ENVIRONMENT Department staff did what they could to provide support to wardens struggling with large crowds of tourists at Yorke Bay on Monday MLA Peter Biggs told Penguin News this week, when asked to respond to news of chaotic scenes of tourists herding vulnerable moulting King penguins along the waterline on Monday.
The crowds of cruise ship tourists were also seen surrounding penguins that were attempting to reach the water and their nests and even attempting to pick them up.
One tour operator told Penguin News the problem had been seriously exacerbated by a large number of shuttle tourists having been told on the cruise ship they could walk from Gypsy Cove to Yorke Bay after their tour.
He said hundreds had walked on to the beach from the Gypsy Cove end.
MLA Biggs said the Environment Department acknowledged that the control measures that were in place on that day were not nearly adequate to protect the wildlife, “and from this week onwards they will be re-introducing the system used in the previous season of roped off areas and signs, backed up by wardens, to ensure that people do not get too close to penguins and their chicks, nor block access to the sea for wildlife.”
He said that this will mean that tourists will still get a chance to view and photograph the penguins, but in a controlled manner that will he hopes reduce the likelihood of the colony moving away from Yorke Bay because of human over-interaction.
MLA Biggs felt responsibility for the situation should be shared however – he said it was “a regrettable situation, but it was made worse by the volume of tourists, that were being taken to the beach by cars and mini buses and discharged without any local guides or advisors.”
He said that the situation should not occur at any wildlife sites in the Falklands, ”and I would strongly suggest that any local businesses and individuals consider having trained and identifiable wardens for each group of tourists (at a ratio advised by the Environment Department).”
He believes that responsible actions by tour operators will support “a sustainable tourist industry throughout the Falklands, and will help the small Environment Team and their wardens contractors to do their very difficult job in the intensive areas around Stanley.
“We all have a clear choice – either take a more thoughtful and responsible attitude to our interaction with nature, and that extends to controlling the actions of our pets and livestock, or otherwise watch as the wonderful wildlife areas around Stanley and other vulnerable areas of the Falklands, become lifeless.”
Penguin News spoke also spoke to Acting Head of Environment Mike Jervois who explained that while the employment of wardens was normally undertaken by the Environment Department it was now outsourced to a local contractor to reduce the administration burden. The contractor has 10+ wardens who were employed between Gypsy Cove and Yorke bay on Monday.
On that day he and his colleague had travelled to Yorke Bay having heard some complaints about the situation there.
They discovered Gypsy Cove was “OK” but at Yorke Bay, “we were absolutely shocked.. we’d heard stories about people putting their hands in trying to pick them [the penguins] up but we’d never really seen it until then – people were just walking everywhere.”
The pair joined in trying to help clear a path around the nesting area and down to the beach, “but it was kind of hopeless.”
He said: “I’m glad we saw it though because I really understand what the problem is.”
When asked why the ropes signs and flags that had been trialed last year in the area had not been used this year he acknowledged: “I think it just fell through the cracks. We just weren’t on it in time and that’s on us not putting it in place. “
Asked about other ways to improve the protection of wildlife in the areas Mr Jervois underlined what MLA Biggs said by commenting: “I saw tourism operators bringing bus loads of people and just letting them off with without looking after them. Who knows if they’d had a briefing on board about the countryside code or how to behave well around wildlife?
“All the burden is put on the wardens to keep an eye on these people. And that’s really unfair. So I think a lot of responsibility has to be on the tourism operators to take part in this as well.”
Mr Jervois said the eventual problem could be that, “we have to close the site because they’re getting too bothered that they’re not going to come next year and then everyone’s stuffed and we don’t want that.”
One tour operator Premium Penguin Tours owned by Roberto Lennie has responded to the situation by creating signs and installing them on the site that asks tourists ‘Please keep your distance from the penguins distance 6 metres apart’.
The sign is notated in a number of languages.