Satellite technology to underpin establishment of world’s largest fully protected marine reserve

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The Satellite Applications Catapult is looking forward to the prospect of playing a crucial part in protecting the newly-created world’s largest fully protected marine reserve – around the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific Ocean – as unveiled by Chancellor George Osborne in his 2015 Budget yesterday.

The Government’s announcement to designate the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve is a landmark achievement for the ocean, with incredible potential for satellite technology. It follows the launch in January 2015 of the Virtual Watch Room – ground-breaking near real-time technology created by the Catapult and The Pew Charitable Trusts to help authorities monitor, detect and respond to illegal fishing activity across the world’s oceans.

The Pitcairn Islands are an overseas territory of the UK and their reserve of 322,138 square miles is home to more than 1,249 species of marine mammals, seabirds and fish. Through the live satellite monitoring system, called Project Eyes on the Seas, marine authorities will use multiple sources of satellite tracking data, analysing it and linking it to information about a ship’s ownership, history and country of registration, providing a dossier of up-to-the-minute data that can alert officials to suspicious vessel movements.

This is the first time any government has combined the creation of a marine reserve with the most up-to-date technology for surveillance and enforcement of a protected area. It is another significant milestone in Pew’s long-term effort to dramatically reduce illegal or ‘pirate’ fishing around the world, valued at $23.5bn annually. Currently, only about one per cent of the world’s ocean is fully protected.

Stuart Martin, CEO of the Satellite Applications Catapult, said: “The Government’s commitment to the Pitcairn Islands Marine Reserve is a landmark for marine protection, as well as for the satellite technology sector. It clearly demonstrates the UK’s commitment to safeguarding some of the planet’s last remaining near-pristine marine habitats, allowing marine biologists to build a refuge of untouched ocean to protect and conserve a wealth of marine life.

“It reaffirms the vital role that satellites and their associated data and applications are having in a wide number of areas around the globe, including science, agriculture, security, and communications.”