As the director of Mexico’s largest marine protected area (MPA), Alejandro has a vested interest in ensuring that Revillagigedo Archipelago National Park has the capacity to intercept illegal vessels in its waters. Skylight satellite technology currently allows the team to identify illegal vessels within the park’s boundaries, but rangers are limited in their ability to respond and apprehend these vessels because their own vessel is small and unseaworthy over long distances. Alejandro’s project aims at enhancing the capacity for marine enforcement by adding an interceptor vessel to the park for rangers.
I was born in Tepic in the Mexican province of Nayarit, close to the Pacific Ocean, and for all my 42 years I have loved the sea. As a child I spent incredible days at the beach, playing with my cousins on the shore, exploring and sometimes getting walloped by the waves. This love for the sea led to my decision to study oceanology, so that I could try to understand the science behind the importance of the ocean to humans, make an improvement, no matter how big or small, to the marine environment, and protect the life force of...
The project’s main objective is to improve capacity to conduct marine patrols and intercept potentially illegal boats.
The Revillagigedo National Park protects 389 fish species, including 16 that are endemic. The remoteness of the archipelago has helped to protect the large concentrations of marine megafauna that live in it. One of the most abundant and diverse groups within the pelagic fish community is the elasmobranchs, with 28 shark species recorded. The islands are an important breeding site for the silvertip, whitetip reef and Galápagos sharks. They also host one of the largest aggregations of the oceanic manta ray, as well as species on the IUCN Red List such as the whale shark, hawksbill turtle and scalloped hammerhead shark.
The Revillagigedo National Park (RNP) was created in November 2017 to protect 14.8 million hectares (57,000 square miles) of ocean around the four islands of the Revillagigedo Archipelago: Clarión, Socorro, San Benedicto and Roca Partida. The park is under the direct management of the federal government of Mexico and falls under the jurisdiction of the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (CONANP) and the Secretary of the Navy (SEMAR). Although illegal and destructive fishing has been significantly reduced since the creation of the Revillagigedo National Park, commercial and sport fishing vessels continue to poach within its boundaries. Between 2018 and 2020, 18 events of suspicious vessel activity have been detected via satellite surveillance platforms. However, only one of those vessels was intercepted on the spot for inspection; no action could be taken against the others because there was no vessel at Socorro Island capable of intercepting them.
To tackle the challenge of illegal fishing, in mid-2020 a partnership was established between CONANP, Vulcan Technologies and the National Geographic Pristine Seas Project to implement the state-of-the-art SKYLIGHT satellite surveillance platform. SKYLIGHT provides the park’s rangers with a tool to continuously monitor vessels that transmit their real-time position via AIS and VMS transmitting systems. SKYLIGHT also provides satellite Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) imagery to detect the presence of ‘dark’ vessels that enter the protected area with their positioning system turned off.
Management of the Revillagigedo National Park emphasises the importance of surveillance, monitoring and inspection in order to ensure compliance with park regulations and thus ensure the long-term conservation of the islands. With this in mind, the CONANP, in coordination with the National Fishing Authority and the Mexican navy, utilises current technological capacities, notably satellite monitoring systems, communication channels and other platforms, to track illegal activities. Despite these collaborative efforts, there is an urgent need to improve the current capacity for surveillance in the field and to facilitate direct and coordinated action that will be effective in reducing threats posed to marine life by fishing. Thanks to the use of SKYLIGHT, Revillagigedo National Park rangers are able to identify hotspots of suspicious activity, which are located mainly to the north-east of San Benedicto Island and to the south and south-west of Clarion Island.
While SKYLIGHT SAR imagery, the fixed radar installed at the naval base on Socorro Island and tourism operators all help to detect the presence of dark vessels, the park’s rangers lack a vessel that can effectively intercept poachers on the spot. At present they only have access to a small inflatable dinghy that is not sufficiently seaworthy to operate over long distances, and certainly not to cover the round trip to hotspots of suspicious activity that are located more than 150 nautical miles from the naval stations on Clarion and Socorro islands. The vessel required would also provide a reliable platform from which to conduct annual underwater monitoring surveys in the park, and would enable rangers to be transferred safely between islands so that they can perform their land-based conservation duties.
Demian’s team is developing tools that help border control officers identify illegal shark products. His project is sifting through ‘rhino ray’ DNA sequences looking for differences in code between the guitarfishes, giant guitarfishes and wedgefishes nicknamed for their pointy snouts (and Endangered status). Months of testing will help ensure only rhino ray DNA is targeted before the team flies to Hong Kong to help officials use a portable DNA tester. This project will add to the arsenal currently being used to identify illegal shark fins moving across borders, and help stop the trafficking of ‘rhino ray’ fins.
Aristide created a citizen science platform and mobile app for fishers across Cameroon’s 400 km coastline to record sightings of sharks, rays and marine life. These photos are uploaded to iNaturalist where they are identified and will serve to create Cameroon’s first elasmobranch atlas. Together with his team, Aristide ensures data are being uploaded, visits fish landing sites to assess bycatch and measure sharks, and scours the beaches to check for strandings and sea turtle nests. He collects tissue samples of threatened species in these visits that can give more insights into the diversity, population size and structure of vulnerable sharks.
Ali is collaborating with researchers across North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean to develop support tools for guitarfish conservation. As an advocate, much of her work is completed behind a computer and locked in meetings, but her goal is to help bring awareness to the Threatened status of guitarfish in the Mediterranean. As the current Director of Conservation for the Shark Trust, Ali represents a large number of regional partners to engage with governments, develop new resources and coordinate guitarfish conservation activities.