Illegal fishing is a major threat to the world's marine protected areas.

ShotSpotter is gunshot detection technology that uses acoustic sensors, placed strategically in high-crime areas, to alert law enforcement in realtime to the location of gunshots. Although ShotSpotter was developed to detect gunshots in cities, the company has recently launched two environmental initiatives to apply the technology to fighting rhino poaching and blast fishing.

Blast fishing is the practice of bombing reefs, for example with grenades or dynamite, to kill a large number of fish at once. It is a widespread issue in Southeast Asia, Central America, and East Africa. While this method is more efficient at killing large numbers of fish than netting or spearing, it causes severe damage to the underlying reefs. This can reduce a healthy reef to a barren wasteland that may take decades to recover, if ever.

The short-sighted practice threatens tourism industries, which are often centered around scuba diving in tropical reefs, and is destructive to local fisher livelihoods. These blasts can remove hundreds of pounds of fish from an area during just a week-long fishing trip, and destroy the habitat that would allow fish stocks to recover. The bombs are indiscriminate, killing fish that haven’t yet reached sexual maturity as well as species like turtles that are not normally caught. Once the reef is destroyed, fishermen must look for alternative livelihoods or travel further for fish.

In the vast expanse of the ocean, this is a difficult crime to stop. Very little of the sound of the blast is transmitted above water; most is trapped below, making blast fishing difficult to detect in the first place. Even when law enforcement is aware that blast fishing has occurred, they may not be able to pinpoint the location. That makes it very difficult to apprehend the criminals, and even when they are arrested, it is challenging to prove in court that they are guilty. Convictions are rare.

Consequently, the organization Stop Fish Bombing has adapted ShotSpotter to combat blast fishing in Sabah, Malaysia. With ShotSpotter, underwater sensors (hydrophones) can detect a blast and triangulate its location to within 20-50m, sending an alert to law enforcement in seconds. Marine rangers can then interdict the criminals, and they have the acoustic evidence to convict them. With ShotSpotter, law enforcement in tropical countries can better protect the reefs that attract millions of tourists each year and provide US$172-375 billion annually in goods and services worldwide.

In Kruger National Park, South Africa, ShotSpotter is being deployed to combat rhino poaching. Unfortunately, rhino poaching often goes undetected until a carcass is found days or weeks later. ShotSpotter, on the other hand, can alert rangers to a gunshot within 60 seconds, directing them to the exact location. Their response is fast and accurate, which increases the chances of arresting poachers and acts as a deterrent to future crime. ShotSpotter also plans to integrate its technology with drones, which will immediately dispatch to the crime scene and provide rangers with a live video feed that can help them track poachers.

ShotSpotter can help protect rhinos like these ones in Kruger. Photo courtesy Jen Guyton.