Our oceans are vital to our existence and nobody knows that better than Andrew Sharpless of Oceana. He and Sean Casey the Parliamentary Secretary were on stage at the Collision Conference presenting their efforts on saving the worlds oceans. Canada has gone from protecting only 1% of its coast line to 10% in less than a decade, hopefully this will continue. Our coasts are great spaces for marine life to lay eggs and eat.
The key takeaway from the panel was the really cool global fishing map which tracks the location of every fishing vessel on the planet! The ships are tracked using regional Vessel Monitoring System (VMS), so the some of the data might not be accessible depending on which countries abide by the standard broadcasting rules.
Tracking the ships helps governments and NGOs enforce rules and regulations. Casey pointed out that tracking the ships will also help with identifying the polluters who drop their nets (accidentally) and leave them to drift (most of the plastic waste in the oceans comes from fishing activity).
Just a decade ago, building an accurate picture of the commercial fishing across the globe would have been impossible. Today, thanks to advances in satellite technology, cloud computing and machine learning, Global Fishing Watch is making it a reality.
Readers of this site know that I don’t like mass surveillance of human beings; however, the technology behind the tools used for intrusive observations of our private lives can be used to help animals. Henri Weimerskirch, a French ecologist, is using tons of little sensors on birds to monitor both birds and what they eat (fish). Right now we use human observation, satellites imagery, and radios to track animals. What Weimerskirch is doing now is to use mass data collection a la mass surveillance to monitor the well being of birds and fish.
The bird spies join an arsenal of technologies being used and developed around the world to catch illegal and unregistered fishing boats. The main tool right now is satellite surveillance, which has provided important big-picture data. But it relies on ships having signaling systems on board—which many unregistered vessels don’t, and which can be easily switched off to provide cover for illegal activity. The information is also relatively low-resolution and only updated every few hours.
This fall, as Weimerskirch’s birds begin patrolling the Indian Ocean, the waters around the Republic of Seychelles will come under new scrutiny. The government is partnering with FishGuard, a project developed by the drone company ATLAN Space and the nonprofit GRID-Arendal. The coast guard will control drones for two modes of operation: targeted missions and surveillance. In targeted use, the coast guard will send them to check out a suspicious boat that’s been previously identified. In surveillance mode, the drones will patrol a set area, and their artificial intelligence system will identify and report boats that match a registry of unregistered and illegal vessels.
The UK will be banning commercial fishing in approximately one million kilometres of their ocean waters. The country is expanding their marine protection areas in the Atlantic and Pacific around the British Overseas Territories. This is good news as overfishing is contributing part to the global mass extinction of marine wildlife, anything countries can do to curtail the current fishing levels will help the environment and at risk species.
A 840,000 sq km (320,000 sq mile) area around Pitcairn, where the mutineers of the Bounty settled, becomes a no-take zone for any fishing from this week. St Helena, around 445,000 sq km of the south Atlantic ocean and home to whale sharks and humpbacks, is now also designated as a protected area.
The foreign office said it would designate two further marine protection zones, one each around two south Altantic islands – Ascension by 2019 and Tristan da Cunha by 2020.
Sir Alan Duncan, minister of state for Europe and the Americas, said: “Protecting 4m sq km of ocean is a fantastic achievement, converting our historic legacy into modern environmental success.”
The tiny nation of Nauru (which has one of my favourite flags) has changed its laws thanks to the work of Greenpeace. The environmental organization found that fishing trawlers were catching fish at sea then offloading them to essentially a larger factory boat. This practice has been banned in many places because of the severe damage it causes to the fish populations.
The NFMRA, which credited Greenpeace’s exposure of an “illegal operation” for prompting the Nauru government ban, said it regularly observed “longliners in the high seas acting suspiciously and intruding on our borders”.
“These seas act like a safe haven for pirate boats, and transhipment allows them to stay at sea even longer, and launder fish out of the area,” it said.
Nauru has become the third Pacific nation to issue a blanket ban on transhipments in its exclusive economic zone, after Marshall Islands and Tuvalu.
Using the bounty of ocean to feed people is nothing new, but with a new spin on ocean farming we can have a sustainable food source (currently fishing is quite destructive) that also helps slow down the rate of climate change. We can use the very plants and animals that we are farming in the ocean to absorb carbon!
Seaweed is one of the fastest growing plants in the world; kelp, for example, grows up to 9-12 feet long in a mere three months. This turbo-charged growth cycle enables farmers to scale up their carbon sinks quickly. Of course, the seaweed grown to mitigate emissions would need to be harvested to produce carbon-neutral biofuels to ensure that the carbon is not simply recycled back into the air as it would be if the seaweed is eaten. The Philippines, China, and other Asian countries, which have long farmed seaweed as a staple food source, now view seaweed farms as an essential ingredient for reducing their carbon emissions.
Oysters also absorb carbon, but their real talent is filtering nitrogen out of the water column. Nitrogen is the greenhouse gas you don’t pay attention to — it is nearly 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide, and according to the journal Nature, the second worst in terms of having already exceeded a maximum “planetary boundary.” Like carbon, nitrogen is an essential part of life — plants, animals, and bacteria all need it to survive — but too much has a devastating effect on our land and ocean ecosystems.