Conkouati-Douli National Park: Using AI to Help Stop Illegal Fishing


Conkouati-Douli National Park, a sprawling expanse in the Republic of Congo, boasts unparalleled biodiversity. Home to a wealth of marine and terrestrial species, the park provides a sanctuary for many endangered and threatened animals, including migrating whales, Atlantic Humpback dolphins, turtles, chimpanzees, gorillas, and forest elephants. Traditional methods of park management struggled to keep pace with the growing threats to these vulnerable populations, particularly in the park's vast marine protected area (MPA). Ensuring the long-term health of this rich ecosystem presented significant challenges. Limited resources and low-tech approaches proved inadequate to effectively monitor their waters and detect illicit activities, including illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Without real-time awareness of what was happening in their waters, park officials struggled to effectively deter the destructive practices of illegal fishing. From massive industrial vessels using trawl nets to the relentless use of kilometer-long nets by local fishing pirogues from Pointe Noire, these types of activity took a devastating toll on marine life.

The waters of Conkouati-Douli National Park are home to an abundance of marine life, including these majestic humpback whales. Photo courtesy Parcs de Noé.


Recognizing the need for a more sophisticated approach, park officials turned to technology for help. Upon assuming park management in 2021, Noé quickly identified the need for a comprehensive solution. EarthRanger provided a unified real-time monitoring, tracking, and communication platform, improving coordination and response times for law enforcement teams. 

The park initially deployed EarthRanger for its terrestrial operations. Park officials deployed a number of InReach devices connected to the platform to address one of its biggest concerns: ranger safety. Similar safeguards were required in the park's marine environment, where the park deployed an InReach unit onboard each patrol vessel. This allows operations teams to monitor real-time location tracking and allows communication, including in critical situations involving threats to safety, previously unavailable due to limited connectivity at sea.

Determined to crack down on the park’s IUU activities, officials started using Skylight. The maritime monitoring and analysis software also from the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) and integrated with EarthRanger, allows park authorities to monitor vessel behavior from headquarters. Skylight gives them a clearer picture of what is happening in their waters and allows them to manage operations from headquarters. Using Skylight’s AI, authorities can detect anomalous behaviors amongst a spaghetti bowl of incoming vessel tracks. Skylight's advanced computer vision algorithms transform satellite imagery into a new layer of information for park authorities to understand the activity happening within their MPA.

But officials say the true advantage of using Skylight lies not just in its AI, but in the partnership they’ve been able to build that improves the way both organizations work. Marine patrols “ground-truthing” what Skylight tells them by physically verifying the presence or absence of vessels is providing invaluable data to help “train” Skylight’s AI algorithms. These rich data shared through mission reports, will go a long way in improving the platform. For park officials, these efforts are equally beneficial. For them, it is particularly important to understand when satellite data does not detect a vessel and the mission does. This has highlighted the challenges in obtaining satellite imagery due to inclement weather or infrequent passes, allowing them to supplement what Skylight regularly equips them with other data sources such as land radar to improve overall detection efficiency. This collaborative approach, harnessing the strengths of different data sources and human expertise at sea, is key to a future where illegal fishing is significantly curbed and our ocean is better protected.

“Using Skylight through theEarthRanger integration, we are effectively planning missions based on detection groupings, and we are working on specific targets and areas, making our mission more impactful per unit effort. We train eco-guards on interpreting data and using the platforms to calculate mission distances, fuel use, time, and safety protocols. Using the technology has empowered the team to improve all aspects of our marine compliance efforts. This translates to better detection of illegal fishing, quicker response times, and ultimately, a safer haven for the diverse marine life within the MPA.” - Michael Markovina, Marine Advisor, Parc National de Conkouati-Douli
A look at Conkouati-Douli National Park's EarthRanger dashboard with the Skylight integration. With Skylight's help, park authorities are alerted whenever a vessel enters the park's Marine Protected Area (MPA). They can then use this unified view to track their own patrol vessels in response. Photo courtesy Parcs de Noé.


Conkouati-Douli National Park is transforming into a model for tech-driven conservation. Automatic alerts from Skylight, seamlessly accessible within EarthRanger, identify potential illegal behaviors in the MPA. When investigating these alerts within hours of the satellite collection, park officials were able to intercept five vessels engaged in illegal fishing within the MPA. Notably, Skylight's computer vision model even detected two vessels involved in illegal shark fishing despite the vessels' attempts to operate under the cover of darkness, proving the power of information in the hands of authorities. 

This success story highlights the power of integrating data visualization and analysis tools within EarthRanger’s unified platform. Paired together, the combination of EarthRanger's core functionalities with Skylight’s AI capabilities and real-time satellite data analysis empowers park authorities with a powerful management system that can seamlessly identify and track suspicious vessels while also helping teams coordinate and implement appropriate responses. 

A ranger on patrol uses EarthRanger mobile to report a vessel seen in the park's MPA. Photo courtesy Parcs de Noé.

While effective in the short-term, it is also guiding long-term planning. Integrating these data has helped park authorities uncover new insights, including concerning trends. By being able to see a cluster of Night Light detections, a vessel detection event in Skylight, alongside at-sea observations, officials identified concentrated activity in a specific section of the MPA. This vital insight, knowing where potential illegal activity was occurring and at what time, allowed for targeted enforcement efforts, maximizing the park's impact.

As Conkouati-Douli's MPA expands, stretching resources thin, the use of technology is becoming increasingly important to bridge gaps. Where the combination of EarthRanger and Skylight offers a timely and holistic view, local knowledge is guiding effective action. For the park, one major focus is to keep training and building capacity that is able to use these tools effectively and adapt to new innovations and changing vessel activity based on real-time mission data. This combined approach, with a focus on continuous learning and adaptation, will benefit the MPA by building a stronger and more cost-effective Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) strategy.

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