Behind the scenes of Marine Sanctuary Enforcement in Palau

The effort to enforce Palau’s National Marine Sanctuary is stepping up a notch.

The worlds oceans are overfished to the point of species extinction and ecosystem collapse. It becomes increasingly important to prioritize sanctuaries and no take zones. Those that want to fish will do so illegally regardless of the laws in place. The Republic of Palau has continued to increase it’s capacity for Policing it’s EEZ and National Marine Sanctuary.

My Role

In my capacity as a media producer I can help document this effort to raise awareness.

In addition the photos I take of suspected illegal vessels can be used in court  along with the GPS coordinates to convict illegal fishing boats.

Now with the latest surveillance operation concluded I thought I would share some photos of the aerial component.

The Mission

Flying with Pacific Mission Aviation in a Beech Queen Air Excalibur, daily sorties go out and conduct searches over vast tracts of ocean within Palau’s EEZ. The patrol boats are in the area but cannot cover such a huge area in the same time.

The hatch in the tail of the aircraft allows an observer to take high resolution photos of suspected illegal fishing boats

Each flight lasts about 8-9 hours and does an expanding square pattern out from a central point determined by visibility and altitude. Alternatively a parallel search pattern is employed  along the edge of the EEZ.

All eyes are pealed as we search
Aerial observation from 2000ft

My job apart from being an observer is to provide documentary evidence so we employed GoPros attached to key parts of the aircraft.

See some examples of footage from that here

Part of this media production is for promotion. Part of the remit was to include the aircraft in a shot with 3 patrol boats during a joint exercise. I proposed that we have a GoPro attached to the wing looking back at the aircraft and then have the plane fly just in front of the boats in formation.

We trialled it first with just the housings attached and found the sticky mounts were not strong enough when the aircraft descended in a dive……about 150Knots. The result…we lost both the housings. So we took to bolting the directly to the aircraft. This time around they survived and did so with minimal vibration and rolling shutter issues. We are continuing to develop this system to improve imagery with every sortie.

The above video shows how precisely the pilot maneuvered the plane for the promotional media. We set up a WiFi link to an iPad inside the plane so the pilot could see in real time the view from the camera. At one point the plane was close to 70 ft above the water doing over 100mph banking at 45 degrees…..quite a rush.

After the promotional flight, the three ships made way to different parts of the EEZ. Two apprehended illegal fishing boats loaded with illegally caught fish found and boarded.