South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute

Stanley, Falkland Islands

South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute

Stanley, Falkland Islands
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News Article | May 8, 2017
Site: www.bbc.co.uk

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.


Brickle P.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute
Journal of Fish Biology | Year: 2012

Seasonal changes in relative abundance and biomass of nektonic predators were analysed on the eastern Patagonian Shelf and continental slope; one of the most productive large marine ecosystems of the southern hemisphere. Several migratory types were revealed for species belonging to either temperate or sub-Antarctic faunas. Despite high productivity, only a few large nektonic predators spend their entire life cycle on the eastern Patagonian Shelf and use only a small proportion of the meso-nektonic resource. Most of the resource is exploited by non-resident nektonic migrants, which move to the area from distant spawning grounds. Pelagic and demersal sharks and skates, the squid Illex argentinus, tunas and gadoids migrate to the eastern part of the Patagonian Shelf to feed at different times of the year; arriving in seasonal waves according to their life cycle and spawning seasonality. Some deepwater fishes and squid migrate onto the shelf as juveniles to harvest the resource, and then return to deepwater habitat as adults. It is hypothesized that the large biomass of meso-planktonic and meso-nektonic consumers prevents most higher-trophic level predators from establishing spawning populations in this area, as their larvae and fry would be overwhelmed by predation. Instead, the higher-trophic level predators establish spawning and nursery grounds elsewhere and arrive to feed on the meso-planktonic and meso-nektonic resources after they have outgrown their own stages of predation vulnerability. © 2012 The Authors. Journal of Fish Biology © 2012 The Fisheries Society of the British Isles.


Brickle P.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute
Fisheries Research | Year: 2013

The Patagonian Shelf ecosystem is considered to be a wasp-waist ecosystem controlled by medium-sized planktivores Patagonian squid Doryteuthis gahi, rock cod Patagonotothen ramsayi, and southern blue whiting Micromesistius australis. After the collapse of southern blue whiting stocks in 2004-2007, its role was overtaken by rock cod, which exhibited a 20-30 fold increase in catches and CPUEs. P. ramsayi is an important food source for all predatory fish; representing about half of the food consumption in hakes, toothfish, kingclip, and some skates. Its importance increases with increasing size of predator with rock cod gradually substituting a similar-sized squid. The explosion of rock cod abundance coincided with an increase of seasonal immigrants preying on this species (hakes and kingclip) that may have changed their migratory timing and patterns for better use of this food resource. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.


Catry P.,Eco Ethology Research Unit | Catry P.,University of Lisbon | Lemos R.T.,Southwest Fisheries Science Center | Lemos R.T.,University of Queensland | And 5 more authors.
Progress in Oceanography | Year: 2013

The ability to predict the distribution of threatened marine predators is essential to inform spatially explicit seascape management. We tracked 99 individual black-browed albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris from two Falkland Islands' colonies in 2. years. We modeled the observed distribution of foraging activity taking environmental variables, fisheries activity (derived from vessel monitoring system data), accessibility to feeding grounds and intra-specific competition into account. The resulting models had sufficient generality to make reasonable predictions for different years and colonies, which allows temporal and spatial variation to be incorporated into the decision making process by managers for regions and seasons where available information is incomplete. We also illustrated that long-ranging birds from colonies separated by as little as 75. km can show important spatial segregation at sea, invalidating direct or uncorrected extrapolation from one colony to neighboring ones. Fisheries had limited influence on albatross distribution, despite the well known scavenging behavior of these birds. The models developed here have potentially wide application to the identification of sensitive geographical areas where special management practices (such as fisheries closures) could be implemented, and would predict how these areas are likely to move with annual and seasonal changes in environmental conditions. © 2013 Elsevier Ltd.


Brown J.,University of Aberdeen | Brickle P.,University of Aberdeen | Brickle P.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute | Scott B.E.,University of Aberdeen
Journal of Helminthology | Year: 2013

The parasite fauna of juvenile Dissostichus eleginoides, while they inhabit the Falkland's shelf, was examined, giving new detailed information on spatial, ontogenic and seasonal variations. A total of 24,943 parasites from 15 different taxa were found in the stomach of 502 individual fish. Parasite species composition and abundance allowed separation of toothfish by area between the north-west and south-east of the Falklands. The digenean, Elytrophalloides oatesi, and the nematodes, Hysterothylacium spp. and Anisakis spp., were the most common, all with a prevalence >20%. For some seasons ontogenic changes in abundance were significant in these three parasite taxa, and this is discussed in terms of ontogenic and seasonal changes in diet. Elytrophalloides oatesi and Hysterothylacium spp. showed spatial and seasonal differences in abundance with greater numbers in the warmer waters of the north-west and during the summer months. Differences in abundance of E. oatesi between the Falklands and other regions indicate its potential for use as a biological tag to study toothfish movements and population structure; however, more seasonal data would be required before this technique could be used. © Cambridge University Press 2012.


MacKenzie K.,University of Aberdeen | Brickle P.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute | Hemmingsen W.,University of Tromsø | George-Nascimento M.,Catholic University of the Holy Conception
Fisheries Research | Year: 2013

The aims of the present study were to investigate the protozoan and metazoan parasite fauna of hoki Macruronus magellanicus in the Southwest Atlantic and Southeast Pacific and to identify parasites of potential value as biological tags for stock identification and migrations. In 2007 a total of 76 hoki were examined from three locations, two off the coast of Chile and one off the Falkland Islands. Two further samples were taken in 2009, one of 32 hoki taken from a position off the coast of Chile between those sampled in 2007 and one of 42 juvenile hoki taken off the Falkland Islands. Seventeen different parasite taxa were recorded, including eight identified to species. Seven were new host records for hoki, and at least three, and possibly as many as five, are new species. The most promising tag parasites for hoki stock identification are the long-lived larvae of the cestodes Hepatoxylon trichiuri and Pseudophyllidea gen. sp. and of the nematode Anisakis sp. Three others - the myxosporean Myxidium baueri, the nematode Pseudascarophis sp. and the acanthocephalan Echinorhynchus longiproboscis - were identified as potentially useful for following seasonal migrations of hoki and for estimating the proportions of fish of different origin in mixed samples. © 2013 Elsevier B.V.


Granadeiro J.P.,University of Aveiro | Brickle P.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute | Catry P.,Eco Ethology Research Unit
Animal Conservation | Year: 2014

Fisheries can have profound impacts on the structure and functioning of marine ecosystems and affect seabird populations. For seabirds, impacts can include direct mortality in fishing gear, but fisheries also represent an abundant source of food that may otherwise be inaccessible. Previous studies with seabirds have revealed the occurrence of individual foraging specializations, and therefore in scavenging species some individuals may have a higher propensity to feed on fisheries discharges than the rest of the population. Here we used recently developed techniques (spatio-temporal match of positions) to detect interactions between black-browed albatrosses Thalassarche melanophris and fishing vessels, and also stable isotope analysis of tissues with different turnovers, to investigate long-term individual specialization in fishery waste products. We combined global positioning system tracking data from 89 birds with vessel monitoring system data from the entire fleet operating around the Falklands Islands, in 2009 and 2011. Interactions with vessels (freezer/factory bottom trawlers) occurred in 15 out of 89 independent albatross trips. Among individuals tracked in both years, those that associated with fisheries in 2009 were not more likely to do so again in 2011. Carbon and nitrogen isotopic signatures in whole blood and feathers of albatrosses that interacted with trawlers were similar to those of individuals that did not. Also, we found no correlation between feather and blood isotopic ratios of carbon or nitrogen, indicating no long-term consistency in the isotopic niche of study birds. These results suggest no specialization of individual albatrosses with regard to fisheries. Studies of other albatrosses have also failed to show long-term trophic consistency, which may indicate that scavenging albatrosses, a group particularly threatened by fisheries activity, do not specialize in discards. Therefore, any management actions leading to a reduction of discards will be beneficial, decreasing the numbers of birds behind vessels and consequently the likelihood of incidental mortality. © 2013 The Zoological Society of London.


Auge A.A.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute
Polar Biology | Year: 2016

Plastic pollution is becoming an increasing issue for wildlife throughout the world. Even remote areas with relatively little human activity are affected. The Falkland Islands are a South Atlantic archipelago with a small human population (<3000), mostly concentrated in one town, Stanley. One hundred regurgitated pellets from turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) were collected in Stanley in July and August 2015 to investigate the diet and amount of anthropogenic debris (human-made artificial products) ingested. The frequency of occurrence of anthropogenic debris was 58 % of pellets for plastic, 25 % for glass, 23 % for paper, 21 % for aluminium and 3 % for fabric. Aside from anthropogenic debris, the majority of pellets were made of sheep wool (on average 29 % of the volume), feathers (19 %) and vegetation (18 %). On average, when present, anthropogenic debris corresponded to 16.1 % of the mass of each pellet, equivalent to 1.6 g. The turkey vultures are known to feed in the open-air rubbish dump near the town. This study highlights that they ingest significant amounts of anthropogenic debris. Further investigations should be undertaken to monitor and identify potential health effects. Other birds also use the dump and may be affected. Even in such remote sparsely populated islands, pollution may be a significant issue. Rubbish management could be put in place to limit birds from feeding at the dumps. A low human population density may not indicate low pollution impacts on wildlife and the environment and should be investigated further in the Falkland Islands and at other remote islands. © 2016 Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg


Frans V.F.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute | Auge A.A.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute
Biological Conservation | Year: 2016

Baleen whale populations have increased around the world after the end of commercial whaling in the 1980s. Anecdotes from local inhabitants of the Falkland Islands tell of an increase in whale sightings after an almost complete absence. However, no long-term monitoring exists to assess such recovery. With increasing maritime activities around the Islands, local managers need to understand the status and distribution of baleen whales to avoid impeding the potential recovery process. In the complete absence of scientific data, harvesting local ecological knowledge (LEK) from residents could provide means to assess whether whale numbers are increasing. We collected historical knowledge and mapped historical observations through structured interviews with 58 inhabitants and filtered observations for the highest reliability. We also collated existing historical catch and sighting data to compare species composition in inshore and offshore waters. A total of 3842 observations were compiled from the 1940s to 2015. This collation of information provided first-time evidence on the return of the whales in the Falkland Islands' waters. There was a clear increase in numbers of whales sighted, from no observations in the 1970s to 350 observations between 2010 and 2015 for similar effort, mostly of endangered sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) and fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus). We mapped contemporary whale sighting hotspots to inform current marine spatial planning efforts. The use of LEK is highlighted here as a useful way to gain a better understanding of changes in the status of threatened species when no scientific monitoring has been conducted. © 2016 Elsevier Ltd


Goodwin C.,National Museums Northern Ireland | Brewin P.E.,Shallow Marine Surveys Group | Brickle P.,South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute
Zootaxa | Year: 2012

Sponge samples were taken by SCUBA diving from sixteen sites on the north coast of South Georgia island, south west Southern Ocean. Fifteen new species are described: Iophon husvikensis sp. nov., Clathria (Clathria) stromnessa sp. nov., Clathria (Axosuberites) rosita sp. nov., Clathria (Microciona) matthewsi sp. nov., Lissodendoryx (Ectyodoryx) collinsi sp. nov., Hymedesmia (Hymedesmia) barnesi sp. nov., Hymedesmia (Stylopus) pharos sp. nov., Myxilla (Burtoanchora) ponceti sp. nov., Tedania (Tedaniopsis) aurantiaca sp. nov., Tedania (Tedaniopsis) wellsae sp. nov., Mycale (Mycale) brownorum sp. nov., Mycale (Mycale) cartwrighti sp. nov., Haliclona (Soestella) crowtheri sp. nov., Microxina myxa sp. nov. and Calyx shackletoni sp. nov. Information is also provided on the distribution and in situ external appearance of other sponge species such as Cinachyra barbata Sollas 1886, Polymastia invaginata Kirkpatrick 1907, Iophon unicorne Topsent 1907, Phorbas glaberrimus (Topsent 1917), Myxilla (Ectyomyxilla) kerguelensis (Hentschel 1914) and Rossella nuda Topsent 1901. These results increase the previously reported low sponge endemicity in South Georgia, which now better aligns with the high endemicity of other groups. However, because we sampled areas that have been poorly sampled in the Southern Ocean / Antarctic region (shallow subtidal, rocky), many of these species may have wider polar distributions. The effect of the Polar Front as a dispersal barrier to neighbouring biogeographic regions is discussed. Copyright © 2012 · Magnolia Press.

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