Barren and Carcass Islands, The Falklands

Jon Bowermaster is a writer, filmmaker, adventurer and fellow Earthkeeper who has spent the last 20 years exploring remote corners of the globe and documenting his experiences for a variety of national and international magazines, as well as in his own books and documentary films.  We feature periodic updates and observations from Jon here on the Earthkeeper blog … and you may follow his travels anytime on his own blog, Dispatches.

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 of 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.

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.

Photo copyright Fiona Stewart

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.

But the plastic and trash on the beach here 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.

- Jon Bowermaster

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