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Natural History

November 2011

Polychaete research in the Falklands by Teresa Darbyshire - Day 1

Posted by Peter Howlett on 16 November 2011

I'm a polychaete (marine bristleworms) taxonomist in the marine section of the Department of Biodiversity & Systematic Biology. I was awarded a grant by the Shackleton Fund to visit and conduct research in the Falkland Islands, so now I'm off to Stanley for the next month to collect and investigate the polychaete fauna of the Islands. I'll be collecting specimens by digging them up on the beachesand also by diving. It's nearly 100 years since scientists last looked at this group in the intertidal and shallow subtidal regions of the Islands and there is much potential for the discovery of new species.

Day 1

I can’t say I was looking forward to an 18 hour flight that much although it has to be said I had no idea what to expect flying on an RAF flight from Brize Norton. With dive kit in tow, I had a lot of baggage with me but this paled into insignificance next to the guys checking in from the BBC who faced a £4500 bill for excess baggage! The flight itself was fairly painless in the end taking off at 11pm and heading south through the night.

Photo 1: Ascension Islands airport

Nine hours and not much sleep later we landed on Ascension Island for a 2 hour refuelling stop. The 23°C fresh air was welcome although the views were very bleak (photo 1). Another 8 hours and 2 films later we finally arrived at Mount Pleasant in bright sunshine and more warmth. Not what I was expecting and I didn’t pack that much in the way of light clothing!

Photo 2: The fisheries offices in Port Stanley, Falkland Islands

A long and dusty trip to Stanley showed a very windswept, rocky landscape dotted with sheep. After finding the flat I am staying in I also met Steve and Jude who I will be diving with later in the week. Jude then whisked me off for a quick tour of the local area including seeing my first penguin and a couple of beaches roped off due to mines!

Photo 3: Steps up to the offices are not for the faint-hearted!

This morning I made it to the Fisheries department where I will be based. Built on a large floating pontoon (photo 2) with a very disconcerting set of steps up to it (photo 3) everyone I met was very helpful and friendly and I’m looking forward to viewing my first group of worms in the lab there! Low tide is at 3pm this afternoon so I will be out with my fork and bucket beginning my investigations very shortly. I will also have the help of Freya a local volunteer and biology graduate who is keen get involved and see what we can find! 

Teresa Darbyshire

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