"Gambia, West Africa, is a sliver of a country dwarfed by the enormity of the African
continent, like a tiny Band-Aid on the side of an elephant." That eye-catching sentence
opens a colorful GPS World article written by Carlo Cesa and Don Trone. The article is
entitled, "A GPS Fish Story: Getting Gambian Waters Under Control."
Gambia is an underdeveloped country, but because it happens to lie along the coast of
Africa, its citizens control - under international law - nutrient-rich waters teeming with
fish. Unfortunately, large numbers of fishermen swarm in from other countries - Korea,
China, Greece, Spain. For years those visiting fishermen have been taking fish illegally
from Gambian waters. By some estimates, foreign vessels catch at least half the fish.
Consequently, new methods for protecting Gambia's territorial waters are desperately
needed. Video and still cameras working in partnership with inexpensive Navstar
receivers and an application-specific GIS database provided a high-technology approach
that can be implemented by relatively unskilled technicians. Specially equipped airplanes
fly over the fishing waters in random time-varying patterns. Then, whenever the flight
crew spots a suspicious-looking vessel, the pilot swoops down as low as 60 feet over the
water so the vessel's tell-tale markings can be imaged with video and still cameras (see
FIGURE 1: In order to monitor illegal fishing near its shores, the government of Gambia
is making use of a Geographic Information System skillfully coupled with an airborne
imaging system driven by inexpensive Navstar receivers. Whenever the government
agents spot a suspicious-looking vessel plying Gambian waters, they use onboard video
and film cameras to record its appearance and its movements across the sea. GPS
position coordinates and timing measurements (accurate to a small fraction of a second)
are automatically imprinted on each frame of the film, thus making legal prosecution
convenient and practical.
Each image is automatically stamped with relevant flight data, GIS database information,
and current GPS-derived longitude and latitude positioning coordinates. This real-time
information clearly establishes the location of the vessel and any illegal activities of the
crew being photographed, thus providing visual proof of clandestine fishing operations.
Gambia is an underdeveloped country populated by only about one million citizens. But
the relatively simple GIS/GPS technology its technicians have perfected, in cooperation
with Western experts, is quickly being duplicated in many other parts of the world.
Norway, Germany, Sierra Leone, Senegal, and New Zealand have all implemented
vaguely similar monitoring systems to guard their shores against illegal fishing fleets.
"Gambia has proved that advanced technology doesn't have to be complex and
expensive," Carlo Cesa and Don Trone conclude. "Their approach can enable smaller
and less economically developed countries to participate in the technology explosions of
the more prosperous nations."