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.

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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.

 

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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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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. 

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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 VFrans@env.institute.ac.fk. For more information on the overall MSP project, you can check SAERI’s website.

 

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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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Demographic and tracking data of black browed albatross on New Island

by iLaria Marengo

New Island is one of the islands of the Falklands’ archipelago and lies to the west of West Falkland. It is approximately 22.7 square km; the northern and western coastline is characterised by precipitous and breath-taking cliffs (max 200 metres). These are perfect locations for black browed albatross (BBA), rockhopper and shags colonies. In contrast, the eastern coastline is lower lying or has smaller cliffs and scarps. Sandy beaches are scattered throughout the northern and southern ends and centre of the island and offer perfect places for penguins, sea lions and, less frequently, elephant seals to come ashore or depart for the open sea. New Island is owned by the New Island Conservation Trust (http://www.falklandswildlife.com/), which is a non-profit charitable conservation organisation and aims at assuring the future of the island as wildlife reserve in perpetuity.

Conservation is therefore the main activity carried out on New Island: currently there are researchers from all over the world studying demographic, migratory behaviour, and foraging ecology of gentoo, rockhopper and magellanic penguins, black browed albatrosses, striated caracara, thin-billed prions, white chinned petrels, southern giant petrels and Falkland skuas. The amazing diversity of species and their “accessibility” makes New Island a special place. This is helped greatly by the good infrastructure (accommodation and lab space) provided by the Trust that allows researchers to carry out field work and long terms studies. Along with seabirds, plants and habitats have also been the focus of studies, the most recent being the broad scale habitat mapping carried out by Dr Rebecca Upson in 2010-2011.

While visiting the Island in early November it was extremely interesting to participate in the field work conducted by Dr Letizia Campioni, who is a postdoc at the ISPA-Instituto Universitario of Lisbon and one of the members of the team of scientists led by Dr Paulo Catry. Since 2003 the team from Portugal has been conducting yearly monitoring of the BBA colonies at the so called “Settlement rookery”. Through the collection of data (such as count of breeding pairs, eggs and chicks) and the ringing of breeding or immature birds as well as chicks, researchers obtain information that helps to understand the dynamics of the albatross populations. The main goal of such long-term project is to use these demographic data as a tool for conservation and environmental monitoring. Further details on the Albatross Project at:

https://sites.google.com/site/projectoalbatroz/Home.

At the same time, the team collected ecological and behavioral data. In the latest years, Dr Letizia Campioni has been focusing her work on immature BBA, studying the foraging ecology, foraging specialisation and strategies during the breeding and wintering season. She is doing this by sampling blood and feathers for stable isotope composition and by tracking birds using GPS-loggers, activity loggers and geolocators. These data will enable the identification and modelling of the parameters that are driving population changes and relate those to environmental variables (i.e. climate and fisheries) and management practices (fisheries regulations).

The team, led by Dr Paulo Catry, also conducts low to medium intensity biological and monitoring studies of two predators of chicks: the Falkland Skuas and the Striated Caracaras (Johnny Rooks).

Overall, the data gathered and analysed by the researchers in New Island will provide a better understanding of the population dynamics, their distribution and relationship with resources (e.g. food), other environmental variables (e.g. climate, oceanography) and human activities. In addition, the metadata of these data will be kept available through an online catalogue. Metadata will offer the opportunity to quickly find the data that has already been collected. As such, it will facilitate data sharing and increase scientific partnerships and collaborations, with benefits and advantages for both the conservation of wildlife in New Island and the researchers.

IMG_7218 IMG_7571 IMG_7576 IMG_7486

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Overseas Territories get together and enthusiastic about open source GIS!

By iLaria Marengo

Hello from the Falklands! I arrived just two weeks ago after a few interesting days spent in Gibraltar and Ascension Island where I met with other enthusiastic GIS specialists working for the other Overseas Territories (OTs).
Gibraltar hosted the first OTs meeting entirely dedicated to GIS on the 8th and the 9th of September, its application and its use as a decision support tool for environmental and planning studies. There were presentations on habitat mapping through the use and analysis of satellite images in Anguilla; on using GIS as a decision support systems for coastal environment, protected habitats, waste management and contingency planning in the Cayman Islands, Jersey and Gibraltar; and examples of public participatory GIS for marine spatial planning n the Shetland Islands. The event turned out to be a great opportunity for bringing together “GIS people” from the different OTs, from the Caribbean islands, to the South Atlantic region and the European OTs. The great interaction and rapport we were able to build through exchanging knowledge and experience revealed that, despite the different backgrounds, the GIS issues encountered by everyone were in fact fairly similar. We could all learn from everybody else’s work.
The use of open source GIS, and in particular QGIS, was under the spot light. Paolo Cavallini and Luigi Pirelli were demonstrating the functionalities of the latest release of QGIS (2.0 Dufour) and the possibility of developing it by writing Python scripts and sharing them with the broad community of QGIS users. We were all thrilled and we came back to our respective islands (territories) perhaps with more enthusiasm than that with which we arrived.
The good news for me did not end in Gibraltar. Invigorated by that experience I flew to Ascension to meet up with the Conservation Centre “gang”. Sam, Nicola, Jo and Natasha were extremely kind and hospitable and we were immediately tuned in to the same “GIS frequency”. It is amazing to see how much goes on in such a small and remote island such Ascension. The team is involved in many projects, for example research is carried out on green turtles, seabird monitoring, and cataloguing of endemic plants and heritage buildings/sites. We worked on how to facilitate the use of some of the databases already set up and available, and how to make them more user-friendly. The stop over in Ascension was educational and beneficial as we will be working more and more closely with each other for the realisation of the GIS data centre for the South Atlantic OTs.Land Crab Map

I carried on my trip to the Falklands thinking positively and looking forward to the start of the project with SAERI. After the first two weeks we have a draft design of the architecture of the GIS data centre and information system. It involves the use of a metadata catalogue, QGIS for data editing, analysis and mapping, a spatial database and a web GIS service…all open source. This is in its infancy so please watch out for the next blog as we hope to come back with big news! Last but not least mention…it is great to finally meet the SAERI gang and be down here in the gorgeous Falkland Islands!

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