Marine vessel tracking system can help save wildlife

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New York, Feb 14 (IANS) A maritime vessel communication and navigational safety system may be effective not only in protecting people but also wildlife such as whales, walruses, and other wildlife species as well.

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) — adopted by the International Maritime Organisation in 2000 for use in collision avoidance, coastal surveillance, and traffic management — effectively accomplishes navigational safety goals, and provides pre-emptive maritime safety benefits, the researchers said.

“AIS now provides a rich source of data to understand vessel traffic across the entire globe – even in the most remote areas of the open ocean,” said Martin Robards from Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

“This system also has the potential to help us minimise the negative effects of shipping on wildlife,” Robards noted.

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Understanding vessel traffic in relation to marine conservation is critical, particularly given that maritime transport accounts for approximately 90 percent of all world trade.

AIS works by continuously transmitting messages containing details such as vessel identification, position, heading and other data to networks of receivers that track the information.

While little bigger than a bread box, these receivers can process up to four million messages a day and track up to 130,000 vessels at one time.

Though not designed as a conservation tool, the system data enables users to understand, and subsequently to design tools that help mitigate the impacts of maritime traffic on the marine environment and wildlife.

“The AIS can become a vital tool in helping to protect whale and other marine mammal species, particularly in locations such as the Arctic where shipping is potentially on the increase,” Howard Rosenbaum, director of WCS’s Ocean Giants Programme, noted.

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“AIS can be used to identify regions where shipping lanes and important marine mammal habitats and migrations overlap, as well as areas where ocean noise may be impacting acoustically sensitive species,” Rosenbaum said.

The findings appeared in the online edition of the journal Bulletin of Marine Science.

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