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.


There is the potential for the development of a substantial offshore hydrocarbons industry within the Falkland Islands. There is currently a limited understanding of the Falkland Islands marine environment due to incomplete and fragmented data.

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.

The FIOHEF established a subcommittee, the Gap Analyses Group, to examine the knowledge gaps that need to be filled in order to better inform and monitor the potential impacts to the environment from offshore hydrocarbon activities in the Falkland Islands. Whilst there were many gaps identified in the planning stages of this project, it was also recognised that, action (i.e. through the establishment of the Gap project) could be initiated for some of the highest priority gaps.

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Funding Bodies

  • Falkland Islands Government
  • Falkland Islands Petroleum Licensees Association


At its core, the Gap Project is a collaborative effort between science, government and industry. It is coordinated by the South Atlantic Environmental Research Institute (SAERI), and jointly supported by the Falkland Islands Government (FIG) and the Falkland Islands Petroleum Licensees Association (FIPLA).

The overarching objective of the Gap project is to provide FIG and the hydrocarbon industry with the necessary information that will enhance management and decision-making processes related to the development of an offshore hydrocarbons industry. More specifically, the Gap project aims to consolidate extant information, develop strategies for environmental monitoring and surveys, and conduct or co-ordinate research that will fill data gaps that currently exist.

Phase I of the project (2014 – 2016) involved identifying and collecting extant data for the highest priority knowledge gaps that have been identified for marine higher predators, benthic ecosystems, and oceanography. Another key element was initiating the development of monitoring strategies and guidelines for the above as well as potential impacts on fisheries to enable long-term environmental management in relation to the hydrocarbons industry.

Phase II (2017) will take these forward to produce practical and useable strategies and guidelines for implementation by government and industry. In partnership with stakeholders, this will enable the development of a framework for the long term responsible environmental monitoring and management of the hydrocarbons industry.

Project Collaborators