Beauchêne is an island of contradictions. 

Named for its French discoverer whose name means “beautiful oak,” the island is not only devoid of trees, but partially devoid of all vegetation, it’s southern half resembling a rock-strewn sci-fi movie set.

Lying 30 miles south of Sea Lion Island, Beauchêne is the most remote of the Falklands. It has been a formal nature reserve for 46 years. Its position puts it closer to the sub-Antarctic Falkland Current than any other point of the archipelago. These characteristics make it interesting. The isolation makes it a challenge.

But in early 2010, it was visited by the Shallow Marine Surveys Group (SMSG). 


Listed by Wikipedia as “uninhabited”, it is nearly impossible to navigate through its countless inhabitants, which include 109,000 breeding pairs of black-browed albatross, 71,000 pairs of rockhopper penguins and 400 pairs of gentoo penguins (source: Falklands Conservation 2005 census)

Once locally exterminated by sealers, the island’s sea lions greet visiting boats with curiosity and circle divers with playful enthusiasm.

Funded by the Overseas Territories Environment Program with contributions from the Environmental Studies Budget and the Antarctic Research Trust, thirteen scientists and divers used the Golden Fleece as a platform from which to survey coastal bird populations and the underwater environment of the southern islands.

  The Golden Fleece anchors off the coast of the 1.75 km2 island  



Expectations for birdlife on Beauchêne were confirmed by coastal surveys conducted by expedition members Alastair Wilson and Celine Blanchard. As a rat-free island, it hosted healthy populations of Cobb’s wrens and tussacbirds. As a seabird outpost, the penguin and albatross colonies were a riot of cacophonous life. Notably absent were ducks, geese, and other wading birds. But then also notably absent were the sandy beaches and shallow coastal slopes they inhabit.

Tussac and black-browed albatross dominate the northern half of Beauchêne.  

What instead dominated were cube-shaped boulders and towering cliffs. Striking in form above the water, they plunged dramatically below the waves as well. Though graced with a fine weather window and relatively low-lying seas, the Golden Fleece was nevertheless unable to anchor off the steep island sides at many sites, leaving surveyors to conduct drift dives instead.

 Possibly indicative of an inshore nursery habitat, a 15 cm juvenile cat shark (Schroederichthys bivius) is one of many seen in the sandy waters of Sea Lion Island.  

Swimming through waters clearer than elsewhere in the Falklands, surveyors recorded numerous species previously unseen in the archipelago, some of which are likely to be new to science. Systematic counts of the species demonstrated that even “common” Falklands’ species were different at Beauchêne, as some normally abundant species like large sea urchins were rare, while other species like small batstars not usually seen around the main islands were plentiful.

For the two UK sponge specialists on the expedition, the caves and steep walls of Beauchêne were ideal collection areas.  They photographed and sampled over 200 specimens for analysis. Subsequent laboratory work will determine how many of these have never before been documented in the Falklands, or in the world.

One of the six species of nudibranchs not previously documented in the Falklands  

In addition to the ecological data collected through survey work, over 1400 photographs and 70 specimens were brought back to Stanley to be included in SMSG collections. The specimens mostly represent unknown species which will be identified using guides from throughout the Southern Ocean or in some cases shipped to international specialists. The photographs will be compiled into an upcoming underwater field guide as well as reports on the species, habitats, and ecology of the Falklands’ shallow marine environment.

Though the island is diminutive in size, the filled notebooks and databases the expedition returned with suggest that  Beauchêne's biology could fill volumes.

Expedition member Steve Cartwright fills one of the SCUBA cylinders used during the 114 dives conducted by the team over 10 days.  
 Dr Paul Brickle is joined by a flock of swimming rockhopper penguins.

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