SkyTruth is a non-profit corporation which uses a combination of satellite imagery, remote sensing and digital mapping technologies to investigate environmental issues and incidents. Back in 2010, the organisation proved that BP had grossly underestimated the extent of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.
In November 2014 it teamed up with Google and marine conservation group Oceana to launch Global Fishing Watch, a platform that uses satellite data to inform the public about overfishing, and make global fishing activity more transparent.
“It’s getting easier to highlight any discrepancies”, says David Manthos, Communications Director at SkyTruth, “and overall it’s getting harder to hide them.”
The system uses satellite data from the Automatic Identification System (AIS) – a tool originally designed to help avoid collisions at sea. It plots the movements of each ship and determines whether it’s a fishing vessel before marking its activity on an interactive map. A data point is created every time a ship drops and retrieves its nets. Users can then monitor how many hours individual vessels spend fishing certain areas, and filter the results by country. Of course, the downside is that illegal fishers don't carry the system, and so can't be monitored.
The launched prototype used data collected during 2012 and 2013 to show 35 million data points, created by 3,125 ships that have been independently verified as fishing vessels. The next step is to develop a version that displays the data in real time.
Image credit: Milamber's portfolio / Flickr
A 2014 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization revealed that more than 90% of the world’s fisheries are working at peak capacity and nearly one-third of marine fish stocks now suffer from overfishing. Can these ‘eyes in the sky’ help stem the crisis by exposing those responsible?