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‘.

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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.

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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.

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