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!


Please like & share:

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.


Please like & share:

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)



Please like & share:

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!

Please like & share: