The ocean remains the least observed part of our planet. This deficiency was made obvious by two recent developments in ocean governance: the emerging global movement to create massive marine protected areas (MPAs) (1) and a new commitment by the United Nations (UN) to develop a legally binding treaty to better manage high-seas biodiversity (2).
(From Science/AAAS) — Both policy goals cause us to confront whether it is meaningful to legislate change in ocean areas that we have little capacity to observe transparently. Correspondingly, there has been a surge in interest in the potential of publicly accessible data from automatic ship identification systems (AIS) to fill gaps in ocean observation. We demonstrate how AIS data can be used to empower and propel forward a new era of spatially ambitious marine governance and research. The value of AIS, however, is inextricably linked to the strength of policies by which it is backed.
AIS was conceived as a navigational safety aid to prevent ship collisions. AIS transponders publicly broadcast information about a ship’s identity, position, and course. The recently gained capacity for mass detection of AIS messages by satellite (S-AIS) makes it possible to observe vessel activity anywhere in the world. In coastal regions, AIS data can be viewed near real time for free, and historical AIS data can be publicly purchased from data vendors. Nonprofit organizations are working on making select AIS data products available for free, and global funders are providing developing nations with access to AIS data (3).
The open technologies used by AIS, and its global use, distinguish it from other regionally administered “closed-access” systems [e.g., vessel monitoring systems (VMS)] that do not pool data across jurisdictional regions, transmit data at lower rates, and tightly restrict data access. AIS, however, is not without shortcomings: It is not instantaneous (delays range from minutes to 1 hour), satellite coverage dictates data density, and it doesn’t transmit data on the operation of fishing gear [see table S1 for a full comparison of observation systems (4)]. Hence, AIS is best viewed as a transparent, global complement to existing closed-access systems. Since 2004, the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization (IMO) AIS requirements have fostered compliance for the largest ocean-going vessels and passenger liners, but numerous vessels, notably many fishing vessels, slip through the cracks in existing IMO policy (5).
Read the full article here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6278/1148.full