Marine spatial planning: There is more traffic in the sea than you think!

Around 90% of trade worldwide is carried by ships across the oceans. Shipping is a crucial part of the economy of the modern world we live in. The Falklands are no exception and most goods are transported by ships. So you know that there are ships visiting the Islands to deliver food, materials, petrol, kero, tourists etc and to export Falklands’ products to the world. But, with the remoteness of the Islands, shipping traffic passing by should be minimal, right? Obviously it is not the English Channel here! Yet, with an estimated 50,000 large ships going around the globe at any given time (with this number increasing at great rates), what do we know about what’s going on around the Falklands, if ships pass by, how many, what kind and where?

The oil product tanker JASON (105m in length)

The oil product tanker JASON (105 m in length) in Port Williams.

Shipping data are of upmost importance for Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) because ship traffic is a major source of safety risks from collision or grounding and also of environmental risks (oil spills). In the previous Penguin News, the MSP team introduced what MSP is and the type of information we are collecting to provide scientific tools and advice to manage the marine environment in the long-term. Surprisingly, prior to the start of the MSP project, there was no long term recording of data on shipping activities.  Sure has been running a system to monitor shipping traffic since 2013, but solely to display real-time ship locations online for ship-spotters; the data were deleted. This system is called AIS (or Automated Identification System). Ships are equipped with it and transmit information via radio signals picked up by land stations. Sure has 3 such stations across the Falklands. The information given includes the ship identity, the time and its GPS location. Working with Mark Street at Sure, the data has now been extracted and saved at SAERI every 3 months. The MSP project now has one year of hourly shipping locations to analyse. And what a mine of information that is!

Ship locations are used to map their paths across Falklands’ waters. Over 1,100 different ships and boats entered these waters and a significant shipping route west of the Islands was uncovered. Most ships were on route to somewhere else and included oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers, reefers and cruise ships, but no wine tankers (such a thing does exist!) to the despair of some SAERI colleagues. The largest ship that travelled through the Falklands’ waters in the last year was the crude oil tanker APOLYTARES, 335m long (more than 3 times the length of a rugby field), that passed 50km east off Beauchêne Island; another of similar size passed within 30km of the Jason Islands. In total, 75 different oil tankers were recorded but only 4 actually delivered to the Falklands or refuelled the Falklands’ fishing boats.

Paths of oil tankers (in red) that were recorded in Falklands’ waters (area bordered in yellow) between May 2014 and May 2015. The paths around Stanley, Berkeley Sound and just North of this are tankers for local delivery and re-fuelling of fishing boats at sea, and supplying the oil rig that was then north of East Falkland.

Paths of oil tankers 

On the left are all paths of oil tankers that were recorded in Falklands’ waters (area bordered in yellow) between May 2014 and May 2015. The paths around Stanley, Berkeley Sound and in the North are tankers for local delivery and re-fuelling of fishing boats at sea, and supplying the oil rig that was then north of East Falkland.





Over that year, 220 different cargo ships, including reefers working with the fishing boats at sea, were also recorded. The largest cargo ships that travelled were bulk carriers of 300m in length and travelled as close as 10km from the Jason Islands and 8km from Beauchêne. The SCOUT, a 93m cargo ship that delivers goods to the Islands from South America was recorded several times, travelling within 2km of the Jason Islands. Boats also regularly sail within 1 to 2 km from Volunteer Point.

Paths of oil cargo ships (in blue) that were recorded in Falklands’ waters between 2014 and May 2015. These include reefers but not the oil rig supply boats or the Concordia Bay (local delivery ship).

Paths of cargo ships

On the left, paths of all cargo ships that were recorded in Falklands’ waters (area bordered in yellow) between 2014 and May 2015. These include reefers but not the oil rig supply boats or the Concordia Bay (local delivery ship).






The shipping data and analyses now provide some scientific tools to identify areas of potential need for monitoring or management. The area of the Jason Islands is particularly sensitive because there is a significant amount of traffic in the western shipping route. Ships may take short cuts through or close to the islands. Further analyses will be conducted and these shipping data can be combined with data on other activities or areas of value to provide FIG with an overview of potential issues, and help make strategic, informed decisions owing that activities will increase in the marine environment in the future. This is the type of benefits Marine Spatial Planning can provide.

For more information, questions or interest in being involved in MSP in the Falkland Islands, Dr Augé can be contacted at SAERI by phone 27374 or email

Written by Dr Amélie Augé, spatial ecologist at SAERI, leading researcher and manager of the 2-year Darwin Plus-funded project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands’. This article was published in the Penguin News on 30 October 2015, ending an MSP series of 4 articles.

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

This article was written by Veronica Frans, research assistant at SAERI, as part of the Darwin Plus-funded project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands’. The FIG Environmental Planning Department financially supports this whale study via their Environmental Studies Budget. This article was published in the Penguin News on 23 October 2015 as part of an MSP series of 4 articles. 


When’s the last time you’ve seen a whale?  Have they always been around, or did they suddenly just reappear? The story behind the whales in the Falklands is currently incomplete. Commercial whaling activities in the early 1900s had nearly decimated whales throughout the world, including here. Annual captures of as many as 463 whales at New Island Station were recorded then. These were solely of the large baleen whales – mainly sei and fin whales. Since then, according to anecdotes heard while talking with people, in particular with FIGAS pilots, these whales may well have been doing a comeback to the beautiful Falklands’ shores, and in great numbers. So could there be a success story here, of a possible recovering whale population?

Typical sightings of baleen whales (two blows of humpback whales)

Typical sightings of baleen whales (two blows of humpback whales)

Whether it’s being noticed or not, something is happening with the baleen whales here in the Falklands. The problem is, no one has actually studied them until now! It means that we have very little data to determine what is happening. They’re here now, but the questions are: are they returning? Are their numbers increasing? Is there a seasonal pattern for their presence?  Are there hotspots where they can be found? All these questions need answers. If the whale population is increasing, they may interact with ships and potentially collide with them. This is a serious issue faced in other countries with high whale density. Therefore, understanding the pattern of recovery of the whales in the Falklands and mapping their current distribution is needed for the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) project. This project was described in the last couple of Penguin News and aims to provide scientific tools to FIG to co-ordinately manage the marine environment. In order to identify areas of potential risks and plan for the future, we need to identify areas used by whales, and whether their numbers are increasing.

But do we really have no data to answer these questions? Well, although there aren’t much actual data that exist, you (yes, you!), may be able to help fill in the data gap. This is called citizen science where scientists recognise that local inhabitants, as a group, have a huge amount of knowledge about the environment in which they live – especially historical knowledge. This can be harvested to fill in gaps for scientific studies. As part of the MSP project, a study currently underway addresses these questions on whales and is using this concept of citizen science to accomplish it. Information is being gathered by interviewing people, and the goal is to determine where and when they could and can be found, in the past and now. MSP is addressing the gaps in knowledge that exist, and it is hoped that maps can be produced to inform FIG for management, and also the tourism industry for development purposes.

Veronica, interviewing Ben MSP

Building a map of whale sightings with Ben Berntsen at Elephant Beach Farm.

Getting historical information on whales therefore largely depends on eyewitness accounts. In September, I went on fieldtrips to camp (on the East and West Falklands and some of the outer islands), visiting people and interviewing them. I asked for their first-hand knowledge on whales, having them indicate on a map when and where they have seen whales over their lifetime. Whether someone can provide one sighting or 30, or whether they know which species they saw or not, any input is helpful to the study because it is working to build strength in numbers. Preliminary results from 38 interviews thus far indicate that whales have been seen as early as November and as late as August in more recent years. The majority of sightings have been in January and February, according to 68% and 87% of these interviewees. Some of the earliest whale sightings were in the 1940s and 50s, but only 8% of interviewees have attested to those years. The majority of people have first seen whales in the 1990s and 2000s, and are still seeing them up until now.

Map illustrating a sample of the data from 3 people interviewed on whale sightings from the 1990s until now (2015).

Map illustrating a sample of the data from 3 people interviewed on whale sightings from the 1990s until now (2015).

More information is needed to obtain robust results, which will happen through more interviews, analyses of data recorded from FIGAS pilots, Falklands Conservation and other sources, and looking into commercial whaling archives. In terms of interviews, I will continue to contact people over the next few weeks. As a newcomer to the Islands, the study has given me the privilege to see many amazing places and meet so many welcoming and friendly people. I would like to thank those who have already participated in this study and also welcomed me into their homes. If you have any questions, my email is For more information on the overall MSP project, you can check SAERI’s website.


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Remote sensing: the science of interpreting and identifying features from a distance.

By iLaria Marengo

Remote sensing is the fascinating science that studies and exploits the way the light coming from the sun (or from another source, e.g. radar) is first absorbed and then reflected back to the atmosphere by the objects on the Earth’s surface. Contrary to GIS, whose basic concepts are relatively simple and more “user friendly”, remote sensing is a sort of “niche” discipline because it involves more physics and maths, and requires skills in image interpretation. Nevertheless, remote sensing, coupled with GIS, is a powerful tool for understanding the spatial and temporal changes of the environment and deriving useful information to support environmental policies, decisions on management planning and strategies.

From the 5th to the 13th of November, the Ascension Island Government Conservation Centre (AIG CC) hosted a training course in remote sensing as part of the capacity building supported by the Darwin Initiative project entitled “Mapping Ascension Island’s Terrestrial Ecosystem”. The course was run by Dr Johanna Breyer, who works at Environment Systems in Aberystwyth, and has been contracted to support AIG CC in the delivery of the Darwin Initiative project. Environment Systems is a well-established consultancy company with years of experience in the field of remote sensing and GIS analyses. Johanna’s main task is the processing and interpretation of the high resolution World View 2 image (2 metre resolution) by applying a rule-based object analysis called image segmentation.

Data managers from the Falkland Islands and Saint Helena governments were invited to attend the course with the intention of becoming “intelligent consumers and users” of remote sensing tools. The aim of the course was to better understand the concepts behind remote sensing and apply them specifically to habitat classification. Central part of the course was to learn how the remote sensing analyst operates when carrying out the image segmentation and how the field surveyors proceed in determining and validating the classes of habitats on the ground and with the help of statistics. Time was spent in the office and on field trips to various locations in Ascension, with a very interesting off road traverse of Green Mountain from east to west.

satellite-map False colour image of Ascension (IR, red, green) to highlight the vegetated (red) and not vegetated (greyish) land. Clouds are visible in white.

signatureSpectral signature plot of water, bareground and vegetation. According to the signature the remote sensing analytical tools are able to identify and distinguish the objects on the surface.

There were many lessons learned from the hard job that Sam and Phil did in terms of habitat classification, for instance using systematic approach in deciding the sampling points and in assessing the habitat (use a standard density scale, consider the height of the species, carry out the assessment according to three altitude zones, etc). Similarly, Johanna provided the necessary basis to become aware of what a remote sensing analyst needs in order to set the rules for the image segmentation and extract the objects that will match the habitat classes. Interpreting a satellite image means being able to read and understand the spectral signatures that describe how the light is absorbed and reflected by the objects. In addition, ancillary information can help in identifying the objects, along with the knowledge of the local ecologist. At the end is a matter of aligning what a remote sensing analyst can extract from the satellite image and what the ecologist can see and map from the ground.


Field works on a lava flow which hosts the sooty terns


The spread of the invasive Mexican thorn bush on the slope of the Devil’s Riding School

Although the rule-based image segmentation is carried out using commercial software, QGIS, the open source software being used across the South Atlantic overseas territories, provides a series on interesting plugins, such as Semi Automatic Classification and Orfeo tool box, which can be used as starting tools for unsupervised/supervised classifications and for practising what was learnt at the course. Furthermore, free Landsat images offer the opportunity to perform spatial/temporal analyses in QGIS and detect land cover changes which affect the territories.

An important outcome of the course was talking and drafting best and standard practice for habitat classification with the use of remote sensing and ecological knowledge that can be applied across the South Atlantic UKOTs. In fact, the goal is to transfer what has been achieved in Ascension to projects that will be run in Saint Helena and the Falklands in the future.

Environment_Systems Darwin logoASI_logo




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Marine Spatial Planning: The Cultural Values of our Coasts

This is an article that was published in the Penguin News (on 16/10/15) as part of a series of 4 articles on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) and was written by Denise Herrera, research assistant at SAERI, leading the study on ‘Mapping Cultural Coastal Values’ as part of the Darwin Plus-funded project ‘MSP for the Falkland Islands’ and supervised by Dr. Amélie Augé (SAERI) and Dr. Kate Sherren (Dalhousie University, Canada).

Photo by Denise Herrera

The view into Hill Cove and Saunders – a value of natural beauty.

You might know this already, but the coastline is probably important to you. Or so an ongoing study part of SAERI’s Marine Spatial Planning project is trying to find out.

There are many reasons why a place might be important to you; you have memories there, there are important historical artifacts such as a shipwreck, close to your heart, or it could simply be the place where you like taking your dog for a walk or enjoying the sunset over the sea. These intangible “values” are what we call cultural values. They are what shape the community and give it an identity. What would the Falklands be without the hoards of people who, each mid-winter, take to Surf Bay for what can only be identified as an act of madness?

The study is focused on the coasts and is part of the Marine Spatial Planning project, developing management tools for the sea, introduced in last week’s edition. This study is not only important to fill a gap in knowledge but also to ensure your personal values are included alongside economic and environmental values. Cultural values are often overlooked by decision makers, but should be equal to other values when making any decision: would you want a waste storage facility next to your favourite beach?

The Falklands have not only got a unique seascape and coastline, but also have a unique community – YOU! We can easily map fishing activities or the location of a penguin colony, but mapping cultural values is more challenging. This is where we need the input from the community. With members of the community pointing out their favourite areas and explaining why these areas matter to them, we can create a series of maps highlighting the areas that contain key cultural values, to be incorporated in Marine Spatial Planning.

Created by Denise Herrera

Cultural Values are found all around the Falkland Islands.

The study is now underway; many people living in camp have already been able to participate during fieldtrips, but we are now looking for participants from Stanley (or more people from camp who happen to be in Stanley in the next few weeks). You will simply be asked to highlight your top 15 favourite places along the coast on a map and say why they are important to you; participation is anonymous and voluntary. Surveys are done in person and take about 30 minutes. If you are over 18, have lived here for more than 5 years and would like to take part please contact Denise on 61090 or e-mail to arrange a time. For more information about this study or the Marine Spatial Planning project, please visit the SAERI website.

Maddie, the dog, photo by Amelie Auge

Maddie, the dog, enjoying a walk at Surf Bay – a recreational value

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Geographic Information Systems: are maps only pretty pictures or is there more?

by iLaria Marengo

We see maps every day, we use them when we travel and we refer to them to look for places and locations, but have you ever thought what makes a map? Basically, a map is a symbolic representation of a space. All objects within that space have a location and can therefore be mapped.. These objects, once associated with their geographic reference (location) are called spatial data. For example, a map displays boundaries, addresses, roads, buildings, wrecks and it is possible to attribute different colours or symbols according to what the objects represent. Think of the town plan for instance and its divisions into zones: residential, industrial, ports and marinas etc.
In the past, maps were made by hand, but this is no longer the case. Instead, there are computer programs called Geographic Information Systems (GIS) that allow drawing or importing data and create digital maps. GIS are very flexible and user-friendly tools as they facilitate the visualisation and analysis of spatial data. The great and unique property of GIS is not only to make pretty maps, but also to relate spatial objects (draw on maps as points, lines or areas) and overlap these data to derive information and provide it to the decision makers and the general public.

Figure 1:French hand-drawn map, circa 1800 (

But what makes a map a good map, or the information useful? It would not be so good if you were to follow a map for kilometres and figure that the building you were looking for was actually on the other side of town! Because the map reflects the data that it displays, it is obvious that the quality of a map depends on the quality of the data. The way of saying “garbage in, garbage out” is applicable to GIS. Hence, it is important to have good data, to trust the data providers, and eventually to store the data in a central repository.
In order to spread the use of GIS and initiate spatial data management in the Falklands, a project called “Information Management System and GIS Data Centre” started two years ago, funded by the Foreign Commonwealth Office. This project included several free training courses. The last course was held on the 22nd and 23rd October at FIDF and was tailored to the FIG’s policy, planning and public work departments. After the course a trainee commented “Highways operate an asset management plan that is best managed and presented in geographical form.  Undertaking the training in GIS has given me the tools to help improve the capture and presentation of information which should provide an easier approach, in the long term, to asset management”. Another trainee said “Using GIS will enable us to graphically represent statistics and information for the Islands in a comprehensive way. It will be particularly useful in visualising data for large-scale projects such as the upcoming Census, and in communicating those results to decision-makers and the public.”
 Figure 2: Map of part of the Stanley plan (2015) made with GIS.
Establishing a long term plan for developing GIS and data management within the government has multiple advantages. In fact, it means the introduction of rules and concepts such as data standards, data sharing, data access and metadata (which is information about data) recording. Thanks to a collaborative work and joined effort (FIG, SAERI, and FC) everybody can now search for information on data collected in the Falklands through the IMS-GIS Centre and its metadata catalogue online on the SAERI webpage.
In the future, public data will be accessed through the internet using a webGIS service to show and communicate information derived from mapping and analysing spatial data. Falkland Islanders will access the service without using their megabytes. So next time you look at a map, think that behind that pretty picture, there is a long process of data management and that GIS are likely to have played a role.
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Marine spatial planning: Ensuring long-term future of the Falkland Islands’ economy and beauty

The ocean around the Falkland Islands is very productive, hosts many marine species, and is still in excellent condition compared to most other parts of the world. The long-term economy of the Islands depends almost entirely on this prolific and healthy marine environment. Commercial fisheries and tourism are the two main current activities that, if managed sustainably and safely, will provide long-term economic security for the Islands. In comparison, oil exploitation will be a fixed-term economic benefit and is, by default, not sustainable because it relies on a non-renewable resource that will run out. New and expanding marine activities should therefore be managed co-ordinately and soundly to ensure fishing and tourism can still thrive along with potential new sustainable activities. Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) is the process of developing a strategic plan to manage marine activities and ensure that economic, environmental, and also cultural values are included in the decision process.

The easiest description for MSP is “land-use planning – for the sea”! Most people understand the need for land-use planning. For instance, it avoids someone building a house and realising 2 years later that, next to it, was the only suitable plot for a sewage treatment plant… Planning is all about looking in and thinking about the future. Keeping the marine environment healthy and safe is crucial for the long-term economy of the Falklands because it will keep providing fish and squids and habitats where they can reproduce and grow, but also because it will allow charismatic wildlife attracting tourists here to thrive. Though, it does not end here. An often-forgotten link to the marine environment is cultural. Watching the waves, walking on the coast with the kids or the dog, admiring a sunset over the ocean, and visiting a historical wreck are examples of personal enjoyment the sea can bring to us. The beautiful areas that you cherish also require management to ensure that they are still there for future generations and stay clean. Finally, another benefit provided by efficient MSP is increased marine safety because the aim of MSP is, overall, to decrease the risks of maritime accidents by managing where things happen. Imagine if a boat grounded next to your favourite spot, threatening the life of the crew on board, while having oil and rubbish cover the coast. Would you have thought that asking that boat to travel only a few kms further from the coast (taking that boat may be an extra 30 mins) would have been too much then? Well, this is exactly why MSP is so important, because it provides the tools to FIG to think of future risks and act now to manage them so that no one has to be sorry in the future.



The figure illustrates the intricate links between the marine environment and economic and cultural values of the Falkland Islands..



The Falkland Islands currently have no MSP in place at the exception of temporary fishing closure areas. With an increasing level of human activities in the ocean, in particular for oil exploration, but also for shipping traffic for instance, the need to identify areas sensitive to safety and environmental risks has been wisely identified as a priority by the current government. The Islands Plan 2014-18 states as an action to “Implement appropriate […] marine spatial planning frameworks to ensure the preservation and management of […] marine environments of the Falkland Islands”. In July 2014, a 2-year project funded by Darwin Plus (a UK Government grant scheme for the UKOTs) was initiated at SAERI to produce scientific data and a best-practice framework needed for FIG to implement an MSP process here. The project webpage contains more details and reports you can download: The project is conducted with a strong stakeholder engagement that has included public consultation and local workshops, meetings with MLAs and FIG staff, and a steering committee with local stakeholder representatives. The spatial data gathered and mapped so far are, for example, shipping traffic, military exercise areas, pleasure boating areas, and anchoring areas. Wildlife data are also gathered and analysed. Areas of potential conflicts are then identified by overlapping the spatial datasets, which can reveal where risks exist, for safety and/or environmental damage. All data, results of analyses and recommendations will be provided to FIG that will then decide what MSP will look like in the Falklands. SAERI provides objective scientific tools to FIG to help them make appropriate decisions for a sustainable future and ensure long-term economic wealth and clean enjoyable marine and coastal environments of the Islands.


shipping colour

The figure shows hourly locations of all ships and boats (red dots) around the Falkland Islands over one year (May 2014 to May 2015). During that period, over 1,500 different boats used the Falklands’ marine area, including 119 oil tankers. The data come from the AIS system run by Sure in Stanley (thanks to Mark Street for providing the raw data from this system).


An interesting example of established MSP can be found in the Shetland Islands where, for the last 12 years, a team based at the local university has worked on MSP providing scientific tools that helped the government managed new development, including for oil, aquaculture and marine wind turbines, by making informed decisions. You can check out their website here:

For more information, questions or interest in being involved in MSP in the Falkland Islands, Dr Augé can be contacted at SAERI by phone 27374 or email

Written by Dr Amélie Augé, spatial ecologist at SAERI, leading researcher and manager of the 2-year Darwin Plus-funded project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands’. This article was published in the Penguin News on 9 October 2015, starting an MSP series of 4 articles.

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