On the rocky shores of Steeple Jason, a distant island in the Falklands archipelago, I am awed by the magnificence before me. More than 440,000 black-browed albatrosses, the world’s largest colony, nest on steep cliffs. Along the beach below, southern rockhopper penguins call loudly. The always relentless striated caracaras—known as Johnny rooks—scout for penguin chicks or carrion to eat.
The frigid waters host South American fur seals, orcas, Commerson’s dolphins, Peale’s dolphins, and sei whales. Underwater I swim through a majestic kelp forest that sways gently. Gentoo penguins dart above me, southern sea lions in hot pursuit. Lobster krill line up on the seafloor, pincers raised, as if for battle.
The imagery is fitting. I am, after all, in the Falklands. War is a common theme. About 250 miles off the coast of Argentina, the British territory consists of more than 700 islands and islets, sparsely settled by about 3,200 people. Best known for the long history of disputes over the land, involving France, Spain, Argentina, and the United Kingdom, the archipelago wears the scars of war openly. The last conflict, when Argentina invaded the islands it claims as the Malvinas in 1982, ended after a brief but intense engagement with the United Kingdom. Roughly 20,000 land mines have not been accounted for, burned-out helicopters mar the landscape, and the Royal Air Force still has an active airfield on East Falkland.