The role of satellite in the digital divide and sustainable fisheries

In this blog by James Cemmell, Vice President of Government Engagement at Inmarsat, we look at how government and business are using satellites and connectivity to deliver sustainable fisheries in Indonesia. 

Just a few weeks ago, the World Bank announced the launch of PROBLUE, a multi donor trust fund mobilised around SDG 14, which addresses challenges related to the sustainable use of marine resources.  SDG 14 is ambitious.  Though it consists of a manageable number of targets, it seeks to address some of the most important and intractable challenges facing our future ability to continue to enjoy ocean resources as we do today.  To be successful, SDG 14 needs to variously curb illicit behaviour in the fisheries and emissions world; create a plethora of protected waters to allow recovery; strengthen control systems; as well as transition away from a set of harmful fisheries management practices - all whilst delivering viable coastal communities.   

This requires new systems of: organisation, tracking, political will and a complex, high wire act to deliver a rapid transition whilst ensuring that the fishers – including subsistence - and their families who need to eat and work today can continue to do so.  A force multiplier is required and that is why the technology community has a central role to play.  The challenges related to the introduction and effective use of technology are well understood and the issues around the digital divide loom large. 

It is from the most vulnerable that we see the digital divide problem in its starkest light.  The fishers community is an unconnected community.  Whilst we tend to think of the digital divide as an issue for people who live in remote places, this doesn’t tell the whole story and fails to release, to use the World Bank’s term, the ‘Digital Dividend’.  There are no base stations on the seas.  Once away from shore, mobile satellite communications are the only reliable way to stay connected to digital means.    

Work that we’ve lead at Inmarsat with the UK Space Agency, expert partners and the Government of Indonesia has illustrated plainly the crisis of those fishers without communications.  

An unconnected fisher cannot call for help when, for example (as we have seen on our project), their boat is smashed by an oil tanker 120 miles from shore; they can’t communicate with their families when at sea for extended periods – and they suffer terribly for that (we have identified numerous tragic vignettes from the field).  Not to say anything about the inability of the Government to manage its fish stocks when the seas are dark.  Or the ability of already marginal fishers to manage their businesses in the digital age. 

Sustainability is often described as being about managing resources in an equitable manner between the generations – leaving a legacy of natural capital that can be enjoyed by those who come after.  But without full digital enfranchisement, our abilities to do that are curtailed.  If 5G is really to mean something, we need to expand our definition of the digital divide.  Plug the gaps and ensure that no-one, nowhere, never is left behind…

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