SAERI at Farmers’ week 2014

by Emily Hancox and iLaria Marengo


From 7th – 11th July, the annual farmers’ week took place in Stanley at the Town Hall, and SAERI staff took the opportunity to present the current research projects.

The role of landowners in the Falkland Islands is particularly important when considering the type of environmental studies undertaken by an institution such as SAERI; local knowledge, access and assistance are all vital to the success of this work.

On Monday 7th Dr Debs Davidson and Dr Megan Tierney presented their works respectively in inshore fisheries and in higher predators at the SAERI stand. Farmers had the opportunity not only to listen to both researchers, but also to have a look at a new SAERI poster highlighting the main activities of the institute and the area of interest, which extends across the South Atlantic.

On Wednesday 9th, a fairly large audience of farmers attended a presentation where each member of staff provided information about their roles in SAERI. Dr Davidson, after a general introduction about the Institute, focussed her attention on the 20 species which may be potential candidates for small scale fisheries and/or aquaculture in the Falklands’ inshore waters. Many farmers showed interested in getting involved in the identification of the species and many went away with a leaflet depicting the species and a small booklet with further pictures and interesting facts. Anyone who missed farmers’ week can always ask Dr Davidson for one of the species identification leaflets. Landowners are the first people who can spot the “creatures” that Dr Davidson is after for her research project and help from everyone is much appreciated. Dr Marengo provided a brief outline of what Geographic Information System (GIS) means and how can be beneficial for farmers and land managers in general. GIS is not only a tool for mapping but also a tool that can analyse geographical data and provide information for making better decisions. Landowners can be extremely helpful in providing data on soil and variation on grassland growth, which could be correlated to other environmental factors. Dr Blockley and Dr Tierney presented their GAP project which aims at filling gaps in the local knowledge of benthic species, oceanography, seafloor environment, and higher predators. These data are extremely valuable and are needed to inform and monitor potential impacts to the environment from offshore hydrocarbon activities which will be operating in the Falklands’ offshore waters.

Farmers’ week was a great occasion to promote what SAERI is doing locally in the Falklands and more in general in the other UK OTs in the South Atlantic. The objective is to consolidate what has been achieved after the first two years, continue to deliver high quality research projects, and above all to build strong collaboration with the local community and landowners, as working in synergy results to be beneficial for everybody in the Falklands.

Talking about more high quality projects, SAERI is welcoming Emily Hancox and Dr Amélie Augé who have started their respective posts as PhD student in shallow benthic and intertidal communities and project manager in Marine Spatial Planning.

DSC_00202 DSC_0110

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Integrating remote sensing imagery analysis with GIS: new perspectives for the Territories – South Atlantic region.

By iLaria Marengo

 In the South Atlantic region the use of remotely sensed images in environmental analyses should be considered more often. A couple of research projects are going to begin soon: one aims at using Landsat imageries to identify giant kelp in the sea surrounding the Falkland Islands. The project will be carried out with the support and expertise provided by the Welsh consultancy group Environment Systems. Freely available Landsat imageries and e-cognition (proprietary software) will be employed for the analyses and as a part of the project training will be provided to SAERI staff in order to acquire more confidence and skill in remotely sensed image processing and analysis.

The second project, led by the marine team in Saint Helena, includes the use of side scan sonar (starfish device) techniques to gather imageries, using acoustics, of the seabed in inshore waters around the island. The images, once analysed, should provide sound baseline information to derive, along with other data layers, n habitat map for inshore waters. An intense two day course was provided in the UK by CEFAS (Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science), which delivers internationally renowned science (they have many years of multibeam and side scan sonar data collection, processing and analysis experience) and collaborative relationships with UK government, EU, NGOs, research centres and industry. Support from CEFAS will continue during the project and the process of mapping marine habitats is going to be carried out as well in Ascension and in the Falkland Islands, where a new fisheries department (Ascension) has been recently created and a new project on inshore fisheries (Falkland Islands), which is led by Dr Debs Davidson (SAERI), has just started.

The use of remotely sensed images has got two important advantages: spatially it is possible to cover large areas that with a manual survey would take long time. Temporally it is possible to have measurements of the same area at different and planned periods. Hence it is possible to detect which dynamics interest/affect a geographical area by looking at the spatial, spectral, radiometric and temporal properties of the sensor.

The integration of Remote Sensing to GIS would be advantageous for researchers working for the local communities of the South Atlantic region, however it throws up a few challenges. For example, the cost of very high resolution data (resolution <= 5 metres) and the partial coverage of free high resolution (between 5 and 30 metres) satellite images, such as Landsat, for the small and remote islands of this area of the Atlantic Ocean; the management of the amount and size of data collected; the complexity of the pre-processing phase of the overall image analysis process, which requires the use of proprietary software and high level of expertise.


This last point is going to be addressed progressively. The goal is to build local expertise and skills in the use of Remote Sensing techniques, however initial support from external experts, such as Environment Systems and CEFAS, is essential to deliver the projects and to gain how to practically analyse remotely sensed data.

side scan sonar

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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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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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