The delightful, disappearing beaches of the northern East Falklands

Prof Joseph (Joe) Kelley from the Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, visited the Falkland Islands for a week in early November. Here is the blog entry he provided of his visit.

I have studied beaches for 30 years, but those I visited in the Falklands are among the most beautiful, interesting and unusual ones I have come across! Sadly, though, they are also the most endangered. At Gypsy Cove, just northeast of- and only fifteen minutes from Stanley, the beach is composed of almost pure quartz; New Jersey (USA) would die for this. The dunes, however, are covered with European Marram grass, a species very similar to that along the U.S. East Coast. At first, I did not understand why this might have been planted – clearly decades, if not centuries, before.

At Cow Bay and Volunteer Point, a two and a half hour drive to the north of Stanley, I saw more beautiful beaches, but also saw a darker side to the coast. Aside from the beautiful, white two kilometer long beach at Volunteer Point, penguins are probably what most people notice first on these beaches (and why they travel to them). But as a person who studies beaches, I could not help but see past the surface novelty and beauty: the sand on Cow Bay beach is clearly blowing away to the southeast. Blowing dunes and erosional remnants of peat abound on the southeast side of the beach. The sand continues on after that, however, and leaves the beach forever. Lacking a supply of “new” sand, this beach will move landward rapidly and no longer exist in its current form at its current location.

At Volunteer Point, a more complete picture was evident (photo 1). The back of the beach exposes a bluff with an upper peat layer (dark), a lower gravel layer, and a clay deposit in between. Like Cow Bay, the sand is also blowing away to the southeast and will not return to the beach and there is no accumulation of new dune sand occurring here. The cobble layer is probably exposed on the lowest part of the underwater section of the beach as well and kelp has attached to these cobbles. This is evident by the presence of cobbles with attached kelp on the beach, which have clearly been blown onto shore by storm activities. My guess is that loss of sand from the beach has unearthed the cobble layer underwater, and the cobbles are becoming more common on the once all-sand beach.

Photo 1Running this scene into the future indicates that both beaches are likely to hold less and less sand in the future, with so much blowing to the southeast and no new sand coming into the system, and therefore they will migrate landward into their respective lagoons. I, personally, cannot predict what impact this will have on the various species of penguins that live on these beaches. At present, they do not seem to notice, thankfully! (Photo 2) However, one thing I do know: marram grass (which has already been introduced into the Islands) or any dune grass would go a long way to maintaining and sustaining these wonderful coastal sites which we are at real risk of losing!

Photo 2

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Overseas Territories get together and enthusiastic about open source GIS!

By iLaria Marengo

Hello from the Falklands! I arrived just two weeks ago after a few interesting days spent in Gibraltar and Ascension Island where I met with other enthusiastic GIS specialists working for the other Overseas Territories (OTs).
Gibraltar hosted the first OTs meeting entirely dedicated to GIS on the 8th and the 9th of September, its application and its use as a decision support tool for environmental and planning studies. There were presentations on habitat mapping through the use and analysis of satellite images in Anguilla; on using GIS as a decision support systems for coastal environment, protected habitats, waste management and contingency planning in the Cayman Islands, Jersey and Gibraltar; and examples of public participatory GIS for marine spatial planning n the Shetland Islands. The event turned out to be a great opportunity for bringing together “GIS people” from the different OTs, from the Caribbean islands, to the South Atlantic region and the European OTs. The great interaction and rapport we were able to build through exchanging knowledge and experience revealed that, despite the different backgrounds, the GIS issues encountered by everyone were in fact fairly similar. We could all learn from everybody else’s work.
The use of open source GIS, and in particular QGIS, was under the spot light. Paolo Cavallini and Luigi Pirelli were demonstrating the functionalities of the latest release of QGIS (2.0 Dufour) and the possibility of developing it by writing Python scripts and sharing them with the broad community of QGIS users. We were all thrilled and we came back to our respective islands (territories) perhaps with more enthusiasm than that with which we arrived.
The good news for me did not end in Gibraltar. Invigorated by that experience I flew to Ascension to meet up with the Conservation Centre “gang”. Sam, Nicola, Jo and Natasha were extremely kind and hospitable and we were immediately tuned in to the same “GIS frequency”. It is amazing to see how much goes on in such a small and remote island such Ascension. The team is involved in many projects, for example research is carried out on green turtles, seabird monitoring, and cataloguing of endemic plants and heritage buildings/sites. We worked on how to facilitate the use of some of the databases already set up and available, and how to make them more user-friendly. The stop over in Ascension was educational and beneficial as we will be working more and more closely with each other for the realisation of the GIS data centre for the South Atlantic OTs.Land Crab Map

I carried on my trip to the Falklands thinking positively and looking forward to the start of the project with SAERI. After the first two weeks we have a draft design of the architecture of the GIS data centre and information system. It involves the use of a metadata catalogue, QGIS for data editing, analysis and mapping, a spatial database and a web GIS service…all open source. This is in its infancy so please watch out for the next blog as we hope to come back with big news! Last but not least mention…it is great to finally meet the SAERI gang and be down here in the gorgeous Falkland Islands!

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