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Falkland Islands 2013: January 30th update

Peter Howlett, 31 Ionawr 2013

30.01.13
Communication with the outside world has been sadly lacking for the last few days as I drive around West Falkland. Mobile coverage only extends to Port Howard and Fox Bay which is where I was able to send a text update from. Since then, mobile and internet access haven’t existed. I am now in Hill Cove, on the north coast of West Falkland where my hosts have been generous enough to allow me access to their broadband.

Getting here has been a long journey in more ways than one. From Fox Bay, I travelled to Port Stephens on the far southwest tip of the island and visited the charmingly named Moonlight Bay. A flat sandy bay with a rich array of animals in both sand and rocky outcrops I then encountered the largest lugworm I have ever seen, measuring 30cm in length!
Only slightly further north but with an opposing aspect, I went to South Harbour. Mostly rocky but with a small soft sandy section enclosed by the rocks I found some interesting crevices to explore as well as a bright orange sponge growing on the surface of many of the shaded overhangs which had fanworms embedded in it.

A long drive back north, past Fox Bay, brought me to Little Chartres Farm, the only place I have stayed in that was not part of my sampling list. The farm is located at the top of the Chartres River which then heads west widening into a large estuary which was my sampling target. A short drive took me to Chartres settlement where I could walk down on to a large open shore with large areas of flat rocky ridges as well as a lot of very soft muddy sand, soft enough to sink into slightly but not disappear! Again, the variety of habitats on the shore provided me with lots of sampling opportunity. The soft sediment harboured some large mobile animals as well as many tubes with worms inside. There were so many animals to try and lok at that I sieved a few spadefuls of the sediment and kept everything retained so I could be sure of making as good an account of what was living there as possible. After leaving the shore at Chartres I then also stopped off on my way back to Little Chartres to have a look at the shore further up the river. There were some worms here but as far as I could tell only of a genus called Boccardia. These worms I have commonly found in most high shore regions and areas closer to freshwater input where the salt content is much more variable than further down a creek or estuary. I did of course collect a few for comparison anyway just to be sure they really were the same!

Northward travel resumed and I headed towards the northeastern tip of the island at Dunbar. The owners directed me further along the road to Hot Stone Cove Creek, a long, narrow bay which, as the tide receded, completely emptied out to leave an expanse of sand leading out to an exposed rocky point. The sand harboured an enormous population of lugworms (but not a population of enormous lugworms this time) but there was also a large diversity of other polychaetes squeezed in amongst them. The rocky headland was also interesting as on the exposed side the rocks were thickly covered in a pink encrusting alga which formed fairly loose crusts. Such crusts can provide a great habitat for animals such as worms so some sections of that went into a pot for investigation. After finishing on the shore my destination was the settlement at Hill Cove where I am staying now for a few days.

It was at this point however that circumstances went downhill rather disturbingly. Without going into long detail, the car I was driving started having a very bad day. This is not what you want when you are on a road that probably sees an average of less than one car a day and the nearest house is several miles away. In a stressful drive involving leaking brake fluid and an overheating engine I limped into Hill Cove which I knew would be the best place to be for help as I would have access to phones, internet and importantly an airstrip for help and, if necessary, car parts to get to me. Magically, the person who hired me the car turned out to have a partner here in the settlement who has taken the car away fixed one problem and is getting a part flown in to fix the other and promised me a spare car to use this afternoon so I can keep my sampling on track as I head west and slightly south to Crooked Inlet. Tomorrow my plan was to stay by the settlement to sample here so a car is not essential and hopefully by then the car will be well again!

Teresa

Falkland Islands 2013: January 31st update

Peter Howlett, 31 Ionawr 2013

31.01.13
It turns out that the car is not due to recover quickly and has been declared ‘unserviceable’ (a word that brought twinges of déjà vu and memories of my flight out). A replacement has been promised.

Still, I have a car on loan for now which got me to Crooked Inlet, a large winding creek on the southern side of the same peninsula I sampled yesterday. As with many such sheltered creeks the sediment was soft muddy sand and there were many promising holes and tubes poking out from even high up the shore. The creek is very flat and so the tide retreated quickly, so quickly that at one point I actually watched it move away from me. As the ground was so flat I spaced my sampling out with quite long distances between the locations, each time moving down to where the edge of the tide was at that moment. However the fauna at each location did not seem to change appreciably although I did notice that as I moved down, the animals increased in size, with the juveniles obviously staying higher up the shore and the adults being lower down. The soft muddy sand was home to some very large specimens of several different groups including orbiniids, maldanids, terebellids and lumbrinerids. The most interesting find of the day though was a species of nereid (ragworms) that I had not yet seen during this trip and had only found previously at three sites on East Falkland in 2011. This species is in fact a new, currently undescribed species that I was working on from the previous material before coming out here so it was great to find another site for it.

The speed at which the tide had retreated had led me to decide that it would be prudent to return up the shore 20-30 minutes before low tide was due in case it moved back in at the same speed. This marvellous plan however was scuppered by the tide deciding to turn half an hour early just as I had decided to try and sieve some sediment from the last site. As the site disappeared under water I retreated to my previous site with the oystercatchers jeering behind me and stubbornly sieved some there instead, all the while keeping a watchful eye on the line of water creeping its way towards me. Sieving done I retreated fully, albeit slowly, up the inlet back to the car.

At this moment I am watching the rain fall, hoping it stops by this afternoon otherwise it will be a wet trip to the beach later. I’m staying local today and sampling the main, large bay in Hill Cove. I saw it last night on my way back in from Crooked Inlet and it looked interesting with different rocky and sandy sections to it so I’m looking forward to investigating the life down there tonight.

Teresa

Falkland Islands 2013: January 26th update

Peter Howlett, 26 Ionawr 2013

Thursday: New Haven

Windy,cold, rocky gravelly shore. Watcghed by penguins, attacked by a tern!

Friday: Fox Bay West

Galeforce winds, driving rain, numb hands! Sandy shore, lots of lugworms, very long Orbiniids (20cm) but not much else. Onshore wind holding tide in.

Teresa

(Text update rather than email)

Falkland Islands 2013: January 25th update

Peter Howlett, 25 Ionawr 2013

23.01.13
No sampling today and very glad I was too as a torrential hailstorm (photo 1) battered the office windows! A third parcel is now with the post office and will hopefully be winging its way up the Atlantic by the end of the week. The rest of today has been spent preparing for my trip to West Falkland tomorrow. I will be over there for 10 days touring my way around the island to try and get as good coverage of the shoreline as I can. As my choice of shores is largely dictated by the existence of roads by which to reach them and places I can stay my choice of sites was fairly restricted but I think I have a fairly good itinerary.

The ferry goes from New Haven to Port Howard in the evening which gives me time to catch the tide in New Haven just after lunch (why miss an opportunity?!). I’ll then be travelling south down the east coast to Fox Bay, further south and west to Port Stephens before turning north to South Harbour. From there I keep heading north this time up the west coast, stopping in at Chartres and Roy Cove before reaching Dunbar in the northwest. From Dunbar I will move along the north coast to Hill Cove, West Lagoons and Shallow Bay before heading back to Port Howard and digging a few holes there for good measure. Then its back to Stanley, get the last parcels on their way home before packing myself off too. Photo 2 shows the locations of the various sites.

It will certainly be interesting to visit the shores on the west and see if there is any obvious difference in the fauna there, particularly as I get up to the northwestern areas. That part of the islands is affected by more northerly temperate currents rather than the colder southerly currents dominating the southeast so potentially there may be many different species there.

Internet access is unlikely for most of the tour although I am hoping to be able to send short updates for the blog whenever possible by text to report any notable events!

Teresa

Falkland Islands 2013: January 23rd update

Peter Howlett, 23 Ionawr 2013

21.01.13
Yesterday (Monday) was probably the warmest day so far. Not necessarily the day you would pick for a dusty 3 hour drive across the island but that’s how it was. I was very thankful that the car had working air con as you can’t open the windows while driving unless you want the interior to be caked in half an inch of dust when you arrive. The timings of the tides meant that I would be able to catch both an evening tide and then a morning tide too, getting 2 sites done in the area. Unfortunately the tides at the moment are not the biggest so there is less beach exposed and available for sampling. Still at least I would get something - or so I hoped - North Arm turned out to be a very poor site for polychaetes indeed.

Monday night I picked a small creek just before the settlement (Photo 1). Rocky around the edges, the sheltered aspect meant that much of it was made up of very soft muddy sediment, the kind your boot sinks into and then stays. However, I found I could move around so long as I didn’t stay still too long but despite several attempts I was finding very little in the soft mud. Eventually I started finding some lugworms but by the end of nearly 2 hours I had found little else even though I had tried several places around the creek. It certainly made for a less arduous evening’s work than usual anyway.

The next morning, I tried the shoreline at the other end of the settlement. This proved to be very rocky with extensive mussel beds (Photo 2). The areas outside of the mussel beds had very coarse loose sand that again seemed to harbour very little in the way of obvious animals. However, I collected what I could find and then washed and sieved some of the sediment through a 0.5 mm mesh sieve. This is our standard way of getting a more complete view of the life in the sediment as the smaller worms will ‘float off’ in the swirled sediment and then be held on the fine mesh of the sieve as the water is poured through. The residue on the mesh is then washed into a pot and kept to be later sorted through under a microscope when any tiny animals can then be picked out. I did this for the general sandy sediment and also for some samples of the mussel beds which I washed off in a bucket and then poured through the sieve also. Hopefully there will be many more animals in there that I hadn’t been able to see without a microscope.

The long drive back then beckoned followed by more washing of previous samples and transferring them from formaldehyde to ethanol. Tomorrow I will be able to pack more pots and get at least one if not two more parcels of specimens on the way back to the UK. Photo 3 shows where North Arm is in the Falkland Islands.

Teresa