02 March 2008

Using satellite images to protect the Ocean

Not everyone knows that satellite images can be used to support marine conservation.

The concept is simple. Satellites have global reach and can repeatedly capture images of any area, they can reveal the land/seascape disruption and habitat degradation caused by anthropogenic activities. They can be used to monitor industrial sites, logging operations, environmentally sensitive areas, urban sprawl, shipping traffic, fisheries, and resource-management practices, no matter where in the world they occur.

Also, they can be used to monitor fishing activities. Daniel Pauly, a world-renowned fisheries scientist, is the pioneer of this innovative idea. Pauly was inspired by a satellite image of a fleet of trawlers at work in the ocean. Looking at the image, he realized that trawlers could be seen so clearly that it would in theory be possible to monitor fishing from satellites and assess their impact. With historical and global archives, it is also possible to compare images to show changes over time. This kind of data could lead to restrictions on industrial fishing methods.

In addition to being a source of scientific data to document environmental change, satellite images may also represent a powerful communication tool. Using satellite photographs, we can document and communicate the impact of anthropogenic activities and promote a sustainable use of resources.

Silvia Bonizzoni

(The satellite photo shows mud trails made by shrimp trawlers off the mouth of the Yangtze River www.digitalglobe.com)
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