Human-kind has always been fascinated and awe-inspired by the mysteriousness and idiosyncrasy of the ocean. From the times of Moby Dick and Jacques Cousteau’s ‘The Silent World’ to Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ and cinematic David Attenborough documentaries, we have always been mesmerised by the weird and wonderful underwater realm with which we share planet Earth. For World Oceans Day 2021, Global Crowd is celebrating the importance of the global ocean and the innovative technologies which are helping preserve marine biological diversity and promote sustainable resource-use.
There is no getting around the fact that the health and prosperity of the ocean is vitally important for life as us humans know it. In addition to providing a livelihood to over three billion people, the ocean regulates our climate and weather, supplies over 50% of the air we breathe and provides humanity with around 150 million tonnes of food and protein on an annual basis. Despite this, human-kind has chronically mis-used the marine environment, with approximately 35% of fisheries worldwide considered fished beyond biologically sustainable levels. Unsustainable fishing practices threaten the long term viability of valuable ocean resources and compromise the livelihoods of fishery dependent communities across the globe.
One of the most insidious threats to ocean-use sustainability is illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, which is thought to remove approximately $23 billion worth of seafood from the ocean on an annual basis. Operating in the anonymity of international regulatory loop-holes and ineffective fisheries enforcement, IUU fishing riddles fishery sectors of all types and sizes, with impacts typically greatest within least developed countries. Fisheries can be highly sustainable if effectively regulated, with many management success stories spanning the small-scale artisanal fisheries of Madagascar to the large-scale commercial fleets of the mid-Atlantic. Nevertheless, historic attempts to regulate IUU fishing practices have been futile, with ineffective observation and monitoring technologies preventing efficient fisheries governance.
But what if we had a technology which could visualise, track, and democratically share global commercial fishing activity?
Enter Global Fishing Watch, a freely accessible and innovative platform which allows researchers, governments, and the general public alike to access real-time data from commercial fishing vessels around the world. This revolutionary technology has shifted the scale back in favour of sustainable fisheries governance by harnessing advancements in satellite technology, cloud computing, and machine learning. Using GPS-like ship identification systems, the platform is able to identify ship type, gear usage, and history of fishing movement patterns as well as locate vessels deliberately trying to falsify their location or purpose.
Since being launched in 2016, the platform has revolutionised the transparency of global capture fisheries and helped facilitate improved fisheries governance, with Global Fishing Watch data now informing a growing list of research publications and providing a vital resource for marine park managers around the globe. The platform has also begun to shine a light upon unreported catch transhipment on the high seas, a process which enables fishing vessels to remain at sea for prolonged periods, skewing fish stock assessments, and typically opening the door for other illicit maritime activity.
With the global climate crisis certain to dramatically impact the functioning of marine socio-ecological ecosystems over the coming decades, improved monitoring technologies which enhance our capability to protect the ocean are more important now than ever before. Global Fishing Watch is revolutionising the ocean observation space, and pioneering cutting-edge technologies which can drive increased ocean-use transparency and sustainability - just when we need it most.