What better place to spend what around the world is being hailed as a Brand New Day, than on a beautiful Falkland’s rock called … New Island.
Home to nesting albatrosses, Macaroni and rock hopper penguins and another forty breeds of birds, it is the most remote of all inhabited islands in the Falklands. Its human population is just two families and the entire island has recently been set aside under conservation easement turning it into a forever nature reserve.
Bonding with the rock hoppers, New Island, the Falklands
The cliffs on the far side of the island are rimmed with nesting birds and I spent the entire morning watching sizable albatross swoop in full-steam and throw on the brakes just before setting onto their cylindrical nests. Oddly, a few sneaky penguins had taken over a couple of the outsized nests making for strange side-by-side couplings.
Five hundred feet below the sea crashed onto tall rocks and I could see penguins swarming in from the ocean onto them, so vowed to figure out a way down for a closer look. A muddy scramble led to an incredibly pristine V in the wall, carved from centuries of wild seas crashing. I sat for an hour and watched as penguins were literally spit out of the violently raucous sea onto the rocks. I’m always amazed when I see them and their surf landings, surprised they don’t break wings, necks, beaks and more with great frequency. Instead, what I’ve observed, is that penguins tend to bounce pretty well.
It was a beautiful way to end this seven week adventure on the Southern Ocean; the next day it’s back to the tip of Argentina and civilization.
Looking back to late November, the days pile up on top of one another, a bit confused from this near-distance. While each day has been new and different, the one constant – from the Antarctic Peninsula to South Georgia and the Falklands – has been the Southern Ocean. Whenever I leave this deep south, it is with some regret because I love this part of our globe. But it’s also with some joy that I depart too, because … I know I’ll be back.
A line up of rock hoppers, New Island, the Falklands
As I’ve figured out during the past ten days, when it comes to islands few can compete with South Georgia for its fantastic wildlife, landscape and sense of mystery. So when Barren Island – one of the Falklands 740 smallish isles – appeared out the fog this morning it both lived up to its name and reminded me we were no longer in magic land.
Flat and not surprisingly devoid of any foliage taller than my boots, Barren Island is nonetheless distinct for its burrowing penguins, a solitary snipe, a beach covered with bleached-out whale bones and something I hadn’t seen for awhile: Beach trash.
Sheets of quasi-buried plastic on Banner Island
That there was a smattering of plastic and detritus washed (tossed?) off commercial fishing boats on the far side of Banner is not the fault of the island, or of the Falklands. Most of what I saw on this beach, as I’ve seen on virtually every coastline I’ve visited during the past decade, comes from boats of all kinds, many of which still treat the ocean like a limitless dump.
A sheep farmer named Mike, who happens by in his Zodiac just as I land ashore, leases Banner Island. I ask about prevailing currents and where the washed-up stuff most likely comes from. “Boats,” is his simple answer. Mainland Argentina is several hundred miles away.
Along with its brother island George, which I can make out in the near distance, Barren are the southernmost working farms in the Falklands. They are successful at sheep and cows and re-growing tussock grasses in part because they are rat-free, a problem impacting many of the near islands. Seals, giant petrels and gentoo and Magellanic penguins share the beaches happily, but the islands are best known for the amazing bird life … everywhere.
We spend the morning walking the length of Banner and then sail to the somewhat unfortunately named Carcass Island (named after a sailing ship, not a cadaver). Just a trio of families has lived on Carcass over the past century and the island itself is well looked after and boasts another thing I haven’t seen for many weeks: A bed and breakfast.
Piles and piles of washed-up trash, Carcass Island, the Falklands
Carcass is hilly, dipped in late day mist, beautiful … but the plastic and trash on the beach is even worse than on Banner; in fact, it may be among the worst example of man’s mistreatment of the ocean I’ve ever seen, and that’s saying a lot, since I’ve spent the past decade studying beaches and coastlines around the globe. During the last ten years we identified a trio of environmental issues impacting everyone who lives on or near a beach: Climate change, over fishing and plastic pollution. Sadly, Carcass Island could become the poster boy for the latter. A few of its beaches are so thick in man’s plastic waste that its rocks and sand and shoreline disappear beneath my feet.