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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