Eyes in the sky may curb foreign poachers from raiding the Caribbean nation’s overfished coral reefs.
The endangered coral reefs around Jamaica are getting some new protection from eyes in the sky: unmanned aerial vehicles, aka drones that will monitor the island’s marine territories for illegal fishing.
After completing two test flights around the Pedro Cays last week, two drones are ready to take flight, say government officials, to alert marine law enforcement of poaching activities at sea.
“These UAVs will be fitted with cameras and be deployed as necessary, and will have the capacity to transmit data back to base which will assist in detecting and deterring poachers,” said the late Roger Clarke, Jamaica’s then minister of agriculture and fisheries, when he announced the drone-mission plans in a budget meeting last year.
Years of overfishing and ship traffic have degraded the Caribbean’s coral reef systems, which are important nurseries for countless fish species and other marine organisms.
According to Jamaican officials, the island nation’s fishing territories are some of the most overfished in the Caribbean and Latin America.
With Clarke’s vision coming to fruition, officials hope that the waters and coral reef systems around Jamaica will cease to be hot spots for illegal fishing. Government officials estimate the country’s fishing fleet loses about $19 million in fish and lobster earnings to foreign poachers in Jamaican waters every year.
Thousands of Jamaicans count on fishing for their livelihood.
Drones have become a hot trend in the fight to end illegal fishing. Last year, a drone deployed by the commando team featured on The Operatives, a program on the cable channel Pivot TV, caught sight of a vessel illegally trawling in a Costa Rican marine sanctuary. The team turned the evidence over to Costa Rica authorities. (Participant Media is the parent company of Pivot TV and TakePart.)
More recently, Mexico began testing unmanned drones in January. It plans to use a three-drone patrol to curb illegal gill-net fishing in the Gulf of California, one factor pushing the critically endangered vaquita—the world’s smallest dolphin—to the brink of extinction.
“We are considering the use of advanced technology, because drones would allow us to have permanent aerial patrols in the area and be able to react much more efficiently and quickly,” Alejandro del Mazo of Mexico’s environmental protection agency told The New York Times.