26 Jan 2015: Report

How Technology Is Protecting
World’s Richest Marine Reserve

After years of fitful starts, the Pacific island nation of Kiribati this month banned all commercial fishing inside its huge marine reserve. New satellite transponder technology is now helping ensure that the ban succeeds in keeping out the big fishing fleets.

by christopher pala

In 2000, Gregory Stone, an oceanographer at the New England Aquarium, went diving in the Phoenix Islands, an uninhabited archipelago belonging to Kiribati in the remote central Pacific. The multi-colored reefs swarmed with sharks and other large predators, an abundance shared by perhaps only a handful of remote atolls around the equator.

“We were completely blown away,” Stone recalled. “It was the first time I had seen what the ocean may have looked like thousands of years ago.”

The following year, he suggested to the Kiribati government that it turn the islands into a marine reserve, and in 2008 the Phoenix Islands Protected

View Gallery
Phoenix Islands Protected Area

Randi Rotjan/New England Aquarium
Coral reefs and marine life near Enderbury Island, in the Phoenix Islands Protected Area.
Area (PIPA) was born. Encompassing an area the size of California, PIPA — which contains eight nearly pristine atolls — was the biggest marine reserve in the world at the time and harbored one of the planet’s richest assemblages of marine life. It was also being intensively fished for tuna.

Yet fishing was banned in only 3 percent of the reserve, mainly in the waters around the islands. In the rest of the reserve, the catch legal by international fleets actually rose in the following six years, reaching 50,000 tons annually, even as scientists warned fishing companies to reduce their take or face depleted stocks in a decade or two. But closing the rest of PIPA to fishing, President Anote Tong said in an interview in 2013, was for the indefinite future.

Late last year, however, Tong reversed himself and announced that all commercial fishing in the PIPA reserve would be banned as of January 1, 2015. Initial results from satellite tracking of fishing boats indicate that they are indeed staying out of the vast marine reserve. Observers are now optimistic that Kiribati will be able to safeguard the world’s richest marine protected area, thanks largely to cutting-edge satellite monitoring of foreign fishing fleets.

The checkered history of establishing a genuine marine reserve in Kiribati centers on Tong, who made a name for himself internationally as the
The question Kiribati faces is how a tiny country is going to enforce a restriction on foreign fishing fleets.
spokesman for low-lying island nations threatened by sea-level rise, even as scientists were saying he was exaggerating those threats. He anchored his moral authority to ask for money to help his people migrate to higher land with claims that Kiribati had selflessly ended all fishing in PIPA in 2008. In Australia, an international committee has even promoted his candidacy for the Nobel Peace Prize.

By 2013, the contrast between claims and reality led to exposés in the press and calls from Greenpeace and UNESCO — which made PIPA a World Heritage Site on the understanding that fishing would be phased out — that Tong needed to make good on his promises or at least significantly reduce the catch inside PIPA. Then, last year Radio Kiribati announced that Tong and the cabinet had decided to close PIPA to all fishing at the end of 2014. “I was thrilled to see the turnaround,” recalls Bill Raynor, director of The Nature Conservancy’s Indo-Pacific division. “I hope other Pacific countries follow.”

What led Tong to change his mind has been the object of speculation among conservationists hoping to get other leaders to do likewise. Tetabo Nakara, an opposition member of parliament and former environment minister who oversaw the establishment of the reserve, says he believes Tong finally closed it to burnish his image as his third and last term ends this year. In any case, Tong’s exit will put enforcement responsibility on the next administration. Nakara says that if his party returns to power, it “will definitely enforce the closure.”

The question Kiribati now faces is how a country of 103,000 people with a tiny budget is going to enforce a restriction on the foreign fishing fleets that provide between a third and half of its revenue. Kiribati has only one patrol boat, which is based in Tarawa, 1,000 miles from the reserve.

Kiribati will have help in its drive to enforce the ban. The Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) mandates that all fishing vessels must constantly transmit their positions with Vessel Monitoring
Nonprofit groups are helping Kiribati by harnessing new satellite technology to spot illegal fishing.
System (VMS) satellite transponders, which are tracked by the countries in whose waters they fish. If the fishing boats don’t use the transponders, the vessel owners risk fines and losing their right to participate in the lucrative fishery.

“If they turn off VMS, it’s noticed,” says Martin Gotje of Greenpeace in New Zealand, who for years has been studying satellite data that tracks fishing boats. A $5 million grant by the Waitt Foundation will be used to buy a second patrol boat to be based in the Phoenix Islands.

More than half of the total Pacific skipjack tuna catch is hauled in by some 300 large purse-seine vessels, which lay nets around schools of the tuna that are then frozen and canned onshore. Nearly all the vessels have observers on board. “I would expect the purse-seiners will comply,” says Gotje.

Purse-seiners also have grown increasingly reliant on fish-aggregating devices, floating platforms that attract up to hundreds of tons of tuna and

View Gallery
Global Fishing Watch

Global Fishing Watch
This image shows the locations of fishing vessels in and around marine protected areas.
other fish for reasons that are still poorly understood. Equipped with sonar and transmitters that keep their owners apprised of the quantity of fish below, they could drift though PIPA gathering fish and be harvested as soon as they cross its border, creating a loophole in the no-fishing rule.

But since January 1, new regulations oblige most purse-seiners to place a VMS transmitter on each of their fish-aggregating devices. This should allow Kiribati to ensure that they are not used to draw fish out of PIPA.

The rest of the skipjack tuna catch is mostly hauled in by smaller long-line vessels that catch adult tuna, billfish, and sharks with lines up to 50 miles long from which dangle thousands of baited hooks.

At a meeting of the WCPFC late last year in Samoa, representatives of Pacific nations complained that long-line vessels do not accurately report their catch and sometimes fish inside their waters without licenses.

Kiribati will also get help in detecting these vessels from two non-profit groups that are harnessing new satellite technology to spot illegal fishing in remote areas. The Global Fishing Watch — a partnership of Google, Oceana, and SkyTruth — uses algorithms that detect fishing activity by monitoring a collision-avoidance radio signal called AIS used by many boats. (Fishing boats are not required to use AIS technology). A separate, more ambitious system unveiled this month by the Pew Charitable Trusts called Eyes on the Seas adds satellite radar telemetry and a data bank on fishing boats. “It’s time to follow the strategy of the spider and the fly,” says Josh Reichert, managing director of the Pew Environment Group. “The
Closing PIPA is the single most effective act of marine conservation in history,’ says one scientist.
days of chasing poachers on boats are over.”

So far, both Greenpeace and Skytruth report that AIS data monitored from satellites show that the vessels that were fishing legally inside PIPA in December have not turned off their transponders – several can now be seen fishing outside PIPA. “Overall, I think most long-liners will comply as well,” says Gotje.

Scientists are divided on how useful the fisheries closure inside PIPA will be. John Hampton, manager of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community's Oceanic Fisheries Program, says the closure will have minimal impact on the Pacific stocks of fish because the catch inside PIPA is made up largely of blue-water species that travel long distances. Most will simply be caught elsewhere and the total Pacific catch won’t significantly decrease, Hampton says. What’s needed to save species like the bigeye tuna — a mainstay for sushi whose population has been overfished down to just 16 percent of its original size — is to reduce the the catch, not displace it from one area to another, he says.

Daniel Pauly, a prominent fisheries scientist at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, agrees but says the bigeye will benefit in other ways, as will the birds, dolphins, turtles, and other fish that are killed

ALSO FROM YALE e360

Fostering Community Strategies
For Saving the World's Oceans

Ayana Johnson interview
To conservationist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, getting coastal communities involved in plans to protect their waters is critical for protecting the planet's oceans. In an interview with Yale Environment 360, she talks about her work in one Caribbean island and how it shows how such a strategy can get results.
READ MORE
incidentally. “PIPA is pretty big and has islands and seamounts, so I’m confident that in each species there are going to be some individuals that will spend their whole life inside it,” he explains.

Thus the density of marine life inside PIPA will rise back toward its natural level and boost genetic diversity, which will be increasingly valuable as marine life adapts to an ocean that is steadily becoming warmer and more acidic. Longevity also will increase, Pauly says, as older females in many species tend to produce more eggs.

How long it will take for these varied populations to rebound will depend on the species. For instance, oceanic whitetip sharks, which are now less than 7 percent of their virgin biomass, and silky sharks (less than 34 percent) reproduce much more slowly than skipjack tuna, which spawn year-round.

“Closing PIPA is the single most effective act of marine conservation in history,” Pauly says. “The fishing fleets are going deeper and farther and fishing out places that used to serve as refuges for a lot of species, so now there’s an urgent need to replace them with big, man-made protected areas like this one.”

Correction, January 30, 2015: A caption in slide 3 of the photo gallery for this article incorrectly stated that the group SkyTruth was working with Kiribati to monitor fishing activity in the PIPA reserve. SkyTruth is not working with Kiribati but is independently monitoring fishing activity in the reserve.



POSTED ON 26 Jan 2015 IN Biodiversity Business & Innovation Energy Oceans Policy & Politics Science & Technology Science & Technology Australia Australia Europe North America 

COMMENTS


This is phenomenal news. To go from only three percent protected waters to a hundred percent is truly a major step forward in ocean conservation. I had wondered how this small nation could possibly enforce or monitor its decision. It would seem that technology triumphs here, and the support of major non-profits to fund the monitoring systems is the key to this decision being more than just symbolic. Bravo!
Posted by Gordon Wangers on 27 Jan 2015


Excellent! Kiribati is not just a couple of Pacific Islands threatened by a "Hungry Tide." Bless them and the PIPA.
Posted by Larry Menkes on 29 Jan 2015


Excellent New Year's news from Kiribati. Thank you, Mr. Pala,
for bringing wildlife and positive technology together in this
significant article. When I first crossed the Pacific by sail in
my youth, I went a month without seeing a single vessel.
Recently, now at retirement, the loom of fishing vessel lights
could be seen almost every night, and even overflights by
ship-launched helicopters using high-tech to spot catch
occurred. The seas are being fished to death. All in a short
lifetime. PIPA has become extremely important and deserves
our close attention. Their resistance and example are closely
linked to our planet's fate. Thank you all for spelling it out so
clearly.
Posted by Whitt Birnie on 30 Jan 2015


POST A COMMENT

Comments are moderated and will be reviewed before they are posted to ensure they are on topic, relevant, and not abusive. They may be edited for length and clarity. By filling out this form, you give Yale Environment 360 permission to publish this comment.

Name 
Email address 
Comment 
 
Please type the text shown in the graphic.


christopher palaABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christopher Pala is a freelance science journalist who often writes about ocean issues, including the Aral Sea, the Caspian sturgeon, the bigeye tuna, and marine reserves. He contributed to The New York Times, Science, and other publications from Kazakhstan and Hawaii before moving to Washington, D.C.

 
 

RELATED ARTICLES


What’s Killing Native Birds in
The Mountain Forests of Kauai?

Biologist Eben Paxton is sounding the alarm about the catastrophic collapse of native bird populations on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. His group's research has uncovered the culprit: disease-carrying mosquitoes that have invaded the birds' mountain habitat.
READ MORE

Exploring How and Why
Trees ‘Talk’ to Each Other

Ecologist Suzanne Simard has shown how trees use a network of soil fungi to communicate their needs and aid neighboring plants. Now she’s warning that threats like clear-cutting and climate change could disrupt these critical networks.
READ MORE

Wildlife Farming: Does It Help
Or Hurt Threatened Species?

Wildlife farming is being touted as a way to protect endangered species while providing food and boosting incomes in rural areas. But some conservation scientists argue that such practices fail to benefit beleaguered wildlife.
READ MORE

Science in the Wild: The Legacy
Of the U.S. National Park System


READ MORE

The Dungeness Crab Faces
Uncertain Future on West Coast

The winner of the 2016 Yale Environment 360 Video Contest explores how ocean acidification may be putting at risk a prized crustacean that is vital to the fishing industry and the marine ecosystem on the U.S. Pacific Coast.
READ MORE

 

MORE IN Reports


For China’s Polluted Megacities,
A Focus on Slashing Emissions

by mike ives
The booming industrial center of Shenzhen is a showcase for Chinese efforts to cut CO2 emissions and make the nation's burgeoning cities more livable. But it remains to be seen whether China's runaway industrial development can give way to a low-carbon future.
READ MORE

Rocky Flats: A Wildlife Refuge
Confronts Its Radioactive Past

by fred pearce
The Rocky Flats Plant outside Denver was a key U.S. nuclear facility during the Cold War. Now, following a $7 billion cleanup, the government is preparing to open a wildlife refuge on the site to the public, amid warnings from some scientists that residual plutonium may still pose serious health risks.
READ MORE

Pressure Mounts to Reform Our
Throwaway Clothing Culture

by marc gunther
Americans dispose of about 12.8 million tons of textiles annually — 80 pounds for each man, woman, and child. In the U.S. and around the world, a growing number of environmentalists and clothing industry executives say it’s time to end the wasteful clothing culture and begin making new apparel out of old items on a large scale.
READ MORE

The New Green Grid: Utilities
Deploy ‘Virtual Power Plants’

by maria gallucci
By linking together networks of energy-efficient buildings, solar installations, and batteries, a growing number of companies in the U.S. and Europe are helping utilities reduce energy demand at peak hours and supply targeted areas with renewably generated electricity.
READ MORE

Sticker Shock: The Soaring Costs
Of Germany’s Nuclear Shutdown

by joel stonington
German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2011 decision to rapidly phase out the country’s 17 nuclear power reactors has left the government and utilities with a massive challenge: How to clean up and store large amounts of nuclear waste and other radioactive material.
READ MORE

How to Restore an Urban River?
Los Angeles Looks to Find Out

by jim robbins
Officials are moving ahead with a major revitalization of the Los Angeles River – removing miles of concrete along its banks and re-greening areas now covered with pavement. But the project raises an intriguing question: Just how much of an urban river can be returned to nature?
READ MORE

How Growing Sea Plants Can
Help Slow Ocean Acidification

by nicola jones
Researchers are finding that kelp, eelgrass, and other vegetation can effectively absorb CO2 and reduce acidity in the ocean. Growing these plants in local waters, scientists say, could help mitigate the damaging impacts of acidification on marine life.
READ MORE

Vanishing Act: What’s Causing Sharp
Decline in Insects and Why It Matters

by christian schwägerl
Insect populations are declining dramatically in many parts of the world, recent studies show. Researchers say various factors, from monoculture farming to habitat loss, are to blame for the plight of insects, which are essential to agriculture and ecosystems.
READ MORE

For India’s Captive Leopards,
A Life Sentence Behind Bars

by richard conniff
As sightings of leopards in populated areas increase, Indian authorities are trapping the animals and keeping them in captivity — often in small cages without adequate food or veterinary care. The real solution, wildlife advocates say, is to educate the public on how to coexist with the big cats.
READ MORE

A Tiny Pacific Nation Takes the
Lead on Protecting Marine Life

by emma bryce
Unhappy with how regional authorities have failed to protect fish stocks in the Western Pacific, Palau has launched its own bold initiatives – creating a vast marine sanctuary and conducting an experiment designed to reduce bycatch in its once-thriving tuna fishery.
READ MORE


e360 digest
Yale
Yale Environment 360 is
a publication of the
Yale School of Forestry
& Environmental Studies
.

SEARCH e360



Donate to Yale Environment 360
Yale Environment 360 Newsletter


CONNECT


ABOUT

About e360
Contact
Submission Guidelines
Reprints

E360 en Español

Universia partnership
Yale Environment 360 articles are now available in Spanish and Portuguese on Universia, the online educational network.
Visit the site.


DEPARTMENTS

Opinion
Reports
Analysis
Interviews
Forums
e360 Digest
Podcasts
Video Reports

TOPICS

Biodiversity
Business & Innovation
Climate
Energy
Forests
Oceans
Policy & Politics
Pollution & Health
Science & Technology
Sustainability
Urbanization
Water

REGIONS

Antarctica and the Arctic
Africa
Asia
Australia
Central & South America
Europe
Middle East
North America

e360 VIDEO

“video
Tribal people and ranchers join together to stop a project that would haul coal across their Montana land.
Watch the video.

e360 MOBILE

Mobile
The latest
from Yale
Environment 360
is now available for mobile devices at e360.yale.edu/mobile.

e360 PHOTO ESSAY

“Alaska
An aerial view of why Europe’s per capita carbon emissions are less than 50 percent of those in the U.S.
View the photos.

e360 VIDEO

“Ugandan
Ugandan scientists monitor the impact of climate change on one of Africa’s most diverse forests and its extraordinary wildlife.
Learn more.

e360 VIDEO

Food waste
An e360 video series looks at the staggering amount of food wasted in the U.S. – a problem with major human and environmental costs.
Watch the video.

e360 VIDEO

Colorado wildfires
An e360 video goes onto the front lines with Colorado firefighters confronting deadly blazes fueled by a hotter, drier climate.
Watch the video.

e360 SPECIAL REPORT

“Tainted
A three-part series Tainted Harvest looks at the soil pollution crisis in China, the threat it poses to the food supply, and the complexity of any cleanup.
Read the series.

OF INTEREST



Yale