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The Falkland Islands, also known as Malvinas (French Îles Malouines, Spanish Islas Malvinas), are a group of islands in the southern Atlantic Ocean. They belong geographically to South America and lie 395 km east of South Argentina and Tierra del Fuego. The Falkland Islands are a British overseas territory with internal autonomy. The United Kingdom is responsible for defence and foreign policy. They have been claimed by Argentina since 1833.
The Falkland Islands were part of the ancient continent of Gondwana about 400 million years ago. Originally located off the east coast of South Africa, a small fragment of crust that today makes up the islands was isolated and drifted westwards. During the Jurassic, about 170 million years ago, the land that today forms East and Westphalia turned by about 120°.
The Falkland Islands consist of about 200 islands, whose most important Westphalian and East Falkland islands are each about 6,000 km² (140 km × about 50 km). The northern parts of the two main islands are covered by chains of hills. They run in a west-east direction and reach a height of 708 m in Mount Usborne on Ostfalkland. The second highest mountain is called Mount Adam and is located on Westfalkland.
Between East and West Falkland runs the wide Falklandsund, where Port Howard lies. The East Island itself is also almost divided into two halves by a long fjord (near Darwin); on its east coast facing the Atlantic is the capital Stanley with about 2000 inhabitants. Of the remaining 200 islands, only about five are larger than 10 km².
The present landscape of the Falkland Islands was formed by the repeated glaciations in the Ice Age. A glacial erosion landscape was formed. Fjords, humps and lakes formed by the ice are typical. In the post-glacial period many areas are moorland due to the humid and cold climate.
Since 1985, Falkland has had its own constitution, which was replaced in 2008 by a new constitution that came into force on 1 January 2009. The Legislative Council consists of the Governor, the Chief Executive and eight members elected for four years. Since Falkland parties have no meaning, they are independent. Colin Roberts has been governor since April 2014. South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands are jointly administered by the Governor as Commissioner. The Government (Executive Council) is composed of the Governor, the Chief Executive, the Financial Secretary and three members of Parliament. The latter are elected by Parliament for a term of one year.
Falkland has its own currency, the Falkland Pound. This is linked 1:1 to the British pound. The foreign trade deficit accounts for about half of the gross domestic product, so the islands are totally dependent on Britain. Gross domestic product per capita is around 20,800 euros (2003). At 6 %, unemployment is below the UK average.
Besides hides and tallow, products from widespread sheep farming are the traditional export commodity wool; the main trading partner is Great Britain. In addition, fishing and fish processing have become increasingly important since the mid-1980s. When the whales are cut up, fish bone and whale oil are produced. Today, the fishing industry accounts for over 50% of the islands’ gross domestic product. The islands have no other industry or industrial production.
Another economic pillar is the granting of fishing licences to foreign companies. This sometimes leads to conflicts with the neighbouring country Argentina, which claims the islands and in this case takes the view that excessive fishing in this region leads to ecological damage, also in the Argentinean part of the South Atlantic.
Every year, around 60,000 tourists visit the island. The majority of them, however, are day-trippers who stop here on cruises. The annual number of tourists arriving by air is estimated at 1600. Tourism contributes about 4 million pounds to the gross domestic product and thus accounts for the second largest share after the fishing industry.
The discovery of large oil fields off the islands led to renewed political tensions between Britain and Argentina in the late 1990s. Since then, these fields have been explored by various companies, including Falkland Oil & Gas. The British company Desire Petroleum began drilling for oil and gas in Falkland Island waters on 22 February 2010. The first oil was found in May 2010.