The Falkland Islands are an archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean on the Patagonian Shelf. The principal islands are about 300 miles (500 km) east of South America’s southern Patagonian coast, at a latitude of about 52°S.
The archipelago, with an area of 4,700 square miles (12,200 km²), comprises East Falkland, West Falkland and 776 smaller islands. As a British overseas territory, the Falklands have internal self-governance, with the United Kingdom taking responsibility for their defence and foreign affairs.
The islands’ capital is Stanley, on East Falkland.
Controversy exists over the Falklands’ discovery and subsequent colonisation by Europeans. At various times, the islands have had French, British, Spanish, and Argentine settlements. Britain reasserted its rule in 1833, although Argentina maintained its claim to the islands. In 1982, after Argentina’s invasion of the islands, the Falklands War resulted in the surrender of Argentine forces and the return of the islands to British administration.
The population (2,932 inhabitants in 2012) primarily consists of native Falkland Islanders, the majority of British descent. Other ethnicities include French, Gibraltarian and Scandinavian. Immigration from the United Kingdom, the South Atlantic island of Saint Helena, and Chile has reversed a population decline. The predominant (and official) language is English.
Under the British Nationality (Falkland Islands) Act 1983, Falkland Islanders are British citizens.
The islands lie on the boundary of the subarctic oceanic and tundra climate zones, with both major islands having mountain ranges reaching 2,300 feet (700 m). They are home to large bird populations, although many no longer breed on the main islands because of competition from introduced species. Major economic activities include fishing, tourism and sheep farming, with an emphasis on high-quality wool exports. Oil exploration, licensed by the Falkland Islands Government, remains controversial as a result of maritime disputes with Argentina.
Flag of the Falkland Islands
The Falkland Islands have been claimed and occupied by several nations throughout its history, who generally used their national flags on the islands. It wasn’t until 1876 that the islands were given a flag of their own, which consisted of a Blue Ensign defaced with the seal of the islands – an image of HMS Hebe (which brought many of the early British settlers to the islands, including Richard Moody, in the 1840s) in Falkland Sound, overlooked by a bullock (representing wild cattle which once roamed the islands).
A new coat-of-arms for the islands was introduced on 16 October 1925, consisting of the Desire (which was captained by John Davis who is reputed to have discovered the islands in 1592) and a Sea Lion in a shield surrounded by the motto of the islands, Desire the Right. This coat-of-arms later replaced the image of the bullock and ship on the flag.
On 29 September 1948 the flag was updated to include the new coat-of-arms (a ram above the Desire on shield with the motto below) superimposed upon a white disc. The flag was banned by the Argentine military junta from 2 April-14 June 1982, during their occupation of the islands, when it was replaced by the flag of Argentina.
In 1999 the size of the arms was increased and the white disc removed to create the current flag. The Falkland Islands Red Ensign was created by The Merchant Shipping (Falkland Islands Colours) Order 1998, No. 3147 of 1998, which came into force in 1999 and which contains a picture of the ensign containing the Falkland arms on a white disc. Red Ensign with the Falklands coat of arms superimposed is used as the islands’ civil ensign. Previously the plain red ensign was used by ships in the territorial waters around the Falklands.
The Governor of the Falkland Islands uses a Union Flag defaced with the coat of arms. It was this flag that was raised at Government House in Stanley by the Royal Marines at the end of the Falkland War, signifying the liberation of the islands.
Since its approval, the Falklands flag has been used to represent the Falkland Islanders internationally. In 2011, in support of Argentina’s claim to the islands, the members of Mercosur banned Falklands flagged vessels from entering their ports. Vessels flying the Falklands Civil Ensign are required to re-flag with the Red Ensign to enter Mercosur ports.
The flag was flown from several HM Government buildings in London, including 10 Downing Street and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Whitehall, on 14 June 2012 to mark the 30th anniversary of the islands’ liberation.
Coat of arms of the Falkland Islands
The coat of arms of the Falkland Islands was granted to the Falkland Islands on 29 September 1948. It consists of a shield containing a ram on tussock grass in the field with a sailing ship underneath and the motto of the Falklands (Desire the Right) below.
The ship represents the Desire, the vessel in which the English sea-captain John Davis is reputed to have discovered the Falkland Islands in 1592; the motto, Desire the Right, also refers to the ship’s name. The ram represents sheep farming, which until recently was the principal economic activity of the islands, and the tussock grass shows the most notable native vegetation.
In 1876 the islands were granted a seal consisting of an image of HMS Hebe (which brought many of the early British settlers to the islands, including Richard Moody, in the 1840s) in Falkland Sound, overlooked by a bullock (representing wild cattle which once roamed the islands).
A new badge for the islands was introduced on 16 October 1925, consisting of the Desire sinister and a Sea Lion dexter in a shield (per bend or and azure) with the motto of the islands as a slogan. This was replaced by the current coat of arms on 29 September 1948.
Per fess azure and barry wavy argent and azure, in chief a ram proper upon a grassy mount issuant from the division vert, and in base a galley proper, its mainsail charged with four torts in cross.
The Falkland Islands take their name from the Falkland Sound, a strait separating the archipelago’s two main islands. The name “Falkland” was applied to the channel by John Strong, captain of an English expedition, which landed on the islands in 1690. Strong named the strait in honour of Anthony Cary, 5th Viscount of Falkland, the Treasurer of the Navy who sponsored their journey. The Viscount’s title originates from the town of Falkland, Scotland, whose name comes from “folkland” (land held by folk-right). The name was not applied to the islands until 1765, when British captain John Byron of the Royal Navy, claimed them for King George III as “Falkland’s Islands”. The term “Falklands” is a standard abbreviation used to refer to the islands.
The Spanish name for the archipelago, Islas Malvinas, derives from the French Îles Malouines—the name given the islands by French explorer Louis-Antoine de Bougainville in 1764.
Bougainville, who founded the islands’ first settlement, named the area after the port of Saint-Malo (the point of departure for his ships and colonists). The port, located in the Brittany region of western France, was in turn named after St. Malo (or Maclou), the Christian evangelist who founded the city.
At the twentieth session of the United Nations General Assembly, the Fourth Committee determined that, in all languages other than Spanish, all UN documentation would designate the territory as Falkland Islands (Malvinas). In Spanish, the territory was designated as Islas Malvinas (Falkland Islands). The nomenclature used by the United Nations for statistical processing purposes is Falkland Islands (Malvinas).
Although Fuegians from Patagonia may have visited the Falkland Islands in prehistoric times, the islands were uninhabited at the time of their discovery by Europeans.
Claims of discovery date back to the 16th century, but no consensus exists on whether these early explorers discovered the Falklands or other islands in the South Atlantic.
The first recorded landing on the islands is attributed to English captain John Strong, who, en route to Peru’s and Chile’s littoral in 1690, discovered the Falkland Sound and noted the island’s water and game.
The Falklands remained uninhabited until the 1764 establishment of Port Louis on East Falkland by French captain Louis Antoine de Bougainville, and the 1766 foundation of Port Egmont on Saunders Island by British captain John MacBride. Whether the settlements were aware of each other’s existence or not, is subject to debate among historians.
In 1766, France surrendered its claim on the Falklands to Spain, which renamed the French colony Puerto Soledad the following year. Problems began when Spain discovered Port Egmont; an imminent war, caused by Spain’s capture of the port in 1770, was avoided by its restitution to Britain in 1771.
Both the British and Spanish settlements coexisted in the archipelago until 1774, when Britain’s new economic and strategic considerations led it to voluntarily withdraw from the islands, leaving a plaque claiming the Falklands for King George III. Spain’s Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata became the only governmental presence in the territory. West Falkland was left abandoned, and Puerto Soledad became mostly a prison camp. Amid the British invasions of the Río de la Plata, caused by the ongoing Napoleonic Wars in Europe, the islands’ governor evacuated the archipelago in 1806; Spain’s remaining colonial garrison followed suit in 1811, except for gauchos and fishermen who remained voluntarily.
Thereafter, the archipelago was visited only by fishing ships; its political status was undisputed until 1820, when Colonel David Jewett, an American privateer working for the United Provinces of the Río de la Plata, informed anchored ships about Buenos Aires’ 1816 claim to Spain’s territories in the South Atlantic.
Since the islands had no permanent inhabitants, in 1823 Buenos Aires granted German-born merchant Luis Vernet permission to conduct fishing activities and exploit feral cattle in the archipelago. Vernet settled at the ruins of Puerto Soledad in 1826, and accumulated resources on the islands until the venture was secure enough to bring settlers and form a permanent colony.
Buenos Aires named Vernet military and civil commander of the islands in 1829, and he attempted to regulate sealing to stop the activities of foreign whalers and sealers. Vernet’s venture lasted until a dispute over fishing and hunting rights caused a raid by the American warship USS Lexington in 1831, when United States Navy commander Silas Duncan “declared the island government at an end”.
Buenos Aires attempted to retain influence over the settlement by installing a garrison, however a mutiny in 1832 was followed the next year by the arrival of British forces who reasserted Britain’s rule. The Argentine Confederation (headed by Buenos Aires Governor Juan Manuel de Rosas) protested Britain’s actions, and Argentine governments since then continue to register official protests against Britain. The British troops departed after completing their mission, leaving the area “a kind of no man’s land”. Vernet’s deputy, the Scotsman Matthew Brisbane, returned to the islands that year to restore the business, but his efforts ended after, amid unrest at Port Louis, gaucho Antonio Rivero led a group of “malcontents” to murder Brisbane and the settlement’s senior leaders; survivors hid in a cave on a nearby island until the British returned and restored order. In 1840, the Falklands became a Crown colony, and Scottish settlers subsequently established an official pastoral community. Four years later, nearly everyone relocated to Port Jackson, considered a better location for government, and merchant Samuel Lafone began a venture to encourage British colonisation.
Stanley, as Port Jackson was soon renamed, officially became the seat of government in 1845.
Early in its history, Stanley had a negative reputation due to cargo-shipping losses; only in emergencies would ships rounding Cape Horn stop at the port. Nevertheless, the Falklands’ geographic location proved ideal for ship repairs and the “Wrecking Trade”, the business of selling and buying shipwrecks and their cargoes. Aside from this trade, commercial interest in the archipelago was minimal due to the low-value hides of the feral cattle roaming the pastures. Economic growth began only after the Falkland Islands Company, which bought out Lafone’s failing enterprise in 1851, successfully introduced Cheviot sheep for wool farming, spurring other farms to follow suit. The high cost of importing materials, combined with the shortage of labour and consequent high wages, meant the ship repair trade became uncompetitive. After 1870, the ship repair trade declined as the replacement of sail ships by steamships was exacerbated by the low cost of coal in South America; by 1914, with the opening of the Panama Canal, the trade effectively ended.
In 1881, the Falkland Islands became financially independent of Britain. For more than a century, the Falkland Islands Company dominated the trade and employment of the archipelago; in addition, it owned most housing in Stanley, which greatly benefited from the wool trade with the UK.
In the first half of the 20th century, the Falklands served an important role in Britain’s territorial claims to Subantarctic islands and a section of Antarctica. The Falklands governed these territories as the Falkland Islands Dependencies starting in 1908, and retained them until their dissolution in 1985. The Falklands also played a minor role in the two world wars as a military base aiding control of the South Atlantic. In the First World War Battle of the Falkland Islands in December 1914, a Royal Navy fleet defeated an Imperial German squadron.
In the Second World War, following the December 1939 Battle of the River Plate, the battle-damaged HMS Exeter steamed to the Falklands for repairs. In 1942, fear of a Japanese seizure of the archipelago caused a battalion en route to India to be redeployed to the Falklands as a garrison. After the war ended, the Falklands economy was affected by declining wool prices and the political uncertainty resulting from the revived sovereignty dispute between the United Kingdom and Argentina.
Simmering tensions between the UK and Argentina increased during the second half of the century, when Argentine President Juan Perón asserted sovereignty over the archipelago.
The sovereignty dispute intensified during the 1960s, shortly after the United Nations passed a resolution on decolonisation which Argentina interpreted as favourable to its position.
In 1965, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 2065, calling for both states to conduct bilateral negotiations to reach a peaceful settlement of the dispute.
From 1966 until 1968, the UK confidentially discussed with Argentina the transfer of the Falklands, assuming its judgement would be accepted by the islanders.
An agreement on trade ties between the archipelago and the mainland was reached in 1971 and, consequently, Argentina built a temporary airfield at Stanley in 1972.
Nonetheless, Falklander dissent, as expressed by their strong lobby in the UK Parliament, and tensions between the UK and Argentina effectively limited sovereignty negotiations until 1977.
Concerned at the expense of maintaining the Falkland Islands in an era of budget cuts, the UK again considered transferring sovereignty to Argentina in the early Thatcher government. Substantive sovereignty talks again ended by 1981, and the dispute escalated with passing time.
In April 1982, the disagreement became an armed conflict when Argentina invaded the Falklands and other British territories in the South Atlantic, briefly occupying them until a UK expeditionary force retook the territories in June.
After the war, the United Kingdom expanded its military presence, building RAF Mount Pleasant and increasing the size of its garrison. The war also left some 117 minefields containing nearly 20,000 mines of various types, including anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines.
Due to the large number of deminer casualties, initial attempts to clear the mines ceased in 1983.
Based on Lord Shackleton’s recommendations, the Falklands diversified from a sheep-based monoculture into an economy of tourism and, with the establishment of the Falklands Exclusive Economic Zone, fisheries.
The road network was also made more extensive, and the construction of RAF Mount Pleasant allowed access to long haul flights.
Oil exploration has also begun, with indications of possible commercially exploitable deposits in the Falklands basin.
Landmine clearance work restarted in 2009, in accordance with the UK’s obligations under the Ottawa Treaty, and Sapper Hill Corral was cleared of mines in 2012, allowing access to an important historical landmark for the first time in 30 years.
Argentina and the UK re-established diplomatic relations in 1990; relations have since deteriorated as neither can agree on the terms of future sovereignty discussions.
Disputes between the governments have led “some analysts to predict a growing conflict of interest between Argentina and Great Britain … because of the recent expansion of the fishing industry in the waters surrounding the Falklands”.
The Falkland Islands are a self-governing British Overseas Territory. Under the 2009 Constitution, the islands have full internal self-government; the UK is responsible for foreign affairs, retaining the power “to protect UK interests and to ensure the overall good governance of the territory”. The Monarch of the United Kingdom is the head of state, and executive authority is exercised on the monarch’s behalf by the Governor, who in turn appoints the islands’ Chief Executive on the advice of members of the Legislative Assembly.
Both the Governor and Chief Executive serve as the head of government.
The Governor acts on the advice of the islands’ Executive Council, composed of the Chief Executive, the Director of Finance and three elected members of the Legislative Assembly (with the Governor as chairman).
The Legislative Assembly, a unicameral legislature, consists of the Chief Executive, the Director of Finance and eight members (five from Stanley and three from Camp) elected to four-year terms by universal suffrage.
All politicians in the Falkland Islands are independent; no political parties exist on the islands.
Since the 2013 general election, members of the Legislative Assembly receive a salary and are expected to work full-time, giving up all previously held jobs or business interests.
Due to its link to the UK, the Falklands are part of the overseas countries and territories of the European Union. The islands’ judicial system, overseen by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, is largely based on English law, and the constitution binds the territory to the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights. Residents have the right of appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and the Privy Council.
Law enforcement is the responsibility of the Royal Falkland Islands Police (RFIP), and military defence of the islands is provided by the United Kingdom. A British military garrison is stationed on the islands, and the Falkland Islands government funds an additional company-sized light infantry Falkland Islands Defence Force. The territorial waters of the Falklands extend to 200 nautical miles (370 km) from its coastal baselines, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea; this border overlaps with the maritime boundary of Argentina.
The United Kingdom and Argentina claim the Falkland Islands. The UK’s position is that the Falklanders have not indicated a desire for change, and that there are no pending issues to resolve concerning the islands.
The UK bases its position on its continuous administration of the islands since 1833 (except for 1982) and the islanders’ “right to self-determination as set out in the UN Charter”.
Argentine policy maintains that Falkland Islanders do not have a right to self-determination, claiming that in 1833 the UK expelled Argentine authorities (and settlers) from the Falklands with a threat of “greater force” and, afterwards, barred Argentines from resettling the islands.Argentina posits that it acquired the Falklands from Spain when it achieved independence in 1816, and that the UK illegally occupied them in 1833.
In 2009, British prime minister Gordon Brown met with Argentine president Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, and said that there would be no further talks over the sovereignty of the Falklands. In March 2013, the Falkland Islands held a referendum on its political status, and 99.8 percent of voters favoured remaining under British rule.
Argentina does not recognise the Falkland Islands as a partner in negotiations; consequently, it dismissed the Falkland Islands’ sovereignty referendum.
The Falkland Islands have a land area of 4,700 square miles (12,200 km²) and a coastline estimated at 800 miles (1300 km). Two main islands, West Falkland and East Falkland, and about 776 smaller islands constitute the archipelago. The islands are predominantly mountainous and hilly, with the major exception the depressed plains of Lafonia (a peninsula forming the southern part of East Falkland). The Falklands are continental crust fragments resulting from the break-up of Gondwana and the opening of the South Atlantic that began 130 million years ago. The islands are located in the South Atlantic Ocean, on the Patagonian Shelf, about 300 miles (500 km) east of Patagonia in southern Argentina.
The Falklands lie approximately at latitude 51°40′ – 53°00′ S and longitude 57°40′ – 62°00′ W.
The archipelago’s two main islands are separated by the Falkland Sound, and its deep coastal indentations form natural harbours.
East Falkland houses Stanley (the capital and largest settlement), the UK military base at RAF Mount Pleasant, and the archipelago’s highest point: Mount Usborne, at 2,313 feet (705 m). Outside of these significant settlements is the area colloquially known as “Camp”, which is derived from the Spanish term for countryside (Campo).
The climate of the islands is cold, windy and humid maritime. Daily weather variability is normal throughout the archipelago. Rainfall is common over half of the year, averaging 610 millimetres (24 in) in Stanley, and sporadic light snowfall occurs nearly all year.
The temperature is generally between 21.1 °C (70 °F) and -11.1 °C (12 °F) in Stanley, but can vary to 9 °C (48 °F) early in the year and -1 °C (30 °F) in July. Strong westerly winds and cloudy skies are common. Although numerous storms are recorded each month, conditions are normally calm.
The Falkland Islands are a biogeographical part of the mild Antarctic zone, with strong connections to the flora and fauna of Patagonia in mainland South America.
Land birds make up most of the Falklands’ avifauna; 63 species breed on the islands, including 16 endemic species. There is also abundant arthropod diversity on the islands.
The Falklands’ flora consists of 163 native vascular species. The islands’ only native mammal, the warrah (or Falkland Islands fox), was hunted to extinction by European settlers.
The islands are frequented by marine mammals, such as the southern elephant seal and the South American fur seal, and various types of cetaceans; offshore islands house the rare striated caracara. Endemic fish around the islands are primarily from the genus Galaxias.
The Falklands are treeless and have a wind-resistant vegetation predominantly composed of a variety of dwarf shrubs.
Virtually the entire area of the islands is used as pasture for sheep. Introduced species include reindeer, hares, rabbits, Patagonian foxes, pigs, horses, brown rats and cats.
The detrimental impact several of these species have caused to native flora and fauna has led authorities to attempt to contain, remove or exterminate invasive species such as foxes, rabbits and rats. Endemic land animals have been the most affected by introduced species.
The extent of human impact on the Falklands is unclear, since there is little long-term data on habitat change.
The economy of the Falkland Islands is ranked the 222nd largest out of 229 in the world by GDP (PPP), and ranks 10th worldwide by GDP (PPP) per capita. The unemployment rate was 4.1 percent in 2010, and inflation was last calculated at 1.2 percent rate in 2003.
Based on 2010 data, the islands have a high Human Development Index of 0.874 and a moderate Gini coefficient for income inequality of 34.17. The local currency is the Falkland Islands pound, which is pegged to the British pound sterling.
Economic development was advanced by ship resupplying and sheep farming for high-quality wool. During the 1980s, although synthetic fibres and ranch underinvestment hurt the sheep-farming sector the government established a major revenue stream with the establishment of an exclusive economic zone and the sale of fishing licenses to “anybody wishing to fish within this zone”. Since the end of the Falklands War in 1982, the islands’ economic activity has increasingly focused on oil field exploration and tourism.
The port city of Stanley has regained the islands’ economic focus, with an increase in population as workers migrate from Camp. Fear of dependence on fishing licences and threats from overfishing, illegal fishing and fish market price fluctuations have increased interest on oil drilling as an alternative source of revenue; exploration efforts have yet to find “exploitable reserves”. Development projects in education and sports have been funded by the Falklands government, without aid from the United Kingdom.
The primary sector of the economy accounts for most of the Falkland Islands’ gross domestic product, with the fishing industry alone contributing between 50% to 60% of annual GDP; agriculture also contributes significantly to GDP and employs about a tenth of the population. A little over a quarter of the workforce serves the Falkland Islands government, making it the archipelago’s largest employer. Tourism, part of the service economy, has been spurred by increased interest in Antarctic exploration and the creation of direct air links with the United Kingdom and South America.
Tourists, mostly cruise ship passengers, are attracted by the archipelago’s wildlife and environment, as well as activities such as fishing and wreck diving; the majority are based in accommodations found in Stanley.
The islands’ major exports include wool, hides, venison, fish and squid; its main imports include fuel, building materials and clothing.
The Falkland Islands are a homogeneous society, with the majority of its inhabitants descended from Scottish and Welsh immigrants who settled the territory in 1833.
The 2006 census listed some Falklands residents as descendants of French, Gibraltarians and Scandinavians.
That census indicated that one-third of residents were born on the archipelago, with foreign-born residents assimilated into local culture. The legal term for the right of residence is “belonging to the islands”. The British Nationality Act of 1983 gave British citizenship to Falkland Islanders.
A significant population decline affected the archipelago in the twentieth century, with many young inhabitants departing the islands in search of a modern lifestyle and better job opportunities. In recent years, the island’s population decline has steadied thanks to immigrants from the United Kingdom, Saint Helena and Chile.
In the 2012 census, a majority of residents listed their nationality as Falkland Islander (59 percent), followed by British (29 percent), Saint Helenian (9.8 percent), and Chilean (5.4 percent).
A small number of Argentines also live on the islands.
The Falkland Islands have a low population density. According to the 2012 census, the average daily population of the Falklands was 2,932, excluding military personnel serving in the archipelago and their dependents. A 2012 report counted 1,300 uniformed personnel and 50 British Ministry of Defence civil servants present in the Falklands. Stanley (with 2,121 residents) is the most-populous location on the archipelago, followed by Mount Pleasant (369 residents, primarily air-base contractors) and Camp (351 residents).
The islands’ age distribution is skewed towards working age (20–60). Males outnumber females (53 to 47 percent), and this discrepancy is most prominent in the 20–60 age group.
In the 2006 census most islanders identified themselves as Christian (67.2 percent), followed by those who refused to answer or had no religious affiliation (31.5 percent).
The remaining 1.3 percent (39 people) were adherents of other faiths.
Education in the Falkland Islands, which follows England’s system, is free and compulsory for residents aged between 5 and 16 years. Primary education is available at Stanley, RAF Mount Pleasant (for children of service personnel) and a number of rural settlements. Secondary education is only available in Stanley, which offers boarding facilities and 12 subjects to General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) level. Students aged 16 or older may study at colleges in England for their GCE Advanced Level or vocational qualifications. The Falkland Islands government pays for older students to attend institutions of higher education, usually in the United Kingdom.