Visiting Peaks National Park, St Helena

By Dani Baigorri

A Best 2.0 funded project entitled: ‘Trails and interpretation improvements in the Peaks National Park, St Helena’ kicked off on April 2016, implemented by the Environmental Management Department (EMD). It aimed to improve the trail facilities in the Peaks National Park by installing boardwalk, stairs, handrails and a hiking shelter, clearing vegetation away from 8,000 metres of overgrown trails. During the implementation my role as Best 2.0 Project Officer for SAERI requires me to know the island and the team behind the project. Although the project was completed on July 2017, when I had the opportunity of visiting the beautiful island of Saint Helena, in January 2018, I contacted the project manager Lourens Malan who kindly gave me a tour of the park and I was able to see with my own eyes what incredible work he and the crew had done.






Before my walk through the park, Mike Jervois, former project manager, gave me a summary of how it had been for the past twelve months working on the Peaks and we discussed the challenges of the project implementation.

The Peaks National Park consists in three peaks Mount Actaeon, Diana’s Peak and Cuckold’s Point. On a clear day the Peaks offers stunning views right across the Island. Views from the Peaks are spectacular down towards Sandy Bay, and as the route follows a ridge there are views either side (obviously!). Since recently having wooden stairs fitted near to the peaks as part of the St Helena Government – EMD project under the umbrella of the BEST 2.0 programme and with the financial support of the European Union, the increased accessibility of the paths is now a great way for more people from the island and visitors to take in the sights of the island, as long as you pick the right weather! But if you didn’t, just be patient! Even if it is cold and cloudy when you get to the top, wait a bit! It might clear up!










The walk started from EMD’s Peaks nursery through a clearly marked and steep track, the first peak reached is Mount Actaeon, and has a large pine on the summit. Continuing on, the path drops slightly and then climbs back up to reach Diana’s Peak itself. This is part of the cloud forest of the Island and has many endemic insects and endemic plants, including massive tree ferns thriving in the moist environment (expect it to be wet….and possibly cloudy). From Diana’s Peak the walk continues to the third peak along the ridge which is Cuckold’s Point.











It was so beautiful to walk on the grassy path surrounded by fern, trees and flowers! Amazing!


Falklands Fur Seal Census

By Al Baylis

Like most fur seal populations, Falklands fur seals were severely depleted by unregulated sealing in the 1700s and 1800s. By the 1920s, the government took drastic steps to protect the remaining fur seals from poachers. This included armed guards stationed on Elephant Jason Island and a patrol vessel. In an effort to assess population size and status, government naturalists also undertook counts in the mid-1920s. These counts revealed 400 pups on Elephant Jason, 50 at Volunteer Rocks and just 4 pups at Bird Island (West Falkland). Several breeding sites were visited again in the 1950s, when 10,000 fur seals of all ages were estimated (rather than counted). More recent surveys in the 1960s and 1980s by local naturalist Ian Strange revealed the Falklands fur seal population had continue to recover and numbered about 20,000 seals of all age classes.

To continue to monitor the recovery of the Falklands fur seal population, SAERI in collaboration with the Falkland Islands Fisheries Department, undertook an archipelago wide census in Jan 2018. The census was timed to occur after peak pup laying, which is mid to late December. Pups are of interest because they are the primary count unit for seal censuses and provide an index of population size and a reliable proxy of overall changes in abundance.

For the 2018 census we used a UAV because fur seals typically breed in dense colonies, on rocky remote rocks or rocky outcrops on the fringes of islands, which makes ground counts impractical. We visited all known fur seal breeding colonies and photographed each colony (the UAV was flown at height of 30 m and the seals didn’t blink an eye). The only downside to the UAV, is the 3,000 photographs that I am yet to count. However, as a brief overview of results. Fur seals breed at 10 sites around the Falklands. The largest breeding colonies are East and West Jason Cay, and Seal Rocks, all in the North West of the Falklands. Bird Island is also important, but it isn’t the largest breeding colony. As a rather conservative guess (so please don’t quote this!), the number of pups is roughly 10,000. This means the Falklands is the second largest breeding colony in the Atlantic (Uruguay has 30,000 pups, Argentina has <2,000 pups) – and is much more important than currently recognised. Results will be available at the end of 2018, but it is fantastic to see the continued recovery of the Falklands fur seal population.

A special thanks to landowners for access to fur seal colonies, the crew of the Protegat who made the census a success, and Falklands Conservation and Sulivan shipping for equipment loan.


Burrowing seabirds survey on Bird Island (Falkland Is.) 4-11th Jan 2018

By Amy Guest

Surveys of burrowing seabirds were carried out on Bird Island (Falkland Is.) by visiting researchers Dr Paulo Catry, University of Glasgow’s Dr Ewan Wakefield and student Allan Stokes, accompanied by SAERI’s Amy Guest, ornithologist Megan Boldenow, and University of Montana’s PhD student T.J Clark.

The trip began with a FIGAS flight to Weddell Island before the four-hour boat journey on The Golden Fleece, hugging the Port Stephens coastline until they reached Bird Island. Before long, the island was alive with the noise of dozens of chatty Fur Seals and thousands of nesting seabirds.

Camping amongst the thick tussac grass, they were treated to not only the best of Falkland’s weather, but also daily sightings of 20-30 bird species, as well as South American Fur Seals and Southern Sea Lions. By day three, there was even a lone and unassuming Southern Elephant Seal that decide to spend a few days resting not too far from Dr Catry’s tent!

The group had a successful week counting burrows of Thin-Billed Prions and Wilson’s Storm Petrels, and took measurements of birds in occupied nests. Evidence of the birds leaving and returning to their burrows was also captured using motion and heat sensing camera traps laid out by the team at the beginning of the week.

Making the most of the summer’s daylight hours, the team were also able to record additional information such as counting cliff-side nests of Dolphin Gulls, Brown Skuas, Rock and Imperial Shags, and also collected ticks from various seabird species to aid an ongoing multi-site study.

Special thanks go out to Brian, Monica and Andrew on Weddell Island and Jerome, Dave and Evie on the Golden Fleece for their hospitality and help in making the trip possible.

(Photos by T.J. Clark, A. Guest and P. Catry)



Falkland Islands student intern Amy Guest

The Gap Project

I started my placement year at SAERI in September 2017 as an assistant to the Gap Project, where my time has been primarily spent managing data and entering the metadata records to the IMS-GIS Database for scientific research undertaken in the islands over the past three decades. It certainly has proved interesting to see the different types of research carried out, from environmental surveys to GPS tagging of seabirds and marine mammals by academic researchers.

On the Water at Port Howard

November saw me escaping office duties for a week to head ‘out West’ to help with the surveying of Commerson’s Dolphins (Cephalorhynchus commersonii) as part of SAERI’s ‘Dolphins of the Kelp’ team. Despite chilly southerly winds most days, we had a successful week on the SMSG rib boat photographing, identifying and cataloguing hundreds of dolphins which included some of this year’s new born calves. The team also successfully retrieved anchored C-Pods that had been recording evidence of passing cetaceans throughout the winter months.

A Helping Hand in the Lab

Besides the office and field work, I was also able to assist SAERI PhD student Tom Busbridge with some of his research in the lab at the Fisheries Department. This included taking body measurements, weights, genetic samples and otoliths from Southern Blue Whiting (Micromesistius australis).

Coming up…

In the New Year I hope to begin collecting data for my undergraduate thesis which will look at microplastics in the Falklands marine environment.

I’m also especially excited to be heading out to Bird Island, a wildlife haven at the very south of West Falkland, to assist with Petrel surveys with researchers Dr Paulo Catry and Dr Ewan Wakefield. Rumour has it that it isn’t the easiest place to land a zodiac, so fingers crossed the weather allows for a smooth landing!

It certainly has been a busy first few months, with more and more opportunities appearing almost weekly. I have very much enjoyed these first few months and hope I’ve proved to be a useful addition to the very welcoming, wonderful SAERI team!

Mapping the extraordinary habitats of South Georgia

Pop pop pop pop pop. That seems to be the noise that a shattered glacier makes as the tiny pieces of ice float out into the bay that it spills in to. It is a still day and this is the noise filling Royal Bay, the site we’re currently visiting. Like a million thousand year old ice cubes melting in a gin and tonic that is 8km wide.

Peters Glacier Cheapman Bay ©SAERI

Royal Bay is our twelfth location that we have visited as part of an ambitious joint project to map the habitats of South Georgia. All being well we have a good twenty locations to go.

We are here to record the variety and extent of animal and botanical land habitats around the frozen interior of the island. We are armed with some simple tools: a white 30cm ruler, a pocket camera, a clip board (importantly, with water proof cover), pencils (also waterproof) and a ‘GPS’ navigation gizmo. (Okay, GPS isn’t altogether simple.)

We have been tramping up and down hills, through waist-high swampy Tussac grass, across fragrant herbfields made of Burnet with its sticky burrs, and gingerly along beaches with perpetually angry Fur Seals and -mostly- placid Elephant Seals.

Several sets of major influences are causing South Georgia’s habitats to change. A changing climate is arguably the most systemic. However, introduced Reindeer used to graze large regions, and Norway rats and house mice, also introduced, have until recently preyed on birds, insects and eaten vegetation.

It is striking how much influence the presence of animals has on habitats here. Burrowing birds from the petrel family can transform a hillside into a highly fertile Tussac habitat with their faeces. So no rats may mean more birds, meaning more fertilisation, meaning recovering habitats.

Light Mantled Sooty Albatrosses in Tussac ©SAERI

A Darwin Plus funded project led by SAERI, in partnership with the Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Oregon State University, Shallow Marine Survey Group, Falkland Islands Government and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee aims to build an island-wide coastal map that will allow the Government to see how the island is changing and therefore how to best work with that change.

Lush mossy habitats ©SAERI

For our small part of the project we are supported by the most excellent MV Pharos, a tough red and white ship with a hard working crew and an awesome galley. We’re lucky enough to be sharing the trip with an inspiring team from the South Georgia Heritage Trust, here to check if rats have finally been removed.

For the next four weeks we will be working our way up the east coast, visiting bay after bay, each one a natural wonder, many with glaciers whose size are hallucinatory and seem to emanate a deep luminous blue. Humpback Whales have started to appear, some doing turns in the air as they leap out of the water.

To say there are penguins here would be an understatement. Some beaches are impossible to find a path through as there are too many feathered parents raising noisy chicks crowding the place out.

It is uplifting to be able to visit and briefly work in a country whose natural heritage is not only in good shape, but is actually getting better and better. An example of visionary management.

Sacha Cleminson & Carlos Leiva

Mapping lobster biomass and the utilities/services on Tristan da Cunha. QGIS reaches the remotest inhabited island of the world!

by iLaria Marengo

Working with GIS and as data manager is exciting, but it becomes even more when the job is taking you to unusual places such as Tristan da Cunha, a small volcanic island in the middle of the Southern Atlantic ocean surrounded only by other two smaller islands, Inaccessible and Nightingale and, further south, Gough.

all_sa_ukots  tristan-group

The project to realise an Information Management System and GIS centre for the South Atlantic UKOTs has reached its final destination and a proper conclusion after three years of life. Getting to Tristan is all but easy thus it took time to arrive, meet the small community and bring QGIS and a flavour of data management in such a remote place.

The QGIS course was not planned in advance but day by day once in Tristan. In fact it was thought that could be more effective to tailor the lessons according to the main needs and existent GIS skills of the users. The majority of the time was spent at the fisheries and electricity and plumbing departments. The directors showed a great interest in receiving a GIS course and their requirement were very specific. They ranged from being able to map lobster biomass per monitoring station, lobster catch (total and average per fishing season) and effort around Tristan, to the network of services, utilities and structures of the settlement of Edinburgh of the seven seas.

total_catch_tristan   tristan-tourism

A series of maps (geological topographical and aerial) have been georeferenced to provide the students with a reference background. Currently the main need is to find a clear image of the settlement as it will help digitising the electricity, water and sewage networks, the buildings and other utilities such as substations, streetlights, stone water tanks and so on.

crawford_map  geological_map

Unfortunately on the island internet is very limited and not reliable. Among the whole South Atlantic UKOTs Tristan has the smallest band width, hence it is virtually impossible to download images or connect to google earth like everyone else would do in the other territories. In terms of GIS a poor internet is partly a limitation as getting new plugins, google maps or updates of the software becomes very difficult. The solution is to work with the long term release releases and get large data (such as imagery) saved as offline images and shipped in on DVDs.

In parallel to the GIS course, time was spent in harvesting metadata. The departments involved in the training course provided metadata about their data and RSPB kindly helped in gathering information on environmental data captured throughout the years with the help of the local conservation department. Almost 40 metadata records were collected and will be available on the metadata catalogue online from the end of November.

Finally, few hours were dedicated with officers of the tourist office and advice on QGIS mapping techniques was given to improve the current maps given to the tourists landing at Tristan. Using QGIS will make mapping much easier and quicker than what is now, entirely based on graphic design software.

The GIS course delivered in Tristan focussed on simple and basic tools that could help straightway the GIS users in achieving their requirements. Indeed, more can be done with GIS but the overall idea, after being on the island, is to let the GIS grow a step at a time according to people’ needs.

Geocaching in Tristan da Cunha

By iLaria Marengo

Learning about projections and coordinate systems, navigation techniques, compass and bearing, and the use a Global Positioning System (GPS) nowadays can be a bit funnier thanks to geocaching, a modern version of the traditional treasure hunt.

In brief, geocaching consists in getting a pair of coordinates, loading them into a GPS and using the device to navigate to the point where a small box, the geocache, has been hidden. The cache is a small waterproof box and generally contains a logbook and the treasure, which usually are tiny items that have a particular meaning for the person who placed them. The people who find the cache are free to take its objects (except the logbook) but they must leave something of similar value.


It was an unexpected but pleasant surprise to find out that in Tristan da Cunha, the remotest inhabited island in the world, a series of caches had been hidden by the local tourist office as part of a commemorative geotrail. The 200 anniversary of the British Garrison in Tristan da Cunha was celebrated with parties and various initiatives and setting up a geotrail was one of these.

The opportunity of being the first to do the geotrail was then seized and seen as the best way to engage the oldest students of Saint Mary’s School to have an open air geography lesson about projections, maps and the use of GPS for navigation and marking spatial objects. Thanks to Anne, the head teacher who authorised the half day out, and the help of Sarah, fisheries officer, the kids in class 5 were taken around the settlement to learn how to use a GPS, how to mark a waypoint, enter coordinates of a point and navigate to it in order to find it. The day before the “hunt”, the six pupils were asked to write on a small piece of paper why they enjoyed living in Tristan. The papers would have placed in each cache as treasure for the next geocachers.

ticket_geotrail   ticket_geotrail2

A map of the settlement with a sketch of the geotrail, the coordinates of each cache and a description of the importance of each site in the context of the British garrison period was given to the kids for reference.

geotrail_leafletThe kids of class 5 learned very quickly how to use the GPS in the two hours of cache hunting and navigation. The day before rained heavily, however the muddy and soaked fields did not spoil the day and the amusement of the kids. The hope is to have passed to the kids a new skill which they can well use in Tristan and in any job with conservation, fisheries and public work.

kids_geotrail1   kids_geotrail

It would have been great to show the kids how to map the points in QGIS. However, there was not enough time to plan for a GIS lesson, which was instead given to some of their parents!

New publication on ingestion of anthropogenic material by turkey vultures in the Falklands

A new study by SAERI was recently published in the journal Polar Biology presenting the first results on the amount of human rubbish ingested by turkey vultures in the Falkland Islands, in particular plastic. The paper is entitled “Anthropogenic debris in the diet of turkey vultures (Cathartes aura) in a remote and low populated South Atlantic island“.

Turkey vultures at the Stanley opern rubbish tip (photo: Amélie Augé)

Turkey vultures at the Stanley open rubbish tip (photo: Amélie Augé)

The abstract of the paper is: “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 (<3,000), 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 1.6g. 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.”

A piece was published in the local newspaper (the Penguin News) last Friday about the results and is available online.

If you want a copy of the full paper, contact me and I’ll send you the pdf.

SAERI staff participate in Ascension Island MPA workshop in London

Ascension Island is a tiny island in the middle of the South Atlantic, right below the equator. The land area of the island is very small with its 88 km2, but it comes with a large marine Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ) of 445,390  km2 administered by the Ascension Island Government (AIG). The island is one of the UK Overseas Territories. As part of the Blue Belt initiative for the UKOTs by the UK Government, some of the islands’ waters are going to become a large no-take MPA with a fishing closure area to be designed for 50% of the area.

AIG ran a workshop on 18 April 2016 at the Foreign Commonwealth Office in London where three SAERI staff were invited: Dr Paul Brickle, Tara Pelembe and me, Dr Amélie Augé. The workshop called ‘Towards an evidence-based MPA for Ascension Island: Ensuring scientifically robust marine spatial planning’ aimed:

“1. To review current knowledge of Ascension Island’s marine environment in the context of marine spatial planning and sufficiency for marine reserve designation.
2. To draw up a prioritised and costed list of research that still needs to be completed, including both pre-designation evidence gathering and subsequent monitoring.
3. To discuss practical aspects of delivering the science plan, including logistics and legacy planning

The ultimate objective of the scientific programme will be to integrate all available fisheries and ecological data within a formal marine spatial planning framework to ensure that any future large-scale MPA is placed in the most appropriate location.” [extracts from workshop material]

The workshop provided a great venue to discuss aspects of scientific needs to design the MPA and an MSP process to assist AIG in developing best practice to define what areas should be closed and a science program. SAERI has been involved with several marine reseach projects (and will be with others in the future) that provided important data on fish and benthic habitats around the island and were used in the discussions. I also gave a short presentation about the MSP process in the Falklands, showcasing the production of the MSP GIS database and its online application: the prototype Falklands MSP webGIS. This showed an example of how AIG could produce scientific tools to facilitate the identification of areas where the no-zone take would provide the most conservation benefits. Links between the two territorites will hopefully be developed in the future to share experience and expertise for MSP research.

Dr Amélie Augé presenting the Falklands MSP process to the participants

Dr Amélie Augé presenting the Falklands MSP process to the participants

The Minister for the UKOTs joined the participants at the end of the day and Dr Judith Brown (AIG Director of Fisheries, workshop organiser and facilitator) gave a summary of the day’s discussions and conclusions to the Minister who, then, provided insights in the importance of the process for the UK Government, and thanked the participants for their inputs.

Dr Jude Brown summarising the workshop day to UK Minister for the UKOTs

Dr Jude Brown summarising the workshop day to UK Minister for the UKOTs

An evening reception at the end of the workshop provided great networking opportunities with the participants, along with a range of other invited guests from various NGOs and UK Governement representatives. My walk back to the hotel after the reception provided beautiful nighttime views of London, a change from the Stanley night lights!

London at night (photo: Amélie Augé)

London at night (photo: Amélie Augé)

Amélie’s attendance was funded as part of the Darwin Plus project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands‘.

Marine Spatial Planning: Mapping historical whale sightings to manage the future!

——————————-This blog post was written by Veronica Frans, research assistant at SAERI in the Darwin Plus-funded project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands’  team. The Environmental Planning Department financially supported the study via their Environmental Studies Budget. An edited version of this blog post was published in the Penguin News on 29 April 2016.——————————————————————

Last year in October, a blog post was written about the Marine Spatial Planning team’s efforts to capture the story of whale recovery in the Falkland Islands’ waters. I travelled all around the Islands, interviewing people about where and when they had seen whales throughout their lifetime, and if they could recall a difference between the numbers they saw in the past and what they see today. I also went through museum archives, government and whaling records, old newspapers, Falklands Conservation reports and scientific publications. The results are finally in and it seems that indeed, a story can be told!

Increase in whale sightings since the 1970s when none were seen

Increase in whale sightings since the 1970s when none were seen

Interviewee accounts have indicated that many whales were often or always seen in the Falkland Islands’ waters in the 1940s and 50s, but in the 60s and 70s, there were very few to virtually no observations. Commercial whaling ended worldwide in the 1980s. Since the 1990s, the number of observations has increased and skyrocketed for the 2010s, since we still have half a decade left to go! The older generations could recall having seen whales in their childhood, but noticed their absence and recent return; most interviewees representing the younger generation, however, had stated that they did not recall seeing their first whale until adulthood.



The majority of whales seen in the Falkland Islands’ inshore waters are sei whales, followed by fin whales, minke whales, southern right whales and humpback whales. Sighting hotspots were found, with the highest concentrations in Berkeley Sound, Falkland Sound and the large bays of West Falkland.


Whale observation hotspots since the 1990s

One interviewee described the increase in whale sightings as an “explosion of whales” and others stated that they were “glad to see they’re back and [they] like seeing them”. To many local residents, the return of the whales in the Falklands’ waters may be obvious, but we now have data to study the recovery and tell the story to the rest of the world. Locally, the findings from this study can be used in Marine Spatial Planning by informing FIG on potentially important areas for the whales, and when they are most likely to be present in these waters.

Peak of whale sightings: January to March each year

Peak of whale sightings: January to March each year


I and the rest of the Marine Spatial Planning team thank all participants again for their contribution, as well as those who provided other useful sources of information for this study.