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Falkland Islands – Shallow Marine Surveys Group

Falkland Islands – Shallow Marine Surveys Group
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Shallow Marine Surveys Group (SMSG) were formed in 2006 by marine biologists and dive enthusiasts in the Falkland Islands. The group recognised that the shallow marine environment in the Falkland Islands is pristine, un-impacted by man and surprisingly diverse but almost nothing was known about it. Their initial aim was to provide species inventories for the habitats of this vast coastline and ultimately to produce a guide book so others could enjoy the amazing sites, habitats and species that are contained within it. Since they started in 2006 over 500 species of algae and animals have been documented between the intertidal zone and 20 metres in depth. These range from inconspicuous algae the thickness of a single cell to migrating whales exceeding 15 tonnes. Some species are readily distinguished at a glimpse while others require a sharp eye to determine their identity. But each contributes to the biodiversity of the shallow marine environment – the most diverse environment in the Falklands Islands.

SMSG's expeditions have taken them to the far reaches of the Falkland Islands, the north coast of sub-Antarctic South Georgia and the tropical oceanic island of Ascension. Their work has resulted in the discovery of over 30 new species, numerous habitats and unique faunal and floral communities. The environments the group work in range from a comfortable 26 °C to freezing cold conditions of less than 0 °C in South Georgia and strong winds can make seas and coastlines prohibitively rough. Exploration of the marine life in these environments therefore presents some challenges.

The theme of this set of stamps is rocky reef habitats in the three United Kingdom South Atlantic Overseas Territories. The species diversity and floral and faunal assemblages are extremely different in each of the territories and the reasons for this are due to latitude, oceanography and geographical isolation in terms of distance from other islands and continental land masses.

Follow the work of SMSG on their website www.smsg-falklands.org.

For a nation comprising over 700 islands and a correspondingly large coastline, little is known about the inshore environment around theFalkland Islands. Most of the available scientific literature deals with offshore commercial fisheries in waters that are on the whole deeper than 50 m. Exploration and survey by the Shallow Marine Surveys Group has shown highly diverse algal and invertebrate communities. Interestingly the near shore fish fauna has a low diversity and is dominated by a group called the southern rock cods (notothenioides), which are restricted to cold southern oceans. The reasons for this lie in the fact that near shore coastal environments are quite harsh with large seasonal fluctuations in temperature and salinity. The high floral and invertebrate diversity are due to the proximity of the Falkland Islands to southern South America and the influence of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current that forms the Falkland Current resulting in a mixture of Atlantic and Pacific faunas.

Rocky reefs in the Falkland Islands are dominated by giant kelp forests (Macrocystis pyrifera). Numerous closely spaced kelp stipes can grow out of single hold fasts resulting in a thick forest. These forests are similar to forests on land, harbouring different species in the holdfasts, stipes and canopies. They form important nursery grounds for tessellated rock cod, Fuegian spratt and lobster krill. Light limited due to the ‘forest’ canopy (up to 30 m above the bottom), the substrate is dominated by coralline algae and occasionally other red species. A variety of organisms, including a high diversity of echinoderms are often found on the substrate and the convoluted holdfasts provide a habitat for an extraordinary diversity of organisms.

In deeper more open waters a different type of kelp, Lessonia or tree kelp, is more common on rocky reefs.  Tree kelp can form dense forests that present a thick canopy covering a spacious area underneath. The kelp canopy in these forests is typically 1 – 3 m above the bottom. Due to deeper water the communities on the substrate are less algal dominated with the encrusting fauna more common including sponges, solitary and colonial sea squirts that often form mats of continuous cover.

The issue consists of four stamps (30p, 75p, £1.00p & £1.20p) all with white borders, a sheetlet of 16 in staggered se-tenant format with the same values which bleed off and a souvenir sheet containing three £1 stamps, one of each from Ascension Island, Falkland Islands and South Georgia.

First Day Covers of the souvenir sheet will be cancelled first day of issue in Falkland Islands and then forwarded for cds cancellations in Ascension Island and South Georgia.

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