This post is the latest in the series Kike Calvo’s visual diary as a National Geographic Expert on the South Georgia and Falklands Expedition aboard the National Geographic Explorer.
We made it back to the ship. After two days being exposed to the strong prevailing westerly winds, I can still feel the sensation of resisting the wind as I persistently stepped forward towards the summit of various ridges. It is hard to describe in words the beauty of the Falkland Islands. Remote, yet familiar. With a total land area of 4,700 square miles, the broadest point being 155 miles, life in the Falkland Islands is dominated by the wind and the sea.
About 80 years after the greatest of all naturalists, Charles Darwin, visited the island in two occasions, I wanted to capture the essence of this place from a different perspective. Away from wildlife, and more interested in the patterns and textures of the landscape, I decided to try to fly a Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UVA) to document the magnificent scenery. With wind gusts of more than 40 km an hour, reaching 60 in certain areas, flying a quadcopter to get aerial footage is not easy. I took this as a personal challenge.
“Strong winds are a constant feature of life in the Falkland Islands and expedition operations have to constantly adjust to it. Surprisingly, sometimes during the winter it is actually less windy than it is this time of the year, said Lisa Kelley, Expedition Leader on the National Geographic Explorer.
Trying to fly into the wind, overcoming my fear of crashing, and aiming at merging art and technology, I launched my UVA remembering the advice of my instructor, Gene Payson from the Unmanned Vehicle University, on flying to the limit when in difficult conditions yet maintaining control of the craft at all times. West Point was splendid from the air. The soft sandy beach at Settlement Harbor was lined by kelp that gently moved with the surf. The inland had other unique natural and historical features. “The ashes of Lars Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Expeditions, are spread throughout different places of the world. Some of his ashes rest here at West Point,” said Kelley.
Flying the UVA over New Island, in West Falkland, captured great aerial footage of tide pools and tussac grass, which covers most of the uninhabited areas in the island and provides an ecological habitat for breeding birds, sea mammals and invertebrates.
I must admit that landing the UVA was not an easy task. During one of the landings, Stefan Andrews, Underwater Rolex Scholar from Australia, was next to me and told me: “You looked like you were in complete control. But it wasn’t until you landed the Phantom, right before the hail started, that you looked really glad. It was good timing.”
Our exploration continued to Carcass Island. An extreme location at 51 grades 18 min S 60 grades 34 min W, Carcass Island is dominated by Mount Byng and is home to Gentoo and Magellanic penguins as well as wildfowl nesting black-crowned night herons. The island is made of hard quartzite deposited at the margin of a shallow sea millions of years ago.
The first sighting of the Falklands is attributed to Captain John Davis, an English navigator, centuries ago on August 14th 1592. But it was not until 1690, that Captain John Strong with his ship the Welfare, did the first landing near current day Port Howard. Hundreds of years have passed, but travelers still marvel at this unique set of islands as if they were the first explorers to set an eye on them. As we sail away, I look at the horizon, and the Falklands fade away amidst a rough seascape that tenaciously carves the habitat for the islands’ resilient yet fragile wildlife.