Emerging technology offers the first global vision by stealth

Washington, DC, June 08, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) – Global Fishing Watch has developed and publicly released the first ever global map of previously undetected dark fleets, or vessels that do not broadcast their location or appear in public tracking systems.

Based on satellite radar imagery and machine learning, the map layer is updated daily within the Global Fishing Watch main map application. The portal is freely available to anyone in the world with an internet connection, helping authorities, researchers and the public alike provide the power to monitor vessel activity across coastal waters, identify patterns of the Dark Fleet and build the understanding needed to quantify threats to the ocean. The new intuitive map layer helps create equal access to sea data in time for World Oceans Day on June 8.

The lack of information on how and where vessels fish has clouded our understanding of the true global footprint of fishing activity. This makes significant change difficult. To see these impacts, satellite radar technology, known as Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR), works day and night in all types of weather and can generate images despite cloud cover or storm systems, resulting in significantly advanced detection capabilities compared to to other satellites – mounted sensors.

“It’s amazing how little we know to date about the true extent of human activity on water,” said David Kroodsma, director of research and innovation at Global Fishing Watch. “If you combine ships that intentionally cut off their signal with the significant number of boats that don’t disclose their position in public systems at all, you end up with gaps in data, monitoring and accountability. We use satellite radar imagery to narrow the information gap and put our findings within reach of those who want to ensure our ocean is managed fairly and sustainably. ”

The new global map layer draws on a huge data processing pipeline and uses machine learning to munch on petabytes, or millions of gigabytes, of radar images taken by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-1 satellites. Analyzing Sentinel-1’s entire archive of radar images, Global Fishing Watch made 20 million surveys of deep-sea vessels over approximately 10 meters in length and matched these surveys to 100 billion GPS points of transmitting vessels. their position on the identification system. This correspondence differentiates ships that broadcast their position from those that remain dark in public monitoring systems, yielding a more comprehensive view of ship movements across the global ocean. This information can help authorities identify areas with suspicious activity and identify vessel models that could indicate previously unquantified illegal activity or fishing pressures.

Global Fishing Watch used satellite radars and optical imagery to reveal some 900 Chinese-origin vessels fishing illegally in North Korean waters in violation of UN sanctions, the largest known case of illegal fishing by an industrial fleet operating in North Korean waters. another nation. Global Fishing Watch has since improved and expanded the use of satellite radar to study never-before-seen fishing activities near marine protected areas in the Mediterranean Sea and previously hidden activity hotspots in coastal waters around Africa. This emerging method of “seeing” ships is revealing that the ocean is much busier than conventional monitoring systems show.

“While there are often legitimate reasons not to broadcast a ship’s location – not all governments require it – illegal operators often turn off their signals to hide their activity,” Kroodsma added. “The use of satellite radar to detect and map previously hidden and potentially illegal or harmful activities has opened up a new realm of possibilities for remote sensing and the battle of great technology for the environment.”

Amplifying the potential of satellite radar technology, Global Fishing Watch partnered with the Defense Innovation Unit in July 2021 to host the xView3 competition. The challenge invited machine learning developers from around the world to build and dispatch computer algorithms to help detect dark vessels, attracting 1,900 registrants from 67 countries. Global Fishing Watch is using the winning entries announced earlier this year to refine and advance dark ship detection methods on a global scale and expects to be able to shed light on many human activities in the ocean in the near future. .

“By seeing and characterizing the activity of these vast dark fleets, we can begin to better understand and quantify not just illegal fishing, but a large amount of human activity that is affecting our marine environment,” said Paul Woods, chief innovation officer. by Global Fishing Guadare. “These are exciting times when it comes to open and accessible data that anyone can use for free to understand and defend the fragile marine areas they care about most.”

Information on satellite radar images: Satellite radar is capable of overcoming the limitations of other satellite monitoring systems due to its ability to see through rain, darkness and cloud cover. The radar is capable of detecting ships and structures at sea in any weather condition and its imaging capabilities make it one of the most powerful remote sensing tools. Satellite radar is an active sensor that fires microwaves at the earth’s surface and measures the amplitude and phase of signals that are reflected from objects on land and water, known as backscatter. The images formed by this backscatter contain detailed information about the size, orientation, composition, condition and texture of the features on the water. These imaging systems have an advantage over passive satellite sensors, such as electro-optical imaging, which is similar to taking a picture with a camera and relies on sunlight and / or infrared radiation emitted by objects on the ground. The latter method can be confused by cloud cover, haze, weather events, and seasonal darkness in high latitudes. Satellite radar in comparison has proved to be the most consistent option for detecting ships at sea.

Global clock for fishing is an international non-profit organization dedicated to advancing ocean governance through greater transparency of human activities at sea. By publicly creating and sharing visualizations of maps, data and analytics tools, we aim to enable scientific research and transform the way our ocean is managed. We believe that human activity at sea must be in the public domain in order to safeguard the global ocean for the common good of all.

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