Beauchêne Island

Beauchêne Island
Seal hunters on Beauchene Island, 1833

Beauchêne Island is one of the Falkland Islands, lying thirty miles south of Sea Lion Island, the nearest land. It was discovered in 1701 by Jacques Gouin de Beauchêne and named for him.
Beauchêne is the most isolated island of the Falkland archipelago. It is uninhabited, and is approximated 2 square miles in size.
It is divided into two parts connected by a sandy isthmus: the south, with a hill of 82 metres in height, and a north eastern part with bare rocks.
There is a natural anchorage on the east side of the island, though this can only be used in fair weather.

Antoine de la Roche may have sighted Beauchêne island as early as April 1675. However, this is by no means certain; De la Roche had been circling Cape Horn and was blown off course.
What he saw is usually said to be South Georgia, which fits his descriptions better, particularly of high ice covered mountains, but supporters of Argentina’s claim to South Georgia more often claim it was Beauchêne.
A while after its official discovery in 1701 by Jacques Gouin de Beauchêne, seal trappers tried to settle the island unsuccessfully.
In 1834, the American McArthur landed 100 people on the island, driving the local sea lions to extinction (they have since returned).
The island is currently uninhabited, though there are ruins of a group of houses built in the 1830s, on the west side of the island. The first proper scientific expedition landed in 1951 by helicopter, staying for a month.

During the Falklands War, there was a Argentine wreck on Mintarry Rock, a submerged reef just south of the islands, and British soldiers lived for around four weeks there. In April 1982, a group of British soldiers stayed on the island for a month.


Flora & Fauna

Beauchêne Island Map
Beauchêne Island Map – Click to enlarge

The island is a nature reserve and is covered in tussac grass and is known for its colony of black-browed albatrosses.
The island is also host to a few breeding Southern Sea Lions and is a major haul-out station for non-breeding animals, which can congregate in numbers of up to a hundred individuals on the northern part of the island. It is remarkable for the paucity of plant species.
Two-thirds of its area is covered by Tussac, which here reaches exceptional and luxuriant dimensions. Three other vascular species have been recorded, including Wild Celery Apium australe, Antarctic Starwort Callitrache antarctica and Bittercress Cardamine glacialis.

In 1980 two scientists from the British Antarctic Survey visited Beauchêne Island and collected spiders from under rocks and in tussac. This collection of about 50 animals contained some real surprises.
First of all there were seven different species, more than expected – at the time only 14 were known in the Falklands. Three species had never been found anywhere else in the world.

One of the new species found, called Beauchenia striata is very small, only 2.5mm long. It has a brown cephalothorax and a grey abdomen with a bold black pattern.
One of the most puzzling things about this spider is that there are no others like it in the Falklands, or in South America. To find other spiders like it, you would have to visit New Zealand.

The Falkland’s most famous spider is another discovered on Beauchêne Island and called the Beauchene Spider.
This is one of the few spiders in the world that has appeared on a stamp. It is a large spider, nearly 2 centimetres long, with a bold black, brown and orange pattern. Its scientific name is Emmenomma beauchenicum.

Black-browed Albatross colony
Black-browed Albatross colony

More than 30 species have been recorded on the island, the majority being migratory seabirds that are present in very large numbers during the breeding season.
The site is significant for the second largest populations in the world of Blackbrowed Albatrosses and Rockhopper Penguins, and apparently the second most dense breeding population of Striated Caracaras in the Falklands.
Beauchêne Island is also important for Wilson’s Storm-petrels, Grey-backed Storm-petrels and Common Diving Petrels. It is the only confirmed breeding site for Fairy Prions in the Falkland Islands.

The endemic Cobb’s Wren breeds and appears to be fairly numerous. There is a colony of around 2,500 pairs of Imperial Shags, and White-chinned Petrels probably breed, but this has not been confirmed. Southern Giant Petrels and Magellanic Penguins are present, but populations are too small to qualify. The total congregation of seabirds far exceeds 10,000 breeding pairs, making this site classifiable under the A4iii criterion.