Local stakeholders gathered in Stanley for a 3-day marine spatial planning workshop

Last week, from Tuesday to Thursday, marine stakeholders of the Falkland Islands gathered for a workshop on Marine Spatial Planning (MSP). This workshop was part of the 2-year project funded by Darwin Pus, managed by SAERI. The aim of the project is to initiate the process of MSP for the Islands by preparing data, tools and analyses, and working towards a framework for MSP in the Falkland Islands. The results will inform the Falkland Islands Government and its stakeholders on how to implement MSP and make recommendations on priority zones for management. This workshop was the third and last workshop of the project that will end in July 2016. In December 2015, the MSP team submitted a paper to the Executive Council summarising the benefits that MSP could bring the islands. ExCo has agreed to the production of an MSP Plan, subject to a fine-scale framework. The workshop provided the platform for discussiofor blog postn to define this fine scale framework with local stakeholders and a couple of international experts. An MSP Plan is a strategic coordinated plan for regulating, managing and protecting the marine environment that addresses the multiple, cumulative and potentially conflicting uses of the sea, current and future, and aim to fulfill economic, ecological and social objectives.

Jude and Michael presenting the results of their breakout groups

Jude and Michael presenting the results of their breakout group.

Workshop participants included representatives from marine industries (fishing, oil, shipping), government departments (EPD, Minerals, Fisheries, Marine and Biosecurity  officers), MLAs, Falklands Conservation, Royal Navy, Wildlife Conservation Society, and recreational activities (Yacht Club, diving), SAERI, as well as three international delegates from Scotland, the shetland Islands and Ascension Island.The workshop consisted of brief presentations to show all the maps produced depicting human activities at sea and areas used by wildlife, and of cultural values (check out the MSP webGIS to look at some of the maps), alternated with  a series of sessions where participants worked on small exercises on MSP objectives and targets, shipping, conservation, Berkeley Sound management, interconnectivity between marine activities, people’s values and the environment, and MSP format, actors and roles. The participants provided great insights in the priority needs to ensure coordinated sustainable development of the islands’ maritime activities.

The HMS Clyde at sunrise

The HMS Clyde at sunrise in Port Stanley.

Commander Bill Dawson from the Royal Navy at MPA has been on the MSP project steering committee since its start and he had kindly offered to host one workshop day on board HMS Clyde to illustrate some maritime activities. The workshop participants therefore had the great opportunity to spend a whole day on board last Thursday, partly in the officers’ mess for work sessions and the rest of the time on the deck during a visit in Berkeley Sound where they witnessed ships bunkering in the same area as Sei whales foraging and vessel traffic. The crew were great hosts and made this day very useful and memorable for the workshop.

The MSP workshop group photo on board the HMS Clyde on 7 April

The MSP workshop group photo on board the HMS Clyde on 7 April.

Workshop participants on the photo are back from left: Nick Rendell (EPD), Michael Gras (DNR), Ross James (DNR), David Blockley (SAERI), Pippa Christie (FIPLA), Roddy Cordeiro (DMR), Amélie Augé (SAERI), Graham Harris (WCS), Steve Bamfield (HMS Clyde Captain), Martin Mendez (WSC), Karen Hall (JNCC) Rachel Shucksmith (University of Highlands and Islands), Jude Brown (Ascension Island Government), Emma Beaton (SAERI); Front from left: Chris Locke (Marine Officer), Paul Brickle (SAERI), Andy Stanworth (FC), Tom Blake (FIFCA), Emily Hancox (DMR), and MLA Michael Poole); on-board but missing from photo: Jackie Cotter (FIFCA), Adam Cockwell (Workboat services), Sammy Hirtle (SAERI); other participants that could not attend the HMS Clyde day: Tim Martin (FIPLA), Grant Munro (Austral Biodiversity), Joost Pompert (DNR), Roy Summer (Sulivan Shipping).

The workshop was a great success, with engaged and interested participants, and some great outcomes to help design what MSP should look like in the Falkland Islands. Some of the main outcomes in regard to MSP were a clear need for improve shipping management, of vessels visiting the islands but also in particular, transiting through the Falklands’ waters. Of particular importance was the area around the Jason Islands with a shipping route on the west of this archipelago. Identifying other areas vulnerable to shipping risks, as well as for human safety (eg. cruise ship traffic) was also found a priority. MSP was overall seen as a great tool to improve safety at sea and emergency responses, as well as coordinate management of maritime activities, now and for the future. Rachel Shucksmith from the Shetland Islands’ MSP team at the University of Highlands and Islands was an invited speaker at the workshop. She also gave a very informative and exciting public talk on the Tuesday evening, to a packed room, about the Shetlands and how they use MSP to ensure sustainable maritime development there. For more info on the Falklands’ MSP project, check out the MSP webpage.

Rachel Shucksmith from the University of Highlands and Islands giving a public presentation in Stnaley on 5 April

Rachel Shucksmith from the University of Highlands and Islands giving a public presentation on the Shetland Islands’ marine life and local management in Stanley on 5 April.

Thanks to all the participants for their enthousiasm, and to Sammy for her brilliant logistic assistance and Emma for all the note-taking!

Sammy and all the cakes; Emma ready to take notes!

Sammy and all the cakes; Emma ready to take notes!

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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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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 (https://falklandstimeline.wordpress.com/maps-3/)

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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Falkland Islands Science Symposium: A Microbiologists Perspective

By Virginia Edgcomb, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, USA

Our Pan-American Science Delegation visit to the Falkland Islands is over now, but I leave with many incredible vistas imprinted on my mind, a new cohort of scientific colleagues and potential collaborators, and many ideas about scientific research opportunities in the area. The people we met in town, including business and local government officials were so friendly and welcoming, and were universally concerned about protecting and managing their resources and unique ecosystems in a sustainable fashion. It was refreshing to see a society that is forward thinking on this theme, especially given the relatively pristine condition of the environment there. Sadly, people the world over frequently only start to pay attention when they witness deterioration or experience personal impacts. Scientists at the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute are already conducting excellent research on a wide variety of very important topics to the area. Yet there are many opportunities for collaborative research that can pull in complementary expertise to bear on new questions. Researchers at my home institution, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution include many who are engaged in studies of physical, chemical and biological oceanography, including fisheries, and of impacts of climate change on marine ecosystems worldwide. Climate change is significantly impacting our polar regions, and these changes have impacts that propagate to subpolar regions in the form of altered weather, ocean currents, temperature, etc. As a marine microbiologist I am particularly keen to collaborate with scientists at SAERI to collect data on impacts of these alterations to major biogeochemical cycles where microorganisms have center stage. Any major shifts in microbial communities and/or processes carried out by these communities can affect the many important fisheries in the region of the Falklands. We envision a very international collaborative study of atmospheric and marine processes involving SAERI, the British Antarctic Survey, and several US and South American institutions.

Interspersed among the many intense and stimulating scientific discussions this past week were amazing field trips to see some of the local treasures; including Elephant Seals, nesting Shearwaters by the gazillions, and of course, penguins. I was enthralled by the penguins, particularly a small cluster of King Penguins who approached me on a beach as I sat still. It was clearly a mutual inspection, the outcome of which was universal agreement that clearly, they were better dressed. Another highlight for me was gazing through the microscope at interesting protozoa zipping around in a water sample I collected from an Elephant Seal wallow. The water was the color and consistency of soy sauce (probably a cocktail of peat, seawater and Elephant Seal feces). A microbiologist is easily amused.

Thank you to all the folks who made this past week possible. Now we all need to work hard to get funding for our research ideas!

Ginny and Penguins

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Falkland Islands Science Symposium: A Social Scientist in the Falkland Islands

By Kate Sherren, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Canada

Our Land Rovers lumbered slowly along the heathland like a convoy of awkward insects. We were heading to the penguin colony at Volunteer Point on the eve of the Falkland Islands Science Symposium. Recent rains had turned the track – rough at best – into a sodden mess. As one and then another of our eight vehicles ran into trouble, the others would fan out to avoid the same fate, resembling ants that have lost their pheromone track. All in all it was a six-hour round trip through rain and hail, and three vehicles had to be pulled out of precarious positions. The jarring drive made my ears ring well into the night. I remarked afterward that it was about the hardest place I’d ever tried to get to. This was greeted with surprise by my fellow delegates. “But I’m a social scientist, so you have to take that in context,” I said. My field destinations can usually be reached in a hatchback. Despite my discomfort, I was more than glad we had made the effort to reach the Point. Three species of penguin, each with its own personality, charmed us for hours.

Photo credit: Carlos Andrade

Photo credit: Carlos Andrade

Sheep wandered among the penguins at times, reminding us that Volunteer Point was part of a working farm. Several of the agricultural experts I met later in the week felt that the penguins played an important role in keeping farms viable. The ranching style of farming traditionally used in the Falkland Islands has resulted in substantial vegetation change. Most of the giant tussac grass that once fringed the islands is gone. Patches of it persist in ungrazed outer islands and fenced minefields left over from the Falklands War. In its place are coastal paddocks that are deemed to have the best grasses for grazing, and hence are used for lambing. The health of these fields is in large part thanks to penguin poop. Guano rich in fish remnants returns critical nutrients to the soil, and sheep help distribute it.

Photo credit: Steve Campana

Photo credit: Steve Campana

I have been one of the Pan-American delegates to this Symposium, representing the social sciences. My research often examines how people respond to local landscapes and how that affects resource decisions. My inspiration comes from talking to local people in places experiencing or facing change. This week I have spoken to leaders of legislation, policy and industry; cabbies and tour operators; long-time Islanders and members of a diverse network of contract workers with a cacophony of Commonwealth accents. These conversations have suggested many exciting research opportunities. Like Volunteer Point, it takes some effort to get to the Falkland Islands. But the destination – and its future – are worth it.

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Falkland Islands Science Symposium: South Atlantic Seduction

By Steve Campana, Bedford Institute of Oceanography, Dartmouth, Canada

I was seduced! And it wasn’t just me. The entire scientific delegation to the Falklands was seduced at one time or another while visiting. No – it wasn’t because of the open and charming people who lived here and welcomed us at every event. Nor was it because of the superb meals (and wine!) with which we were plied at every dinner. It wasn’t even because of the field trips to photograph penguins, or seals, or collect fossils, in wonderful outdoor settings. Rather, this was a totally non-subtle, full-on, in your face seduction that took advantage of a scientist’s greatest weakness. I’m talking of course about our unstoppable excitement when faced with new scientific challenges and possibilities. So the decision by SAERI, the Falkland Islands and the British government to fly us all down here to woo us with scientific seductions was a brilliant move. I suspect that all of the scientists in the delegation are already fully engaged in other projects back home and in other countries. So few of us expected to take on any new projects when we accepted the invitation to come to the Falklands; we just couldn’t resist the invitation to see a new part of the world. But once here, and once confronted with new scientific possibilities, we were hooked. Most of us are now committed to collaborate with SAERI on various projects. Scientists are so naïve!056IMG_3586

I do scientific research on fish and shark populations in Canada and Iceland, where the environmental conditions are very similar to those in the Falklands. So to a Canadian scientist, it is fascinating to see how life has evolved under Canadian temperatures in a location on the other side of the world. One thing that piqued my interest was the occasional capture of porbeagle sharks in the waters around the Falklands. Porbeagle sharks, which are a smaller relative of the great white shark, are a common fishing target in the waters off of eastern Canada, where the conditions are very similar to those here. So why aren’t there more porbeagles here? After asking around, I found out that none of the fishermen here use the pelagic longline gear and large hooks that would be suited for catching porbeagles. So it could be that porbeagles are actually quite common in Falkland waters. And if so, I wonder if they behave, live and grow in the same way that those in the North Atlantic do. How interesting! As I said earlier, I’ve been seduced!porbeagle thrashing in water_996

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Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels (ACAP)

Hello, I’m Anne, the ACAP Co-ordinator, working for JNCC (Joint Nature Conservation Committee) and hosted by SAERI. JNCC are the statutory advisor to the UK government on UK and international nature conservation (www.jncc.defra.gov.uk). The Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) came into force in 2004 (www.acap.aq) and it currently has 13 signatories.

Wandererbyiceberg FI

The main objective of the Agreement is to maintain favourable conservation status for albatross and petrel species that are listed under the Agreement. The UK, including on behalf of its South Atlantic Overseas Territories (SAOTs), ratified ACAP in 2004, shortly after it came into force. The SAOTs of Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, Tristan da Cunha, and the British Antarctic Territories are all included in the ratification.

All 22 albatross species are listed under ACAP, as well as seven species of petrel, and one species of shearwater. Relevant species for the UK include the Black-browed Albatross Thalassarche melanophris of which approximately 70% of the global breeding population is present in the Falkland Islands, the Tristan Albatross Diomedea dabbenena which is endemic to the Tristan da Cunha Islands, and the White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis whose largest global breeding population is found in South Georgia. My role is to co-ordinate the UK’s efforts to meet its obligations under ACAP. An important aspect of the work is the collation of breeding and fisheries by-catch data from all SAOTs, and from this to produce the UK ACAP implementation reports. These reports have recently been completed, and I am now preparing for the 8th Advisory Committee meeting, which will be held in Punta del Este in Uruguay in September.

Being based in the Falkland Islands means I am ideally placed to work with the SAOT governments, NGOs, landowners and other relevant groups. The other half of my role is JNCC South Atlantic Overseas Territories Conservation Officer. This involves providing support and advice on a variety on conservation issues and projects to the SAOTs already mentioned plus St Helena and Ascension Island. This could include anything from the protection of endemic plants, rodent eradication, or fisheries licensing and enforcement. Needless to say the job is very varied and interesting and I’m looking forward to what the next few months bring.

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