New Island is one of the westernmost of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, and is one of a group of some thirty islands and islets, which effectively create a small archipelago of their own. The most westerly inhabited place of the island group, it is located 147 miles (237 km) from Stanley, the capital, and approximately 220 miles (354 Km) from the nearest point on the South American continent.
New Island has roughly 52 miles (84 Km) of coastline, is approximately 8 miles (12.8 Km) in length and covers an area of approximately 2011 ha. The terrain is rugged and the highest peak (South Hill) reaches 743 feet (244 m). Sheer cliffs dominate the western side of the island, while low ground predominates on the eastern shores, where several deep bays shelter a number of sandy beaches.
Long used as a base for whaling, as a sheep farm and for occasional attempts to collect guano, New Island is considered by some to be one of the most beautiful islands in the Falklands/Malvinas archipelago, as well as having possibly the most diverse range of wildlife in the region. It is now a nature reserve originally set up in 1972 by Ian Strange and Roddy Napier, with the help of Annie Gisby. Since 1996 the island has been owned and run by the New Island Conservation Trust which finally acquired the entire freehold of the property in 2005.The Trust relies entirely on donations to continue its conservation and research work. The Trust’s objectives are to promote the study and appreciation of ecology and wildlife conservation throughout the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, and to assist in developing plans for the management and conservation of its exceptional natural environment for the future.
Climate and Geology
The Falkland/Malvinas Islands have a cool, temperate oceanic climate featuring exceptionally changeable weather. There are important inter-island variations in climate parameters, particularly regarding cloud cover, solar radiation and precipitation. Winds are a common feature and frequent all the year round. Dominated by westerlies, there is often a noticeable difference between conditions on the west side of the archipelago and those on the east.
New Island, lying in the extreme west of the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, generally experiences more hours of sunshine and slightly higher temperatures than East Falkland and significantly less annual rainfall.
In geological terms New Island belongs to the West Falkland Group which is dominated by sandstones, with some siltstones and mudstones. These sedimentary sequences are of the Silurian to Devonian ages, an average age being 400 million years.
New Island was one of the earliest of the islands to be colonised, and American whalers may have arrived as early as the 1770s. A couple of the placenames on or near the island (e.g. Coffin's Harbour and Coffin's Island) commemorate the family of "Coffin" who came from Nantucket. Nearby islands called "Quaker" and "Penn" reflect the New England provenance of some of the earliest settlers. In 1813, Captain Charles H. Barnard, from Nantucket, and his crew, were marooned on the island. They survived on the island for two years, and constructed a crude stone building, which is incorporated into the Barnard Building, probably the oldest standing building in the Falklands, now a museum restored in 2006. In 1823, Antarctic explorer Captain James Weddell anchored here, and commented on its excellent harbours and natural food and water supplies. In the 1850s and 60s, the island's guano deposits were mined.
New Island presents an interesting example of the re-establishment of native vegetation following the removal of stock. One of the main examples of this is the Tussac Grass (Parodiochloa flabellata), re-generating in many areas.
Much of the lower lying ground on the east part of the island is covered by grassland, in many places dominated by introduced species. Locally other native grasses can be found like Cinnamon Grass (Hierochloe redolens), Spiky grass (Poa robusta) and others. In moister areas there are the Marsh Daisy (Aster vahlii) and Wild Celery (Apium australe). The re-vegetation of eroded areas includes Sheep´s Sorrel (Rumex acetosella) and Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris). Large sections of the low and mid-altitude ground are covered by heath formation, dominated by the dwarf shrub Diddle-dee (Empetrum rubrum). In more exposed areas on higher grounds and ridges grows the Cushion plants that include species like Balsam Bog (Bolax gummifera) and different Azorella species. In some coastal areas it is present the native boxwood (Hebe elliptica).
The marine flora includes two very common species, the Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) and Tree Kelp (Lessonia flavicans) which form dense beds around the island. In the fringe zone there are two species of Tree Kelp (Lessonia frutescens and Lessonia nigrescens) and two large species of marine algae, Durvillea antarctica and Durvillea caepestipes. In the inter-tidal area two small species of marine algae are common, Sea Lettuce (Ulva sp.) and Iridaea.
New Island is one of the finest wildlife areas in the Falklands/Malvinas. More than 2 million seabirds inhabit New Island and its surrounding smaller islands. New Island has 30 regularly breeding species of birds. Seabirds make up the largest numbers, followed by geese, passerines, birds of prey and shorebirds (Breeding birds in New Island).
The importance of New Island as a breeding ground, along with a number of other islands in this part of the archipelago can be attributed to the Falkland Current. A main stream of this current flows to the west side of New Island creating one of the richest marine resources and feeding grounds for wildlife to be found around the Falkland/Malvinas Islands.
There are no native land mammals on New Island but several introduced species including rabbits, feral cats, ship rats and house mice. However, marine mammals are very diverse and abundant, with special notice to a large rookery of Fur seals(Arctocephalus australis australis) with several thousand individuals. The waters around the island serve as an important feeding ground for a number of other marine species that include, Killer Whale (Orcinus orca), Peale´s Dolphin (Lagenorhynchus australis), Sea Lion (Otaria flavescens) and others.
Strange, I.J., Catry, P., Strange, G. & Quillfeldt, P. 2007. New Island, Falkland Islands. A South Atlantic Wildlife Sanctuary for Conservation Management. New Island Conservation Trust, London. 152pp.