Is Mass Surveillance the Future of Conservation?

Mallory Picket at Slate: “The high seas are probably the most lawless place left on Earth. They’re a portal back in time to the way the world looked for most of our history: fierce and open competition for resources and contested territories. Pirating continues to be a way to make a living.

It’s not a complete free-for-all—most countries require registration of fishing vessels and enforce environmental protocols. Cooperative agreements between countries oversee fisheries in international waters. But the best data available suggests that around 20 percent of the global seafood catch is illegal. This is an environmental hazard because unregistered boats evade regulations meant to protect marine life. And it’s an economic problem for fishermen who can’t compete with boats that don’t pay for licenses or follow the (often expensive) regulations. In many developing countries, local fishermen are outfished by foreign vessels coming into their territory and stealing their stock….

But Henri Weimerskirch, a French ecologist, has a cheap, low-impact way to monitor thousands of square miles a day in real time: He’s getting birds to do it (a project first reported by Hakai). Specifically, albatross, which have a 10-foot wingspan and can fly around the world in 46 days. The birds naturally congregate around fishing boats, hoping for an easy meal, so Weimerskirch is equipping them with GPS loggers that also have radar detection to pick up the ship’s radar (and make sure it is a ship, not an island) and a transmitter to send that data to authorities in real time. If it works, this should help in two ways: It will provide some information on the extent of the unofficial fishing operation in the area, and because the logger will transmit their information in real time, the data will be used to notify French navy ships in the area to check out suspicious boats.

His team is getting ready to deploy about 80 birds in the south Indian Ocean this November.
The loggers attached around the birds’ legs are about the shape and size of a Snickers. The south Indian Ocean is a shared fishing zone, and nine countries, including France (courtesy of several small islands it claims ownership of, a vestige of colonialism), manage it together. But there are big problems with illegal fishing in the area, especially of the Patagonian toothfish (better known to consumers as Chilean seabass)….(More)”