A number of surprising things happened at the Our Oceans Conference, a meeting that took place in Washington, DC last week in which scientists, conservationists, and politicians met to discuss how to better safeguard our oceans from pollution, fraud, climate change, slavery, and overfishing.
Last week, we told you about President Obama's surprising announcement—well, it was certainly a surprise to the fishermen of New England—that he was designating by executive order the creation of the first national marine monument in the Atlantic Ocean.
And now, get this: Leonardo DiCaprio showed up at the same conference to announce that a new online technology platform using data from satellites should be able to track the world's 35,000 commercial fishing vessels. That's damn good news for anyone who has ever tried to take on the monumental task of cracking down on illegal fishing and overharvesting in global waters.
DiCaprio added not only star power, but also the possibility that we are one step closer to truly sustainable fishing practices—making the whole thing a pretty mind-blowing announcement.
Tracking where the fish you eat for dinner was caught—and whether it came from an overfished area, or is really an endangered or protected species—has been notoriously difficult. A report by Oceana, which we examined earlier this month, found that an ungodly amount of the fish we eat may well be protected or endangered species that are mislabeled.
But now, the new technology—available in a public beta version with full functionality—will collect an immense amount of data from around the world and will allow individuals to monitor the activities of fishing vessels for free, in near real-time.
DiCaprio appeared with Secretary of State John Kerry, who said he invited the actor to the conference because of DiCaprio's activism; he just spent three years working on a documentary about climate change called Before the Flood. He also apparently puts his money where his mouth is, because, Kerry said of DiCaprio, "He came and he put up millions of dollars for protection that helped to set aside and protect some 772,000 square miles of vulnerable marine territory, and we're very grateful for that." He is a "funding partner" of the new technology.
According to DiCaprio, the technology, called Global Fishing Watch, will "empower citizens across the globe to become powerful advocates for our oceans. With the data Global Fishing Watch provides, governments, fishery management organizations, researchers, and the fishing industry can work together, rebuild fisheries, and protect critical marine habitats. We encourage all of you to take advantage of this new technology and work together to effectively monitor and protect our seas." In particular, the actor said, he hopes it will help remedy the problems that exist with sharks and rays, who are being killed in huge numbers despite being endangered.
Global Fishing Watch will gather data from ships' Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) through satellites and terrestrial receivers. If you log onto their website, you can watch these vessels' behavior based on their movement over time. In addition to the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, which helped fund the project, the partners include Oceana, SkyTruth, Google, and several philanthropic organizations.
Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's Vice President for United States & Global Fishing Watch, told MUNCHIES, "The project began from a shared idea to track and gather information from the individual routes of commercial fishing vessels. Oceana, SkyTruth, and Google decided to create a partnership that combines the strengths of each organization and develop a free, online technology that would allow anyone to monitor commercial fishing activities worldwide, thereby make global fishing activities more transparent."
Savitz adds, "We hope that Global Fishing Watch will revolutionize commercial fishing in the following ways: allow governments to improve enforcement; deter illegal fishing and reduce overfishing; allow fishery managers to track vessels and identify potential unauthorized activity; facilitate transparency and promote honesty in seafood supply chains, thereby reducing seafood fraud and allowing consumers to choose sustainable seafood more effectively; improve the way we set and enforce fishing policies, including more countries requiring and enforcing the use of AIS; protect important ecosystems through a combination of sound policy, effective monitoring and reliable enforcement; and ultimately we hope it will help restore ocean abundance."
Who says actors can't make real change in world problems? Many don't, but some most certainly do.