Global Fishing Watch opens doors on new MPA management portal, transshipment data

Published on
May 27, 2021

Global Fishing Watch, an international nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing the sustainability of our ocean through increased transparency of human activity at sea, is seeking to improve science-based management of marine protected areas with a new digital tool aiming to “revolutionize [the] ability to dynamically monitor and conserve marine ecosystems.”

On 27 May, it formally launched its Global Fishing Watch Marine Manager, a technology portal that will allow regulatory authorities and researchers to monitor vessels involved in commercial fishing and other activities, such as vessels involved in tourism, oil drilling, and shipping. Vessel information can be overlaid with other datasets in the portal, including environmental such as salinity and sea surface temperatures, according to Global Fishing Watch CEO Tony Long.

“Global Fishing Watch is tapping the technology revolution to empower sustainable management of marine ecosystems,” said Long. “Our marine manager portal puts scientific information at the fingertips of managers and researchers, with the tools necessary to rapidly analyze data and monitor vast ocean areas.”

The launch was timed to coincide with the opening conference for the Decade of Ocean Science, a United Nations initiative to bolster scientific research and innovative technologies to support the sustainable development of the world’s oceans. Founded by philanthropist and ocean advocate, Dona Bertarelli, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) special adviser for the blue economy and co-chair of the Bertarelli Foundation, a private nonprofit with a focus on marine conservation and neuroscience research.

“Marine protected areas are increasingly being recognized as a tool to restore ocean health, combat climate change and support a sustainable and regenerative blue economic recovery,” Bertarelli said. “Realizing their potential requires urgent action to achieve the goal of protecting at least 30 percent of the ocean by 2030, through the creation of marine protected areas, and effective management on the water. Global Fishing Watch Marine Manager is part of the solution to improve ocean protection and achieve international conservation goals.”

The growing “30 by 30” global movement has proliferated actions by several of the world’s maritime nations to formally designate 30 percent of their lands and waters for conservation by the year 2030. The United States recently released its plan for achieving that goal, and Canada has said it will aim to create marine protected areas covering 25 percent of its oceans by 2025 and 30 percent by 2030.

For its part, the United Nations has set a target of protecting 10 percent of the world’s ocean by 2020. Today, around 7 percent of the ocean is safeguarded through MPAs or other effective area-based conservation measures (OECMs), with less than 3 percent covered by fully or highly-protected areas, according to the Bertarelli Foundation.

“Despite progress in recent years, a lack of open, timely and user-friendly data has impeded the design and management of MPAs,” the organization said. “Global Fishing Watch Marine Manager aims to help solve this problem by combining and visualizing near real-time, dynamic data on ocean conditions and human activities and their impacts.”

Besides the Bertarelli Foundation, funding to support the project came from The Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Philanthropic Trust, Bloomberg Philanthropies' Vibrant Oceans Initiative, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada.

“Protecting our oceans is a global task that requires global action. As a leader in marine conservation, Canada is proud to support the Global Fishing Watch’s marine manager portal,” Canadian Minister of Fisheries, Oceans, and the Canadian Coast Guard Bernadette Jordan said in a release. “Their world-class technology will monitor marine protected areas and advance scientific research, contributing to the overall health of our oceans and helping us to protect 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.”

Global Fishing Watch said its partnering nations can use the new tool to help research and manage their marine protected areas and OECMs, as part of their efforts to combat and mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. The Marine Manager will be freely available to anyone interested in using it.

“MPAs and OECMs are essential tools for building resilience to rising sea surface temperatures and ocean acidification, and they help create safe havens for biodiversity and fish stocks to replenish. But robust and science-based management is needed to fully realize their vital contribution,” GFW said in its release.

Inaugural partners using the portal include management authorities responsible for protected areas in the Galápagos Islands, Ascension Island, Guyana, Tristan da Cunha, and Niue, according to GFW.

“Global Fishing Watch’s marine manager portal enables us to harness the power of big data to monitor, understand and manage the entire 170,000 square miles of Ascension Island’s marine protected area – one of the most remote areas of the ocean,” said Diane Baum, the director of conservation and fisheries for Ascension Island’s government.

Separately, GFW is also working on augmenting its tracking system to add greater exposure to instances of transshipment and bunkering on the high seas, with the goal of fighting illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

Global Fishing Watch is in the process of building a “more comprehensive network structure to represent vessels and examine the way they interact,” according to a statement from the organization.

GFW has already built up a database of 1,350 reefer or carrier vessels and 963 bunker or refueling ships from its monitoring of data and ship movements. Aside from looking at interactions of transport and refueling vessels with trawlers at sea, the organization’s upcoming research will also examine the role played by ports as it attempts to create a picture of global transshipment movements. The bulk of transshipments focus on five ports – Busan, South Korea; Vladivostok and St. Petersburg, Russia; Zhoushan, China; and Yokosuka, Japan. According to a new GFW report, “Revealing the Supply Chain at Sea: A Global Analysis of Transshipment and Bunker Vessels,” those are the top five ports in terms of transshipment activity globally.

The report suggests fishing vessels at sea continue to turn off their AIS transponders in order to avoid detection when they’re meeting reefers and bunkers at sea. The report was created from data gleaned from GFW’s portal, which was used to analyze billions of GPS data-points broadcast by fishing, carrier, and bunker vessels from 2012 to 2019.

The research found 157,000 separate “loitering events,” whereby a reefer or bunker vessels moves in way suggesting a meeting with a trawler from long-distance fishing fleets, but during which the fishing vessel involved switched off its automatic identification systems (AIS) on encountering the transport vessel with which it interacted. The researchers studied 24,000 carrier encounters and 14,000 bunker encounters in-depth to see learn more these encounters.

“When we checked the AIS data, sometimes no such neighboring vessel could be found. The result is the appearance of a supply vessel moving slowly as if to bunker or transship, but no other vessel ever comes into the picture,” the research paper found.

Photo courtesy of Global Fishing Watch

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