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Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems

Image: Noble Energy Falklands Limited

Background

The deep-sea waters of the Falklands Conservation Zone support an important Patagonian long-line toothfish fishery that operates in water depths > 600 m. The Patagonian long-line toothfish fishery is a Marine Stewardship Council certified fishery. However, little is known regarding the benthic habitats that co-occur with the fishing grounds and the impacts of long-lining on these habitats, especially those designated as vulnerable marine ecosystems (VMEs).

VMEs are groups of species, communities, or habitats that may be vulnerable to the impacts of fishing activities that result in significant adverse impacts to the ecosystem integrity. The Fisheries Agricultural Organisation International Guidelines for the Management of Deep-sea Fisheries in the High Seas provides guidance for defining and identifying VMEs. Criteria for VME designation include being unique or rare, fragile, structurally complex, having functional significance (for example being a spawning ground) and being comprised of fauna with life-history traits that make recovery difficult. Example fauna that comprise VMEs include cold-water corals, sponges, seapens and cold-seep communities.

Figure 1. Examples of vulnerable marine ecosystems present within the Falkland Islands Conservation Zone. A) Cold-water coral reef B) Mixed cold-water corals on coarse sediment C) Seapens and solitary cold-water corals on muddy sediment. Images: Noble Energy Falklands Limited.

Project Objectives

Through this collaborative project SAERI will be working with The Falkland Islands Fisheries Department and Consolidated Fisheries Ltd to undertake research into the impact of the Patagonian toothfish long-lining fishery on VMEs.

The aim of the VME project will be to describe and map VME presence and monitor the impacts of the long-line fishery on VMEs.

Due to the remoteness of the deep-sea, the project will utilise fisheries bycatch samples, imagery data and previous datasets to build predictive habitat maps of VMEs within the Falklands Conservation Zone. Improving our understanding of where deep-sea habitats (including VMEs) occur and how they are connected will better help us determine the impacts of long-line fishing and support marine management.

Figure 2. Imagery, bycatch and previous data will be combined to build habitat maps.
Figure 3. Examples of indicator species of vulnerable marine ecosystems.

Project Partners