South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute
The South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute’s (SAERI) objective is to be a world class academic institute, based in the Falkland Islands, operating in the South Atlantic from the equator down to the ice in Antarctica. It aims to conduct world class research, teach students, and build capacity within and between the UK South Atlantic Overseas Territories (UK OTs). The institute’s remit includes the natural and physical sciences.
The Historical perspective
SAERI was born out of Falkland Islands Government's Economic Development Strategy within in the new industries section. The new industries section’s objective is to try and move away from our reliance on the three main core areas of the economy; Fisheries, Agriculture and Tourism. Many first world countries have knowledge economies and it was agreed that an Environmental Research Institute could fill this gap in the Falkland Islands and other UK OTs. Shortly after this a Task and Finish Group was formed to take this forward.
It was agreed that the Institute is uniquely positioned to focus its research on the natural environment of the South Atlantic, with benefits for the Falkland Islands, in terms of:
- localising work currently taking place overseas or undertaken by overseas contractors/researchers – retaining the economic value of the activity within the Islands;
- increasing the volume of scientific work undertaken in the Islands by gaining research funding directly or in collaboration with other institutions;
- reducing the costs of research activity by reducing the reliance on expensive overseas organisations;
- enhancing the value of local scientific activity through enabling academic activity to take place on the Islands, and improving efficiency through the co-ordination of existing facilities and assets;
- establishing a strong international identity for the Falklands Islands;
- increasing the Falklands’ ability to leverage international environmental research funding and commercial consultancy contracts.
Through the Task and Finish Group the British Antarctic Survey (BAS) were commissioned to conduct a feasibility study. BAS’s main findings were
- There are opportunities to pursue more environmental research in the Falkland Islands and the wider South Atlantic (and benefits to a combined strategy for co-ordinating research with South Georgia);
- Greater promotion of existing local research activity and potential is required in order to engage with collaborators and potential research funders around the world;
- There is a need for an umbrella organisation for the existing range of research groups operating in the Falklands. SAERI’s role would be to expand on this base of activity (not compete with it) to lead to an overall increase in the volume of research being undertaken, and to increase international awareness of and involvement in environmental research in the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and wider South Atlantic;
- A phased approach to the establishment of the Institute is the most appropriate way forward, so as to minimise risks and financial commitments, and to enable on-going monitoring of the success of the Institute before formal commitment is given to progressing with the further development of the facility.
Following the recommendations by BAS a phased approach to its development was proposed. Initially, funding was sourced from Falkland Islands Government, Government of South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and together with a plan our Executive Council approved its formation in December 2011.
There is a great deal of interest in conducting research in the South Atlantic because the environment is little studied, pristine (especially with respect to the UK OTs) and offers unique research opportunities. There has been an enormous amount of interest and support in SAERI from UK and European Universities and Institutes and indeed at a Ministerial level in the UK. Founded in March 2012, the institute has had a great start and has been quite successful, in partnership with other organizations, in being awarded grants. The institute has two PhD students starting in September/October. One studying mackerel icefish fisheries in South Georgia and the other studying Algal Biodiversity in the Falkland Islands. Another PhD studentship on shallow marine ecology around the Falkland Islands will start February 2013 subject to funding. The institute also has a number of project applications pending and in the concept phase with partners locally and overseas.