A PHd student at the University of British Columbia, Canada, made a massive discovery using the technology giant’s program, Google Earth. Dalal Al-Abdulrazzak, a Kuwaiti doctorial student at the university’s Fisheries Center, revealed the illegal activity she spotted when she was using Google Earth to look at her parent’s house in the Middle East.
What Al-Abdulrazzak would uncover is that the images used by Google Earth exposed illegal fishing traps, called weirs, in the water of the Persian Gulf. Original reports were that the total fish taken from this area only amounted to 1%. Al-Abdulrazzak would later up this number to nearly 10%, or 6 times the amount of catch that was originally reported.
The traps are made up from a series of walls built in shallow waters. The fish will swim into these walls at high tide, and then instinctively turn back toward deeper seas. Instead of reaching deeper waters, the fish become stuck in the walled enclosure. At low tide, fishermen return to their weir trap and collect their bountiful catch.
Weir traps have been used in the Persian Gulf for the last 3000-years. They are extremely hard on fish numbers as the fish are severely disadvantaged by these traps. Young fish often get caught in them as they prefer to swim in shallower waters, where the traps are located. These young fish with never get their chance to spawn and add to fish populations.
Al-Abdulrazzak fears that fisherman see this as a chance to make quick cash and weir fishing will have dire consequences for future fisheries stock. Fisheries are second to oil, as the most important resource in the Persian Gulf region.
Google Earth maps revealed this illegal activity, when Al-Abdulrazzak used images from 2005. The older photos were used because they contained the best shots of the Persian Gulf at low tide. Al-Abdulrazzak’s final count would sit at 1,656-weir traps. Later, she would add nearly 250 more to her count, to compensate for some gaps and lower resolution pictures of the area studied.
Once Al-Abdulrazzak had her trap count, she would be able to estimate that the local Gulf fisherman could be catching nearly 34,000 metric tonnes of fish every year. A figure that was originally reported to be a total of 5,908 tonnes for all the six Gulf Nations studied.
Al-Abdulrazzak’s research is for a larger project being led by the university. Marine biologist, Daniel Pauly, will use the young doctorial student’s new estimates to build more accurate report of the fisheries catch on a global scale. Pauly said that figures are very often underestimated in fishing reports. The work is being used for ocean governance with the United Nations in New York.
What Al-Abdulrazzak really discovered is that Google Earth is an easy-to-use and inexpensive method to get a more realistic report. In her interview, she said that all it takes is a little patience and access to the internet for people to conduct their count.
By Brent Matsalla