On the 24th October 2018, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced that the South African government will be increasing their Marine Protected Area (MPA) cover from its current 0.4% to 5% by introducing 22 new off shore MPA’s in areas around South Africa that have been recognized as important species biodiversity marine ecosystems thanks to Kerry Sink and her team at SANBI.

How can we protect our MPA’s?

The biggest cause for concern after a Marine protected area has been established and passed by government legislation, especially off-shore MPA’s, is the management of such vast areas so far from land and the ability to police the legislation that has been put in place by the hard work of Scientists and Governments.

Off course this comes with its challenges and costs. However, advances in technology and global satellite coverage is now allowing authorities to keep a closer eye on these remote areas.

Public engagement + Citizen Science

Only 10 years ago, accurately monitoring the commercial fishing industry around the world’s oceans was impossible. But now thanks to advances in satellite technology, cloud computing and AI machine learning Global Fishing Watch have revolutionized global fishing activity monitoring by offering vast amounts of near real time data via satellite imagery fed to an open source data map on their website http://globalfishingwatch.org. This also adds a Citizen Science element to the resource allowing ANYONE to keep an eye on where fishing vessels are fishing and keeping controls on the fishing activities in our oceans.

This mapping site allows YOU to monitor your chosen marine protected areas and even share this area with others to increase monitoring of the map and potentially draw attention to any illegal fishing activity that may occur. This is an incredible platform which is now enabling lots of great scientific research into marine protection.

What does it look like?

Choose where you want to search..

Zoom in and see all the registered vessels in the area..

Click on a dot and track individual vessels, where they have been and where they go…

Get individual vessel information…

Currently Global Fishing Watch are tracking vessels using AIS – Automatic identification Systems and VMS – Vessel monitoring systems with further satellite imagery data to be used in the future for better coverage. By using algorithms this data can be interpreted and they know when a vessel is fishing and if a vessel may be engaged in illegal fishing activities. For example, a common practice of illegal fishing vessels is to off load their haul of fish onto refrigerated vessels who then take the fish away and supply further resources so the fishing vessel can go and catch another load. This new technology can identify where these refrigerated vessels are and their rendezvous with fishing vessels.

Making an impact

  • Governments can identify and act on boats that aren’t authorized to fish in their waters, or that are fishing illegally in protected areas
  • Seafood suppliers and retailers can see where and how fish are caught and ensure they only source from boats that are operating legally and responsibly
  • Researchers can study the impacts of fishing on ocean health, identify vulnerable areas, investigate how environmental changes influence where fish go, or evaluate the effectiveness of conservation and fisheries policies
  • NGOs and journalists can identify and investigate suspicious vessels, and advocate for stronger protection for important ecosystems
  • Fishers can show that they are operating legally and responsibly, giving them a market advantage by enabling them to sell their catch to customers who demand sustainable, traceable seafood

So, although this technology is still developing and further surveillance aides are necessary to be able to fully protect our oceans against illegal fishing vessel operations, it gives the regular citizen the ability to monitor their local marine protected areas to keep an eye on any suspicious movements and report them to the experts. The citizen science element of this site allows community engagement and interest as well as many eyes to monitor the going ons around our oceans. Go give it a go!

Categories: News

Mike Barron

Mike is a marine biologist/scientist/conservationist and a PADI master scuba diver instructor. He has travelled the world diving and experiencing many ecosystems and their inhabitants. His main interests lie in the field of inter-specific animal behaviour and he has worked on shark deterrents using Killer whale stimuli.


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