Saturday, 7 December 2013

Explorations around West Falkland - Melina & Frithjof

We are writing these lines on the ferry from Port Howard (West Falkland) to New Haven (East Falkland), after 5 days of explorations of the coastline of West Falkland. This large island, 2nd largest of the Falklands archipelago, is home to around 200 people, with huge swathes of wild land, some of it used for sheep farming.

The weather was not always (actually, for most of the time not) favourable, with heavy rain, snow on top of the hills and strong, ice-cold winds, making our diving and snorkelling excursions difficult and in many occasions physically very challenging. Surface and underwater currents, along with poor visibility at several dive sites, made our collections of seaweeds not an easy feat. Despite all these, we have managed to successfully collect at least 50 samples and specimens, and we hope that new discoveries will be among them.

Among the highlights are the first record of the oomycete pathogen Anisolpidium ectocarpii (affecting filamentous brown algae) from the Southern Ocean (and only the 2nd from the southern hemisphere, after our earlier finding of this bug near Puerto Montt, Chile, in 2007), and a recollection of the enigmatic Cladochroa chnoosporiformis from Port Philomel. We also collected numerous samples of the filamentous brown alga Pylaiella for a population genetic study of our collaborator Christophe Destombe in Roscoff. Among our magic moments in West Falkland was an encounter with a large pod of Comerson’s dolphins shortly before our arrival, and with 2 king penguins on the beach of South Harbour, just as we had gotten out of the water after our dive there.

We had a beautiful home in Port Howard on the island’s eastern side, a self-catering, traditional Falkland Island-style house (a wooden structure inside, metal-clad outside). From there, we undertook daily excursions to various sampling sites around West Falkland – to South Harbour and Port Stephens on the first day, then to the Hill Cove and Shallow Bay area in the north, then a whole day in the western Port Philomel area, and finally a day on the south shore of Christmas Harbour (opposite the Sheffield settlement). We had a very challenging night dive in the harbour of Port Howard – very poor visibility, waves and currents in icy waters.

Despite all the hardships, we had an incredible and productive trip to West Falkland, making new friends with the amazing local people, that they even invited us to their homes for a cup of tea, especially after our cold  dives.

 Pieter van West entering the water at Port Philomel

 In our improvised lab in Port Howard

Early summer in West Falkland!

Comerson's dolphins seen from the ferry close to Port Howard

Frithjof Kuepper diving in the Macrocystis forest

Alexandra Mystikou  diving in the Macrocystis forest

Melina Marcou diving in the Macrocystis forest

Our encounter with king penguins after our dive at South Harbour

 Melina and Frithjof with the king penguins at South Harbour

A memorable encounter: Our group with Brian Jamieson, owner of the farm at South Harbour

 Melina and Pieter sampling fresh water for isolating oomycetes

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