Fisheries students catch a glimpse of the future with innovation webinar

Environmental enthusiasts across the Philippines were treated to a glimpse of the future this week, as some of the world’s leading fisheries technology innovations were featured in an online webinar. Hosted by the Philippine Government’s Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), the two-hour webinar featured over 20 accessible case studies of emerging technological innovations across areas such as coral reef protection, precision aquaculture and countering illegal fishing.

Over 3,000 viewers on Zoom and Facebook Live watched the webinar, which was part of an ambitious BFAR e‑learning series called ‘TAHARAL’ (‘home learning’) that aims to inspire new approaches within fisheries management in the Philippines.

Autonomous and robotic systems featured included an underwater robot that – without any human intervention – identifies and removes starfish that seriously threaten coral growth. Artificial Intelligence systems highlighted included a high-powered fish farm camera that was able to identify potential outbreaks of hugely harmful lice in real-time.

The enormous potential of space-based capabilities featured heavily across the webinar’s case study groups. For example, it was shown how satellites have been used to assess coastal seabed features in order to inform decisions on where to place new aquaculture sites. Another project provided fishermen with low-cost access to satellite communications to ensure they can reach emergency services when in distress – a crucial service when it is estimated that globally over 30,000 fishermen die at work each year.

TAHARAL participants were finally provided with a detailed overview of the presenters’ Verumar project, which uses complex satellite data sets, machine learning and expert human analysis to help identify and counter illegal fishing from space. The project’s engagement with BFAR in the Philippines is supported by a UK Government initiative – the International Partnership Programme (IPP) – led by the UK Space Agency. It enables detailed analysis of potential threats in Philippine waters. For example, cross-referring satellite imagery with fishing vessel transponder data can identify vessels who go ‘dark’ – they turn off their vessels identification systems, but can still be seen from space. Such new information sources are an important new tool within sustainable fisheries management.

Liz Cox, Head of International Relations for IPP at the UK Space Agency, who was also one of the webinar’s presenters, said: “We are currently undergoing a real revolution in space capabilities that promises to positively transform many aspects of our life, not least within the environmental sector. It was very enjoyable to share knowledge with viewers in the Philippines about the technical aspects of how space-enabled Earth Observation can help protect our oceans. Moreover, it was important to share the message about the value of satellite-based solutions – not only for environmental conservation and to help counter illegal fishing, but also the economic and societal benefits they deliver to people on the ground.”

Verumar Programme Director Lee Hardy commented: “It was a real honour to contribute to BFAR’s ambitious programme of e‑learning. As well as explaining what we are looking to achieve in partnership with our partners in the Philippines within the Verumar programme, we hope the broad range of exciting fisheries innovations we highlighted underlined that it is a really creative and vibrant sector. Part of our mission is to inspire the next generation of marine enthusiasts and the pull of technology can only help with that. We thank BFAR for allowing us to work with them on this mission and to the thousands of TAHARAL students who welcomed us into their homes.”