Crewless marine vessels known as “Bluebottles” have entered the waters of the Two Rocks and Jurien Marine Parks to prevent illicit fishing in Australian marine parks.
Parks Australia is investigating the efficacy of two uncrewed surface vessels during a 30-day experiment in January and February to record 24/7 real-time imagery of activities in the two maritime parks off the Western Australian coast, Minister Tanya Plibersek announced.
“Whilst most fishers do the right thing and stay in legal fishing zones, we aren’t afraid to crack down on those doing the wrong thing by fishing in the ‘no take’ areas. Fishing is not allowed in the National Park Zones of Australian Marine Parks. The new Bluebottle vessel technology will enable large marine areas to be monitored over longer periods of time,” Minister Plibersek said.
Minister Plibersek stated that the new Bluebottle vessel technology would allow longer-term monitoring of broad oceanic areas.
“We’re testing the Bluebottles as a cost-effective addition to the current monitoring and surveillance tools we’re using. They join drones and sound traps as the latest technology we’re testing,” Minister Plibersek added.
The project will put the technology to the test to see if it can be used to monitor and prevent unlawful fishing in the future.
The 22-foot solar, wind, and wave-powered Bluebottles were built by Australian company Ocius and launched from Western Australia’s Ocean Reef Boat Harbour. The watercraft, which resemble miniature yachts, have 360-degree day/night infrared cameras, radar, and satellite communications. They can monitor certain areas automatically for months at a time.
Parks Australia will be able to monitor marine vessel activity across these two major maritime parks, which were previously difficult and costly to police, thanks to the revolutionary Bluebottle technology.
According to the Australian Government, the new surveillance systems aid in protecting maritime park plants and animals, including Western Rock Lobsters.
The yearly movement of the Western rock lobster from the coast to deeper waters is known as the “whites run,” and it attracts thousands of licenced cray fishermen. Some locations in Marine Parks have been declared as “no-take zones” to ensure the species’ survival.
“No-take zones are vital to protect threatened species, and also mean that surrounding areas see increases in fish stocks,” Minister Plibersek added.
Stopping illegal fishing safeguards both the species and legal fishers who do the right thing and rely on lobsters for a living, the Federal Government said.
Two underwater recorders known as sound traps were set at Two Rocks Marine Park last year during last year’s Western Rock Lobster migratory event to give information on vessel activities in the park.
Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras are also being trialled to monitor marine vessel activities from the air in no-fishing zones of Australian Marine Parks.
“Marine National Parks are such special places. We need to protect the animals and plants that live there so future generations can see them in the wild,” Minister Plibersek said.
In the previous fiscal year, 15 unlawful recreational fishing incidents were identified at Two Rocks Marine Park. The government issued penalty violation notifications totalling $687 for each incidence, in addition to formal warnings.