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Home » World Oceans Day » Unprecedented satellite technology helps protect the ocean

David Kroodsma

Director of Research and Innovation, Global Fishing Watch

Charles Kilgour

Director of Programme Initiatives, Global Fishing Watch

Satellite technology is facilitating crucial steps to increase transparency of previously unmapped fishing and shipping activities to improve ocean governance.

For years, Global Fishing Watch has catalogued vessel movements on its flagship map using satellite data and machine learning. It is now working with governments to use that information to help regulate coastal and international waters.

Satellite mapping of ocean industrial activity

Research led by Global Fishing Watch and published in the scientific journal Nature this year highlighted an unprecedented view of previously unmapped industrial use of the ocean.

The study, ‘Satellite Mapping Reveals Extensive Industrial Activity at Sea,’ used machine learning and 2 million gigabytes of satellite imagery to create the first global map of vessel traffic and offshore infrastructure, revealing that 75% of the world’s industrial fishing vessels are not publicly tracked.

The nonprofit’s mission is to advance ocean governance through increased transparency of human activity at sea by sharing information, map visualisations and data to help inform decisions. Director of Research and Innovation, David Kroodsma, says: “Our goal is to increase transparency in the ocean to help govern it better.”

While Google Maps offers satellite images of almost all land structures and roads, it is not the same with the ocean. By making data public and freeing that information for accountability purposes, that can change.

75% of the world’s industrial fishing
vessels are not publicly tracked.

International agreements

Historically, the biggest impact on the oceans has been fishing, but shipping and offshore energy are growing exponentially and impacting ecosystems. Charles Kilgour, Director of Programme Initiatives, warns that failure to act could see collapsed fish stocks and damage to food security and livelihoods.

Global Fishing Watch advocates for an international vessel tracking agreement. Moreover, it has advanced understanding of fishing activity, promoted transparency in ocean operations and developed a vital scientific mapping tool.

Kilgour says: “In 2012, the only way to see what was happening in a country’s waters was to send out patrol boats. Now, fishery managers can use our map to see what’s taking place across their waters, and their understanding of what is happening has completely changed.” For the nonprofit, the next step is to go from mapping to sustainably managing marine activities.

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