How Do You Patrol One Of The Largest Marine Protected Areas On Planet Earth?

Source: Hakai Magazine/Steve Murray 

Photo: LuxTonnerre/Wikimedia Commons

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When the Republic of Palau’s new marine sanctuary law takes final effect in 2020, the country will have the sixth-largest fully protected marine area in the world. A 500,000-square-kilometer area within the western Pacific nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) will be closed to all export fishing, drilling, and mining to protect the health of the marine ecosystem and its fishing stocks.

But a sanctuary is only as good as its enforcement. How does an island nation monitor an expanse larger than the state of California with limited surveillance resources?

A research team from the California-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found a way to use satellite observations of dynamic ocean conditions to predict zones of probable fishing activity, which can then be used to direct sea and air patrols of the protected area.

By government regulation, foreign fishing vessels operating in Palau’s EEZ must carry a vessel monitoring system (VMS) to track and report their movements to a VMS officer with the government’s Marine Law Enforcement Division. The information is used to manage fishing activity and is archived over time. Eric Terrill, a researcher at Scripps and leader of the new project, has been working with the Palau government for years on marine management programs and saw a new application for the VMS record repository. “It struck me that there was a treasure trove of information in these data that we should explore with modern big data analytic techniques,” he says.

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Photo: LuxTonnerre/Wikimedia Commons

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