As the director of Mexico’s largest marine protected area (MPA), Alejandro has a vested interest in ensuring that Revillagigedo 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 main objective of the project is to enhance the capacity to enforce the marine patrolling and to intercept potential illegal boats.
The RNP protects 389 species of fish, including 16 endemics. The remoteness of the archipelago has contributed to the conservation of the large concentrations of marine megafauna that inhabit this oceanic archipelago. Elasmobranchs are one of the most abundant and diverse groups of the pelagic fish community, with twenty-eight species of sharks recorded. The islands are an important breeding site for the silvertip shark (Carcharhinus albimarginatus), the whitetip reef shark (Triaenodon obesus), and the Galapagos shark (Carcharhinus galapagensis). The archipelago also includes one of the largest aggregations of the oceanic manta ray (Mobula birostris). The RNP is also home to IUCN red-listed species such as the whale shark (Rhincodon typus), the hawksbill turtle (Eretmochelys imbricate), or the scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini).
The Revillagigedo National Park (RNP) was created in November 2017 to fully protect from extractive activities 14.8 million hectares around the four islands of the archipelago: Clarión, Socorro, San Benedicto and Roca Partida. The RNP is under the direct management of the Federal Government 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 RNP in 2017, commercial and sport fishing vessels continue poaching within the National Park. 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 an extraordinary inspection, while the rest of the vessels could not be intercepted because of the lack of an interceptor vessel based at Socorro island.
To tackle the illegal fishing problem, in mid-2020 a partnership was established between the CONANP, Vulcan Technologies and the National Geographic Pristine Seas project to implement the state-of-the-art SKYLIGHT Satellite Surveillance platform. SKYLIGHT provides RNP rangers with a tool to continuous monitor cooperative 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’ (i.e. non-collaborative vessels), which might enter the protected area with their positioning system turned off.
In order to enforce regulations and ensure compliance, RNP management emphasizes the importance of surveillance, monitoring and inspection to ensure the long-term conservation of the islands. In this sense, the CONANP, in coordination with the National Fishing Authority (CONAPESCA) and the Mexican Navy, work to engage current technological capacities (i.e. Satellite Monitoring System), communication channels, and other platforms to track illegal activities.
Despite these joint efforts, there is a need to urgently enhance current capacities and autonomy in order to lead surveillance actions in the field and to be able to provide basic conditions that facilitate, in coordination with other authorities, direct actions in the field to improve effectiveness and reducing the fishing threats. Thanks to the use of SKYLIGHT, RNP rangers are able to identify hotspots of suspicious vessels activity and these are mainly located to the northeast of San Benedicto Island and to the south and southwest of Clarion Island.
While SKYLIGHT SAR imagery, the fixed radar installed at the Mexican Navy base located in Socorro Island and the tourism operators are excellent assets to detect the presence of dark vessels, RNP rangers lack an effective interceptor vessel to capture poachers on the spot after they have been reported. Presently RNP rangers only have 5 access to a small inflatable dinghy that is not seaworthy to operate over long distances, especially to and back to the hotspots of suspicious activities that are located more than 150 nautical miles away from the navy stations in Clarion and Socorro island.
This interceptor vessel will also provide a reliable platform to conduct annual underwater monitoring activities around the park, as well as the safe transfer of rangers between islands to conduct conservation actions on land ecosystems.
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. 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.