Responsible tourism in the Falkland Islands

After years of debate over colonialism, territorial rights and so on, conservation is the key issue on the Falkland Islands now, with residents ensuring that there are no more conflicts in their precious natural arenas. The biggest conflict is around land and sea use and, and as wildlife tourism is now the second largest generator of income on the island, after commercial fishing, it is in the isnanders’ interest to protect it. Politics are never too far from the agenda, however, and British tourists are often keen to talk about the Falklands War of 1982. But tread carefully; although some residents want to move on, it is still a thorny issue for others.

Wildlife & environment

Conservation of the Falklands

Conservation goes back a long way in the Falkland Islands. The first British governor, Richard Clement Moody, introduced tussock grass in 1845 from Great Britain, for which he received the gold medal of the Royal Agricultural Society. The grass is now a feature of the islands’ Coat of Arms.

The Falkland Islands have long been a beacon of self sufficiency so it is not surprising that the community has come together to create a leading hub of conservation. Falklands Conservation is the go to place, and you can actually visit their headquarters in Stanley to learn about their work in protecting habitats, monitoring migratory birds, undertaking scientific research, rehabilitating oiled penguins, and working with young islanders to ensure that there are plenty of conservationists for tomorrow.
Falklands Conservation is a charity and works entirely on donations and voluntary help. They are doing superb work. Given that there are 22 Important Bird Areas on this archipelago, and yet no support in terms of national park designation, the organisation and everyone else on the island doing their bit for conservation, has a lot of work to do. They work in partnership with organisations such as the British Antarctic Survey on crested penguins; the Darwin Plus Initiative on planting vital tussock grass habitats for penguins; and the EU which has funded research work to improve knowledge of sei whales that migrate around Berkeley Sound. They do beach clean ups and debris surveys to see what rubbish is landing on their shores, and from where. Falklands Conservation also runs an impressive Adopt a Penguin scheme, which is very popular with visitors.

There are private landowners seriously committed to conservation too, and you may visit some of the private islands during your stay that are good examples of this, such as West Point. Indeed, the majority of beaches in the Falklands are privately owned. In the 1990s, Steeple Jason Island and Grand Jason Island, were bought by American Michael Steinhardt, who later donated them to the Bronx Zoo-based Wildlife Conservation Society. There are lots of stories of this nature in this vast archipelago.

What you can do
First and foremost, support the work of Falklands Conservation by donating to it. You can adopt a king penguin for £25 for a year, become a member from £30 for a year, or for a lifetime for £1,000. You can also become a corporate member, which is definitely worth proposing in the workplace. There are ongoing volunteering projects going on all the time, so do get in touch with them prior to your travels to see if you can help out with any work while on vacation. And, read their Falklands Countryside Code. They are gentle reminders of how a little care can go a long way.

People & culture

Don’t go near the war zone

Politics are never that far from the agenda in the Falklands Island. One thing is pretty sure, however, and that is the desire of the people to stay under British sovereignty. In their 2013 referendum, over 90 percent of the electorate came out to vote, and 99.8 percent of them voted to remain British.

Don’t assume history is all about the 1982 ten-week long Falklands War between UK and Argentina. The heritage ranges from the ranching gauchos of the early 19th century and the influx of Scottish sheep farmers in the early 20th to the proliferation of whalers, thankfully now consigned to history. Most people refer to themselves as Falkland Islanders, rather than British. Their families have lived here and maintained self sufficient lifestyles for generations, so, it’s not just a matter of ‘don’t mention the war’, it’s remembering that island history stretches way back before it. And indeed, at the moment, with the controversial discussions around island oil reserves, history is possibly in the making once again.
One big reminder of the 1982 conflict is the presence of many unexploded mines, with thousands of them laid on beaches and inland terrain by Argentinean forces. Many of them were cleared, but there are still zoned off areas, the best known being Yorke Bay, on the outskirts of Stanley. The silver lining of a minefield is that, as humans are allowed nowhere near it, the beach here has been left to rewild and the Magellanic penguin population thrives. It would appear that the penguins don’t set them off.

What you can do
Read a wonderful article by leading journalist Matthew Teller on the BBC website on this subject, entitled “The Falklands penguins that would not explode”. And don’t cross the minefields line. Ever. Do some reading up on the history of the islands before you go. We have a history section on the 2 Minute summary of this travel guide. However, we also recommend The Battle for the Falklands by Max Hastings and Simon Jenkins (Pan Macmillan), just one of an array of books out there on the subject. If you are a Spanish visitor, it is worth remembering to avoid using Spanish names for places as you may risk offending local people.

Responsible tourism tips

Travel better in the Faulkland Islands

Be a responsible wildlife watcher. These landscapes are as precious as the Galapago Islands in many ways, but with none of the wildlife police around to keep an eye. Do not approach wild animals, and always give them space. Be careful when hiking in grasslands for nesting birds, or indeed mother seals protecting cubs. Bring clean hiking boots with no imported bacteria on the soles and, of course, when hiking or exploring, adhere to the principles of Leave No Trace. If you are traveling to the Falkland Islands as part of an Antarctic cruise, ensure your tour operator is registered with IAATO (all of our suppliers are). Download IAATO’s visitor guidelines for more information. Always respect private land in the Falklands. There are many different landowners, but when you go walking with a local guide they will know all the rights of way. Buy local produce and food as much as you can. Tourism is the second biggest income source on the islands. Buying local art is another great way to support the local community. Don’t remove shells, whalebone or anything else from beaches, unless it is litter of course. Similarly, don’t pick or step on wildflowers, lichens, mosses or tussock grasses. A lot of time and energy has gone into protecting them. The albatross is threatened by long-line fishing. They swallow hooks embedded in the fish and are dragged underwater, where they drown. Support the RSPB’s seabirds campaigns, to promote simple solutions which can prevent albatross from swallowing baited hooks.
Written by Catherine Mack
Photo credits: [Page banner: Falkland Islands] [Wildlife & Environment: Strange Ones] [People & Culture: Apcbg]