New funding opportunities for environmental projects in the South Atlantic: BEST 2.0

The European Commission has announced that in order to address the need for facilitated access to funding in the European Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs), it is allocating new resources for concrete projects in the OCTs through a 5 year programme; BEST 2.0 (Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in European Outermost Regions and Overseas Countries and Territories). This will mean a new source of funding that can be accessed for environmental projects within the South Atlantic Overseas Territories (OTs). The European Commission’s Directorate General for International Cooperation and Development (EuropeAid) has two calls for proposals organised in the coming two years, with a total budget of over € 6 million for this initiative.

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BEST 2.0 has been born from a recognised need for current support of projects on the ground whilst a long term financial mechanism is created from the existing BEST III initiative, which began last year. The aim of the BEST III project is to support and maintain biodiversity and sustainable use of ecosystem services, including looking at ecosystem-based approaches to climate change adaption and mitigation methods. This is taking place simultaneously across all European OCTs. The South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI) is the coordinator for the South Atlantic Hub, which includes Ascension Island, St Helena and Tristan da Cunha, the Falkland Islands and South Georgia & South Sandwich Isles.

Five of the existing BEST III knowledge hubs (Caribbean, Indian Ocean, Pacific, Polar/Sub-Polar, South Atlantic) will help assure the calls are adapted to the varying conditions and situations encountered in OCTs and will provide support to local organisations for submission of proposals. Independent regional advisory committees, with experts in the relevant fields, will assess the proposals and advise a decision board.

The objective of BEST 2.0 is to empower local actors, authorities and civil society organisations in OCTs. Within the South Atlantic OTs this will involve organisations who are committed to local development, maintaining biodiversity and the sustainable use of ecosystem services. This will particularly apply to the key biodiversity areas identified through the participative Ecosystem profiles process led by the BEST knowledge hub for the region. Eligible beneficiaries will be local authorities and services, civil society organisations and stakeholders working within the South Atlantic OTs.

The first call for proposals will take place in June this year. Please regularly check this website or the BEST webpage for further information.

For more information please contact:

SAERI: Maria Taylor and Dr Paul Brickle

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Learning Side Scan Sonar Techniques And Sharing Knowledge Across The South Atlantic Territories

A successful and exciting week of training in the use of side scan sonar (SSS) for habitat mapping has just ended in Ascension Island. Participating in the course were, Sam Cherrett from Saint Helena , who led the course, Andy Richardson, Emma Nolan and Kate Downes (the AIMS team) from Ascension, Debs Davidson and iLaria Marengo from the Falkland Islands.

SSS is a valuable technique for the investigation of the type seabed and for the detection of different submarine features. Acoustic pings (pulses) sent by the sonar are reflected differently by sand, mud, bedrocks and artificial objects, such as metal (e.g. pipelines and wrecks). The sea state can influence the quality of the images, however, good results depend as much on a careful survey design and a proper setting of the device used.

The goal for the Ascension team was to learn how to use side scan sonar and drop down cameras, the latter for ground truthing and features/seabed verification, in order to undertake a fine scale marine  habitat classification and mapping up to 1000 metres from the coast. To provide a complete and accurate picture of the underwater environment, a series of targeted dives are also planned. These will be a valuable addition to the data retrieved and processed from the side scan sonar.

Similarly, the Falklands team came all the way to Ascension to gain essential skills, not in how to survive the equatorial heat, but how to identify seabed types in order to better understand and map marine habitats in inshore waters. Acquiring this knowledge is going to be important in making decision for the development of inshore fisheries, marine spatial planning and to support Environmental Impact Assessments.

The course completely hooked all the participants as it was cleverly planned by Sam Cherrett to focus on the practical and operational aspects and techniques of  survey planning, deployment of the side scan sonar (Starfish device and Scanline software) and processing of the images (Triton Perspective software). The days were split on the boat collecting data and in the office processing the raw data to produce images.

The areas at sea where the side scan sonar was towed were identified by the Ascension team, so that the data collected could be used for one of the deliveries of the AIMS project (supported by Darwin Initiative funding). The tows took place at PanAm, Comfortless Cove, White Rock and the Georgetown moorings. A series of tests were carried out to understand the best setting of the weight to be applied to the Starfish. Then, the drop down camera was utilised to verify 27 points which were considered particularly interesting after the processing of the images.

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The seabed in the surveyed areas were found to be made by medium to coarse sand, maerl and bedrock. The green turtles, which are nesting in Ascension, were pleasant company and appeared as features in the images too.

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From the work carried out on boat and afterwards in the office, the participants could learn how the side scan sonar records the data, how significant ground truthing is, how influential the conditions of the sea are, how bottom tracking can be tedious in case of a bad scan, how important team working and communication is, how boat engines are “delicate” and sun cream might not be enough to avoid sunburn!

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A major success of the course was actually the capacity to work in synergy that was shown by the participants. The collaboration of everyone was the main factor that made the full week extremely productive and enjoyable. Everybody contributed positively to the course by exchanging marine biology knowledge, sharing interests in working with fisheries and spatial data, and comparing research and life experience in the three islands of the South Atlantic.

Special thanks to Ascension Island sea rescue team and Blaine Chester, skilful boatman of Swampdog.

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Climate Change Institute on the Black Tarn, Mt. Usborne

By Dr Brenda Hall, Climate Change Institute, University of Maine

Science Objectives:

The goal of our project is to examine glacial deposits in and around cirques at Mt. Usborne in order to gain a better understanding of the glacial and climate history of the Falkland Islands.

Black Tarn

The Black Tarn, Mt. Usborne, East Falkland

Specific Activities Conducted:

From March 16-19, 2014, a field party of three carried out glacial geologic field work in the Black Tarn area of Mt. Usborne. Field members consisted of Drs. Brenda Hall and Thomas Lowell, both from universities in the United States, and Mr. Antony Smith of Discovery Falklands, who provided logistics and a wealth of local knowledge. The party arrived at a camp site ~750 m from the Black Tarn on March 16 and was able to spend the afternoon carrying gear to the pond and making a bathymetric map (Fig. 1). The map was constructed using a portable depth sounder and by making transects across the lake in an inflatable row boat. Maximum depth recorded was ~10 m. This was less than indicated previously (McAdam and Roberts, 1981, Falkland Islands Journal, p. 23-28) by ~ 3 m, but no deeper area could be found. During this time, the field team also made preliminary observations on the glacial geology surrounding the tarn.

On March 17, the remaining gear was carried to the field site and Drs. Hall and Lowell began coring. A piston coring system was set up from the inflatable boat anchored over the deepest part of the pond. Briefly, this consisted of a polycarbonate tube with a piston that moved up the tube as it was pushed into the mud. The piston provided suction that kept sediments in the tube and allowed recovery. The corer was deployed using a rope. The initial coring drive was successful and a little over one meter of sediment was recovered (Fig. 2). This sediment shows some structure and changes in both color, composition, and grain size and will be the subject of future reports. Without laboratory analysis, it is impossible to say much for certain, but it seems as if the sediments record several wet and dry periods, the timescale of which will become clear as analyses progress. We extruded the core and took subsamples for analysis. We then attempted to take a second meter of core as we had not hit bedrock with the first drive. However, this attempt did not prove successful. We penetrated to two meters depth, but the sediments did not remain in the tube when it was pulled out. This is due mostly to the fact that we needed a different type of equipment than we had with us. The one previous coring trip to the area in the 1970s (McAdam and Roberts, 1981) had retrieved only 45 cm of sediment before meeting refusal, so we had not expected such thick sediment sequences. In the future, bringing a different type of equipment would allow us to recover this sediment and a longer climate record.

On March 18, high winds prevented us from working on the lake. We remained on shore and sampled sediments immediately adjacent to the lake using the same piston core technique. We were able to penetrate nearly three meters and retrieve silt identical to that from our lake core. This core also was subsampled. On March 19, due to increasingly bad weather and the rapidly deteriorating ground on the route out, we packed up camp and returned to Stanley.In general, except for the first day, weather conditions were wet and at freezing. Ground conditions for accessing the site by Land Rover were much worse than anticipated and a function of a rather wet March. Despite these issues, we were able to camp within a short walk of the tarn and were able to meet our scientific goals. We are excited, because there proved to be a lot more to the Black Tarn record than expected based on previous work. Our task now is to analyze the samples, particularly for radiocarbon dating, to begin to assign a timeline to the changes in sediment types that we see in the cores. At present, our best guess is that these cores span time on the order of thousands to tens of thousands of years. Samples have been submitted to the accelerator laboratory for radiocarbon dating, and we expect results in about two months.

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Fig. 1. Bathymetry of the Black Tarn obtained by repeat transects with an electronic depth sounder.

 

 

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Fig. 2. Core BT-14-1, from the Black Tarn, consisting of 1.2 m of sediment.  From the base, the sequence consists of gray clay overlain by moss, overlain in turn by a thick layer of tan-gray silt. This is overlain by moss and then by a sticky gray silt layer. The entire sequence is capped by stiff, orange, sandy silt.

 

 

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Blog Entry from Alexandra Mystikou

This is my third visit to the Falkland Islands. This time I am based at SAERI (Stanley) for two months working on taxonomic issues of seaweed species from the Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

In the past our team (Professors Frithjof Kuepper and Pieter van West from the University of Aberdeen, Dr Aldo Asensi from the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, Alexandra Mystikou, who is a joint PhD student between the University of Aberdeen and the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute, and Melina Marcou from the Dept. of Fisheries and Marine Research, Cyprus) has conducted four expeditions around the Falkland Islands sampling live isolates of macroalgae (seaweeds). Our investigations focus on the molecular taxonomy, ecology and physiology of macroalgae of the Antarctic and Subantarctic regions. During our expeditions we preserve samples of seaweeds for molecular identification, create herbarium specimens and keep cultures of live isolates.

I joined SAERI in October 2012 as a PhD student, co-supervised by Prof. Frithjof Kuepper, Prof. Pieter van West (University of Aberdeen) and Dr Paul Brickle (South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute). My research explores the seaweed biodiversity around the Antarctic Convergence in the South Atlantic and is jointly funded with a scholarship from the University of Aberdeen and the Falkland Islands Government.

The seaweed biodiversity around the Falklands remains only partially explored. Since the pioneering work of Skottsberg in the early 20th century, few phycologists have visited the islands. More specifically, there are significant gaps in the understanding of the Falklands’ deep-water brown algal flora – mainly due to the reason that none of the earlier explorers have dived here.

The two previous expeditions exceeded our expectations as two likely new species of brown epiphytes on the two kelp genus that occur at the Falkland Islands (Macrocystis and Lessonia) have been discovered. Furthermore, three new records of species that potentially have not been recorded before were made. Another significant finding was the rediscovery of Cladochroa chnoosporiformis which had not been seen anywhere in the world for around 100 years.

Witnessed by many in the Falkland Islands is the “red sand” on various beaches, the cause of which has remained a bit of a mystery. After microscopic observations we hypothesize that this might be due to a mass proliferation of a unicellular red alga (e.g. of the group Porphyridiophyceae). In our explorations, we managed to cover large areas both in East and West Falkland, sampling seaweeds by scuba diving.

In another line of research we explore the ecology of the seaweed communities around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia. In order to identify the seaweed species that form the studied communities we are using PhotoQuad™ software, which is a custom software for advanced image processing of 2D photographic quadrat samples, dedicated to ecological applications (Trygonis & Sini, 2012). The two areas from the Falklands that have been selected are the Jason Islands at the north-western extremity of West Falkland and Beauchêne Island, the southernmost point of the Falkland Islands. These areas have been selected because of their peculiar geographical position, in order to compare the structure of their seaweed communities. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current splits into two main northward streams skirting the Falkland Islands from west and east (Arkhipkin et al., 2013). As a result, there are variations between the productivity and the temperature between the two areas which cause variability between the species composition of the two studied sites.

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100 random points at PhotoQuad of South Georgian underwater quadrat photo (Photo credit: SMSG)

The structure of a community of species points out the ecological status of an area. We are comparing the number of single species per genus and per family between the three studied areas (Jason Islands, Beauchêne Island and South Georgia) where the temperature and the productivity are affected differently by the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. The evolutionary relationships among coexisting species may provide further indicators of the ecology of the habitat. Taxonomic distinctness of a community can be studied by a combination of phylogeny and community structure.
In the present study we are investigating the phylogenetic structure of the community assemblages by identifying 100 and 200 random points per underwater quadrate image (approximately 300 images per area) and then comparing the genus/species and species /family numbers between the three studied areas. The quadrat photos have been taken at different depths for each area. We are hoping that the outcome from this study will contribute to the knowledge about the ecology of the seaweed habitats of the Falkland Islands and South Georgia and help us understand better the drivers that lead the communities to structure differently.

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 How many seaweed species can you spot in the picture? (Coraligenus habitat from South Georgia) (Photo credit: SMSG)

Many thanks to the Shallow Marine Surveys Group (SMSG) for collecting and offering kindly to me all the photographic quadrat samples from Jason Islands, Beauchene Island and South Georgia as well as Dr. Paul Brickle and Dr. Paul Brewin for the project (ecology of the seaweed communities around the Falkland Islands and South Georgia) support and guidance. I would like also to thank the South Atlantic Environmental Institute (SAERI) for accommodating and supporting always our research team.

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Tagging Southern Rockhopper penguins (Eudyptes. c chrysocome) in the Falkland Islands

by iLaria Marengo, Debs Davidson and Sarah Crofts

Rockhoppers penguins are the smallest of the crested penguins and are found around the Falkland Islands mainly on rocky coastline, preferably on cliffs sometimes with very steep slope gradients. From the sea, the penguins reach the rocky ledges, where the nests are made, through a series of “hops” hence the name “rockhoppers”. The penguins are characterised by yellow and evident eyebrows, red eyes, a crest and the males are bigger (average of 58 cm vs 45 cm) and heavier (max 3.5 vs max 3.0 kg in breeding season and 2kg when moulting) than the females. The rockhoppers display nest and partner fidelity whereby they tend to go back to the same nest year after year. They arrive in the Falklands in October and stay until April, when they leave to go back to sea in search of food.

Oil exploration in the sea surrounding the Falklands is revealing a high potential of hydrocarbons reserves which could lead to extraction in the near future. One of the main environmental issues with oil extraction is unwanted oil spills, with possible impacts to the seabirds and the whole marine and coastal environment, in general.   A project has been commissioned to SAERI by the Falkland Islands Offshore Hydrocarbons Environmental Forum to gather valuable data on the location of penguins and seals (higher predators) during the winter months to assess the potential for conflict between the activities carried out by the oil and gas industry and the activities of the animals (penguins, fur seals and sea lions). Essentially it is a matter of filling data gaps in our knowledge, because contrary to the summer, very little is known about where and what these animals do during the winter.

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The Project aims at tagging the rockhoppers with Global Location Sensor (GLS) devices before the penguins leave their nests and retrieve the animals and the devices in October, once the animals are back to their nests. The GLS tag (Migrate Technology, UK) has the dimension and weight of a “mentos mint” and is fastened loosely to the leg of the penguin with a couple of plastic laces. The tag records time and light level intensity which are used to estimate latitude and longitude once per day. Since light cycles are unique to each particular location on Earth it is possible to estimate the geographic position of the animals by knowing the time of sunrise and sunset and comparing the level of light intensity recorded during the day by the tag.

It is worth mentioning that GLS tags do not communicate the collected data wirelessly. The data are stored in the tag therefore the tagged birds need to be recaptured and the device read off of a computer for the data to be downloaded. This part of the procedures will be carried out in October 2014. A total of 100 GLS tags are going to be used for this part of the project, and most of these are being deployed on the rockhoppers, with a lesser amount of Magellanic penguins also being tagged. The capturing of the birds started on the 25th of March and will carry on throughout the month of April, since this is the season when the penguins are moulting and are ready to leave the nests.

The locations where penguins will be tagged in this winter (2014) regime are: Bleaker Island, Johnson’s Harbour, Cape Bougainville, and possibly Pebble Island. Magellanic penguins have been tagged at Bleaker Island and may also be tagged at Hadassa Bay just east of Stanley. Hence, we are really thankful to the landowners as their collaboration and help gave us the opportunity to reach the colonies and carry out the tagging operations. Similarly, the project benefited from the collaboration of Falkland Conservation (FC) and from expertise of its staff in capturing and tagging penguins. FC staff led the operation professionally and ensured that all went smoothly for both the penguins and the team. In addition, we are very grateful to Falkland Islands Government and Falkland Islands Petroleum Licensees Association for funding the GAP analyses programme which will carry on with more data investigation.

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South Atlantic Information Management System and GIS Centre has kicked off!

By iLaria Marengo

Hello everyone! I am iLaria and this blog is the first of a series to keep you updated on the development of the South Atlantic Information Management System and GIS Centre. The first news, which I am delighted to provide you, is that the new SAERI programme has officially started! Although I am currently working in Aberdeen (Scotland) the first steps have been made and, to be honest, the initial weeks of the project are going to be full of interesting events. Nevertheless, before unveiling them, I would like to introduce briefly what the South Atlantic Information Management System, GIS Centre wants to achieve, and what my role is within SAERI.

As project manager and GIS specialist I will be responsible for the realisation of the South Atlantic Information Management System and GIS Centre whose aim is to make environmental data storage and management more efficient across the five South Atlantic UK OTs (Falkland Islands, South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, Ascension, St Helena).

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The main idea is to realise a centre able to underpin environmental research in the South Atlantic by assembling baseline information, managing knowledge and establishing linkages amongst researchers to make sure that nobody is “reinventing the wheel” and that the outstanding scientific work already carried out in the South Atlantic region is enhanced further.

The objective is to establish an information management system based on open source and to include shared GIS capabilities, accessible to all the territories, partners and external data users. In fact, to be effective and useful the GIS data centre should become the reference point for scientists, NGOs, developers and Governmental departments looking for data (raw and processed) about the South Atlantic region. GIS facilities and a structured and solid database management is the type of service that the centre would like to provide. Hence, it is important to work in synergy and identify priorities and what the data users and partners in the project need.

In addition, the centre will focus its attention in training OT personnel across the region to ensure that GIS and data management skills are built up in the region and dependence on outside assistance is reduced.

To be successful, this ambitious project requires the co-operation not only with the other 4 South Atlantic Overseas Territories but also with eternal partners such as BAS (British Antarctic Survey), private consultants and universities.

From the 30th of September until the mid of October my agenda is filled with meetings which will take me to tour the UK. I will start in Aberystwyth meeting Katie Medcalf who is Environment Director at Environment Systems. I hope to gain some good ideas for our South Atlantic Information Management System and GIS Centre by taking Katie’s practical experience and knowledge in using and applying GIS and open sources for handling and managing data as a model.

Next destination after Wales is Southern England, precisely Cambridge and London, where I will meet up with researchers at BAS and private consultant Alan Mills, who has already provided useful advice for setting up a GIS in Ascension Islands. The last ètape of the UK tour is Canterbury, where at DICE I will meet Zoe Davies and Bob Smith. Their work is to realise a land cover map for the Falkland Islands with the funding of the Darwin Plus funding. SAERI will support Zoe by providing expertise in GIS spatial data analyses.

I will then move to Gibraltar, where with Paul Brickle, director of SAERI, I will represent the Falkland Islands and we will join the GIS specialists from the other UK OTs. The event is a good opportunity for me to share knowledge about GIS and data management; to learn from others’ working experience; to gather useful ideas to develop the project and understand possible issues.

As you can evince, there are many people and countries to seen before my arrival to the Falklands. The enthusiasm and desire to provide a useful and efficient service for the South Atlantic community, from the researchers to the conservationists and the governmental bodies, is extremely high. Now that the project has kicked off, for SAERI and me it is time to work passionately to achieve the goal.

Watch out for the next update!

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