I am writing today’s blog at SAERI – this is Aldo’s and my last day in the Falklands! We’ll be leaving for Ascension Island and the UK tomorrow morning – only Alexandra will be staying here for another 5 weeks.
The seaweed which Aldo collected in Port Philomel, West Falkland, indeed turned out to be the much-sought Cladochroa. Hoorray! Nobody had seen that thing for 110 years and our dear friend Aldo, 80 years young, rediscovered it within 15 min on a remote Falklands sea shore to which he had directed us with Google Earth. Phenomenal.
We returned to Stanley by Saturday early afternoon and spent the remainder of the day working on our many specimens from the West Island – not only Cladochroa. One of Kay’s great dinners followed, then back to the lab once more.
On Sunday morning, Sarah and Simon Browning picked up Alexandra and myself for a dive from Stevie Cartwright’s boat north of Stanley, in the large bay of Port William. The weather was perfect – hardly any wind, a cloudless sky. Summer! We got to today’s dive site in an approx. ½ h boat ride. Sarah, Simon and I went in. Fantastic conditions – crystal clear waters, sunlit, no current, no waves – this became probably the best dive of the entire expedition so far. We dived down to the lower depth limit of the giant kelp zone, to 20 m – where documented the seabed community by photography, with me collecting a large number of specimens in parallel. Collections included Syringoderma australe, a new brown algal record for the Falklands, which I had already found at nearby Beatrice Cove in Dec. 2010. Today we were able to better characterize its habitat and depth distribution. On the way back, we met a pod of Peale’s Dolphins. Alexandra got a great shot of one of them leaping into the air next to the boat, and I got another one under water when I went in again just with mask, snorkel and fins. Really a dream of a day. We finished lab work, prepared our specimens, and then had a great evening with Kay and Matt Benwell, a visiting scholar studying Argentine-British public perceptions of the Falklands issue.
The warm summer weather which we enjoyed so much had a serious downside though. In fact, we learned from a visiting Spanish ornithologist also working at SAERI, Jacob, that the unusually high temperatures in the 20s are quite a killer to Gentoo Penguin chicks. Their babies obviously cannot enter the water yet for cooling off (as the adults do), and their colonies are in shadowless terrain. He showed us some shocking footage from his cell phone camera of a totally exhausted Gentoo chick seeking rest in his shadow while he was working at the colony! He witnessed around 40 Gentoo chicks dying of heat exhaustion in a rather small colony during this sunny weekend alone. Quite obviously, for these penguins, even a low number of relatively hot days can be very problematic, while they probably would not suffer too much if just the average temperature was to go up by a degree or two. Conversely, all the penguin species living in climates warmer than here live in underground burrows and are thus much less affected by heat exhaustion.
Today is Monday, we are now at SAERI and packing up samples! Everything that Alexandra will no longer need can go back to Europe in my luggage. It’s a rainy day – I have to think that this at least is going to give the baby penguins a much-needed reprieve from the intense sun recently.
Tomorrow morning, Aldo and I will embark on our long trip back to Europe. A 3-day stopover in Ascension Island is awaiting us; on Sunday night Feb. 17, I’ll be back to Aberdeen. Alexandra has another 5 weeks in the Falklands to go, I can’t hide how much I envy her.
Coralline algae at lower limit of kelp forest
Simon Sarah and Frithjof about to dive
Sarah at work in the giant kelp forest
Lessonia 20 m deep
Peales Dolpin in Pt William