The economy of the Falklands was formerly based on agriculture mainly sheep farming but today fishing contributes the bulk of economic activity. Income from licensing foreign trawlers totals more than USD40 million per year with squid accounting for 75% of the fish taken. Agricultural activities mainly support domestic consumption with the exception of high grade wool which is exported. Surveys have revealed oil deposits within a 200 mile oil exploration zone around the islands and exploratory drilling is under way. The substantial British military presence provides a sizeable economic boost.
Tourism is being actively encouraged and increasing rapidly with about 66,000 visitors in 2009; a significant part of the increase is from visiting cruise liners. The majority of visitors are from the UK but efforts are being made to encourage wildlife and adventure tourism. The main season is November to March but angling for sea trout is most favourable outside of this period.
By the decided will of more than 98% of the resident population expressed in internationally monitored referenda, the Falklands are a United Kingdom Overseas Territory and are an associated territory of the European Union.
The Falklands have been claimed by Argentina as the Islas Malvinas for more than 180 years and were the site of a major conflict between the two countries after Argentina invaded in 1982. This resulted in the overthrow of the military dictatorship in Argentina after the invading army was defeated. Sovereignty issues continue to be raised by Argentine governments in the UN context while UK holds a strong military presence as a deterrent for further military actions.
Strong westerly winds are a constant in many parts of the islands. It is more likely to rain in the southeastern part of the islands with the far western islands getting very little yearly precipitation.
Although it is located almost exactly as far south as London is north of the equator, the absence of a warming current like the Gulf Stream means temperatures are considerably colder and snow may occur at any time except for January and February, although accumulation is rare. Most visitors come to the islands between November and March.
The Falklands is a victim of the Antarctic ozone hole, so it is important to wear sunscreen on sunny days during the early summer.
Flora and fauna
The most popular reason to visit is for the scenic beauty and the flora and fauna. Conservation is high on the Islands' agenda. Bird and marine species are the most prevalent fauna and include five species of penguin, four species of seal, albatross, petrels, the Falkland Flightless Steamer duck Logger Duck, other duck species, geese, hawks and falcons. The Striated Caracara Johnny Rook is a rare bird of prey found only on the Falkland Islands and some islands off Cape Horn. Porpoises and dolphins are often sighted with the occasional sighting of whales.
Although first sighted by an English navigator in 1592, the first landing English did not occur until almost a century later in 1690, and the first settlement French was not established until 1764. Since that time the islands have been the subject of ongoing territorial disputes, first between Britain and Spain, then between Britain and Argentina. For nearly two hundred years, and certainly since 1833, the islands have been under British control.
Open conflict between Britain and Argentina began on 2 April 1982 when Argentina landed troops on the islands. The British responded with an expeditionary force that landed seven weeks later. After fierce fighting in what is often known as the Falklands War, the Argentine occupation force was forced to surrender on 14 June 1982. Nonetheless, today successive Argentine governments continue to claim sovereignty over the archipelago.
The terrain is rocky and hilly, with some boggy terrain. Peat is found throughout the islands, leading to potentially dangerous fire conditions; once ignited, a peat fire can burn for months. The deeply indented coast provides good natural harbours. The highest point in the islands is the 2,313 ft 705m Mount Usborne mentioned by by Charles Darwin in the Zoology of the Voyage of the Beagle and named after the Master's Assistant on HMS Beagle, Alexander Burns Usborne, one of the crew on Darwin's famous voyage.