Balinese sentinels


Indonesia has set up a unique high-tech surveillance center to monitor marine ecosystems and fight illegal fishing. In three years, the country has become a trailblazer in defending more sustainable fisheries.

Perancak, on the island of Bali, a two-hour drive from the capital city Denpasar. Beyond a grove of coconut palms, an immense white building rises into view, flanked by several radar antennae. Inside, a dozen young analysts work their eyes fixed on large banks of computer monitors. Numbers, photos, and maps scroll by rapidly. This is not a digital startup or the floor of a stock exchange. Rather, welcome to the Infrastructure Development for Space Oceanography (INDESO) — Indonesia’s national marine resources forecasting and management center. 


Deploying 25 satellites

On one of the monitors, small shapes move slowly: they represent fishing boats in the Celebes Sea, about 1500 kilometers away. Andy, who has worked at the center for three years, explains, “That’s a ship sailing under the flag of a neighboring county. It’s been anchored on the edge of territorial waters for two days. It may have engine trouble, or it may be waiting for a delivery from another boat. We call that ‘transbordering.’ That means transferring a boat’s catch onto another ship. It’s prohibited because it allows fishermen to launder their catch, or else make it disappear to another country. So we keep an eye on the area.”

An eye? More like an army of extra-powerful binoculars. Every day, 25 high-resolution ocean-observation satellites send data to Perancak; they provide information about water temperature, plankton concentrations, and currents. The data aggregates with a battery of other material:

  • reports from local buoys,
  • very high-resolution photographs of coastal areas and hills from optical satellites,
  • and precise day- or nighttime images from cutting-edge radar satellites, capable of transmitting through cloud cover.

These data and images further combine with GPS positions provided by ships, radio signals from automatic identification systems (AIS) and long-range identification and tracking (LRIT) geo-positioning data. Data combined from all these sources tell analysts everything that happens, everywhere, in close to real time.



INDESO analysts monitor the activity of fishing boats in real time. ©

The ravages of illegal fishing

Indonesia possesses one of the world’s largest exclusive economic zones (EEZs), a 7,900,000 square-meter areas where the coastal nation has jurisdiction over natural resources of the seabed, subsoil, and superjacent waters. Indonesia’s EEZ harbors the Coral Triangle; at its center sits a well of biodiversity, comprising major fisheries. Indonesia captures six million tons of seafood annually, ranking as the world’s second-largest producer. Fifty million Indonesians subsist on fishing and aquaculture. In addition, the sector generates nearly USD 3 billion in exports each year. Good resource management therefore becomes essential.



How can Indonesia keep watch over such a large territory? The archipelago — 17,500 islands situated at the crossroads of two oceans — borders the EEZs of six other countries, some of which do not regulate or monitor fishing activity. From the Celebes to the Arafura and Molucca Seas, hiding places abound, invisible to traditional radar and the Coast Guard. The result: illegal fishing has flourished since the 1990s. The Indonesian government has calculated that the annual loss represents billions of dollars, not to mention the cost of overfishing. Small-scale fishermen are the first to pay the price.


Big problems call for big solutions

Around the year 2010, Indonesia decided to gamble on outer space and cutting-edge technology to fight pirate fishermen. The Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries called for a “Blue Revolution”, an ecological and commercial campaign to make Indonesia the region’s leading seafood producer and exporter.

In this context, in 2011 AFD agreed to finance the Infrastructure Development of Space Oceanography (INDESO) project ; AFD committed USD 30 million along with technical assistance. In 2014,  CLS, the global leader in land and sea surveillance for civilian applications , became the general contractor of this project.

The Indonesian analysts started to attend training sessions. In 2014, the high-tech center, the armed branch of the Blue Revolution, started to rise from the Balinese soil.


World-class equipment

Three years later, 100 scientists, engineers and project managers work at the center. According to the director, Dr. I. Nyoman Radiarta, “ INDESO is a world-class infrastructure. We use some of the world’s most advanced computer applications and algorithms here.”

Results are spectacular: analysts have detected illegal activity on dozens of ships, most often sailing under foreign flags, particularly Thai, Vietnamese and Filipino ones.In such cases, the Coast Guard boards and inspects the ships, then dynamites and sinks them. More than 300 boats have met this fate. The message is clear, undergirded by specific regulatory measures: Indonesia gives no quarter to illegal fishing.

“Indonesia has staked its future on a more transparent and law-abiding fishing sector,” explains François Henry, a halieutic engineer monitoring the project for AFD. “Neighboring countries – Myanmar, Vietnam, Philippines – are considering similar projects. The entire sector is evolving.”


Much more to accomplish

In Perencak, we want to go further. INDESO has been conceived from the start as a global ecosystem management tool: not only can it counter illegal fishing, but it can also monitor sensitive habitats (such as coral reefs and mangroves), detect accidental hydrocarbon pollution, model fish populations, and study climate change effects.

Many potential tasks left to accomplish. Yet the Indonesian teams now have the expertise... The Blue Revolution has begun.

By continuing to use the site, you agree to the use of cookies. Find out more by following this link