Off the coast of Argentina lies the world’s largest penguin sanctuary. No, it’s not an officially protected national park or reserve, but it’s got one little secret that’s helped the birds thrive for decades—minefields.
Partially sharing its climate with Antarctica and Patagonia, the treeless, grassy pastures of the Falkland Islands, a UK-administered archipelago, are mostly used to graze sheep. But the real party is on its sandy beaches, where visitors can find five beautiful penguin species—Gentoo, Southern rockhopper, Magellanic, King, and Macaroni—waddling about without a care in the world. This ‘de-facto nature reserve’, as a writer once called it, is the result of biology and sheer luck.
Argentinian naval commandos had occupied the beaches in 1982, and to deter a British retaliation, peppered the shoreline near capital Stanley with some 20,000 landmines. The tactic presumably worked, but the deadly explosives were never fully retrieved so that the beaches could support further human exploration.
The penguins, however, made the most of this conflict. Too light to set off the landmines, they could walk around with ease, and breed and frolic in the thousands just beyond the barbed wire fences and danger signs that kept humans at bay. Native flora also regrew with this isolation. The scene partially reminds us of the DMZ’s rich biodiversity in North Korea (which, by the way, you can now hike along and see).
For information on accommodation and places of interest in the archipelago, visit falklands.gov.fk