News Article | May 8, 2017
The minefields laid in the Falkland Islands were intended to kill or maim British soldiers, but over the last 35 years they have become de facto nature reserves for penguins. For better or worse, however, the time has now come for their home to be demined, reports Matthew Teller. I'm following a crunching gravel path leading up over a headland. To one side stretches a sweeping curve of white sand, backed by tussocky dunes, the coarse grass mixed with a low-growing plant bearing tartly sweet red berries that the locals call diddle-dee. But it's the sound that startles. Overlaying the booming ocean is a comical honking noise coming from thousands of Magellanic penguins. One, guarding its burrow beside the path, stretches its neck up at me, then lets out an ear-splitting, wing-waggling bray of displeasure. I can see why these penguins are known locally as jackasses. The beach, also dotted with waddling clusters of Gentoo penguins, looks tempting, but between me and the birds stretches a barbed-wire fence marked with signs warning of danger. This is Yorke Bay, just outside Stanley, capital of the Falkland Islands. Once a popular leisure beach, it was here, at 04:30 on the morning of 2 April 1982, that Argentine naval commandos landed, marking the start of a full-scale invasion. By the time British forces retook Stanley 74 days later, 907 people had lost their lives, most of them Argentine conscripts. During the occupation, one of the Argentine military's first actions was to lay tens of thousands of land mines across the uncultivated countryside to slow a British counter-attack - especially a seaborne attack via the beaches around Stanley, including Yorke Bay. Fortunately, the landmines aren't a problem for the penguins - at least, not the little Magellanics and Gentoos of Yorke Bay. "They don't seem to be heavy enough to set them off," says Esther Bertram, chief executive officer of Falklands Conservation. Behind their fences, shielded from human encroachment, the penguins have had decades of peace and quiet in their minefield. Native flora has regrown around them. "Natural systems have returned to not quite a pristine state, but a state where you've reached climax communities in certain parts," says Paul Brickle, director of the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute. "The mines are horrible things, and very difficult to remove - you essentially have to get on your hands and knees to do that, remove bits of earth and dunes, and disrupt the ecosystem. There's a bit of a trade-off in thinking: what are the benefits of having them removed?" he asks. Initially at least, not everyone in the islands' tiny, close-knit population of 3,000 was supportive. "Falkland Islanders weren't enthused by the idea, to put it bluntly," says Barry Elsby, a member of the Falklands Legislative Assembly. "We would rather have left the minefields as they were. They are all clearly marked, clearly fenced. No civilian has ever been injured. We said to the British government, 'Don't spend the money here, go to some other country where they have a much greater need to free up farming land.'" "Unfortunately," Elsby adds, "the British government have signed up to the Ottawa convention, which puts a duty on them to do this." The 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty compels signatories - which include the UK - to clear minefields in territory under their control. So whatever the locals - and the penguins - thought, the mines had to go. Since 2009 the British government has spent tens of millions of pounds on mine-clearance in the Falklands. Guy Marot of the Falkland Islands Demining Programme Office oversees a team of largely Zimbabwean operatives, highly valued for their long experience of demining in their home country and further afield. He takes me out to one of the clearance sites. In a setting of wide open moorland, battling gales and driving rain, demining specialist Innocent Mudzamiri, fully kitted out with protective clothing and visor, explains how he approaches his job, lying prone in the boggy peat, painstakingly clearing dirt from around devices that could blow up in his face. "It's just caution. You have to do it gently, so that you don't disturb the mine," he says. "Your mind must be free - no thinking of home, or thinking whatever, but just concentrate." So far, Mudzamiri and his colleagues have cleared more than seven million square metres of mostly rough countryside. But now, Phase 5 of the demining programme is seeing sensitive sites of environmental concern, such as Yorke Bay, come up for clearance. The Falkland Islands Government is part of the way through drawing up an environmental impact assessment, examining the risks and benefits from demining wildlife-rich sites. Yorke Bay is particularly difficult, since in 1982 mines were placed on top of the sand dunes, but, over 35 years, the dunes have changed shape and shifted with the wind. Even with the detailed charts handed over by Argentina to the UK after the war, it's impossible now to know where the mines might be - they could have drifted far from their original position or become buried deep below the surface. The deminers are facing having to dig up the entire beach, perhaps with armoured machinery, and sift it all. The idea is to do that during the winter, while the penguins are out at sea. But their habitat, and the wider ecosystem, could be entirely destroyed. Another potential hazard is tourism, a key driver of the Falklands economy. About 50,000 people visit the islands annually, most of them day-trippers from cruise ships plying the waters around South America and Antarctica. Each time a cruise ship docks, hundreds of passengers at a time come ashore to see the wildlife. If Yorke Bay is reopened, its easy-to-reach location - barely 10 minutes' drive from Stanley - could make it a magnet for tourist traffic. Another source of worry comes from the locals. Most beaches in the Falklands are on private land. But Yorke Bay is publicly owned - and opening it up could revive its pre-war status as one of Stanley's most popular getaways. There are already concerns about quad-biking and livestock grazing on public land outside the Yorke Bay fences. Whether the rejuvenated land within the minefield could be protected when the fences come down remains uncertain. In 2010 Marot oversaw the clearance of Surf Bay, another beach near Stanley, which held 1,800 mines. Today, as locals ramble over dunes and on to its sandy beach to walk their dogs, it's hard to discern the damage that was done. "The re-establishment is remarkable," says Marot. "The processes used at the time included blowing up the anti-tank mines in situ. The holes here were 10m deep in some places - this was a moonscape. But then we put all the sand back on top, and tried to do it in a way that would allow nature to eventually recover completely, which is what you see now." So the Falklands is facing a head-on clash between the obligation to clear mines and the imperative for environmental conservation. Meanwhile the honking jackasses behind the Yorke Bay fences are thriving, ironically because of one of the worst things humanity can do - start a war. Join the conversation - find us on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter.
Ashford J.R.,Old Dominion University |
Fach B.A.,Middle East Technical University |
Arkhipkin A.I.,Falkland Islands Government |
Jones C.M.,Old Dominion University
Fisheries Research | Year: 2012
We used a wind-driven global circulation model to build spatially explicit predictions from rival hypotheses concerning advective supply of Patagonian toothfish (Dissostichus eleginoides) to a trawl fishery around the Falkland Islands, and tested the predictions using chemistry recorded in the otoliths of fish caught in the fishery. Model simulations indicated transport pathways from spawning aggregations off southern Chile to both the north and south of the fishing area. In contrast, simulated particles released from spawning aggregations around Burdwood Bank were transported to the south of the fishing area but not to the north, becoming fully entrained in the Subantarctic Front instead. Spatial heterogeneity in the chemistry laid down in the otolith nuclei during early life discounted the hypothesis of a single population with a spawning area on Burdwood Bank, and indicated that fish assemblages are structured by large-scale transport from both southern Chile and Burdwood Bank. By linking fish explicitly to their physical environment, the two techniques can help distinguish the life cycle trajectories necessary for populations to persist, and elucidate the interactions between hydrography and life history that structure the fish assemblages on which marine fisheries depend. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.
Otley H.,Falkland Islands Government |
Smith J.,Stanley Inc. |
Dalebout M.L.,University of New South Wales
Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom | Year: 2012
Records of beaked whales stranded in the Falkland Islands and at South Georgia were collated for the period 1866 to 2008. Thirty-eight records, involving at least seven species in four genera, were documented. Strap-toothed whales (Mesoplodon layardii Gray, 1865) were the most common species with 11 records, including two neonates. Andrews' beaked whales (M. bowdoini Andrews, 1908), Arnoux's beaked whales (Berardius arnuxii Duvernoy, 1851), Cuvier's beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris Gray, 1823), Gray's beaked whale (M. grayi van Haast, 1876), Hector's beaked whales (M. hectori Gray, 1871) and southern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon planifrons Flower, 1882) were recorded on three to five occasions. In several cases, records suggested potential temporal changes in range. For example, Arnoux's beaked whale has not been recorded in the Falkland Islands since 1965, whilst Gray's beaked whale was not recorded prior to 1981, and Andrews' beaked whale was not recorded before 1987. Although the number of records for each species is low, this could reflect changes in water temperatures and/or prey availability. Overall, this study confirms that the Falkland Islands-Tierra del Fuego region is one of the world's key areas for beaked whales. © 2012 Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom.
Granadeiro J.P.,University of Lisbon |
Phillips R.A.,Natural Environment Research Council |
Brickle P.,Falkland Islands Government |
Catry P.,Eco Ethology Research Unit
PLoS ONE | Year: 2011
Fisheries have major impacts on seabirds, both by changing food availability and by causing direct mortality of birds during trawling and longline setting. However, little is known about the nature and the spatial-temporal extent of the interactions between individual birds and vessels. By studying a system in which we had fine-scale data on bird movements and activity, and near real-time information on vessel distribution, we provide new insights on the association of a threatened albatross with fisheries. During early chick-rearing, black-browed albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris from two different colonies (separated by only 75 km) showed significant differences in the degree of association with fisheries, despite being nearly equidistant to the Falklands fishing fleet. Most foraging trips from either colony did not bring tracked individuals close to vessels, and proportionally little time and foraging effort was spent near ships. Nevertheless, a few individuals repeatedly visited fishing vessels, which may indicate they specialise on fisheries-linked food sources and so are potentially more vulnerable to bycatch. The evidence suggests that this population has little reliance on fisheries discards at a critical stage of its nesting cycle, and hence measures to limit fisheries waste on the Patagonian shelf that also reduce vessel attractiveness and the risk of incidental mortality, would be of high overall conservation benefit. © 2011 Granadeiro et al.
Baylis A.M.M.,Falklands Conservation |
Zuur A.F.,Highland Statistics Ltd |
Zuur A.F.,University of Aberdeen |
Brickle P.,Falkland Islands Government |
Pistorius P.A.,Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University
Ibis | Year: 2012
Detecting and predicting how populations respond to environmental variability are eminent challenges in conservation research and management. This is particularly true for wildlife populations at high latitudes, many of which demonstrate changes in population dynamics associated with global warming. The Falkland Islands (Southwest Atlantic) hold one of the largest Gentoo Penguin Pygoscelis papua populations in the world, representing c. 34% of the global population. The numbers of breeding Gentoo Penguins at the Falkland Islands have shown a high degree of inter-annual variability since monitoring commenced in 1990. However, proximate causes of annual variability in breeding numbers have not been explored. Here we examine 21years of Gentoo Penguin breeding surveys from the Falkland Islands and assess whether inter-annual variability in the number of breeding pairs were correlated with proxies of environmental variability. There was a positive correlation between the number of breeding pairs and a broad-scale climatic variation index, the Southern Oscillation Index (SOI). In turn, the SOI was significantly correlated with spring sea surface temperature anomalies, indicating a more immediate atmospherically forced response to El Niño Southern Oscillation variability in the Southwest Atlantic than previously reported. However, we also describe a non-linear response to environmental variability that may highlight foraging plasticity and/or the complexity of regional ecosystem interactions that operate across a range of different scales. © 2011 The Authors. Ibis © 2011 British Ornithologists' Union.
Yan L.,University of Mainz |
Schone B.R.,University of Mainz |
Arkhipkin A.,Falkland Islands Government
Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology | Year: 2012
Due to the lack of suitable high-resolution archives, regional and continental-scale climate dynamics of southern South America are not well understood. Shells of the long-lived, shallow-marine bivalve mollusk, Eurhomalea exalbida (Dillwyn), are likely to contain information on the past water temperatures. As yet, however, no rigorous calibration study has been presented so that growth history traits and the reliability of shell oxygen isotope-based temperature estimates remain unknown. Shell growth patterns and oxygen isotope ratios of four young specimens of E. exalbida from the Falkland Islands (Southwest Atlantic) were analyzed and cross-calibrated with environmental parameters. Results indicate that E. exalbida likely captured the full seasonal temperature amplitude in its shell. Annual growth line formation occurred between fall and early winter. The most remarkable finding, however, was that E. exalbida formed its shell with an offset of -0.48 to -1.91‰ from expected oxygen isotopic equilibrium with the ambient water. If this remained unnoticed, paleotemperature estimates would overestimate actual water temperatures by 2.1-8.3 °C. With increasing ontogenetic age, the discrepancy between measured and reconstructed temperatures increases exponentially, irrespective of the seasonally varying shell growth rates. We attribute this finding to a pH increase in the extrapallial fluid during ontogeny favoring a dominance of the (isotopically lighter) carbonate ions over (isotopically heavier) bicarbonate ions. When this disequilibrium fractionation effect is taken into account, E. exalbida can serve as a high-resolution paleoclimate archive for mid to high latitudes of southern South America providing quantifiable temperature estimates, even from single fossil specimens. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.
Hedd A.,Memorial University of Newfoundland |
Montevecchi W.A.,Memorial University of Newfoundland |
Otley H.,Falkland Islands Government |
Phillips R.A.,Natural Environment Research Council |
Fifield D.A.,Memorial University of Newfoundland
Marine Ecology Progress Series | Year: 2012
The distributions of many marine birds, particularly those that are highly pelagic, remain poorly known outside the breeding period. Here we use geolocator-immersion loggers to study trans-equatorial migration, activity patterns and habitat use of sooty shearwaters Puffinus griseus from Kidney Island, Falkland Islands, during the 2008 and 2009 nonbreeding seasons. Between mid March and mid April, adults commenced a ∼3 wk, >15 000 km northward migration. Most birds (72%) staged in the northwest Atlantic from late April to early June in deep, warm and relatively productive waters west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (∼43-55° N, ∼32-43° W) in what we speculate is an important moulting area. Primary feathers grown during the moult had average δ 15N and δ 13C values of 13.4 ± 1.8 and -18.9 ± 0.5‰, respectively. Shearwaters moved into shallow, warm continental shelf waters of the eastern Canadian Grand Bank in mid June and resided there for the northern summer. Migrant Puffinus shearwaters from the southern hemisphere are the primary avian consumers of fish within this ecosystem in summer. During migration birds flew for 78% of the day and 59% of the night, whereas when resident in the northern hemisphere they spent much of their time on the water (70% daylight, 90% darkness). Shearwaters moved south late August to mid September, completing the ∼30 000 km figure-of-eight round trip migration in ∼2 to 3 wk. The Northern Patagonian Shelf and Argentine Basin were used as a terminal stopover site, where most (79%) shearwaters spent ∼1 wk before first returning to the breeding colony for the season. Year-round tracking of seabirds aids the identification of important marine areas and highlights regions where conservation efforts need to be focused. © 2012 Inter-Research.
Winter A.,Falkland Islands Government |
Pompert J.,Falkland Islands Government |
Arkhipkin A.,Falkland Islands Government |
Brewin P.E.,Falkland Islands Government
Journal of Fish Biology | Year: 2015
Observer data from the commercial fishery on the Patagonian shelf and slope around the Falkland Islands (home to an assemblage of >16 skate species (Rajiformes), for which commercial catches have been recorded since 1987), as well as survey data from an area closed to skate target fishing after exploitation, were summarized by species to examine changes in the population status of individual skate species. Total skate catch per unit effort increased significantly in the target fishery since 1994, and four species have made up >85% of all skate catch. Bathyraja brachyurops and Zearaja chilensis increased significantly in catch proportions and abundance from 1994 to 2013. Bathyraja albomaculata and Bathyraja griseocauda decreased significantly before rebounding with trends of increasing abundance. Concurrently, B. brachyurops and Z. chilensis showed decreasing trends in size at 50% maturity in areas where skates continue to be targeted commercially. The increasing abundances and concomitant reductions in size at maturity of B. brachyurops and Z. chilensis suggest either plasticity in life-history traits or a density-dependent growth response to fishing pressure. Bathyraja griseocauda decreased in size at 50% maturity in the area that was closed to skate target fishing, where it was initially larger, but only decreased to the same average size as in the commercially targeted areas. Bathyraja albomaculata and Z. chilensis are IUCN-listed as vulnerable and B. griseocauda is listed as endangered, but their abundance trends since 1994 indicate that these populations are not declining in Falkland waters. © 2015 The Fisheries Society of the British Isles.
The composition of the cetacean community in the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands, southwest South Atlantic Ocean [Composición de la comunidad de cetáceos alrededor de las islas Malvinas, Océano Atlántico sudoccidental]
Otley H.,Falkland Islands Government
Revista de Biologia Marina y Oceanografia | Year: 2012
An evaluation of the stranding record for the period 1866 to September 2012 confirms that the Falkland (Malvinas) Islands cetacean community is composed of 7 species of baleen whale, 7 beaked whale species, sperm whale, 8 species of dolphin and 1 of porpoise. The stranding record supports the species composition based on at-sea surveys, but also confirms the presence of some rare, vessel-shy and/or offshore and deepwater species. Five species - long-finned pilot whale, Peale's dolphin, Commerson's dolphin, hourglass dolphin and sperm whale - are considered to have a regular presence in the Islands. Six species are considered infrequent, 11 are considered rare and 2 species had a historic presence but have not been recorded in recent years. The stranding record suggests potential temporal changes for some of these species, reflecting perhaps a recovery of their population from over-exploitation and/or changes in oceanographic conditions and/or prey availability.
Arkhipkin A.,Falkland Islands Government |
Brickle P.,Falkland Islands Government |
Laptikhovsky V.,Falkland Islands Government
Fisheries Research | Year: 2010
The red cod Salilota australis (Moridae) is an abundant fish that inhabits shelf and slope waters around the southern tip of South America. Despite its wide distribution in the Southwest Atlantic, red cod spawns predominantly in areas adjacent to two upwelling areas created by the cold-water Falkland Current in the west and southwest of the Falkland Islands. After their winter migrations from the Patagonian Shelf, red cod aggregate in dense spawning schools at depths between 180 and 200m in the periphery of these upwellings in water densities of Sigma-t between 26.55 and 26.65kg/m 3. The timing (September-October) and extent of the spawning peak of red cod correspond well with the spring peak in primary production in the water. Red cod spawn near upwelling areas with western-northwestern direction of water flow that produce eddies with warmer sea surface temperatures (∼2°C warmer) than the eastern eddies. Thus red cod make effective use of the Falkland Islands oceanography, spawning upstream in highly productive upwelling waters and then dispersing their pelagic larvae downstream in the warmer western branch of the Falkland Current over the Patagonian Shelf. © 2010 Elsevier B.V.