Out in the Falkland Islands, just off the east coast of Argentina, is a stretch of white sand beach bordered by barbed wires and warning signs. That is because the stunning beach is covered with landmines! 35 years after those landmines were buried, the beach at Yorke Bay has a special inhabitant, penguins! Thousands of Magellanic penguins have taken this once war zone into their home. However, their home might be soon uprooted in order to remove the landmines than have indirectly preserved their habitat.
It appears that the penguins are simply light enough that they don’t set off any of the landmines. Since no humans or other heftier animals set foot on the beach, they have provided a refuge for these flightless birds to nest.
In the spring of 1982, Argentine naval commandos landed on Yorke Bay to full on invade the island which was held by the British. One of the first things they did was plant tens of thousand of landmines along the beach! Unfortunately, they only held the beach for 74 days before the British took it back. In their wake they left behind a piece of conservation.
Along with the penguins, plant species have also reestablished themselves on the beach, untouched by humans for decades. However, the 1997 Ottawa Mine Ban Treaty, which is signed by the UK states that they will clear the mines on their land. This won’t be an easy job though. First off the landmines have probably shifted with the sand dunes, which could mean that the entire beach would have to be dug up and sifted through.
This could be extremely detrimental to the ecosystem that have formed there. Residents of the island also don’t see the need to have the mines dug up especially since the area is fenced and marked off from the public.
Beyond ecology, conservation, treaties, and public opinion, there is one more factor that could influence the future of this beach; money. You see, the Falkland Islands’ economy relies heavily on tourism. With Yorke Bay being walking distance from the major harbour, having this white-sand beach available to the public could be a major attraction and revenue maker.
While plans to demine the beach have not been set in stone, some experts have suggested that they do the removal during the winter when the penguins won’t be on the beach. Even if the penguins are not present for the removal, it could damage this special system forever.
For now, we can enjoy this rare instance of where so much beauty came from an act of war.