South Atlantic Information Management System and GIS Centre has kicked off!

By iLaria Marengo

Hello everyone! I am iLaria and this blog is the first of a series to keep you updated on the development of the South Atlantic Information Management System and GIS Centre. The first news, which I am delighted to provide you, is that the new SAERI programme has officially started! Although I am currently working in Aberdeen (Scotland) the first steps have been made and, to be honest, the initial weeks of the project are going to be full of interesting events. Nevertheless, before unveiling them, I would like to introduce briefly what the South Atlantic Information Management System, GIS Centre wants to achieve, and what my role is within SAERI.

As project manager and GIS specialist I will be responsible for the realisation of the South Atlantic Information Management System and GIS Centre whose aim is to make environmental data storage and management more efficient across the five South Atlantic UK OTs (Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension, St Helena).

Fronts Map

The main idea is to realise a centre able to underpin environmental research in the South Atlantic by assembling baseline information, managing knowledge and establishing linkages amongst researchers to make sure that nobody is “reinventing the wheel” and that the outstanding scientific work already carried out in the South Atlantic region is enhanced further.

The objective is to establish an information management system based on open source and to include shared GIS capabilities, accessible to all the territories, partners and external data users. In fact, to be effective and useful the GIS data centre should become the reference point for scientists, NGOs, developers and Governmental departments looking for data (raw and processed) about the South Atlantic region. GIS facilities and a structured and solid database management is the type of service that the centre would like to provide. Hence, it is important to work in synergy and identify priorities and what the data users and partners in the project need.

In addition, the centre will focus its attention in training OT personnel across the region to ensure that GIS and data management skills are built up in the region and dependence on outside assistance is reduced.

To be successful, this ambitious project requires the co-operation not only with the other 4 South Atlantic Overseas Territories but also with eternal partners such as BAS (British Antarctic Survey), private consultants and universities.

From the 30th of September until the mid of October my agenda is filled with meetings which will take me to tour the UK. I will start in Aberystwyth meeting Katie Medcalf who is Environment Director at Environment Systems. I hope to gain some good ideas for our South Atlantic Information Management System and GIS Centre by taking Katie’s practical experience and knowledge in using and applying GIS and open sources for handling and managing data as a model.

Next destination after Wales is Southern England, precisely Cambridge and London, where I will meet up with researchers at BAS and private consultant Alan Mills, who has already provided useful advice for setting up a GIS in Ascension Islands. The last ètape of the UK tour is Canterbury, where at DICE I will meet Zoe Davies and Bob Smith. Their work is to realise a land cover map for the Falkland Islands with the funding of the Darwin Plus funding. SAERI will support Zoe by providing expertise in GIS spatial data analyses.

I will then move to Gibraltar, where with Paul Brickle, director of SAERI, I will represent the Falkland Islands and we will join the GIS specialists from the other UK OTs. The event is a good opportunity for me to share knowledge about GIS and data management; to learn from others’ working experience; to gather useful ideas to develop the project and understand possible issues.

As you can evince, there are many people and countries to seen before my arrival to the Falklands. The enthusiasm and desire to provide a useful and efficient service for the South Atlantic community, from the researchers to the conservationists and the governmental bodies, is extremely high. Now that the project has kicked off, for SAERI and me it is time to work passionately to achieve the goal.

Watch out for the next update!

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Tracking top predators in the South Atlantic

By Dr Alastair Baylis who was in the Falklands in February and March 2013

Marine mammals (e.g. cetaceans and pinnipeds) are top predators in the world’s oceans. They can have important effects on ecosystem structure and function, and serve as indicators of ecosystem health. Several marine mammal species breed at the Falkland Islands. However of particular concern is a precipitous decline in the number of southern sea lions (Otaria flavescens) – now the focus of multi-year study. In the 1930’s the Falkland Islands was home to the largest population of southern sea lions in the world (pup production estimated to be 80,000). Between the 1930’s and 1990’s the population declined by 97% (reasons unknown). Today pup production is estimated to be less than 2,800. Despite this dramatic decline and failure to recover, surprisingly little is known about the foraging ecology of sea lions at the Falkland Islands – information that is vital in order to identify any potential impediments to population recovery.

Eager to redress knowledge gaps, a team of pinniped biologists lead by Dr Iain Staniland (BAS) and Dr Alastair Baylis (Deakin University, previously FC) successfully deployed 26 satellite tags on southern sea lions in 2011 and 2012. In 2013, working in collaboration with SAERI and FC, the team returned to the Falklands in order to deploy GPS units and dive loggers. These sophisticated devices collect fine scale location data and dive data – needed to better assess important at-sea areas for sea lions. With the help of Rachael Orben (UCSC Costa Lab) and Dr John Arnould (Deakin University) GPS units were successfully deployed and recovered (a first for Falklands sea lions), while valuable diet and genetic samples were also collected. In total 37 sea lions have now been tracked (adults and juveniles), and some initial results are presented in the figure below. The ambitious team is already planning the next season and hope to profile the foraging location and diet of sea lions from the largest breeding colonies on both East and West Falklands.
The research was generously supported by the Shackleton Scholarship Fund and a JNCC small projects grant, received through the Falkland Islands Government Environmental Planning Department. We extend our sincere thanks to SAERI, FIG EPD and FC for their invaluable support.

Photographed by Rachael Orben

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Melanie Mackenzie

I’m back in the Falklands for the second summer in a row, this time thanks to a Shackleton Scholarship Fund, and with the support of SAERI, SMSG and Museum Victoria – my usual workplace in Melbourne, Australia.

I was lucky enough to be delayed here for a few days last January on my way down to Antarctica on the James Clark Ross. As you can imagine, coming from a country known for its beaches and sunshine I was full of excitement at the prospect of the ‘unknown’ Antarctic which lay ahead… and not just at the thought of wearing the attractively padded BAS orange jumpsuit!

While waiting to join the scientific team for a benthic survey of the Weddell Sea, I was very fortunate to drop by FiPass where I met Paul Brickle of SAERI and Paul Brewin of SMSG/Fisheries, and was introduced to an active research lab and very interesting marine invertebrate collection.

And my particular interest you may ask? Well the enigmatic sea cucumber of course! Relatives of sea urchins and starfish, holothuroids are not only amazing little detritus-sifters, but some even brood-protect their young in pouches – and how can any self-respecting kangaroo-loving Aussie resist that?

I’m here for a month dividing my time between the lab at the Fisheries department (busily identifying sea cumbers) and office space at SAERI (where I’m assisting with collection management processes and an application for CITES institutional registration).

My ‘day job’ back in Australia is as a Marine Invertebrate Collection Manager in a natural history museum. While museum visitors marvel at our exhibition displays, many have no idea that behind the scenes is an extremely active research facility full of millions of specimens being studied by everyone from taxonomists and geneticists to students, engineers and artists. And while I spend my usual workday packing specimens, developing field guides, catching critters and generally looking after a jar-filled library of spineless specimens, I spend weekends and any spare time indulging in sea cucumber research.

Working with a small team of taxonomists lead by holothuroid-guru Mark O’Loughlin, we’ve identified thousands of sea cucumbers (including many new species) collected by teams from many different countries. We’ve also had the privilege of examining historic material from some early British-lead expeditions, including the Discovery material from 1925. And by the most pleasant of coincidences those very expedition reports are at long last being digitized thanks to Darwin sponsorship, by none other than the hard-working Dr Deborah (Debs) Davidson at SAERI. Enticed back to Stanley by the thought of working with sea cucumbers from the recent SAERI/SMSG shallow marine survey of South Georgia (the first comprehensive survey since the Discovery visit), I was also very excited to see that SAERI hold material from the Falklands and Ascension Islands…fingers-crossed I get a chance to see it all!

So I may only be here for a month, which is definitely not long enough to spend in the Falklands, but I plan to do as much as possible in the time I have, and look forward to seeing what the local waters may bring me.

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