Harbored between the Pacific and Indian Oceans lies Indonesia. Due to its unique geographic position, it is highly sought after territory among fishermen. As a result, thousands of illegal fishing vessels have been found in the area. In the vast region, which includes more than 17,000 islands, it can be difficult to enforce compliance with local regulations that protect the available resources.
Traditional radar can be ineffective due to the terrain, but that has not stopped Indonesia's Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti from finding a solution. Google has stepped in to partner with Indonesia to help detect boats operating outside of permitted areas. Instead of ground-based detection methods, Google is using its satellites and software capabilities to hunt for fishing boats.
Currently, the fishing industry accounts for 2.6 percent of Indonesia's gross domestic product. Although still a small percentage, this amount has grown by over 40 percent since 2014.
Illegal fishing is not just a local problem for Indonesia. There is a global supply chain in place for pirates that use Indonesian businesses to fish in permitted areas, but then immediately offload their goods to waiting ships just outside legal territory. This is where Google is really able to help by tracking and publicly displaying the locations of ships in the region.
Google co-founded Global Fishing Watch in 2016 in partnership with Oceana and SkyTruth. The service now displays boat locations in Indonesian waters for all to see. Having such data available makes is significantly easier to track the underground supply chains that are taking away valuable resources from the region.
Through the help of Google and the fishing watch platform, more than 5,000 boats have been located that were previously invisible to local detection systems. Foreign fishing in Indonesia has dropped more than 90 percent in the past several years.
Once vessels can be seized by the Indonesian Navy, they are sunken to prevent any further use. Sinking boats can help create reef environments friendly to local species to regrow populations.
Google has the capabilities to fund a wide variety of projects. Not all of them turn out to be successful, but in this case, there is a happy ending for most involved.