Drone to patrol fisheries in Pitcairn Islands marine reserve

BBC News, 11th March 2015, reports: An ocean-going drone will be helping to spot illegal fishing in the world’s largest, continuous marine reserve.

The UK said it would establish the 834,000-sq-km (322,000-sq-mile) zone around the Pitcairn Islands in the Pacific in 2015.

The drone will patrol areas in the reserve designated as no-fishing zones. Data gathered by the drone will be beamed back to a satellite watch room to help prosecute unauthorised trawling.

Drone to patrol fisheries1

The drone moves using solar energy and wave power gathered by the interaction of the surface power gathered by the interaction of the surface craft and a submersible.
Image: Liquid Robotics.

The drone, made by US firm Liquid Robotics, will be directed by staff at the satellite watch room which is monitoring fishing vessels. The craft is equipped with a camera that can take snaps of fishing vessels that are in restricted areas, and satellite technology that can pinpoint their location. The unmanned craft starting patrolling late last month. The Liquid Robotics drone, called a Wave Glider, is a two-part craft made up of an instrument-bearing boat that floats on the ocean surface that is tethered to a submersible. The craft uses the differential motion between the sea surface and the region the submersible traverses to propel itself.

The self-propelling propulsion system means the Wave Glider can stay at sea for months at a time.

Drone to patrol fisheries2

The UK said it established the marine-protected area in the Pitcairns in 2015 and, at the same time, created a watchdog organisation that would try to protect its abundant sea life from fishing.

The seas around the Pitcairns are believed to be home to more than 1,200 species of fish, marine mammals and birds — some of which are unique to the region. It also supports the world’s deepest and most well-developed coral reef.

The watch room to oversee the region has been created in the Harwell science park in Oxfordshire with funding from the UK government and the Swiss Bertarelli Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Source: BBC News www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-35783564


Marinet observes: It is heartening to see business developing and delivering the technology that is so essential if management of MPAs is to prove effective.

Yet one has to ask, is the scenario portrayed here of effective management and the arrest of illegal fishermen realistic?

If one comes nearer home to UK seas, rather than the Pacific, it is disturbing to find a statement in a report titled One Voice for Marine Conservation published recently by the North Sea Marine Cluster, which represents British marine technology companies, that the UK Government has recently reduced the funding of the Royal Navy’s fisheries patrol vessels to the degree where they can only put to sea for effectively 6 months of each year.

The NSMC report states: “As the Government looks for further savings in public expenditure and reform the delivery of public services, there are risks and opportunities. The risk is that under our current model of fragmented and multiple agencies involved in MPA management, budgets are cut and even less funding is available to support marine conservation. For example, the MMO has an arrangement with the Royal Navy to provide offshore at sea surveillance in English and Welsh waters for fisheries protection. Although the reported headline number of days at sea remained at about 500 a year between 2012-13 and 2014-15, the actual number of surveillance hours per day was cut from 24 hours to 9 hours. Therefore, this means of surveillance and protection is now operational for the full time equivalent of one vessel for just over 6 months a year. It is difficult to understand how the UK is in a position to meet its obligations with such limited capacity when fisheries reforms and the designation of new offshore MPAs are adding to the pressure on these resources. Even employing a ‘risk based approach’ and allowing for supplementing surveillance through sharing resources with other agencies, it must be doubtful that the Government’s Blue Belt can adequately be protected.”

Therefore one has to ask — what is the value of this technology and what is the purpose of a “watch room” at Harwell, or elsewhere, which collects all of this data if the Royal Navy has enforcement vessels funding for, in effect, only 6 months of the year?

Technology can excel and deliver the goods — and it does — but what is very clear is that the British Government does not. Indeed the actions of the British Government make marine reserves effectively meaningless, whether they are in the Pacific or the UK. As a UK Professor of Marine Conservation has recently noted, our marine reserves are not really real. They are simply “paper reserves”, and little more than lines drawn on a map.

Marinet endorses the conclusion in the NSMC report with regard to our marine reserves: “What is required now is a step change in leadership from Government.”

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