The Falklands; Remote and Wonderful

The Falkland Islands are small and distant from most anywhere else on the planet. They are cold, often dreary, yet they attract about 20 times as many visitors annually as there are residents. Why? Because it is wild, remote, barren, and full of ocean-going birds and marine mammals. The nature people come here; in very large numbers. There are no trees. It is somewhere between tundra and arctic.

These islands (more than 775 small ones and only two big ones) total about 4,700 square miles which is larger than Delaware but smaller than Connecticut. There are about 3,350 island residents who are mostly British in heritage and loyalty. Two thirds of the residents live in the one town on the islands – Stanley. Stanley is found at the eastern tip of the East Falkland island. It has a protected deep water port.

The map above shows the route of a grand nature outing to the Southern Hemisphere. Starting in Ushuaia, Argentina the ship goes first to the Falklands, then way out to South Georgia, and returns via the Antarctic peninsula. This is one of the trips that nature people salivate over; much like the Galapagos or East Africa. It is the greatest sea bird outing possible and there will be many marine mammals as well; seals, sea lions, elephant seals, whales, and dolphins for sure. And of course, many thousands of penguins of at least six different species.

Back in the really olden days the piece of Continental Shelf that has become the Falklands was squeezed between Antarctica, Africa, and South America, mostly a part of Africa. As Africa was separated during that break up of Gondwana, the island fragment got stuck to what was to become Antarctica and was snagged on the Patagonian Ridge, rotated about 180 degrees, and stayed near South America; parting from the African land mass, and Antartica, about 400 million years ago.

Gondwana was a tight hodgepodge of land masses. Most of the Southern Hemisphere land was squeezed in one mass. As it broke up the Falklands and New Zealand were left hanging (in very different locations) as the “parent” lands relocated. In the Falklands case the African continent had a scrape with an underwater plateau and a chunk of Africa was dislocated and remained stuck about 400 miles off the coast of South America. By the way this was the time when India started its long road northward until stopped by the Asian continent. (see image below)
This is a close-up of how South America and Africa were about 400 million years ago. The Falklands are those crustal fragments on the shelf east of southern South America.

The islands today are not just small they are rather unpopulated. It is a bit lonely out there with no great economy to excite an entrepreneur. The two large islands have a bit of development, especially East Falkland. The tour ships filled with Nikon and Cannon carrying birdwatchers usually stop at New Island, Carcass Island, and maybe Westpoint. This gets the travelers into penguin and albatross colonies and on shore with the one or two people who have sheep out there. If your ship stops in Stanley be sure to go ashore and eat fresh fish and squid – and support these most rural people.

The islands are clustered for the most part. The harbor in Stanley is very encompassing and provides a safe haven, but is not easy to access during high winds and rolling seas. Most of the smallish named places that look like towns are just homes or ranches. Aside from the town/city of Stanley everyone else live in “camp”. This general term encompasses about one-third of the population.

Like most remote places the weather is often rugged, like the landscape. In the Falklands there are lots of foggy, windy, and wet days. In February, the Southern Hemisphere summer, the temperature rarely gets above 60 and rarely below 50. That is as good as it gets. The remainder of the year is less pleasant; though the coldest winter days are rarely below freezing and there is no snow that sticks to the ground. The wind is nearly constant from the west and is usually at 15-25 miles per hour.

So anyway; a long time ago this became a mammal-free zone in the middle of the ocean; a great place for birds that wander to great Southern Ocean to nest. There were/are no native mammalian predators and miles and miles of rocky ledges and grassy swales for nesting. It was, and largely still is, a haven for albatrosses, petrels, cormorants, penguins and a few land birds that have adapted to the stark situation the Falklands provide.

There are scattered ranges and homesteads throughout the islands. Most are remote and stark. Few people live out here and many of the properties are like little three-house villages where everyone works on the property and live with their fellow workers cheek to jowl.
But there are hundreds of miles of rocky shore line. These layers provide room for thousands of birds to nest and the areas of grassy swale (like the foreground in the lower left) provide nesting ground for the Black-browed Albatrosses, and land birds.
The Falklands War of 1982 saw the nearby Argentine government try to claim (reclaim?) the “Malvinas Islands” which they have long considered to be more Argentinian than British. Much of the shoreline is still off limits due to the many land mines still buried along the beaches.

I realize that this entry has almost no nature stuff – because the Falklands deserve a bit of background I am doing this on purpose. Within the next few days I will post a few more pages on this region that certainly will include birds and mammals of the area.

Stay Tuned.

Sunny days are glorious here; windy perhaps but really nice. Sunny days are not routine however.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: