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The Jason Islands (Spanish: Islas Sebaldes) are an archipelago in the Falkland Islands, lying to the far north-west of West Falkland. Three of the islands, Steeple Jason, Grand Jason and Clarke's Islet are private nature reserves owned by the Wildlife Conservation Society, New York. Other islands in the group are National Nature Reserves owned by the Falkland Islands Government.
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The Spanish name for the archipelago is Islas Sebaldes, however, this is sometimes subdivided into "Islas los Salvajes" (western, Grand Jason, and Steeple Jason) and "Islas las Llaves" (eastern, Flat Jason, Seal Rocks and North Fur Island),. No such distinction exists in English-language toponymy.
The Jason Islands are somewhat geologically distinct. Ian Strange says,
sharply rising peaks give them a grandeur found in few other areas of the archipelago.
An archipelago in the region of the Falkland Islands appeared on maps from the early 16th century, suggesting they may have been sighted by Ferdinand Magellan's or another expedition of the 16th century. Amerigo Vespucci is believed to have sighted the islands in 1502, but did not name them. Both explorers were in Spanish service. In 1519 or 1520, Esteban Gómez of the "San Antonio", one of the captains in the expedition of Magellan, deserted this enterprise and encountered several islands, which members of his crew called "Islas de Sansón y de los Patos" ("Islands of Samson and the Ducks"). Although these islands were probably the Jason Islands, the names "Islas de Sansón" (or "San Antón," "San Son," and "Ascensión") were used for the Falklands as a whole on Spanish maps during this period.
It was on his homeward leg back to the Netherlands after having left the Straits of Magellan that Sebald De Weert noticed some unnamed and uncharted islands, or at least islands that did not exist on his nautical charts. There he attempted to stop and replenish but was unable to land due to harsh conditions. The islands Sebald de Weert charted were the present day Jason Islands. De Weert then named these islands the "Sebald de Weert Eilanden" ("Sebald de Weert Islands" in English) which became to be known to the world as the Sebald Islands. Since 1766, these have been officially known as the "Jason Islands", in the Falklands and throughout the British Empire. Even so, some used the name "Sebald Islands" (or Spanish versions "Islas Sebaldinas" or "Sebaldes" for short) for many years to come. Today the British name, "Jason Islands", is fairly universal.
Between 1864 and 1866, approximately two million rockhopper and gentoo penguins were killed on the Jasons and boiled to extract their oil. None of the islands has ever been inhabited, but until the 1980s they were used for grazing sheep - one or two buildings remain.
In March 1970, the islands were bought by Len Hill. Hill famously once issued some now sought-after banknotes in their name to raise money for conservation there. The notes indicate a validity until the 31 December 1979 and are signed by "Len Hill - Administrator". By a stroke of fate, the Jason Islands were offered to Hill for £10,000, which included sheep that had been stocked by the previous owner. After some negotiation, he bought the islands for £5,500 without the sheep.
Two of the Jason Islands, Steeple Jason Island and Grand Jason Island, were bought by New York philanthropist Michael Steinhardt in the 1990s, who later donated them to the Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society. He also gave them US$ 425,000 to build a conservation station named after himself and his wife Judy.
"Steeple and Grand Jason were stocked with cattle and up to 5,000 sheep from the late 19th century to about 1968." Overgrazing has left parts of these two islands badly eroded. Elephant Jason was stocked from 1967 to 1971. Since then, the sheep have been removed and the islands have been managed as nature reserves. Fire has been a problem on South Jason. Apart from an infestation of mice on Steeple Jason, the islands in the group are free of introduced predators.
They are now run as a nature reserve.
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