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.
Examples of specimens collected from water depths of 900 – 1200 m within the Falkland Islands Conservation Management Zone.

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.
Examples of indicator species of vulnerable marine ecosystems.
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 Manager


Tabitha is a marine biologist who specialises in deep-sea habitat mapping. She holds a Bsc (Hons) in Marine Biology and Coastal Ecology from the University of Plymouth, a Msc in Advanced Techniques in Taxonomy and Biodiversity from Imperial College London and The British Natural History Museum, and a PhD in ‘Habitat Mapping of Cold-Water Corals in Submarine Canyons’ from the National Oceanography Centre University of Southampton.

Prior to completing her PhD, Tabitha worked for over nine years in marine environmental survey, at Fugro Survey Ltd and as a freelance consultant. Tabitha’s extensive field experience in both commercial environmental survey and deep-sea research has helped her develop expertise in habitat mapping, environmental baseline surveying, monitoring and benthic fauna identification. Skills she hopes to bring to her role at SAERI where she will be working with Consolidated Fisheries Ltd and the Falkland Islands Fisheries Department to undertake research into the impact of the Patagonian toothfish long-lining fishery on Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems. The work will build on her previous research into cold-water coral habitat mapping and density threshold criteria for assigning cold-water coral Vulnerable Marine Ecosystems.

Tabitha is passionate about the natural environment and has volunteered on numerous conservation and outreach projects, ranging from surveying Basking Sharks with the Shark Trust to reedbed management with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust. She enjoys being outside watching nature and exploring.


Project Partners: 

This project is funded by Consolidated Fisheries Limited (CFL) 

Project Partners: 

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Ross Road, Falkland Islands
Stanley, FIQQ 1ZZ
Falkland Islands: +500 27374
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