Addressing priority gaps in understanding ecosystem functioning for the developing Falkland Islands offshore hydrocarbon industry – the ‘Gap Project’

Dr David Blockley and Dr Megan Tierney

With the discovery of rich oil fields around the Falkland Islands there is the potential for a substantial offshore hydrocarbon industry to develop. The Gap Project will collate, create and analyse data needed to underpin strategies to better inform and monitor potential impacts of the hydrocarbon industry on the marine environment. Priority actions identified include the need to make use of existing data through an expert-led assessment process, and simultaneously to fill the highest priority data gaps. Priority gaps identified include those related to marine higher predators (in particular penguins and seals, which are considered to be amongst the most susceptible of these groups to oil spill contamination), the benthic environment, pelagic fisheries and prevailing oceanographic conditions.

Download project factsheet

 

Background

Falkland Islands Offshore Hydrocarbons Environmental Forum (FIOHEF) was established in 2011 in order provide a setting for debate and discussion on environmental issues related to current and future hydrocarbon activities in the Falkland Islands.

Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) have been conducted by the oil industry for a number of years. An EIA is an assessment of the possible positive or negative impacts that a proposed development or activity may have on the environment, together consisting of the environmental, social and economic aspects. An EIA is submitted to Falkland Islands Government (FIG) in the form of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). EISs are reviewed by FIG and its specialist advisors, and are also made available to local non-governmental environmental organisations. Licensees will be expected to take account of the findings of any such reviews, and make any changes to the EIS considered appropriate by FIG. This is an iterative process and includes scoping and consultation stages prior to the statement being accepted.

FIOHEF established a subcommittee, the Gap Analyses Group, to examine the data gaps that need to be filled in order to better inform and monitor the potential impacts to the environment from offshore hydrocarbon activities operating in the Falkland Islands. It was agreed that the priority areas that need examining include littoral/sublittoral environments, offshore benthic ecosystems, oceanography in relation to oil spill modelling, seabirds, pinnipeds and cetaceans.

Funding Bodies

  • Falkland Islands Government
  • Falkland Islands Petroleum Licensees Association

Newsletter

Mind The Gap Issue 1, October 2014

Mind The Gap Issue 2, February 2015

Aims

The two-year project began in mid-2014 and will ultimately result in aiding the development of a 5-10 year strategy for minimising or mitigating potential impacts on the marine environment from the hydrocarbon industry. It will also develop protocols of how to fill other priority data gaps identified during the assessment process.

Methods

The project is being led by the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), but has a strong collaborative aspect. The project team will work closely with national and international partners and experts, the Falkland Islands community, government and industry to bring the data together for coordinated analyses and interpretation. David and Megan will undertake the following work for their respective parts of the project.

Benthic Ecology, Oceanography, Fisheries and Data Curation

Benthic data and samples

  • Collate benthic video footage and stills, and identify the location and quality of benthic samples (fauna, sediments, etc) collected over the last 15 years
  • To provide a strategy for future work with regards to voucher specimens from museums (benthic)
  • Work out mechanism whereby first-order biodiversity metrics (e.g. area-specific species accumulation curves) can be determined
  • Develop protocols standardising sampling designs

Oceanography/bathymetric/geomorphology

  • Oceanographic metadata analyses and review of mesoscale features within the Falkland Islands Conservation Zone and outer Conservation Zone (FICZ/FOCZ)
  • Collating existing data (mulitbeam, metocean etc)

Fisheries

  • Liaise with the oil industry, and FIG-Fisheries to identify (exploratory) Doryteuthis gahi (squid) spawning sites. Conducting egg and larval surveys to determine fate of egg and larval survival (and recruitment).
  • Create a strategy to allow a better understanding of polycyclic hydrocarbons within the food chain and associated monitoring

Data Curation

  • Create a strategy for data curation, quality control and storage

 

Higher Predators

Level 1 Ecosystem Risk Assessment (ERA)

  • Create a meta data catalogue and bring raw data together as much as possible in preparation for an ERA workshop
  • Co-ordinate the first ERA workshop which will bring local and international experts in tracking, survey and risk assessment processes together
  • Create and maintain the structures necessary for GIS data storage and will be responsible for understanding and ensuring adequate metadata standards and implementation are undertaken

Co-ordinating Further Tracking work in conjunction with FI partner organisations

  • Penguins are considered the immediate priority, especially tracking birds that are likely to forage in the oil block areas, particularly in their dispersive phase. The priority species would be Rockhoppers, Magellanic Penguins, and possibly also Gentoos. Focussing on adults and juveniles from 4-6 sites is also considered a priority
  • Fur seals and sea lions were considered a priority for immediate tracking work. Little is known about their foraging behaviour and early results illustrate potential overlap with the hydrocarbons industry

Co-ordinating Full ERA/Risk Assessment workshop (seabirds/mammals)

  • Once the data have been analysed a workshop will be conducted with all stakeholders – tracking experts, survey experts, oceanography/fisheries experts, government and industry to examine the data layers, and conduct an assessment at the appropriate scale. PO will co-ordinate the workshop
  • The workshop will provide a strategy for seabirds and mammals for the following 5 – 10 years