The Invisible Life of the Falkland Islands: How eDNA Research is Revealing the Secrets of Kelp Forests

Dr Narissa Bax

Image : The mesmerizing Macrocystis pyrifera, giant kelp forest near Cape Pembroke, reveals the remarkable biodiversity and distinct underwater scenery of the Falkland Islands, emphasising the importance of conserving these vital ecosystems. © Ewan Tregarot

Get ready to embark on a thrilling scientific journey as we reveal the secrets of the Falkland Islands' enigmatic kelp forests! Our pioneering project utilises cutting-edge environmental DNA (eDNA) technology to investigate the biodiversity hidden within these underwater marvels. This project is supported by passionate local volunteers, and partners with global organisations such as the Kelp Forest Foundation, NatureMetrics, and the University of Aberdeen - this groundbreaking initiative is the first of its kind in the Falkland Islands.

Picture yourself plunging beneath the waves to explore a vast, intricate underwater world brimming with life. The kelp forests of the Falkland Islands are some of the most pristine and biodiverse ecosystems on the planet, providing crucial services like carbon storage (blue carbon), habitat for marine life, and nursery groups that support fisheries. Our eDNA study dives deep into these complex marine realms, shedding light on the invisible tapestry of life that weaves together these magnificent ecosystems.

Image : Delve into the heart of the Falkland Islands' Macrocystis pyrifera, giant kelp forests near Cochon Island where beautiful animals such as sea urchins and sea stars thrive. © Ewan Tregarot
Image : The enchanting Macrocystis pyrifera, giant kelp forest at Kidney Islands a proposed Marine Managed Area (pMMA), showcases the incredible biodiversity and unique underwater landscapes of the Falkland Islands. These thriving ecosystems play a crucial role in blue carbon research and provide essential ecosystem services, emphasising the importance of preserving and understanding these vital marine habitats. © Ewan Tregarot

Imagine being able to uncover the mysteries of an ecosystem without disturbing its delicate balance. eDNA technology does just that, enabling our team to identify the presence and relative abundance of species in the kelp forests by analyzing DNA samples collected from the environment. This revolutionary approach allows us to monitor and protect these crucial habitats without causing any harm to the vibrant array of creatures that call them home.

This fascinating journey into the heart of the Falkland Islands' kelp forests is brought to life through the dedication and expertise of local volunteers, including fisheries and conservation scientists, environmental policy specialists, and camera and drone technicians. Their invaluable contributions, along with stunning visuals captured by the marine photographer Ewan Tregarot and video by Oly Dempster from the Falkland Islands Film Company, showcase the beauty and importance of these underwater worlds, inspiring others to protect and preserve them.

Immerse yourself in the Macrocystis pyrifera giant kelp forests near Kidney Island a proposed MMA, where an array of captivating marine life flourishes. Witness the South American sea lions (Otaria flavescens) as they gracefully navigate this underwater paradise, a testament to the abundant biodiversity and unique splendor of the region. © Ewan Tregarot

As we continue to unravel the secrets hidden within the kelp forests of the Falkland Islands, our eDNA study will play a crucial role in shaping conservation and management strategies for these essential marine ecosystems. The insights gained from this research will not only inform future conservation initiatives but also help us better understand the complex relationships between species and their habitats, ultimately ensuring the preservation of these invaluable ecosystems for generations to come.


The study is made possible by the Kelp Forest Foundation, a non-profit organisation committed to the protection and restoration of kelp forest ecosystems worldwide. NatureMetrics, a UK-based environmental DNA testing specialist in employing DNA sequencing to monitor and analyse biodiversity, is also supporting the project. Dr. Kara Layton and her research group in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of Aberdeen are providing invaluable DNA barcoding information underpinning this project. Thanks to the talented Oly Dempster of Falkland Islands Film Company who created a stunning video that showcases both the project and the remarkable kelp forest environment. Thank you to gifted Ewan Tregarot for the beautiful images included here. The Sea Quest team for sampling in the West Falkland Islands at West Point, Carcass, and the Jason Islands. Javed Riaz for collecting a sample at Steeple Jason. Daniel Biggs at Falkland Outdoors who provided video footage for use in advertising and raising local awareness for this project. Kirsty Bailey for lending her stand up paddleboard for nearshore eDNA collection. Jesse van der Grient and Rhian Taylor for collaborating with the eDNA project to sample at Kidney Island and Port William with funding from the DPLUS148 project for the charter of the Jack Solis, and Steve Cartwright and Paul Brewin for assistance and SMSG for their data and insight. Tim Mean was very helpful in sampling at West Point, Carcass Island, and Kidney Island. Thank you to Chris Evans and Bronte Evans for transporting eDNA samples to the United Kingdom. Thank you also to Angelique Dodds from Kelp Blue for conducting a video training session at the beginning of the project. Finally, thank you to the John Ellerman Fund for supporting Narissa Bax's time to organise this partnership by financing the marine and coastal programme coordinator job at SAERI.

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