Other Scientists

Using Drones for IUU Surveillance and Marine Megafauna Monitoring in MPAs

Principal Investigators
PhD Student
Other Scientist

Project Overview

Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing (IUU) is the biggest threat facing the Chagos Archipelago Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Fleets of Indian and Sri Lankan fishers cross half of the Indian Ocean in order to poach commercially valuable sharks and fish living on Chagos Archipelago’s shallow reefs. Sharks are one of the world’s most endangered group of marine animals and are threatened by fishers targeting them for their fins which are sold to a predominantly Southeast Asian market. Although all body parts can be consumed or used for a wide variety of purposes, the finless sharks are often thrown back into the ocean, condemned to a slow death.

We are, to our knowledge, the first team to develop a fixed-wing, waterproofed and water-landing drone specifically for applications in illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishery surveillance and marine megafauna monitoring. Governance issues in marine protected areas are common and being able to manage and monitor large expanses of water is challenging. Dr. Tom Letessier is the principal investigator on the project assisted by Melissa Schiele.

Using megafauna detections, we will explore which models detect a difference in megafauna abundance with varying proximity to populated, high use MPA areas. We will develop a flight protocol for MPA patrol rangers to follow, to gather usable data and images on illegal fishers, which will help build a baseline of activities and potentially act as evidence in court.

This project takes a multidisciplinary approach to this issue at the interface of real-world application and academia.

Melissa Schiele

Key Facts

17 billion $
average worth of illegal fishing globally
19 million
average tonnes of fish illegally caught worldwide
100 million
sharks caught annually



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