| Is tourism
damaging Falklands wildlife?
by Dr Mike Bingham
The Falklands are made up of more than 700
islands, with a total land area of 12,000 square kilometres, but
they have a human population of less than 4,000 people (2,500 civilians
and 1,500 military personnel). The Falklands may seem an unlikely
destination for ecotourism, but in fact they receive more than 30,000
tourists per year, and the numbers are growing.
In 1984 the Falkland Islands had a total
penguin population of 6 million. Sadly this has now been reduced
to just 1 million as a result of over-fishing during the 1980s.
The Rockhopper Penguin has been the worst affected, with numbers
dropping from 2.5 million pairs in 1984 (Croxall et al. 1984) to
just 297,000 pairs by 1996 (Bingham 1998). A decline of nearly 90%
in 12 years.
Despite these declines however, the Falkland
Islands remain one of the world's most popular destinations for
penguin spotters, and the affects of its growing tourist industry
have been under study for the last 7 years.
Although visitor presence may have short-term
affects on penguins in terms of heart-rate and stress levels, it
must be remembered that wild animals are subjected to certain levels
of stress in their natural environment. It was therefore decided
to monitor the affects of visitor presence in its wider perspective,
by conducting long-term studies of population trends and chick-survival
rates. Chick survival rates in particular provide a useful guide
to the levels of visitor disturbance.
Excessive visitor disturbance during the
breeding season can affect penguins in a number of ways.
- Birds incubating eggs or chicks may be frightened away allowing
predators to strike.
- Raised metabolic rates brought on by stress may lead to greater
- Natural behaviour, such as food transfer or courtship, may be
- Adults could be scared away completely, causing them to abandon
- Severe disturbance could lead to adults or young being killed
- Burrows may collapse if people walk over them, killing the occupants.
These potential consequences of disturbance
(and possibly others) should be apparent from reduced breeding success,
and possibly population changes also, if such disturbances occur
at a significant level. Studies have been conducted since 1993 to
examine these parameters, both for sites which have visitors and
for those which do not.
TYPES OF TOURISM
The way in which tourism can impact on penguins
varies considerably from site to site, depending upon the types
of visitors. Throughout the summer season (November to February)
moderate numbers of tourists visit the Falkland Islands via commercial
flights from South America and the United Kingdom. These visitors,
combined with local residents and military personnel based in the
Falklands, travel to penguin colonies around the Falklands in small
A number of settlements have established
tourist facilities to deal with these visitors, some offering accommodation,
and others just access to the penguin colonies. The average number
of visitors present at these sites at any one time is fairly small,
but visitors are present around the penguins on a daily basis, and
the visitors are often unsupervised.
By contrast, the majority of the tourists
who visit the Falklands each year come on cruise liners. These vessels
often hold several hundred passengers, but generally visit for just
a few hours. These passengers mostly want to see the penguins, and
a few settlements have established facilities to deal with these
vessels. Penguin colonies at these sites will have a hundred or
more visitors wandering around the colony at one time, but such
parties are generally well supervised by cruise vessel staff. These
colonies do not receive visitors on a daily basis, and may go for
weeks between visits.
In addition to differences in visitors and
site conditions, there are also differences between the species
which affect their susceptibility to disturbance. King, Gentoo and
Rockhopper penguins all nest above ground, whilst Magellanic Penguins
live below ground in burrows, which can easily collapse if people
walk over them, killing eggs, chicks and even adults.
King Penguins do not make nests, but instead
carry the single egg or chick on their feet, making them susceptible
to over-enthusiastic photographers. Gentoo Penguins nest in colonies,
but will easily abandon their nests if visitors approach too close,
leaving the eggs or chicks vulnerable to predation from skuas and
other aerial predators. Rockhopper Penguins are more aggressive,
and are not so easily disturbed unless people try to walk amongst
Map showing the location of study sites
STUDYING THE EFFECTS
In order to determine the impacts of these
different types of tourism, it was necessary to monitor a number
of different sites, and to provide controls at each site so that
penguins which received no visitors could be studied for comparison.
The sites selected were:
Volunteer Point: This is the most
popular tourist destination in the Falklands, because it is the
only site to hold large numbers of King Penguins. There are also
large numbers of Gentoo and Magellanic Penguins present. The site
is accessed by a track that requires an all-terrain vehicle, so
most overseas tourists visit the site using local tour operators
who take the visitors to the site and act as guides. This does provide
some control over visitor behaviour, although large numbers of local
residents and military personnel do visit the site unsupervised.
Population trends and chick survival rates are monitored for Gentoo
and Magellanic Penguins at this site. Within 3 kilometres of the
area which the tourists use, there are other colonies where these
species remain undisturbed, and these are monitored for comparison.
King Penguins are monitored at Volunteer Point, but since there
are no King Penguin colonies without visitors, it is impossible
to compare the affects of tourism on this species. King Penguins
are therefore excluded from this study.
Saunders Island: No other site in
the Falklands offers such a variety of wildlife at one location,
with all the Falkland penguins being found along a 2 kilometre stretch
of coastline. Small numbers of visitors are present daily throughout
the breeding season, and these people use self-catering accommodation
which is provided close by. Visitors are free to visit the penguins
at their leisure, and most visitors are unsupervised.
Population trends and chick survival rates are monitored for Gentoo,
Magellanic and Rockhopper penguins, and for Black-browed Albatross
and King Cormorants. Elsewhere on the island there are other colonies
of these species in areas which are too remote for visitors to reach.
These colonies are monitored for comparison.
Westpoint Island: Westpoint Island
caters for cruise vessels rather than visitors who come to the Falklands
on commercial flights, and the penguins and albatross at the Devil's
Nose are the main attraction. These colonies go for days or weeks
without visitors, and are then exposed to a hundred or more visitors
within just a few hours, when a cruise vessel visits. Visitors are
generally well supervised by cruise vessel staff, who ensure that
disturbance is kept to a minimum.
Population trends and chick survival rates have been monitored at
the Devil's Nose for Rockhopper Penguins and Black-browed Albatross.
Just 3 kilometres away lies Mount Misery, where colonies of these
same species are protected from visitors by difficulty of access.
These colonies were monitored for comparison.
Gypsy Cove: Gypsy Cove is the nearest
penguin colony to Stanley, the Falklands capitol. As such it receives
large numbers of visitors of all types, and a surfaced road has
recently been laid to the site to aid access.
Population trends and chick survival rates are monitored for Magellanic
Penguins at Gypsy Cove. Just 2 kilometres away there is another
Magellanic Penguin colony which does not have a track. As such this
colony receives only a small number of visitors, and is used for
Throughout the period of study (1993 to
2000) there were no major differences in breeding success between
colonies receiving visitors and colonies not receiving visitors.
This was true for individual sites and years as well as for the
overall averages. Taken species by species the mean results were
VISITORS: 0.79 chicks per nest (range: 0.57 to 0.98).
NO VISITORS: 0.80 chicks per nest (range: 0.35 to 1.11)
VISITORS: 0.72 chicks per nest (range:0.60 to 0.84)
NO VISITORS: 0.68 chicks per nest (range 0.60 to 0.78)
VISITORS: 0.79 chicks per nest (range: 0.22 to 1.23)
NO VISITORS: 0.76 (range: 0.37 to 1.20)
VISITORS: 0.47 chicks per nest (range: 0.25 to 0.61)
NO VISITORS: 0.47 chicks per nest (range: 0.24 to 0.60)
VISITORS: 1.35 chicks per nest (range: 0.28 to 2.01)
NO VISITORS: 1.32 chicks per nest (range 0.29 to 1.98)
During the period of study a number of external
factors have influenced the population trends of seabird breeding
sites throughout the Falklands. During the 1980s over-fishing led
to large scale population declines amongst Falklands penguins and
other seabirds. During the 1990s however, better regulation and
reduced fishing effort has led to a partial recovery of Gentoo and
Rockhopper penguins, although populations are still well below their
1984 levels. Magellanic Penguins and King Cormorants have continued
to decline throughout the 1990s however, perhaps due to a greater
sensitivity to the levels of commercial fishing which still continue
around the Falklands.
Comparisons of sites with visitors and those
without visitors must be considered against these background population
trends, with the focus being on the differences between the two,
rather than the individual results themselves. Graphs showing these
background population trends are included for each of the penguin
species. The results are as follows:
VISITORS: 16% population increase
NO VISITORS: 17% population increase
Overall Gentoo Penguin population
trends 1984 to 2000.
VISITORS: 19% population increase
NO VISITORS: 18% population increase
Overall Rockhopper Penguin population
trends 1984 to 2000.
VISITORS: 47% population decrease
NO VISITORS: 58% population decrease
Overall Magellanic Penguin population
trends 1990 to 2000.
VISITORS: 1% population increase
NO VISITORS: 1% population increase
VISITORS: 46% population decrease
NO VISITORS: 61% population decrease
There are no major differences evident in
the breeding success rates of penguins, albatross or cormorants
which receive visitors and those which do not. Some tiny differences
are apparent in favour of colonies receiving visitors, but such
differences are very small and not statistically proven when one
considers the natural variation of such studies.
Gentoo Penguins, Rockhopper Penguins and
Black-browed Albatross have all shown background population increases
during the period of study, but there are no apparent differences
between colonies which receive visitors and those which do not.
Magellanic Penguins and King Cormorants
have both shown significant background declines during the period
of study, but the results suggest that colonies which receive visitors
have declined by less than those which do not receive visitors.
There is no evidence to suggest that the
present level of tourism has any detrimental effect on penguins,
albatross or cormorants. In fact there is some suggestion that colonies
which do have visitors may receive a small benefit, although these
differences are in general not statistically proven, and cannot
be considered conclusive.
It is likely that in the short-term penguins
and other seabirds will suffer from slightly raised levels of stress
in the presence of visitors. We must however consider whether or
not such instances of stress are significantly different from the
normal stresses which such birds are subjected to by aerial predators
and other natural factors. The results would seem to suggest that
in general they are not.
If the very small positive influence of
visitors on breeding success and population trends suggested by
the results is genuine, and not just natural variation, then it
suggests that visitors may have a small impact on other areas of
the ecology. The possibility that visitors are having a disturbing
influence on aerial predators, such as skuas, cannot be ruled out.
In conclusion, it would appear that the
present level of ecotourism in the Falklands is not having any significant
detrimental effect on the species which the visitors come to see.
In addition ecotourism undoubtedly has a number of beneficial consequences.
It provides wildlife with a commercial value, and gives support
for its protection within the commercial sector. It also educates
and entertains the people who come to see the wildlife, raising
awareness and gathering support for wildlife protection within the
community as a whole.
It will always be difficult to provide strong
argument for wildlife protection unless people can relate to wildlife
on a personal level. It is therefore important to promote ecotourism,
whilst at the same time ensuring that such tourism does not damage
the wildlife resources which people come to see. In the Falklands
the impacts of tourism will continue to be monitored to ensure that
this situation continues as we move into the 21st Century.
Many thanks to all the farmers who allow
us to conduct research on their land to study the effects of tourism
activities. In particular I would like to thank David and Suzan
Pole-Evans, George and Jenny Smith and Roddy and Lily Napier.
Bingham, M. - (1998) Penguins of
South America and the Falkland Islands. Penguin Conservation, 11(1):
Croxall, J.P., McInnes, S.J. and Prince
P.A. - (1984) The status and conservation of seabirds at the
Falkland Islands. In Status and conservation of the world's seabirds,
ICBP Technical Publication No.2, (ed. J.P. Croxall, P.G.H. Evans
and R.W. Schreiber), 271-291, ICBP