Monday, September 19, 2016

New Leonardo DiCaprio App Tracks Fishy Things on the High Seas

          By Brian Orlotti

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio has unveiled a free service called Global Fishing Watch (GFW) that utilizes satellite imagery to enable the public to monitor global fishing activity in an attempt to curb illegal fishing and rebuild depleted fish stocks.

Leonardo DiCaprio being spied on by others. Photo c/o

As outlined in the September 15th, 2016 post, "DiCaprio unveils free technology to spy on global fishing," the service is a partnership between the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, SkyTruth, Oceana and Google. It uses imagery provided by satellite powerhouse Orbcomm Inc and is available online for anyone with an internet connection and a browser capable of using WebGL.

Adopting a crowd-sourcing approach, GFW enables the public and non-government organizations (NGOs) to track fishing vessels around the world through a combination of ship transponder beacons, radar data from nearby ships, and ships’ wakes as they travel through water.

According to the article, the new technology was officially released to the public during the 2016 Our Oceans Conference, which was held in Washington, DC from September 15th to 16th.

The project cost $10.3Mln USD ($13.6Mln CDN) over the past three years to build, with $6Mln ($7.92Mln CDN) of that contributed by the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation in January, 2016.

In order for GFW to provide this data free of charge, the partners negotiated with Orbcomm to use its three-day old data as well as historical data. Although this means that GFW users cannot monitor ship traffic in real-time, advocates say the system will open up the world's waters to public watchdogs like never before.

Also, GFW’s presence itself is expected to serve as a deterrent to illegal fishing.

The Republic of Kiribati which, according to Wikipedia, is an island nation in the central Pacific Ocean composed of 33 atolls and reef islands plus one raised coral island with a total land area of 800 square kilometres spread out over 3.5 million square kilometers, which is a massive area for the total population of just over 100,000 people to govern effectively. Applications like GFW go a long way towards allowing the Kiribati government to administer its own territory. Graphic c/o Wikipedia.

The application has already scored at least one success.

Kiribati, an island republic in the central pacific, comprised of 33 coral atolls and isles, has used GFW data to reveal illegal fishing in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area, declared off-limits to commercial fishing in January 2015.

The offending ship’s owners were fined $1Mln USD ($1.32Mln CDN) along with a "goodwill" donation of another $1Mln.

A Canadian parallel to GFW can be found in the form of the Edmonton, AB based startup Promethean Labs Inc. Promethean Labs’ team includes MaxQ Accelerator (Canada’s first space-startup accelerator) co-founder and president Brodie Houlette and the builders of the University of Alberta’s ExAlta-1 satellite.

The company’s stated goal is the sale of satellite imagery for pollution, fishery and forestry monitoring to Governments, NGOs and the general public.

As the democratization of space technology continues, with ever more powerful tools being put into the public’s hands, much good seems about to be done.
Brian Orlotti.

Brian Orlotti is a regular contributor to the Commercial Space blog.

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