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Falklands Island Research

In November 2011 I visited the Falkland Islands to start a project looking at the distribution and identification of the marine bristleworms (polychaetes). The visit was part funded by the Shackleton Scholarship Fund and, following a highly successful visit, a second grant was awarded in April 2012 to fund a second trip in January 2013. The additional fieldwork will concentrate on the island of West Falkland which was not sampled at all on the last trip as well as visiting a few extra sites on East Falkland to gain more comprehensive coverage of that island too. The combination of the two trips together will provide data from all around the coasts of both islands as well as Falkland Sound in between them and will be the most detailed survey of the polychaetes of the intertidal and inshore regions for that area to date.

Check back regularly to see what I've been up to.

Teresa Darbyshire

December 2011

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - day 17

Posted by Peter Howlett on 1 December 2011
Photo 1: Orcas
Stanley, Falkland Islands
Photo 2: aerial view of Stanley

I’m halfway through my trip. Two weeks from now, at the time I’m writing this, I should be back in my own bed. It’s a strange thought.

My intention to do another pre-breakfast orca vigil this morning failed as I woke to to the sound of wind and rain at 5.30. I wasn’t that dedicated and so went back to sleep. Still, after breakfast, with a couple of hours before my flight back, I headed out with a last hope. As I reached the beach I thought I saw a black fin in the water….no it was five! I spent the next hour and a half happily watching a pod of orcas patrolling outside the sheltered pool that the seal pups play in (photo 1). The occasional squall blew through leaving me very damp and the strong wind made standing up difficult but it was worth staying. My camera’s not good enough to get really good shots from the distance I was at but I did what I could. Sadly, I didn’t get to see any seal-munching though, ah well.

The flight back was bumpy and the landing was my first experience of approaching a runway sideways but ended smoothly. The flight also afforded good views of the islands from the air (photo 2) The afternoon was spent editing two talks I am due to give here, one to a general public audience and one, slightly more technical, to the staff at the Fisheries department. Now that I have had a couple of weeks here and have some photographs of the worms I have been collecting, I was able to add a bit more local relevance to the presentations.

Sadly, the night before I went diving last week, the owner of the car I was borrowing returned and retrieved it. I now have to work on finding an alternative in order to do more shore sampling. Still ,we are off on a new dive survey on Friday morning and I have plenty to do at the lab tomorrow to keep me going until then.

Not much to report today so I thought I might add a few words on life out here for those who are interested.

Before I flew out, several friends voiced doubt and some concern about the availability of various supplies out here. In some cases you might have thought I was flying out to a third world country! Just in case though I was careful to pack some essentials. A small jar of marmite and some chocolate. Well, let’s face it, toiletries were bound to be available. I am happy to report however, that supply levels are good and marmite, the rating standard, is indeed available. Even my Green & Blacks milk chocolate can be replaced.

Groceries are generally quite expensive. However, as the two main supermarket brands stocked are Sainsbury and Waitrose it’s difficult to judge how much of the expense is the brand and how much the shipping!

Fresh fruit and vegetables are expensive and not available in a large variety but frozen and tinned varieties are easy to stock up on. Fresh meat is mostly beef or mutton of varying cuts and both are cheap, very good quality and very tasty. In terms of other kinds of non-food supplies its difficult to know what’s available. From what I’ve heard though most are bought via Amazon!

People are all very friendly and in that typical island style, everyone knows everyone and where they live. If you need to know where someone lives or their phone number, if you ask someone on the street then they will probably know!

As mentioned before, 99% of all cars on the road are 4x4s and most of these are landrovers. Speed limit is 25mph around town and 40mph everywhere else for very good reasons. It’s only around Stanley that smooth roads exist. Outside of town, roads are just gravel and only go to the main settlements. Beyond that there are just tracks that require the 4x4. I’ve heard several stories of accidents and none are between cars, all involve coming off the road. I won’t be speeding anywhere! Fingers crossed I’ll get some transport sorted though so I can trundle off somewhere new soon.

November 2011

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - mean birds

Posted by Peter Howlett on 30 November 2011
Elephant Seals
Photo 1: Elephant Seals fighting
Rough seas
Photo 2: The surf on the south side of Sealion island
Striated Caracara
Photo 3: The Striated Caracara brought back up.

This morning I got up at 6am to go and watch for Killer Whales that often patrol the nearby Elephant Seal beach. Unfortunately last night the wind blew up (even more than usual) and was still going this morning making the sea on that side very choppy. Apparently the Killer Whales don’t like wind and choppy seas – wimps! So no joy there. The Elephant Seals however are much more active at this time of day and I got to see them fighting (photo 1) each other (not very seriously) and making lots of noise.
Having walked one side of the island yesterday today I made the obvious choice and walked the other side, always on the hunt for more potential sampling sites. Also no joy. The north coast of the island is mostly cliffs that drop off to the sea or solid rock with no way down. Further down towards the west end there are large, rounded clean rocks embedded in a loose clean sand, that rarely has much in, or more solid rock. At the east end, which I visited on my way back last night there is lots of open white sand and sand dunes, very much like Surf Bay where I also didn’t find anything. In this wind the whole area also becomes a sand-blasting site where if you stop for more than a few seconds one side of you gets coated in an inch of the stuff.

So back to the same sites I did yesterday, on the south side, which wasn’t such a bad thing. The effects of the wind were very evident on this side as the waves crashed in all along the shoreline (photo 2). No Elephant Seals followed me today, but the caracara, annoyed at being denied yesterday came back and attacked me. Yes, actually attacked me. It watched me do my sampling, pacing back and forth on a nearby rock, flexing it’s talons, and then as I started to leave and head back up the beach something hit me on the head - the caracara. Luckily I had my woolly hat on (highly protective) but this bird really didn’t want me to leave the beach and hovered inches above and/or in front of me when I tried. Eventually, the oystercatchers, also upset by its presence, flew at it and ran it off giving me just enough time to make my escape from the beach.

So on to the other site. After some more slate-splitting I returned to my bag, which I had left on a dry rock, to find the caracara sitting on the rock next to it. And it had brought a friend (photo 3). Not that I’m feeling freaked out by this bird at all but I really do think it’s following me, and those talons and beak do not look nice. This time though I was merely watched as I packed up and left, casting nervous glances behind me.

They are definitely going on the risk assessment form next time!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - seals, seals, seals

Posted by Peter Howlett on 29 November 2011
Photo 1: The Islander aircraft used on inter-island flights.
Elephant Seal
Photo 2: Bull elephant seal
Striated Caracara
Photo 3: Striated caracara nicking my samples!
Rockhopper Penguin
Photo 4: Rockhopper Penguin
» View full post to see all images

Shore sampling can be risky. Tides, slippery rocks, remote places. We always fill in risk assessment forms before we do fieldwork and I duly filled mine in before heading out here. I must now put my hand up though and admit it was incomplete, I had left off some risks. In my defence though, elephant seals sidling up behind you and birds of prey flying off with your samples are not risks that most people would have thought of.

I flew out to Sealion Island this morning. A small island that is the southernmost island of the Falkland Islands group and notable for its breeding colony of Elephant Seals. It is part free time and part still sampling where possible. After the short flight in the little 8-seater plane (photo 1), I headed straight down to the beach to watch the enormous bull Elephant Seal (photo 2) lolloping along like a huge rippling slug with all the pups around laid out ready for a bit of sunbathing. From there I wandered down along the rocky shoreline keeping an eye out for potential dive sites (definitely not for orcas or more seals). Coming across a flat expanse of rock still just under water I was interested to see it was very slate-like with lots of potential layers to lever up to look for worms. This was great as I hadn’t seen any rock like this up to now as most of the islands are fairly solid granite. I had forgotten my dive knife which would have made a good chisel but my penknife didn’t do a bad job and I was soon picking out worms from the crevices. As I worked I heard a strange splashing sound, looked up but didn’t notice anything. As it happened again a short time later I again looked up to see one of the Elephant Seal pups I had earlier walked around to get on to the ledges had moved along towards me. I looked at it, it looked back and didn’t move. I carried on, more splashing, I looked up. The seal was closer and another had also appeared. I carried on. Splash, splash, splash. Looked up, they were a bit closer. This carried on for a bit until their courage ran out and they kept their distance to the relief of all. I moved on.

Down to another shore and a bit more scraping and collecting. This time I look up and what I think was a Striated Caracara landed only a couple of metres away and looked at me. I had already seen one of these twice, also close up and was beginning to feel followed. It hopped closer, surely not normal behaviour for such birds. The Striated Caracara, according to the island’s leaflet is one of the rarest birds of prey in the world. This rare bird then hopped over to the sampling pot near my bag, curled its talons round it and flew off (photo 3) as I watched in disbelief. It landed higher up the shore where a friendly goose then attacked it until it abandoned the pot and flew off again. Very surreal. I retrieved my worms and left.

The rest of the day involved more penguins, including rockhoppers (photo 4) which I hadn’t seen before, lots more birds and more seals.

Tomorrow will probably be much the same, hopefully without the wildlife trying to steal my precious samples!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - The dive blog

Posted by Peter Howlett on 28 November 2011
Giant Kelp
Photo 1: a mat of kelp leaves on the surface.
Photo 2: a starfish
Photo 3: Scaleworms.
Photo 4: Paddleworms
» View full post to see all images

This was to be ‘liveaboard’ diving. We loaded all our kit on to the Hans Hansson, an ex-North Sea Scandinavian rescue vessel that has only been down in the Falklands for a few months in her new role as a tourist/research vessel. Setting off on Thursday morning we didn’t have very far to go but took it easy with a slow steam towards the north of Stanley. The slow roll eventually made my stomach wonder whether or not to stay friends with me but happily we managed to hold it together.

I had been concerned about just how cold the water was going to be with the suggestion that it would be around 5°C, which would have been painful. In general though, temperatures varied between 7 (cold, my hands hurt) and 9°C (chilly, some feeling remaining at end of dive). My new 7mm hood did its job to keep my head warm while the rest of me tended to get quite cold towards the end of each dive. Of course I was moving around very little and less than on a normal dive as I was mostly in one area collecting each time.

The seabed around Cochon Island was very rocky with steep walls and gullies in the shallower water (6-8m), large rocks and cobbles over coarse sand at around 10-15m and larger boulders/bedrock with bigger patches of open sand from around 15m and deeper. This also varied according to where we were around the island.

Diving through the giant kelp was an interesting experience. This kelp is nothing like anything you see in the UK. It grows up from its holdfast which attaches to the seabed at any depth down to 20m or so and then the fronds spread out on the surface for many more metres creating a thick mat of surface kelp (photo 1). This stuff is so tough that the RIB would actually anchor to it while the divers went in and then the divers themselves could use it as a shot line to the seabed and back again. When going in from the RIB it could be hard to get your feet under you through the fronds and then the general rule was sink straight down and don’t flounder! Otherwise it wraps itself round you and you end up dangling mid-water (probably upside down) hoping that your buddy might notice, take pity and cut you free.

Diving is done to very safe protocols here as the nearest recompression chamber is in Chile. Therefore, all dives are done shallower than 20m and there is no decompression diving, reducing the risk of nitrogen issues. The dive surveys are carried out by volunteers, who make up the Shallow Marine Surveys Group, just like the SeaSearch volunteers in the UK. These guys all give up their time willingly, often, as in this case, taking time off work to be involved or, where self-employed, giving up a day or two’s pay. It makes you feel very humble knowing that you are being paid to be there with them.

The marine life was colourful and diverse. Lots of different nudibranchs, starfish (photo 2), sea cucumbers, urchins, snails and crabs with many of the surfaces covered in a pink encrusting alga so thin in places that you could put a finger through it. Worms were not immediately evident unless you went looking for them. Turning over rocks was the simplest method and yielded many different species although some were particularly common. Those most often seen were large scaleworms (photo 3) more than 6cm in length, long paddleworms up to 20 cm long (photo 4) and on many surfaces were the long tubes of parchment worms (Chaetopterus sp.). Other methods of collecting involved scraping rock surfaces covered in a turf of hydroids and/or bryozoans, taking samples of the loose pink algal crusts and pieces of giant kelp holdfast. I say pieces because these holdfasts are enormous being nearly a metre wide and half as much high. I’d never be able to get one of those in a bucket!

I was also joined in my collecting by Christoph (photo 5), a German researcher just back from a cruise to South Georgia who was looking at crustacea, particularly isopods. Between us, life on the seabed was not safe.

The threatened weather didn’t materialise as forecast. The worst predicted day, Saturday, turned into the best with the least swell on the exposed side of the island leading to an amazingly still evening watching penguins and shearwaters return to the island for the night. This to the delight of the surveyors who managed to blitz the entire island with survey sites over the four days.

The visibility was the only disappointing point of the weekend. Again like the UK, a spring bloom is in progress here with plankton thick in the water. Visibility is still good in my eyes being a minimum of 6 m but knowing it can be crystal clear and at least 50 m is merely a tantalising thought. Macro shots are still possibly but wider shots of the scenery are impossible in the thick plankton, particularly as the kelp can increase the gloom at times.

The weather forecast for Saturday appeared with gusto on Sunday morning and although a first couple of pairs got in for a dive it was quickly decided to pack up and move slightly down the coast to Kidney Island where there was a chance of more shelter. This then ended our weekend with a shallow dive in a bay with the prospect of seeing sealions (photo 6). These did indeed come to play in the water and I quickly realised that the seals in the UK are little puppies compared to the full grown St Bernards I was seeing. Having 3 or 4 of these in your face under water having the occasional nibble at extremities gets a little nerve-wracking but still an unmissable experience. Also found a 'worm garden' with the worms poking upright out of their tubes in the sand into the surrounding water. Dug some of that up to bring back but I promise there was loads more left!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 10

Posted by Peter Howlett on 24 November 2011
Lady Elizabeth
Photo 1: The wreck of the Lady Elizabeth east of Stanley
Photo 2: two different species of Lugworm - honest...
Falklands map
Photo 3: Location of sampling site on day 10

I should stop wishing for better weather, every time I do it gets worse. This morning I woke to the sound of rain being beaten against the window by the ever present wind (it may have been a stronger wind but I can’t tell any more). I hoped it might pass quickly but it soon became apparent that it was set in for a while. The desire to go sampling waned. Maybe today would be a good day to catch up on some admin, putting my notes in order etc etc?

I went down to the Fisheries department and for the first time met Paul Brickle. Paul is the guy that I organised this whole trip through. Unfortunately he’s been on a research cruise since before I arrived only returning yesterday so this is the first time we have actually met except over a skype call. During our discussions Paul mentioned a good sampling site with some different species I potentially didn’t have. The site was only round the corner and with low tide still an hour away it seemed a waste to miss it so off I went into the rain… The site was near one of the many rotting beached hulks that exist along the Stanley shoreline, the Lady Elizabeth (photo 1). As I dug away on the beach a coach-load of tourists stopped and lined up on the road to take pictures, no doubt rather annoyed at the sight of a person in blue and yellow waterproofs digging holes on the beach directly inbetween them and the photogenic rusty wreck. Shame. I carried on. At least despite being wet, it didn’t feel as cold and my hands retained feeling this time.

Back in the lab I slowly began to steam and dry out. My catch turned out to include two different species of lugworm (photo 2). The photo shows the two different species. For anyone who has seen them before, these probably look just like the lugworms you find on beaches in the UK but I can assure you they're not. There are several differences to differentiate these two species on but the different colours are not one of them!

The rest of the afternoon involved getting equipment ready for my first dive trip – very exciting! Of course, in true UK style, the weather is deteriorating in preparation, Saturday looks decidedly dodgy with 30-35mph winds from the wrong direction! Still, we should get some dives in before that and I’m really looking forward to it. Apparently the poor (!) 8m recent visibility has cleared up (have these guys dived in the UK?!). We should have 4 days diving around Cochon and Kidney Islands, both nature reserves, located a short distance directly north of Stanley.

No more blog then until I get back on Sunday. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell you about some fabulous diving!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 9

Posted by Peter Howlett on 23 November 2011
Muddy bay
Photo 1: No sign of the sea and the mud is getting softer.
Worm tubes
Photo 2: Lots of worm tubes in the sand.
Granite run
Photo 3: One of the 'granite runs'
Paraonid worm
Photo 4: A Paraonid worm
» View full post to see all images

The rain passed but the sun sadly didn’t return. In fact, it’s been really cold the last couple of days. Last week I only needed 2 layers to keep me warm while sampling, one of those having short sleeves. Today I had a long sleeved top, jumper, fleece and waterproof jacket and I was ok. Unfortunately that couldn’t keep my hands warm and thick gloves are no use when you’re trying to tease small worms out of mud.

My first site was a shallow inlet with a stream running into it at the top. The tide had retreated and left a windy and gradually widening watercourse to follow. After 15minutes tramping along with the going getting gradually softer I began to realise that I still couldn’t see where the sea had disappeared to (photo 1). This did not bode well and I decided not to try and find the end as it was becoming more likely I might get stuck in the mud and also that when the tide did decide to come back in it would be very fast up such a shallow area. Instead I sampled 3 different spots and then made my way back to the car and set off for the next site.

As the two sites were facing completely different directions in terms of where the sea approached them from, this meant that the times of low tide for each were actually nearly 3 hours apart allowing to sample the same tide in both places.

The second place gave me an interesting offshore back to sample that was accessible at low tide. Again, this was quite different to places I had been before and was completely packed with little tubes (photo 2) indicating a LOT of worms should be there in the tubes.

Once again my hands were completely frozen and numb by the time I finished and I was glad to stop. The feeling in my toes had also started to disappear and I tried to think warm thoughts of the week before. What happened to the sun?

Still my excursion out had been a nice change. The roads are a little disconcerting to drive on as once you leave Stanley they are all unconsolidated gravel. The maximum speed limit is 40mph for good reason and every so often the landrover wavers a little as you drive before grip reestablishes itself and I try to relax my grip on the wheel too! I also got to see the ‘granite runs’, a strange area of naturally occurring broken granite blocks (photo 3) of which the Falkland Islands has one of the largest areas in the world.

Today’s wormy photo (photo 4) is of a paraonid (still no common name I’m afraid), one of my new worms today.

Fingers crossed it might start to warm up again soon!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 8

Posted by Peter Howlett on 22 November 2011
Pink algae
Photo 1: the pink algae covering the rock.
Boccardia worm
Photo 2: a Boccardia worm which lives in the pink encrusting algae.
Nereid worm
Photo 3: close up of Nereid worm teeth.
Falklands map
Photo 4: location for collecting on day 8.

This morning’s work was based back at the rock pool site I visited on Friday morning. It was a tad chilly first thing and the cold water rapidly sapped all feeling from my hands. I wanted to have another look at the encrusting algae (photo photo 1) that I had failed to do anything with on Friday and to that end I had taken along my trusty dive knife. This made pretty short work of chipping away and prising up chunks of the hard stuff and as hoped I found treasure beneath. Ok, not treasure but there were some worms and that would have to do. I happily splashed around the rock pool for a while variably slicing off bits of algae and digging in the gravel under stones until low tide had passed, I felt I had made a decent effort to collect everything available and my hands had stopped working entirely. I made my way back to the Fisheries department just in time to avoid the torrential rain that suddenly appeared.

Today’s highlighted worm is Boccardia (photo 2 - sorry no common name). This is what mostly lived in that encrusting algae, burrowing through the crevices. I was also pleased to get some more of a species of ragworm that was originally described from these islands. I’ve been able to identify it by the pattern of teeth that are found around the jaws (photo 3). It’s good to have examples of animals from the same place they were originally described as you can be sure then that you are looking at the same species that was used to write the original description. Important if you feel the need to change the description or the name (an annoying habit of taxonomists!).

I had also decided that tomorrow’s adventure would be to leave the Stanley area and try and sample some interesting looking spots a bit further away. Unfortunately it was pointed out to me that most of the Islands are split into privately owned lands that include the foreshore. I therefore spent a couple of hours this afternoon tracking down the land owners names, then their phone numbers and finally tried phoning to ask permission to collect. The permissions were freely given once I managed to get an answer although the people did sound a little bemused at the request. So that is my day tomorrow, the challenges being to a) find my way to where I want to go (there aren’t many roads and even fewer road signs) b) find my way back (possibly not as straight forward as it may sound).

I have refuelled the landrover at the only petrol station on the island at the princely sum of 72p per litre for diesel. Wish me luck.

As I write this I can hear hail being lashed against the window by the wind. It sounds more like a UK November night than the kind, if blowy weather I’ve had up to now. So for anyone irritated by my constant mentions of bright sunshine you can feel a bit happier, hopefully only briefly though.

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - The Penguin blog

Posted by Peter Howlett on 21 November 2011
Landrover trek
Photo 1: The reason it takes 2 hours to do 10 miles.
King Penguins
Photo 2: Part of the King Penguin colony at Volunteer Point.
Tubeworm casts
Photo 3: Tubeworm casts on a kelp bladder.
Sealion taking a Magellanic Penguin
Photo 4: Nature in action!
» View full post to see all images

Luckily by the time we left Friday night the rain had moved off although the wind had been left behind. I had been told it would be a 3 hour drive to Volunteer Point so when we arrived at a gate into a field at a group of houses I said “Wow that was quick, are we here?” “Oh no, this is just where the road ends!” Cue 2 more hours of bouncing over peaty grassland following any one of numerous tracks picked mainly by virtue of which looked less boggy. There were four 4x4s in the convoy (photo 1) and there was nothing to worry about because we had a new towrope (apparently the last had snapped recently, no doubt dragging someone out of a bog). Getting ‘bogged’ was just a general hazard that didn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. I hoped I wouldn’t have to see the new towrope in action.

A bit less than 2 hours later we bounced up to the warden’s house at Volunteer Point (actually only 10 miles from where the road had ended!) before moving on to put the tents up.

The wind actually died down later in the evening but was howling again by morning. The sun had arrived though with a bright blue sky and I went off for a bit of penguin spotting before breakfast. I’ll skim through all of the details but basically there are 3 species of penguin at Volunteer Point: King (photo 2), Magellanic and Gentoo. We spent Saturday over at Cow Bay just across from VP. A large expanse of beach with several Gentoo colonies bizarrely located up a very large, steep hill away from the sea. The reasoning for building nests in a place that must be an enormous trek for such non-flying birds with legs of only a few inches was unfathomable.

And the body-boarding, yes three people did go in, I did not. They all said how much fun it was but it did also take an hour for the feeling to come back to their toes afterward.

Volunteer Point is a spit of land with the sea on both sides. Just down from the campsite was a sheltered lagoon with a gravelly shore leading into sand. I did some sieving in here on Sunday morning and was pleased to find it contained many worms. My only worry was that I will find something incredibly exciting in it and only had the chance to sample it once and it’s a difficult journey for anyone to go back to.

An afternoon stroll on the main exposed beach later saw me picking up some washed up bladders off giant kelp. As I sporadically bent down, picked one up and shoved it in a pocket someone eventually got round to asking me why. I pointed out the encrusting spiral tubes of worms attached to the bladders (photo 3) and received some sympathetic nods in reply. This was all then forgotten as we witnessed nature in action in the shape of a sealion appearing suddenly out of the surf intent on grabbing a penguin off the beach (photo 4). Not a happy ending for the penguin I’m afraid. This was probably a major highlight of the weekend and I have to admit I did spend the next hour hoping another penguin might be sacrificed for my camera although I was to be disappointed.

So we bounce, bounce bounced back from Volunteers Point stopping twice along the way to change flat tyres on different cars as the tracks took their toll. Still it was worth the trek.

Back to reality with a 6am start for the early tide!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 5

Posted by Peter Howlett on 18 November 2011
Surf Bay
Photo 1: Surf Bay, east of Stanley
Stanley harbour
Photo 2: a wet and windy Stanley harbour
Falklands map
Photo 3: location for sampling on day 5

So did you guess which one I went for. Yes it was the early one which involved getting up at 4am. Sounds bonkers I know but there was some method in the madness not least of which was that it was still early enough to go back to bed once I finished for a couple more hours sleep!

To the east of Stanley but on the outward facing coast is Surf Bay. As its name suggests it is an exposed beach and is also made up of fantastically white sand looking very tropical in the bright sunshine the first time I saw it (photo 1). Sadly it didn’t quite look like that at 4am with a bit of mist and grey sky, but at least the wind had dropped for now which it always seems to first thing in the morning here.

The sand is very fine and to be honest did not look like the kind of habitat you normally find much in the way of worms in. However I wanted to try sieving a bit of it to see if there were any of the tiny species that sometimes inhabit such areas. For this reason I only needed a short time around low tide to try this as I could always come back if necessary. After this I moved across the headland to the even more exposed rocky side with low rock pools and mostly bare rock. The rocks here are covered in a pink encrusting alga similar to that you may have seen in the UK. This also sometimes harbours its own fauna under the crust so I took a small rock covered in that away too to see what it might hold.

After catching up on some sleep I took my small collection to the lab. As suspected the pale sand held nothing in store for me except some very active amphipods and isopods (small crustacea). Glad I hadn’t wasted good collecting time there! The rock however turned out more interesting. The pink crust was so tightly fixed to the rock that there were no animals under the small pieces I managed to chip off. However the small pieces of seaweed that had been attached yielded several small worms new to my list from their holdfasts. These were interesting enough that I will go back to this site on Monday to get some more rocks to play with (at a more sociable time as well).

My other reason for choosing the early tide was the fact that I am being dragged off this evening to visit the King Penguin colony over at Volunteer Point. One small drawback to this is the fact I have to camp. Not that I am averse to such activity but I normally choose warmer weather, the offer of a wetsuit to join in some body boarding may also require some inventive excuses. Do surfers need shore cover? I think they do and I may sacrifice my enjoyment to provide it. The weather has now also deteriorated, probably due to the impending camping event, and it's raining combined with a howling gale force wind (photo 2). Just like camping in the UK really. I am of course also taking some sampling gear with me just so no opportunity will be missed!

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 4

Posted by Peter Howlett on 18 November 2011
Moody Brook
Photo 1: the estuary at Moody Brook.
Squidgy mud
Photo 2: Squdgy mud today rather than sand.
Syllid worm
Photo 3: A syllid worm with larvae attached along its body.
Falklands map
Photo 4: Map showing location for sampling on day 4

Today I became connected to the rest of the Falkland Islands or at least became easier to find and for cheaper. Having had people trying to find me and failing yesterday, also sadly leading to a missed dive opportunity, I managed to buy a local SIM card for my phone and also unlock my phone in order to use it! Phone numbers here are short whether they are home or mobile, consisting of only 5 numbers. Well, I suppose the population just isn’t big enough to need anything longer! As well as meaning that those trying to help me out here actually can, this also now has the added bonus of personal safety in case I slip on some giant kelp while chasing a worm and injure myself (hopefully not) at least I can get someone to come and rescue me.

Tides are getting later and today’s was not until 1650. So around 3pm Freya and I headed down to Moody Brook (photo 1), a fantastically named area west of Stanley where a river joins the sea making a slightly estuarine region. I hoped to find a different brackish water fauna here but it didn’t seem to quite work out. The animals I was finding were not ones that I would associate with lower salinity water and in fact, the lower we got on the shore the more they looked like several we had found at previous sites. Some were different, more a product of the softer muddy sand than the salinity though. Our last sampling spot in fact, was so soft that it threatened to steal my wellies several times (photo 2). Luckily there were several rocks around as well to help lever myself back out with thanks to the spade.

We were getting pretty cold towards the end and trying to draw a map of the sampling sites with numb fingers certainly didn’t create artwork. It was windy before but it has definitely picked up and with a colder edge to it than before. Apparently it’ll be gale force by tomorrow and its certainly whistling round outside right now!

Investigations back in the lab showed that indeed several of the species were the same as those I had found before although in some cases this was very welcome as it provided additional numbers of animals that I had only found single numbers of before. Having multiple specimens of species is very important if you later need to describe a new species or just improve current descriptions. With only a single animal to work with you can never be quite sure if it truly represents the rest of the species or not as mutations can frequently occur.

I have noticed as well over the last few days that the worms here are doing what everything else at this time of year (spring in this case) is doing – reproducing! Many of the worms have eggs or larvae attached and I took this image (photo 3) of an animal called a syllid with all its larvae attached for safe-keeping giving it a very strange appearance.

Tides tomorrow are very awkward – do I go for the 5am or the 6pm? Early start or late finish… ?

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