Tony Long: The outlaws of the ocean -- and how we're reeling them in

Recorded atApril 17, 2023
Duration (min:sec)07:12
Video TypeTED Stage Talk
Words per minute169.32 medium
Readability (FK)52.44 medium
SpeakerTony Long

Official TED page for this talk


Pirate fishing, oil spills and other undetected crimes are destroying ocean ecosystems -- but we can't stop what we can't see. Harnessing the power of satellite data and AI to catch maritime offenders in the act, ocean conservation expert and 2023 Audacious Project grantee Tony Long introduces the first-ever live map of all industrial human activity at sea. He shares how his team at Global Fishing Watch is making it freely available to the world so conservationists, researchers and the public can help protect precious aquatic habitats. (This ambitious idea is a part of the Audacious Project, TED's initiative to inspire and fund global change.)

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100:04 I joined the British Royal Navy at the tender age of 17 and in three decades of service, lived in worked in every ocean.
200:14 I witnessed firsthand the hidden world of the high seas, sometimes the only vessel for hundreds of miles.
300:22 And other times I'd wake up surrounded in a fishing fleet that, despite having powerful technology at my fingertips, I didn’t really know who they were or what they’d been doing.
400:32 It is a Wild West out there, and rogue fishers ...
500:37 rogue fishes are extracting -- well, they’re disobeying the laws that we put in place to protect our ocean and its resources.
600:46 And they're pillaging colossal amounts of fish.
700:51 Seafood, one fifth of seafood is thought to be caught illegally or is simply unreported.
800:56 And that's a crime worth up to 23.5 billion dollars.
901:01 And it's a crime that skews the science, so it affects the sustainability of our fisheries, it threatens the health of our ocean and the well-being of millions of people, mainly in poorer countries.
1001:17 And it's not just pirate fishing that's threatening the future of our ocean.
1101:22 Out at sea, oil spills are going undetected and therefore unpunished.
1201:25 There’s a massive, unmonitored growth in shipping, oil and gas exploration and aquaculture, to mention just a few.
1301:32 And this is piling pressure on an ocean that's already stressed by climate change.
1401:39 The straightforward fact is, if you can't see it, you can't manage it.
1501:44 And I know from experience, you can't monitor the whole ocean from the decks of ships.
1601:49 But you can from space.
1701:51 And these are interesting times because seemingly intractable problems are starting to yield to the power of technology, AI, and global interconnectedness.
1802:01 Up there right now, there's thousands of satellites, beaming back an enormous amount of data from the remotest parts of our ocean.
1902:09 What if we could harness that data, make it useful and available to people who care about the ocean?
2002:18 Well, thanks to rapid advances in technology and AI, we can do that.
2102:22 Using GPS location data and machine learning, Global Fishing Watch built the first-ever live stream map to monitor the industrial fishing fleet.
2202:33 At the moment, we see some 70,000 vessels.
2302:36 We've made this information public and freely available to the world.
2402:41 But technology moves on.
2502:43 Thank you.
2602:44 (Applause)
2702:47 Technology moves on rapidly.
2802:49 There's new and emerging technology that we need to embrace in order to give this picture to everybody who needs it.
2902:54 Like when we were working with our partners in Japan and South Korea, they told us there was illegal fishing suspected in North Korean waters in contravention of the UN sanctions there.
3003:03 But when we first took a look on our map, we could see very little fishing because those vessels were not sharing their GPS location data, as they should.
3103:11 We call them “dark vessels.”
3203:13 And generally, dark vessels are up to no good.
3303:15 So we had to turn to other sources of data.
3403:18 We looked at satellite-based radar and optical imagery, and we lit that region up.
3503:23 We revealed an armada of almost 1,000 vessels.
3603:27 It's one of the largest cases of illegal fishing ever seen.
3703:31 But there's huge human impact too.
3803:34 Tragedy.
3903:35 Because they're smaller, more rickety North Korean boats could not compete with that vast fleet.
4003:40 They were pushed further and further out to sea, and as a result, hundreds of them would be capsized to be washed ashore in Japan with the crew either starving or dead.
4103:52 We made our findings public and as a result, we compelled the authorities to take action.
4203:58 Illegal fishing in that region has dropped by 75 percent, and we're not seeing hundreds of vessels now washing ashore in Japan.
4304:05 (Applause)
4404:10 The good news is that the techniques we used to illuminate what was happening in North Korea, we can use anywhere and everywhere to make the invisible visible.
4504:21 Today, any of you can click on the internet to explore roads and buildings on land.
4604:27 Why can't we do the same for the ocean?
4704:30 We need to create a dynamic, complete map of all industrial activity out at sea and make it available to everybody for free.
4804:39 Well, thanks to the Audacious community, we're going to do that using GPS location data and millions of gigabytes of satellite imagery, we’ll use AI to map and monitor more than a million oceangoing vessels.
4904:55 We will monitor the entire industrial fishing fleet and those dark vessels.
5005:00 We'll add in hundreds of thousands of cargo vessels, tens of thousands of oil and gas structures, aquaculture farms and wind farms.
5105:10 With this public information, conservationists will have the information they need to protect critical habitats.
5205:16 Like National Geographic Pristine Seas.
5305:19 They're using our data to help work with governments and communities to protect critical habitats in seven marine parks with a combined area of more than twice that of California.
5405:32 And we're going to give researchers the data they need to advance ocean science.
5505:36 And we’re going to give the media, campaigners and the public powerful knowledge about human activity out at sea.
5605:43 And this comes just in time because after two decades of talking, we finally have a treaty to manage the conservation of ocean life and the establishment of marine protected areas out on our ocean.
5705:58 (Applause)
5806:03 And this is going to be critical because almost 200 countries have committed to protecting 30 percent of the ocean by 2030.
5906:12 And they will need tools like this to uphold that promise.
6006:18 We can develop the tools that governments need to uphold their commitments.
6106:23 We can inspire a new wave of ocean management through public data and open technology.
6206:31 Now, I might have salt in my veins, but you don't need to have sailed the seven seas to care about the future of the ocean.
6306:38 All life on Earth depends on it.
6406:40 It's providing the oxygen we breathe, it’s regulating our climate, and it's providing the food that billions of people rely on.
6506:49 But ocean resources are not inexhaustible, we’ve got to protect them.
6606:53 We have the chance to do that today like never before.
6706:55 We can give a free, open-access monitoring system for the entire ocean.
6807:00 Together we can reign in this outlaw ocean.
6907:06 We can end pirate fishing.
7007:08 And we can transform ocean management for the common good of all.
7107:12 Thank you.
7207:13 (Applause)