The Jason Islands are an archipelago in the Falkland Islands, lying north west of the main island group, and about 250 miles east of Argentina.
The islands include Steeple Island, Grand Island, Elephant Island, Flat Island and South Island.
Steeple Jason is approximately six miles long, and Grand Island, approximately seven. They tend to consist of low lying shoreline, rising quickly to pinnacles inland. Together they comprise nearly 5,360 acres.
They are uninhabited nature reserves, though still carry traces of the uses to which they were once put, especially overgrazing by sheep before they were removed in 1968. On Steeple Jason there are the rusting remains of pots which were once used for rendering down penguins for their oil.
History of the Jason Islands
An archipelago in the region of the Falkland Islands appeared on maps from the early 16th century, suggesting they may have been sighted by Ferdinand Magellan’s or another expedition of the 1500s.
Amerigo Vespucci is believed to have sighted the islands in 1502, but did not name them.
Both explorers were in Spanish service.
In 1519 or 1520, Esteban Gómez of the “San Antonio”, one of the captains in the expedition of Magellan, deserted this enterprise and encountered several islands, which members of his crew called “Islas de Sansón y de los Patos” (“Islands of Samson and the Ducks”).
Although these islands were probably the Jason Islands, the names “Islas de Sansón” (or “San Antón,” “San Son,” and “Ascensión”) were used for the Falklands as a whole on Spanish maps during this period.
It was on his homeward leg back to the Netherlands after having left the Straits of Magellan that Sebald De Weert noticed some unnamed and uncharted islands, or at least islands that did not exist on his nautical charts. There he attempted to stop and replenish but was unable to land due to harsh conditions.
The islands Sebald de Weert charted were the present day Jason Islands. De Weert then named these islands the “Sebald de Weert Eilanden” (“Sebald de Weert Islands” in English) which became to be known to the world as the Sebald Islands.
Since 1766, these have been officially known as the “Jason Islands”, in the Falklands and throughout the British Empire. Even so, some used the name “Sebald Islands” (or Spanish versions “Islas Sebaldinas” or “Sebaldes” for short) for many years to come. Today the British name, “Jason Islands”, is fairly universal.
Between 1864 and 1866, approximately two million rockhopper and gentoo penguins were killed on the Jasons and boiled to extract their oil. None of the islands has ever been inhabited, but until the 1980s they were used for grazing sheep – one or two buildings remain.
In March 1970, the islands were bought by Len Hill. Hill famously once issued some now sought-after banknotes in their name to raise money for conservation there. The notes indicate a validity until the 31st December 1979 and are signed by “Len Hill – Administrator”.
By a stroke of fate, the Jason Islands were offered to Hill for £10,000, which included sheep that had been stocked by the previous owner. After some negotiation, he bought the islands for £5,500 without the sheep.
Two of the Jason Islands, Steeple Jason Island and Grand Jason Island, were bought by New York philanthropist Michael Steinhardt in the 1990s, who later donated them to the Bronx Zoo based Wildlife Conservation Society. He also gave them $425,000 to build a conservation station named after himself and his wife Judy.
The uninhabited Jason Islands were purchased by Len Hill in March 1970 as his personal penguin rookery. Leonard W. Hill was a British bird-lover who realized his boyhood dream of building a bird sanctuary in England. The sanctuary is the ‘Birdland Zoo Gardens’, located at Burton-on-the-Water in Gloucestershire. By a stroke of fate, the Jason Islands were offered to Len for £10,000, which included sheep that had been stocked by the previous owner. After some negotiation, he bought the islands for £5,500 without the sheep.
Len turned the islands into a private reserve for the many birds who made the islands their home, although he did enlist some of the inhabitants for his sanctuary at Burton-on-the-Water. Len also provided birds from his islands to other conservation parks in return for specimens to stock the Birdland Zoo Gardens.
Despite being a successful businessman, the cost of running his sanctuary and purchasing the Jason Islands had stretched his finances. In 1970 Len issued a postage stamp by the ‘Jason Island’ and the sales of this stamp helped to generate revenue for his enterprises. The postage stamp was printed by Harrisons, the British security printer who has printed British postage stamps for many years. Beneath the banner of ‘Conservation Year 1970’ are a portrait of Len Hill, a picture of Grand and Steeple Islands, and Gentoo penguins.
Jason Island Banknotes
In the late 1970s Len Hill decided to issue banknotes, purportedly authorized by the Jason Islands. The banknotes were evidently a second attempt to raise money for his conservation activities. The notes consist of five denominations, which are in ascending size and different colours.
The notes are: 50 pence (green), 1 pound (purple), 5 pounds (red), 10 pounds (blue) and 20 pounds (brown).
The design is common to all denominations. ‘Jason Islands’ appears in the top centre, the denomination appears at the lower centre and Len Hill’s signature, as ‘Administrator’, appears in the centre.
To the right is a portrait of Len and to the left is a penguin.
The penguin is the principal element of the design that changes between denominations. The penguins illustrated on each denomination are: 50 pence – a Humboldt Penguin; 1 pound – a Jackass Penguin; 5 Pound – a Rockhopper Penguin; 10 pound – a Gentoo Penguin; and 20 pounds – a King Penguin. At the bottom right of each note appears to be a reference number, which is assumed to be the same for each denomination.
The 20-pound notes have ‘6H 4483’, the 10-pound notes have ‘6H 4484’, and the numbers increment to the 50 pence note which has ‘6H 4487’. The numbers are incorporated in the design of the note and are not applied as a secondary process.
The backs of all notes carry the same design, differing only for the text and numerals that give the value of the note. The dominant design is of a vignette of one of the Jason Islands, from which stretches a panel that includes the text ‘Jason Islands’ and the denomination of the note. Peeping above this panel are some flowers, while their stems appear just below the panel.
The remainder of the design is constructed with geometric patterns, which in places produce a moire effect.
It is not known when the notes were issued, but on their back is the statement: ‘Valid until 31 December 1979’. This declaration cleverly protects the issuer from a claim at a later date, and this strategy is used by a number of issuers of private banknotes. The statement also suggests that the notes were issued in 1978 or 1979. The total number of notes issued by Len Hill is unknown, but it is most likely to have been many thousand.
The other missing piece of information is the identity of the printer. Despite being of simple production, the notes are very well printed with the fine lines being clear and well-defined on each note.
The issue of notes by Len Hill caused no concern to the Government of the Falkland Islands. The Government has the sole right to issue notes in the Falkland Islands, which of course includes the Jason Islands. When the notes were issued the authorities on the Falkland Islands quite sensibly viewed the issue as a private sector initiative and took no action against the owner of the Jason Islands.
Declines in Seabird Populations on Steeple Jason Island
In the space of a few years, 44,000 breeding pairs of albatross and 59,000 breeding pairs of penguins have vanished from one of the worlds’ most important breeding sites. New research by Falklands Conservation on Steeple Jason in November 2003 has shown disturbing decreases in the populations of both Black-browed Albatross and Rockhopper Penguins. There is now an urgent need to implement efforts to save these seabird populations.
There are clearly major implications for the rest of the Falklands population, which at this stage remains uncounted since 2000. A reduction in numbers here will have a severe impact on its status and long-term survival worldwide. Ironically, these figures come to light as the John Ridgway ‘Save the Albatross’ voyage approaches the Falklands, due to arrive in early March. Supported by BirdLife International, this voyage plans to highlight the plight of the worlds’ albatross.
Over the last five years, Falklands Conservation have carried out extensive research into the Black-browed Albatross, investigating their foraging behaviour and at-sea interaction with fishing vessels, as well as conducting a complete census which resulted in the re-classification of the species as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2003. Between 1995 and 2000, over 87,500 breeding pairs were lost, a rate of 4% per year, or 2 albatross per hour. This recent decline suggests that efforts to conserve the albatross population need to be implemented as a matter of urgency.
The drop in albatross numbers is usually connected to fishing. Throughout the foraging grounds of the Black-browed Albatross, many thousands of adult birds are killed each year through interaction with both longline and trawl vessels. The bulk of the birds are most likely killed by illegal and unregulated fisheries, with over 10,000 birds killed by longline fisheries over a 3-year period along the Patagonian Shelf. Even within Falkland waters themselves, trawl fisheries kill 1500 adult birds a season.
However, recent harmful algal blooms within Falkland waters have been observed to have a dramatic effect on seabirds, with many hundreds of albatross being affected and killed during last summer.
Dead birds were even reported from colony areas – a rare occurrence under normal circumstances.
From a population of 89,000 breeding pairs in 2000, only 30,000 breeding pairs remain at the site. The species had been thought to be stable during the late 1990’s, following a dramatic population crash in the mid-1980’s, from which they have never fully recovered.
This recent reduction is yet more evidence of a serious problem, not yet understood. As with the albatross, many hundreds of penguins were recently affected by algal poisoning around the Falklands, which may have been a contributory factor.
Large scale changes in ocean currents and food availability may also be responsible for the decline in numbers. “This highlights the urgent need for in-depth long-term monitoring of this species’ states Falklands Conservation senior scientist Nic Huin.
Without detailed data on the survival rate of birds of all age classes, diet through the breeding season and foraging patterns of birds throughout the years, it remains impossible to determine the causes of such declines and to take measures to conserve the species”.
This further decrease in numbers of birds, already endangered or vulnerable, is alarming. It is possible that time is running out for these birds unless concerted and committed steps are taken now.
Falklands Conservation strongly urges the following action:
- The Falkland Island Government adopt and implement the National Plans of Action to Reduce Seabird Mortality and the UK Government ratify the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatross and Petrels without any further delay and work closely with the Falkland Islands Government to ensure the inclusion of the Falklands within it.
Steeple Jason Island holds the worlds’ largest breeding colony of Black-browed Albatross (listed as Endangered by BirdLife International) and the second largest colony of Rockhopper Penguins (listed as Vulnerable). Located to the north west of the Falklands archipelago, the island is owned by the Wildlife Conservation Society of New York. Gifted to the organisation three years ago by philanthropist Michael Steinhardt, the island is a key breeding site for many seabirds.
Since 1998, Falklands Conservation have carried out extensive research into the Black-browed albatross, investigating their foraging behaviour and at-sea interactions with vessels, as well as conducting a complete census in 2000-2001 which resulted in the re-classification of the species as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature in 2003. Between 1995 and 2000, over 87,500 pairs were lost, a rate of 4% per year, or 2 birds every hour.
Methods used consist of estimating the breeding density of birds within the colonies (which were assumed not to have changed in size). For areas where no new data are available, the figures of the last census in 2000 were kept.
Courtesy of www.falklandsconservation.com