commitment by the British government to clear an equivalent area of mined land to that currently existing in the Falklands in more seriously mine-affected countries by March 2009. This proposal was supported by Falkland Islanders, for whom landmines do not pose a serious threat in everyday life, but the British government is yet to declare its support or opposition to the idea.


Badge of the Falkland Islands Defence Force
Badge of the Falkland Islands Defence Force

The island has a number of royal marines stationed on it at most times, but also has its own defence force known as the Falkland Islands Defence Force. This is one Company in size. It is completely funded by the Falklands government and uses vehicles such as; Quad bikes, Inflatable boats and Land Rovers to traverse the islands terrain. The Falkland Islands Defence Force uses the Steyr AUG as its main assault rifle.

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