Hotspots of Cultural Coastal Values Identified for Marine Spatial Planning

———————-Article written by Denise Herrera from the Marine Spatial Planning team, and published in an edited format in the local Falklands’ newspaper Penguin News on 22 April 2016. The project was supervised by Dr. Amélie Augé (SAERI) and Dr. Kate Sherren (Dalhousie University, Canada).————————————————–

Pssshhhh – we know which spots are the best in the Falklands! Late last year the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) team at SAERI conducted interviews in the local community to identify coastal areas that people value so they can be included in the MSP process for the Falkland Islands. Interviews took place in both camp and Stanley.

Example of a map during interview, later digitised for analyses (dummy map)

Example of a map during interview, later digitised for analyses (dummy map)

A total of 47 islanders and long-term residents were asked to identify the 15 places most important to them around the islands and whether they valued them for their aesthetic “Natural Beauty” value, recreational value, historical value or sense of place, nicknamed: “Makes me feel at home”. This was done using new techniques in ‘Public Participation Geographic Information Systems’, or simply put: drawing and labelling coastlines on a laminated map of the Falklands. Participants were asked to identify the strength of their attachment, using a variety of colourful marker pens. Our participants embraced this fun and interactive activity with such enthusiasm that a whopping total of 745 lines were drawn!

Clear hotspots of values were found around our islands. Surf Bay was a clear favourite in recreational value as well as Bull Point and the Chartres estuary. The Natural Beauty of a place received the most responses with hotspots including Sea Lion Island, the Neck at Saunders, Cape Dolphin, Carcass Island and Bull Point.  Of highest historical value was San Carlos, the coast by the Lady Elizabeth wreck, the Mission Station on Keppel Island and the first Settlement on Saunders. What’s more, participants weren’t swayed in their choice by their home settlement meaning a true representation of Cultural Coastal Values was given.


Natural Beauty valued area (highest attachment in red)

Ecosystem Services are the benefits that we gain, directly and indirectly, from the environment. For example a walk on the beach can bring you happiness and well-being, making you healthier and more productive at work. MSP is a coordinated management for the marine environment that includes ecosystem services and environments as a whole. Often seen as land-use planning for the sea, MSP identifies areas of interactions, current or future, between marine uses and economic, ecological and cultural values. With this in mind, the inclusion of Cultural Coastal Values in MSP for the Falkland Islands will aid in better management, maintaining our unique environments, including your favourite spots. After all, who would like a sewage treatment site next to their favourite beach?!

Conference presentation: Using local knowledge to predict baleen whale distribution around the Falkland Islands

Veronica Frans, from the Marine Spatial Planning project team at SAERI, attended and presented her research at US-IALE 2016 (the International Association for Landscape Ecology). The conference took place from 3-7 April 2016 in Ashville, USA. Veronica presented the results from the work she has been doing in the Falkland Islands since August 2015 on baleen whale historical distribution and sighting numbers, as well as an innovative species distribution modelling (SDM) technique using local knolwedge data to determine suitable habitat for baleen whales around the islands, now and as their numbers recover. The results will inform the MSP process for the islands. See the abstract here.


Veronica giving her presentation at US-IALE on Monday 4 April 2016.








———-Veronica F Frans, Amélie A Augé, Jan O Engler and Hendrik Edelhoff (2016). A whale of a tale: using local knowledge to predict baleen whale distribution around the Falkland Islands. US-IALE 2016, Ashville, North Carolina, USA.——————————–

The modelling work is conducted in collaboration with German scientists with expertise in SDM, Jan Engler (Zoological Researchmuseum Alexander Koenig) and Hendrik Edelhoff (Dept. of Wildlife Sciences,Georg-August-University Göttingen, Göttingen).

The presentation was very well received with some great feedbacks and interesting ideas to complement and improve the research.

The Darwin Plus Marine Spatial Planning project funded Veronica’s attendance but she was also awarded a NASA travel award that provided assistance with travel costs (congrats Veronica!).

Veronica receiving her NASA award

Veronica officially receiving her NASA award from Jack Liu and Janet Franklin during the conference.


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!

Soil mapping exercise and field work in New Island

By iLaria Marengo

New Island is one of the western islands of the Falkland Islands archipelago. Its western coastline is characterised by sheer cliffs (mainly sandstone) which are the nesting (breeding) ground of black-browed albatrosses, king cormorants and rockhopper penguins. The cliffs are a distinctive character of the island and the most scenic and spectacular landscape that people can enjoy along with several white sandy beaches scattered all over. A field research station built in the 1970s has been offering a great support to researchers coming to study what nature shows at its best in this place. The mix between the natural beauty, the self-contained and small environment, and the research facilities provided by New Island, made the location the perfect ground for attempting the first ground truthing of the Falkland Islands interpreted soil map.


The map (see May blog) is one of outcomes of the TEFRA (Terrestrial Ecosystems of the Falklands – a Climate Change Risk Assessment) project and it is a very valuable dataset considering that there are very few studies of the soils of the Falklands and the most prominent goes back to the 1970’s. The interpretation was by Rodney Burton, a soil specialist who has worked previously in the Falklands, on the basis of the superficial deposits described in the geological map drawn up by the British Geological Survey. In late May Rodney came to Stanley and delivered a two week soil course funded by the TEFRA project and the result was a familiarisation with the identification of types of soils and above all a new interest in an element of the landscape that generally is not eye-catching, except in eroded areas.

The ground truthing work ended in coring locations across 80% of the island (the southernmost area and Sabina point were not visited) resulting in a total of 160 cores and describing the soil characteristic of each core such as depth, colour, texture, stoniness, structure and mottling. Dutch and gouge augers were the tools used to extract the cores; the latter was preferred in the case of peat or very peaty soils (figures below). According to the landscape and the interpreted soil map, the cores were taken along transects perpendicular to slope and longitudinal to the valleys in order to have a good representation of changes in soil types if these occurred.

nisoilsurvey IMG_0341 IMG_0393 IMG_0332 IMG_0049The data and description of the soils cored to different depth have been entered in a postgres database and mapped in QGIS. The last part of the work, currently in progress, is to match the soil descriptions with the soil type classification scheme adopted by the World Reference Base for Soil Resources (WRB). A simplified illustrated legend of soil types with related pictures was presented by Rodney in May and it will provide a valuable visual aid. WRB methodology for soil classification can be summarised in three steps: determining diagnostic horizons, properties and materials; allocating the soil to a Reference Soil Group; allocating principal and supplementary qualifiers. The principal qualifier are ranked from right to left in order of importance and differentiate the RSG according to the primary pedogenetic process (soil-forming factors or processes that most clearly condition the soil) that characterise soil features. The supplementary qualifiers, used in alphabetical order, are added in brackets. The two tables below offer example of a simplified guide to the WRB RGS and the classes of soils identified in the Falklands.



Scale is the factor to be taken into account after the soil identification at each sample point has been completed. In fact there is a discrepancy between the scale of the interpreted map, which is at 1:250,000, and the level of detail provided by the ground truthing, which is in the order of 300-500 metres (where the coring took place the samples were taken on average at 300-500 metres). A full report will be available in early 2016 and the hope is that the results can be useful to refine the interpreted map; the methodology could be applied to other small islands; conservationists can refer to the outcomes for planning habitat restoration projects and other researchers can be inspired to carry out further investigations. We would like to thank the New Island Conservation Trust to give us the opportunity to carry out the field works and to offer the Field station facilities as base camp. Thank you to the wardens of New Island for their kindness and hospitality.

Kidney menu with shearwater soup

The recipe for wildlife magic is simple: bring in together hundreds of thousands of flying seabirds, boil together with some sea lions, penguins and giant tussac and there you have it: Kidney menu! This is the summary of my recent visit to Kidney Island for some seabird work. A SAERI team has spent three nights working on Kidney Island, a small nature reserve island covered in tussac at the mouth of Berkeley Sound, home to a large (> 50,000 breeding pairs) colony of sooty shearwaters.

Tussac on Kidney Island in the area use by shearwaters.

Tussac on Kidney Island in the area used by shearwaters.

The aim of the trip was to recover geolocator tags (small light-based tracking tags) that had been deployed on sooty shearwaters in 2012 and 2014 by an overseas researcher.  SAERI is facilitating the recovery. The team comprised of team leader Nathan McNally (SAERI senior field technician), two wonderful volunteers Amanda Kuepfer (FIG Fisheries seabird observer) and Brendon Lee (FIG Fisheries scientist), and me (Amélie Augé). The data from geolocator tags give information on large-scale movements of animals. Dr April Hedd (Memorial University) and her team have already revealed the incredible migration that the Kidney’s shearwaters undertake each year between the Falkland Islands where they breed and the North Atlantic Ocean where they feed in open-waters off Newfoundland.

Shearwater flying over Kidney Island before landing.

Shearwaters flying over Kidney Island at dusk before landing.

The work can appear slightly dire: all-nighters out in the cold Falkland summers (as I am writing it is snowing…). However, as soon as the sun disappears behind the horizon, the sky darkens, not because of the fading light though, but because of the number of shearwaters returning! They fly over the island for some time. Then they land (or more like crash-fall!) in the tussac, and it does not stop for 3 hours. We keep busy checking the ‘sock nets’ that we placed earlier on burrows where tags were deployed on birds and looking at the legs of every bird we come across in case we can spot a tag. During a small down time between midnight and 2 am, things are a little quieter with birds in their burrows and a few sleeping on the ground. Then the shearwaters start talking-chatting-calling again, loud and louder, from every burrow then from the ground where pairs or groups socialise. They seem to come out at once and the ground is covered with them, looking seemingly like a shearwater soup we have to walk through. Another opportunity to find more tags and the ‘sock nets’ have now been pulled out so that we can catch any birds coming out of the nest. Then by 3 am, it’s take-off time just as the sky lightens. The take-off patches are busy with a constant stream of birds. By 4.30 am, they are all gone and on their way to go feed at sea for a few days.

Burrows are most often too deep so 'sock' nets are used to catch birds entering the net or (when the net is pulled out inside or inside the burrow). Amanda holding a bird caught in a net before the geolocator tag was removed from its leg.

Burrows are most often too deep to reach by hand so ‘sock’ nets are used to catch birds entering (when the ‘sock’ is pulled inside the burrow. left picture) or leaving the burrow (when the net is pulled out). The net is unpinned and the bird is easily caught (middle). Right: Amanda holding a bird caught in the net before the geolocator tag was removed from its leg.

Over the night, some brave other seabirds enter the shearwater soup. The white-chinned petrels (the giants in a world of shearwaters) breed in the same area. The cute tiny grey-backed storm petrels also breed in the tussac above the shearwater burrows. While the white-chinned petrels seemed to work on the same timing as the shearwaters, the storm petrels arrived at the quietest moment of the night after midnight, likely to avoid the madness of the shearwater landing or taking off time! All in all, time flies over night with all the wildlife (because I have not even mentioned the sea lions, the Magellanic penguins and other animals that can be encountered in the tussac too!) and with sleepy eyes, it is time… for breakfast with a couple of hot drinks, and then the tent for a good day sleep!

This amazing taste of wildlife flavour gave the Kidney menu and its shearwater soup a great star! I am back in the office now, working on Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands. Data such as those gained from the tags recovered from the shearwaters provide great information to understand the use of the marine environment by seabirds and how we can ensure that maritime activities do not affect these remarkable animals.

Mapping areas at risk of marine invasion from biofouling

By iLaria Marengo

In a recent blog, it was revealed that the Falkland Islands, although remote, actually receive a considerable amount of marine traffic. More than a thousand different vessels (tankers, cargo ships, supply vessels, fishing boats, cruise liners, yachts etc) entered the Falklands Conservation zones from May 2014 to May2015.

Biosecurity is a set of precautions to reduce the risk of introducing or spreading invasive non-native species (NNS), and other harmful organisms such as diseases, in the wild. Biosecurity is a hot topic in the Falkland Islands because the characteristic of being remote does not exclude the risk of invasion from NNS that in such isolated islands and pristine environment can be very detrimental to the local habitats and their unique native species.

The Falkland Islands can be reached either by plane or boat. It means that in terms of biosecurity, introduction and spreading of invasive NNS can occur via both. The maps below show the connections from the rest of the world to the Falklands by air and by sea. It is evident that biosecurity control on ships is more crucial considering the annual number and the various locations from which the boats depart before reaching the Falklands, compared to the more regular and limited air connection.

annual_air_linkport_of_callsOne of the main biosecurity risks associated with boats is biofouling which is the colonisation, and the transport on the submerged surfaces of the boats, of unwanted organisms such as bacteria, barnacles and algae. These organisms travel on the ship hull and can be released and introduced in a new area where, as NNS, they may become invasive and damage the native marine environment or its resources. Ship biofouling is therefore a marine biosecurity risk that needs to be managed. Site monitoring in areas known to be at risk can also help detecting invasive NNS and remove or eradicate them before they spread.

yacht_biofoulingIt is therefore important for the Falkland Islands to identify the most susceptible areas of introduction of NNS. In the context of Marine Spatial Planning, GIS were used as analytical and mapping tool to provide useful information for biosecurity policies. Mapping areas at risk of invasive NNS from biofouling was a collaborative work between the GIS specialist (Dr iLaria Marengo) and the Marine Spatial Planning project leader (Dr Amélie Augé) at SAERI.

The shipping data were split by vessel category and were classified into groups with a high risk of introduction (from overseas) of NNS such as cargo ships, tankers, cruise ships and pleasure boats, or with a high risk of diffusion (within the islands) of NNS such as cruise ships, harbour, military and internal ferry. The risk of introduction and diffusion generated by each vessel category was scored according to the likeliness of biofouling, and the frequency of activities.

QGIS was used to conduct all the analyses and mapping. A Kernel density analysis was performed for each vessel category to map the density of boats for 5km cells within the territorial sea (12nm from shore) all around the islands. Density was multiplied by the number of different vessels occurring in the same area because variety, along with the quantity, of boats will have an impact in terms of risk of introduction of NNS. The resulting values were then multiplied by the risk scores. Finally, the maps for each vessel category were added to each other to create the final map of risk of introduction and diffusion of NNS in the Falkland Islands.

risk_diffusionIn parallel, a second GIS analysis was run to map areas with environmental features that would be sensitive to invasive NNS. The locations of breeding colonies of albatrosses, penguins, and pinnipeds were taken into account along with the distributions of kelp beds, Important Plant Areas, RAMSAR sites and tussac islands. The sensitivity of each environmental feature was mapped by creating buffers (ranging from 500m to 3 km) from the centre of the colonies or from the centre of the area. The areas of the buffers were attributed a value of 1, which corresponded to a high sensitivity score, so all the environmental variables were equally assessed as high in terms of sensitivity. The maps were added together to produce the overall environmental sensitivity map with values from 0 (low) to 1 (high).

sensitivityThe conclusive part of the GIS analyses was to highlight which environmentally sensitivite areas are most at risk to be affected by introduction of NNS due to biofouling. The resulting maps show that the area with the highest risk of introduction of NNS is Port Williams/Stanley Harbour. This did not come as a surprise because the Shallow Marine Survey Group has already detected some invasive NNS there. The areas of high risk of diffusions are the main touristic islands since they are well known sites of seabird and marine mammal colonies. Mare harbour stood out as a likely area at risk too.


The overall conclusion of this GIS analysis is that there are significant risks of introduction and diffusion of NNS, which may damage the pristine environment of the Falkland Islands. Some sites were highlighted as most at risk of direct introduction and should be surveyed, while biosecurity measures should be taken. Other sites at risk were identified from the diffusion process all around the islands. The results are preliminary and should be taken as initial findings. They are however already good indicators of where the biosecurity officer could target efforts, and provide good information for marine spatial planning. The analysis could be refined with more data and by taking into consideration other ways of introductions of NNS such as ballast water. More in-depth analyses of potential impacts of some NNS on inshore marine species should also be explored in the future.

Marine spatial planning: There is more traffic in the sea than you think!

Around 90% of trade worldwide is carried by ships across the oceans. Shipping is a crucial part of the economy of the modern world we live in. The Falklands are no exception and most goods are transported by ships. So you know that there are ships visiting the Islands to deliver food, materials, petrol, kero, tourists etc and to export Falklands’ products to the world. But, with the remoteness of the Islands, shipping traffic passing by should be minimal, right? Obviously it is not the English Channel here! Yet, with an estimated 50,000 large ships going around the globe at any given time (with this number increasing at great rates), what do we know about what’s going on around the Falklands, if ships pass by, how many, what kind and where?

The oil product tanker JASON (105m in length)

The oil product tanker JASON (105 m in length) in Port Williams.

Shipping data are of upmost importance for Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) because ship traffic is a major source of safety risks from collision or grounding and also of environmental risks (oil spills). In the previous Penguin News, the MSP team introduced what MSP is and the type of information we are collecting to provide scientific tools and advice to manage the marine environment in the long-term. Surprisingly, prior to the start of the MSP project, there was no long term recording of data on shipping activities.  Sure has been running a system to monitor shipping traffic since 2013, but solely to display real-time ship locations online for ship-spotters; the data were deleted. This system is called AIS (or Automated Identification System). Ships are equipped with it and transmit information via radio signals picked up by land stations. Sure has 3 such stations across the Falklands. The information given includes the ship identity, the time and its GPS location. Working with Mark Street at Sure, the data has now been extracted and saved at SAERI every 3 months. The MSP project now has one year of hourly shipping locations to analyse. And what a mine of information that is!

Ship locations are used to map their paths across Falklands’ waters. Over 1,100 different ships and boats entered these waters and a significant shipping route west of the Islands was uncovered. Most ships were on route to somewhere else and included oil tankers, container ships, bulk carriers, reefers and cruise ships, but no wine tankers (such a thing does exist!) to the despair of some SAERI colleagues. The largest ship that travelled through the Falklands’ waters in the last year was the crude oil tanker APOLYTARES, 335m long (more than 3 times the length of a rugby field), that passed 50km east off Beauchêne Island; another of similar size passed within 30km of the Jason Islands. In total, 75 different oil tankers were recorded but only 4 actually delivered to the Falklands or refuelled the Falklands’ fishing boats.

Paths of oil tankers (in red) that were recorded in Falklands’ waters (area bordered in yellow) between May 2014 and May 2015. The paths around Stanley, Berkeley Sound and just North of this are tankers for local delivery and re-fuelling of fishing boats at sea, and supplying the oil rig that was then north of East Falkland.

Paths of oil tankers 

On the left are all paths of oil tankers that were recorded in Falklands’ waters (area bordered in yellow) between May 2014 and May 2015. The paths around Stanley, Berkeley Sound and in the North are tankers for local delivery and re-fuelling of fishing boats at sea, and supplying the oil rig that was then north of East Falkland.





Over that year, 220 different cargo ships, including reefers working with the fishing boats at sea, were also recorded. The largest cargo ships that travelled were bulk carriers of 300m in length and travelled as close as 10km from the Jason Islands and 8km from Beauchêne. The SCOUT, a 93m cargo ship that delivers goods to the Islands from South America was recorded several times, travelling within 2km of the Jason Islands. Boats also regularly sail within 1 to 2 km from Volunteer Point.

Paths of oil cargo ships (in blue) that were recorded in Falklands’ waters between 2014 and May 2015. These include reefers but not the oil rig supply boats or the Concordia Bay (local delivery ship).

Paths of cargo ships

On the left, paths of all cargo ships that were recorded in Falklands’ waters (area bordered in yellow) between 2014 and May 2015. These include reefers but not the oil rig supply boats or the Concordia Bay (local delivery ship).






The shipping data and analyses now provide some scientific tools to identify areas of potential need for monitoring or management. The area of the Jason Islands is particularly sensitive because there is a significant amount of traffic in the western shipping route. Ships may take short cuts through or close to the islands. Further analyses will be conducted and these shipping data can be combined with data on other activities or areas of value to provide FIG with an overview of potential issues, and help make strategic, informed decisions owing that activities will increase in the marine environment in the future. This is the type of benefits Marine Spatial Planning can provide.

For more information, questions or interest in being involved in MSP in the Falkland Islands, Dr Augé can be contacted at SAERI by phone 27374 or email

Written by Dr Amélie Augé, spatial ecologist at SAERI, leading researcher and manager of the 2-year Darwin Plus-funded project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands’. This article was published in the Penguin News on 30 October 2015, ending an MSP series of 4 articles.

Marine Spatial Planning: Mapping historical whale sightings to help manage the future

This article was written by Veronica Frans, research assistant at SAERI, as part of the Darwin Plus-funded project ‘Marine Spatial Planning for the Falkland Islands’. The FIG Environmental Planning Department financially supports this whale study via their Environmental Studies Budget. This article was published in the Penguin News on 23 October 2015 as part of an MSP series of 4 articles. 


When’s the last time you’ve seen a whale?  Have they always been around, or did they suddenly just reappear? The story behind the whales in the Falklands is currently incomplete. Commercial whaling activities in the early 1900s had nearly decimated whales throughout the world, including here. Annual captures of as many as 463 whales at New Island Station were recorded then. These were solely of the large baleen whales – mainly sei and fin whales. Since then, according to anecdotes heard while talking with people, in particular with FIGAS pilots, these whales may well have been doing a comeback to the beautiful Falklands’ shores, and in great numbers. So could there be a success story here, of a possible recovering whale population?

Typical sightings of baleen whales (two blows of humpback whales)

Typical sightings of baleen whales (two blows of humpback whales)

Whether it’s being noticed or not, something is happening with the baleen whales here in the Falklands. The problem is, no one has actually studied them until now! It means that we have very little data to determine what is happening. They’re here now, but the questions are: are they returning? Are their numbers increasing? Is there a seasonal pattern for their presence?  Are there hotspots where they can be found? All these questions need answers. If the whale population is increasing, they may interact with ships and potentially collide with them. This is a serious issue faced in other countries with high whale density. Therefore, understanding the pattern of recovery of the whales in the Falklands and mapping their current distribution is needed for the Marine Spatial Planning (MSP) project. This project was described in the last couple of Penguin News and aims to provide scientific tools to FIG to co-ordinately manage the marine environment. In order to identify areas of potential risks and plan for the future, we need to identify areas used by whales, and whether their numbers are increasing.

But do we really have no data to answer these questions? Well, although there aren’t much actual data that exist, you (yes, you!), may be able to help fill in the data gap. This is called citizen science where scientists recognise that local inhabitants, as a group, have a huge amount of knowledge about the environment in which they live – especially historical knowledge. This can be harvested to fill in gaps for scientific studies. As part of the MSP project, a study currently underway addresses these questions on whales and is using this concept of citizen science to accomplish it. Information is being gathered by interviewing people, and the goal is to determine where and when they could and can be found, in the past and now. MSP is addressing the gaps in knowledge that exist, and it is hoped that maps can be produced to inform FIG for management, and also the tourism industry for development purposes.

Veronica, interviewing Ben MSP

Building a map of whale sightings with Ben Berntsen at Elephant Beach Farm.

Getting historical information on whales therefore largely depends on eyewitness accounts. In September, I went on fieldtrips to camp (on the East and West Falklands and some of the outer islands), visiting people and interviewing them. I asked for their first-hand knowledge on whales, having them indicate on a map when and where they have seen whales over their lifetime. Whether someone can provide one sighting or 30, or whether they know which species they saw or not, any input is helpful to the study because it is working to build strength in numbers. Preliminary results from 38 interviews thus far indicate that whales have been seen as early as November and as late as August in more recent years. The majority of sightings have been in January and February, according to 68% and 87% of these interviewees. Some of the earliest whale sightings were in the 1940s and 50s, but only 8% of interviewees have attested to those years. The majority of people have first seen whales in the 1990s and 2000s, and are still seeing them up until now.

Map illustrating a sample of the data from 3 people interviewed on whale sightings from the 1990s until now (2015).

Map illustrating a sample of the data from 3 people interviewed on whale sightings from the 1990s until now (2015).

More information is needed to obtain robust results, which will happen through more interviews, analyses of data recorded from FIGAS pilots, Falklands Conservation and other sources, and looking into commercial whaling archives. In terms of interviews, I will continue to contact people over the next few weeks. As a newcomer to the Islands, the study has given me the privilege to see many amazing places and meet so many welcoming and friendly people. I would like to thank those who have already participated in this study and also welcomed me into their homes. If you have any questions, my email is For more information on the overall MSP project, you can check SAERI’s website.


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.

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