Applying Technology to the Preservation of Biodiversity

Marine protected areas (MPAs) currently cover around 5% of the world’s ocean and are designed to protect and preserve resources within their boundaries.  The international community has agreed that establishing MPAs is essential for the preservation of biodiversity in the oceans, and targets have been established to protect 10% of the ocean by 2020, and 30% by 2030. 

Each individual MPA has its own regulations determined by its sovereignty and is an area designated and managed to protect marine ecosystems, processes, habitats, and species. If well managed, this contributes to the restoration and replenishment of resources for social, economic and cultural development, as well as providing resilience against climate change. 

The Blue Belt programme is a UK Government commitment to provide long term protection of over four million square kilometres of marine environment across the UK Overseas Territories, including the British Indian Ocean Territory, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, British Antarctic Territory, Pitcairn, St Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha. 

The cost-effective monitoring and surveillance of these marine protected areas is critical to achieving the internationally agreed 10% by 2020 and 30% by 2030 goals, and to realising environmental and social benefits.  It is to this end that OceanMind, a UK non-profit, supports the Marine Management Organisation with cost-effective satellite-derived monitoring and surveillance across the Blue Belt. 

OceanMind’s fisheries experts are already working with governments, international bodies and NGOs, to help protect existing and proposed marine reserves in every ocean around the world. Using global vessel tracking data from a wide variety of sources, correlating such tracking information with observations taken from satellites using radar and electro-optical imagery, cross referencing with international vessel registries, fishing license information and proprietary fishing databases, fishing regulations and regional laws, and performing in-depth computer analysis of all information using machine learning, OceanMind can create an accurate model of vessel behaviour in and around MPAs that may be putting marine reserves at risk. 

Over all of these marine protected areas, OceanMind’s specialist team of analysts carefully scrutinise the behaviour of vessels in and around the exclusive economic zone and designated marine reserve. Regular fisheries compliance analysis of vessel movement is undertaken and correlated with radar imagery to look for ‘dark’ or non-transmitting vessels that may be operating suspiciously in the area, which can inform patrol planning.  In the case of large remote marine protected areas where there are no patrol vehicles available, intelligence can be provided to port officials to inform inspection of vessels upon arrival. 

A key consideration of the international community in establishing targets was whether MPAs could be properly enforced and managed.  Until recently the lack of cost-effective enforcement has been cited as an impediment to establishing new large marine protected areas.  The work of the UK Government in planning, designating and managing the Blue Belt marine protected area network has clearly demonstrated that such concerns are no longer a significant impediment, and that large and remote marine protected areas can be properly managed and enforced cost-effectively. 

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets that set the goal of 10% of ocean protected by 2020 were agreed in 2010.  Although in 2018 we are only just over half way to this target, the journey has seen many challenges overcome.  The planning, designation and management processes for marine protected areas are more streamlined and effective than ever, and programmes such as the UK’s Blue Belt initiative are great examples of this.  With focus and commitment there is still hope that the targets for biodiversity preservation can be met. 

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