'Palau vs the Poachers' - can tech help combat illegal fishing in massive MPAs?

The New York Times Magazine posted an interesting piece of investigative journalism today by Ian Urbina, 'Palau vs the Poachers'. In his words 'the island nation has mounted an aggressive response to illegal fishing in their waters. How they protect themselves may help the rest of the world save all of the oceans.' 

It's a long but fascinating read. Ian exposes the challenges in monitoring marine protected areas and how technology can help solve some (but not all) of these challenges. 

'Few places on the planet are as isolated as Palau, or as sprawling. Its 21,000 residents are scattered across a handful of its 250 islands, which take up just 177 square miles combined. Relatively poor, and with no military of its own, Palau employs a marine police division with just 18 members and one patrol ship. Yet it has authority over roughly 230,000 square miles of ocean. Under international law, a country’s ‘‘exclusive economic zone,’’ the waters where it maintains fishing and mineral rights, extends 200 nautical miles from its coasts. That means that a country roughly the size of Philadelphia is responsible for patrolling a swath of ocean about the size of France, in a region teeming with supertrawlers, state-subsidized poacher fleets, mile-long drift nets and the floating fish attracters known as FADs.

'In the face of this challenge, Palau has mounted an aggressive response. In 2006, it was among the first nations to ban bottom trawling — a practice not unlike strip mining in which fishing boats drag large weighted nets across the ocean floor to catch the fish in the waters just above, killing virtually everything else in their path. In 2009, it prohibited commercial shark fishing in its waters, creating the world’s first shark sanctuary. In 2015, it announced plans to require observers aboard all its tuna longliners. (Elsewhere in the region, observers are aboard just one in 50 tuna longliners.) Palau has also teamed up with Greenpeace, which helped patrol its territorial waters, and it started a campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, raising more than $50,000 to support its conservation work. Palau’s most radical move, though, was creating a ‘‘no take’’ reserve in 2015. Within this zone, which encompasses 193,000 square miles, all export fishing (along with any drilling or mining) will be strictly prohibited.

'From one perspective, Palau’s work suggests a hopeful future. It offers a model for successful ad hoc collaboration among countries, companies and nongovernmental organizations. Palau has also emerged as a testing ground for some of the technology — including drones, satellite monitoring and military-grade radar — that might finally empower countries to spot and arrest the pirates, poachers, polluters, traffickers and other scofflaws who prowl the seas with impunity.'

Ian then goes on to point out a lot of these technologies, while certainly making it harder for poachers to hide, are not the silver bullet solution; boots on the ground (or on the deck, in this case), are what is required to make marine protected areas anything more than arbitrary lines on a map. 

I'm interested to hear your thoughts - are there opportunities for technology to help with policing massive marine protected areas? Could patroling and monitoring tools like SMART or deploying acoustic and water based sensors contribute in meaningful to this challenge? 

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