By John Nightingale, Ph.D., president and CEO of Vancouver Aquarium
As part of our group’s trek to Antarctica on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition, we’re now in the Falkland Islands, where Port Stanley is the capital. The city has about 2,500 residents, while fewer than 400 live scattered around the rest of the islands. The colony was established over 150 years ago by the British. This successful colonization followed failed initial attempts by both Britain and France. In the 1800s, the islands were an important jumping off port for both Antarctic explorers and whalers or sealers seeking whale oil and seal skins. Today, the economy relies on selling fishing rights within its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to foreign fleets, and raising organic lamb. Oil and gas seem to be present in certain areas, and a petroleum boom may be next up for the islands. And tourism – our trip, for example – is currently the second largest contributor to the economy.
We tied up at the main wharf in Port Stanley (everyone call it Stanley), where we took on fuel – the technical term for this is “bunkering.” While bunkering was underway, starting at about 9 a.m., we were free to wander and explore, which we gladly did. We found historic buildings dating back to the 1850s, and more modern ones as well. We also saw wonderful gardens mostly hunkered down behind hedge rows and fences. The overall ambience was that of an English seaside village.
We toured the museum – both the general one and the one dedicated specifically to the 1982 war. We visited the ubiquitous gift shops, and we walked and walked. It didn’t actually rain on us during our time in Stanley, but the wind got worse and worse. We could have guessed there would be wind – all of the trees which the various settlers planted over the years were lopsided, due to the relentless wind pushing them year after year. I think it’s safe to say we found Stanley charming and interesting, but not particularly compelling for any one reason.
The Falklands lie between the 51 and 52.30 South Latitude. According to the locals, they used to get several feet of snow every winter, and it would stay for a month or more. Now, they get one to two inches once or twice a year. People here have noticed that the climate is changing. There is now an emerging focus on growing more of their fresh vegetables to go along with the beef and lamb they produce here. We enjoyed our lunch in a very British pub – complete with darts. It was actually more “classically British” than most pubs I’ve been in across England. Our fish and chips fish was a type of mullet – a good white-meat and flakey fish. With permits being sold to fish in the EEZ, conservation of ocean fish stocks is becoming a concern – something I was personally glad to hear.
As I write this, we are still “trapped” in the harbour at Port Stanley by 50-knot winds. Once they ease or change directions, our vessel, the Akademik Ioffe, can navigate the narrow entrance, and we will be off to South Georgia Island. This island is one of the major reasons for taking Vancouver Aquarium explorers on this particular trip – South Georgia is often talked about in hushed tones as being amazing. It lies about 500 knots east and south of the Falklands, and it will take us a full two-plus days at sea to get there.
John Nightingale, Ph.D., president and CEO of the Vancouver Aquarium, is currently on a once-in-a-lifetime expedition to Antarctica with a group of explorers. He is providing regular updates during the journey.