Virtual Watch Room Monitors the World’s Largest Marine Reserve



This is the latest in an ongoing series on wildlife conservation. Click here for the full series.


Pitcairn Islands_1In March of this year, the United Kingdom officially announced the creation of the largest marine reserve in the world. Covering 834,334 square-kilometers (roughly 3.5 times larger than the U.K. itself), it protects the waters around the Pitcairn Islands, which are home to over 1,200 different species.[1] While marine reserves aren’t a new idea, this one changes the game by using satellite technology to monitor the area in real time.

Proper monitoring of the reserve is done through a partnership with The Pew Charitable Trusts and a U.K.-based company called Satellite Applications Catapult. The project is officially named Project Eyes on the Seas. National Geographic has also joined the partnership to help ensure both protection and research of marine life within the area.


How it works


Pitcairn Islands_2 All of the information collected by the satellite systems is relied back to the Virtual Watch Room. The satellites are used to monitor the marine reserve and provide real-time images of what is happening on the water. When marine reserves are created, they are often left unwatched and become victims of illegal fishing. In the Pitcairn Islands, however, any illegal activity can be easily detected, and immediate action can be taken.

It’s estimated that 1 in 5 fish caught worldwide are taken illegally. With real-time surveillance, staff can monitor each ship that is sailing through the marine reserve and identify whether or not they are legally allowed to be there.

The Virtual Watch Room is also connected to a database that can access information about the boats detected in the water. In seconds, staff monitoring the marine reserve can check to see who owns the boat, what country it’s officially registered in and track all of its movements, including its speed. This helps to determine if the boat is there illegally.

All boats are supposed to be equipped with transponders that broadcast their exact locations. These are often used in emergency situations. The satellites used for this project can easily track these transponders. However, boats that are captained by people with ulterior motives often disable the transponders. In this case, the satellites can tap into radar data, which cannot be tampered with.


Expanding innovations


Pitcairn Islands_3According to Pew Charitable, the project is innovative because the technology being utilized “can synthesize and analyze multiple layers of data in near real time to monitor and identify suspicious vessels around the globe.”[2] Traditional means of patrolling bodies of water are by boat or aircraft. Boats are slow, and can easily be attacked by people who don’t want to get caught. While aircraft can cover large areas, they don’t allow for detailed surveillance because they observe from far-off distances.

Along with illegal fishing, illegal mining is also being monitored. The only legal action within the marine reserve are traditional fishing methods carried out by locals.

The operating room for Project Eyes on the Seas is based in Oxfordshire, where Satellite Applications Catapult has their headquarters. All real-time images, as well as alerts, are relied back to staff there. Project Eyes on the Seas also observes waters off the coast of Easter Island and Palau. Ideally, it will continue to expand in the coming years, and partner with various organizations and governments who wish to monitor marine reserves more vigorously.

You can follow the project on Facebook.








Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth DiCesare

Elizabeth is a writer currently based in Kitchener-Waterloo.

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