Watch CNBC’s Oceans of Crime, featuring Bjorn Bergman

In case you missed it, you can catch the CNBC documentary Oceans of Crime, about human trafficking and other illegal practices that go into providing the world’s seafood here. SkyTruth ocean analyst Bjorn Bergman is featured in the final 20 minutes of this riveting investigative piece. (If you are having trouble viewing the entire episode, there’s a shorter clip of Bjorn and SkyTruth here.)

Read more about Bjorn’s work that lead to this investigation in these blog posts:

Unusual Vessel Behavior in the MH370 Search Area

Update on Fishing Fleet at MH370 Search Site

[Updated] Fishing Fleet at MH370 Search Site May Have Moved North

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry looks on as Paul Woods, SkyTruth CTO, demonstrates the Global Fishing Watch interface. Credit: Franz Mahr, Oceana

Read our Annual Report for an Overview of Our Environmental Impact

Together with partners from around the world, SkyTruth uses the view from space to motivate people to protect the environment. SkyTruth is committed to transparency in all things. In the spirit of that, we wanted to share our annual report with you which covers the impact we’ve been able to have as a watchdog, innovator, and motivator for environmental good.

PA FrackFinder Screenshot

Pennsylvania FrackFinder Data Update

We’re excited to announce the 2015 update to our Pennsylvania FrackFinder data set! Using the USDA’s most recent high-resolution aerial imagery for Pennsylvania, we’ve updated our maps of the state’s drilling sites and wastewater impoundments. Our revised maps show Pennsylvania’s drilling sites and wastewater impoundments as of Fall 2015.

Our previous Pennsylvania FrackFinder project identified the location of active well pads in imagery from 2005, 2008, 2010 and 2013. We are pleased to add the 2015 update to this already rich data set.

The goal of our FrackFinder projects has always been to fill the gaps in publicly available information related to where fracking operations in the Marcellus and Utica Shale were taking place. Regrettably, there are often discrepancies between what’s on paper and what’s on the landscape. Permits for individual oil and gas wells are relatively accessible, but the permits are just approvals to drill: they don’t say if a site is active, when drilling and fracking began or ended, or if development of the drill site ever happened at all.

We compared permit locations against high-resolution aerial imagery from the USDA’s 2015 National Agricultural Inventory Program (NAIP) to determine whether drilling permits issued since the close of our last Pennsylvania FrackFinder project in 2013 were active. There were more than 4,500 drilling permits issued in Pennsylvania during our study period (May 1, 2012,  to September 30, 2015), many of them located quite close together. Ultimately, we ended up with roughly 2,000 unique ‘clusters’ of drilling permits to investigate and map.

We look forward to seeing how the public will use these revised data sets. We hope researchers, NGOs and community advocates can use these unique data sets to gain a better understanding of the impact of fracking on Pennsylvania’s environment and public health.

Harvey Spill Tracker

New Citizen Pollution Reporting Tool, Now Available for Hurricanes

We’ve launched the SkyTruth Spill Tracker, a map-based tool to allow citizens on the ground in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean to quickly report oil and hazardous waste spills and other pollution incidents as a result of the storms.  

You can access the Tracker via mobile or desktop browsers at SkyTruthSpillTracker.org, or via the Ushahidi mobile app

Pollution Spill Tracker

Submit your report at SkyTruthSpillTracker.org

We operated a similar tool, the Gulf Oil Spill Tracker, during and after the BP oil spill in the Gulf in 2010.  We also helped the Louisiana Bucket Brigade launch their iWitness Pollution Map. If you’re reporting pollution in Louisiana, you might prefer to use the iWitness map.

How to Submit a Report

Click the + symbol in the upper left corner of the map to report oil, chemical or hazardous waste spills. Follow the prompts to enter a brief description of what you see. If you are able, please upload a photo or video showing the incident and hit submit.

A technology-driven non-profit with a mission to protect the environment by making more of it visible, SkyTruth launched this reporting tool to enable citizens to report environmental pollution as a result of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. Read more about related work after the BP oil spill, the Taylor Energy oil spill, and Hurricane Katrina.

We believe if people can easily communicate their needs, organizations and governments can more effectively respond. Federal and state authorities will be able to download the reports in a standard *.csv format, readable by any spreadsheet or database software.

Contact Us

With your help, the SkyTruthSpillTracker should prove to be a useful resource for aiding the response and recovery efforts throughout the U.S. and the Caribbean. We encourage everyone impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to use the tracker. We are also interested in coordinating with other groups organizing similar pollution reporting efforts on the ground. Please email suggestions to us at info@skytruth.org.

 

 

Reefer Fined $5.9 Million for Endangered Catch in Galapagos Recently Rendezvoused with Chinese Longliners

The reefer Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 is intercepted by the Ecuadorian Navy on August 13, 2017. Image accessed at: http://www.armada.mil.ec/armada-del-ecuador-captura-buque-pesquero-chino-en-reserva-marina-de-galapagos/

Today the government of Ecuador took a strong environmental stance with its sentence for the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, a Chinese refrigerated cargo ship (reefer) caught in the Galapagos with the remains of more than 6,000 sharks, including endangered hammerheads. Catching or transporting sharks within the Galapagos Reserve is illegal. The incident set off widespread protests in the Galapagos and in the cities of Quito and Guayaquil. The large fine, coupled with a prison sentence of four years for the vessel’s captain shows the determination of Ecuadorians to defend this unique marine environment.

Along with our partners at Global Fishing Watch, we have taken a detailed look at the past activity of this vessel and found the reefer rendezvoused with a fleet of Chinese longliners in the week just before the vessel’s detention.  

Thousands of sharks were found in the hold of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. Image accessed at National Geographic: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/08/wildlife-watch-galapagos-illegal-shark-fishing/

According to news reports, a chance sighting of a Chinese cargo vessel within the Galapagos Marine Reserve on Saturday, August 12th, led to a chase and the eventual detention of the vessel by the Ecuadorean Navy the following day. During the hearings, two vessels were named as providing the catch, reported as the Taiwanese vessels Hai Fang 301 and Hai Fang 302. The catch transshipment reportedly occurred between August 5th and 7th more than a thousand miles west of the Galapagos.

Our AIS tracking data does confirm vessel rendezvous on the dates reported but not with the vessels named. The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 is seen departing Fuzhou on the Chinese coast on July 7th and then transiting directly across the Pacific toward Ecuador. On August 5th at a remote location in the Eastern Pacific 1700 miles west of the Galapagos, the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 stopped and spent the next three days moving at a slow speed.

Rendezvous between the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 (black) and four Chinese longliners, Fu Yuan Yu 7866 (blue), Fu Yuan Yu 7861 (green), Fu Yuan Yu 7865 (purple), and Fu Yuan Yu 7862 (yellow). The longliners can be seen to each rendezvous with the reeefer for about 12 hours between August 5th and August 7th, 2017. (image by Global Fishing Watch, August , 2017)

Checking for vessels in the vicinity, I found a fleet of four Chinese longliners moving alongside the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 in very close proximity, the Fu Yuan Yu 7866, 7861, 7865, and 7862. No vessels identifying as Hai Fang (more likely Hai Feng) are seen in the vicinity. With distances of only 30 meters between the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 and the Fu Yuan Yu longliners, it appears the longliners were tied up to the cargo vessel with each longliner spending about 12 hours attached to the reefers. These lengthy rendezvous at sea suggest a substantial transfer of cargo was possible.

 

Vessel

IMO

Callsign

MMSI

Fu Yuan Yu 7866 9828716 BVYT7 412440549
Fu Yuan Yu 7861 9828663 BVYX7 412440551
Fu Yuan Yu 7865 9828704 BVYS7 412440558
Fu Yuan Yu 7862 9828675 BVYY7 412440552

Details of rendezvous between the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 and the four Fu Yuan Yu longliners. Click on the listed vessel names above for the individual tracks. (image by Global Fishing Watch, August , 2017)

The four Fu Yuan Yu longliners were fishing on the high seas in the Eastern Pacific for the three months prior to rendezvousing with the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. Click to view vessel tracks in Global Fishing Watch.

The practice of at sea transshipment of catch between fishing vessels and refrigerated cargo ships is common but can result in the mixing of fish caught legally and illegally. Transshipment also enables vessel operators to keep their crew at sea for many months on end where they may face abusive labor conditions or even slavery. Transshipments on the high seas are regulated by Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RFMO’s).

The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 can be seen rendezvousing with the Chinese longline vessels within the area of the eastern Pacific regulated by the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC). While the four Chinese longliners are currently authorized to fish by the IATTC, a recent publication of a list of carrier vessels authorized by the IATTC does not include the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999.

Following the track of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, the vessel reached the edge of the Galapagos EEZ on August 12th. At this point, the track of the vessel is broken up by some AIS transmission errors resulting in several extended periods where no location for the vessel came through. While this seemed suspicious, it was possible to check the length of these gaps in the vessel’s track and determine the vessel maintained an average speed of around 10 knots during the hours when the vessel was not trackable. This 10-knot speed matches the vessel’s normal transit speed, and for this reason, it seems unlikely that the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 could have stopped to transship with any local vessels in the vicinity of the Galapagos.

The Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999 entered the Galapagos EEZ area on August 12th. Several long gaps occur due to faulty AIS transsmision but our analysis shows that the vessel likely maintained a normal transit speed during these gaps. The vessel was then intercepted on the 13th. To the southeast more than one hundred Chinese squid vessels cluster near the EEZ boundary. This fleet has moved north from typical fishing grounds at the edge of Peru’s EEZ.

Checking the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999’s track over the past few years shows the vessel was operating in a few locations where suspicious or unregulated fishing activity has been documented. These locations include the northwest Indian Ocean with an unregulated squid fleet through 2016 as documented in a report by Fish-i Africa and East Timor where Chinese vessels expelled from Indonesia have relocated.

Given the history of the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999, we are encouraged to see the vessel held accountable for its crimes by the Ecuadorian authorities. Our analysis shows four Fu Yuan Yu longliners are likely the source of the catch confiscated from the Fu Yuan Yu Leng 999. We hope these vessels will also be sanctioned for illegally transferring catch and regulators will take further action to monitor and restrict transshipment at-sea.

Read more details on this story on the blog of our partner Global Fishing Watch.

 

 

Summer Research Focus

It’s an exciting time around the office. We finalized our summer research program and added a couple of new faces—interns Brian Wong from Duke University and Flynn Robinson from West Virginia University—to help us expand our skill set and cover more ground.

Brian is helping us improve our mountaintop removal (MTR) mining work. We’ve already mapped the footprint of MTR in 74 counties in Kentucky, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia. Our analysis used 30-meter resolution images from the Landsat satellite, and it computed mining footprints on an annual basis. But thanks to an exciting partnership with Planet, we now have access to satellite imagery collected daily with a resolution less than 5-meters. This is a game-changer. This new imagery will let us calculate more accurate and timely impacts of MTR in the Appalachians, and we’re excited to have Brian leading this work!

Flynn is helping us improve our natural gas flaring work. We’ve already mapped the distribution of natural gas flaring across the globe. But the data set that we’ve developed isn’t able to account for clouds or other natural “noise” that can throw off the sensor and create false detections. Yet. But we’re excited to have Flynn leading the effort to validate our flaring data set using the newly available imagery from Planet! We’ll be able to identify flaring events with much greater confidence and if everything goes to plan, send out ‘Flaring Alerts’ so that people can know when a new well is coming online near them.

We’re also very fortunate to have Brady Burker stay with us through the summer. Brady will also be helping us to improve our MTR work. He’ll be adapting the approach that we developed in the Appalachians to map the impact of coal mining in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Brady’s work will also help deepen our understanding of mining reclamation. Using the data that he creates, we’ll be evaluating the effectiveness of reclamation – looking at whether the environment can return to its previous level of ecological health and productivity. As far as we know, our research will be the first to use a remote-sensing approach to measure reclamation effectiveness, and we’re excited that Brady will be leading this effort!   

Monitoring for offshore oil spills and tracking the impact of hydraulic fracturing will round out our research priorities this summer. We’re excited about the opportunities to create and share these powerful data sets, apply them to real-world conservation problems, and generate public and policy engagement that can make meaningful change. Thanks for staying around, Brady, and welcome to SkyTruth, Brian and Flynn!

-Ry Covington, PhD

Big Data Brings Big Transparency to Indonesia’s Fisheries

Indonesia is leading the way towards a new era of transparency in fisheries management by making its Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) data available to Global Fishing Watch (GFW). This is an unprecedented move.

Traditionally, VMS data is kept secret and used only by government agencies like Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs (KKP) and affiliated enforcement agencies. The head of the KKP, Susi Pudjiastuti, referred to as “Minister Susi” by nearly everyone, is a champion of sustainable fishing in Indonesian waters, and has taken major steps to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Her policy of publicly blowing up and sinking (empty) vessels caught fishing illegally in Indonesian waters has been wildly popular. Now that Minister Susi has partnered with GFW, anyone with a browser and internet access will be able to see Indonesia’s VMS data on the GFW map, beginning in June.

People photographing an illegal fishing vessel being intentionally sunk by Minister Susi at Morela village on Ambon Island, April 1, 2017. Antara Foto/Izaac Mulyawan/via REUTERS

Data Scientist Aaron Roan is taking the lead at SkyTruth to integrate Indonesia’s VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. A former Googler, Aaron joined the SkyTruth team officially in January, but he has been involved in the GFW project for a while, on loan from Google as a volunteer. Like many SkyTruthers, Aaron works remotely, usually from San Francisco. However, this project means that lately he’s traveling regularly to Indonesia.

SkyTruthers Aaron Roan (left) and Paul Woods sightseeing in Jakarta during The Economist World Ocean Summit 2017.

Aaron is in charge of integrating VMS data into Global Fishing Watch. Naturally, there have been some interesting challenges and adventures along the way, starting with some pretty big differences between AIS data, which GFW is currently using, and VMS data.

AIS is a well-established and standardized open system developed to keep ships from running into each other, while VMS systems are custom-created specifically to allow government fishing agencies to privately monitor and communicate with vessels. Ships using AIS are essentially just chirping their locations to the world (“I’m here, I’m here!”) using public radio airwaves. VMS systems are more like text-messaging systems on phones, sending and receiving encrypted, privacy-protected information.

Vessel congestion is often an issue for AIS: the satellites that collect AIS broadcasts from vessels have a circular “footprint” 3,000 miles wide (more than the width of the United States) and the system can only receive an AIS ping once every 27 milliseconds, or 2,250 per minute. If there is a lot of vessel traffic in one location, smaller vessels using the weaker class B AIS systems get throttled in preference to larger class A vessels. This means that it’s possible for a vessel to be chirping its location frequently, but when there are a lot of ships in the area, pings may only be infrequently received.

VMS systems can handle a lot more signals than AIS, and better manage problems like colliding messages from multiple ships. However, the cost per message is relatively expensive, so government agencies often dial the systems back to receive fewer messages from ships in a given time period. According to Aaron, if Aesop were still around, he would call VMS the tortoise, and AIS the hare.

Despite these differences, initial integration test results have been positive, with the VMS data adding a tremendous amount of new data to GFW. Below, you can see the difference between Global Fishing Watch with and without the VMS data. AIS data is shown in green and the new Indonesian VMS data in white:

You can see it here in full-screen mode:

We are lucky to have Imam Prakoso, our “on-the-ground” guy in Indonesia, working on this project. With his engineering background, he provides support to the analysis and helps out with language translation. He’s been pivotal in terms of being able to meet regularly with KKP staff and in navigating the ministry’s organizational structure.

Brian Sullivan, Paul Woods, Imam Prakoso and Aaron in Jakarta

Chris Wilcox‘s team at CSIRO, currently consulting with the KKP, has been hugely helpful as well. With our data and algorithms, and his analytical acumen, we believe we’re in a strong position to help out multiple teams within the KKP.

None of this would have been possible without Minister Susi’s innovative approach to fighting IUU fishing, and the generous financial support of the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and Walton Family Foundation.

Transparency in commercial fishing benefits everyone (with the possible exception of those engaging in illegal activities). More accurate data in commercial fishing will allow for better regulation, management, and sustainability of an important food and job source in the future. We hope that other governments will follow Minister Susi’s bold initiative and make their own fishing data transparent. With Aaron on the team now, we’re ready to help!