How Birdwatching Helps Stop Thai Union’s Ocean Destruction
by François Chartier
April 27, 2016
"I have a visual at two o'clock!" We rush to the 'monkey island', the highest platform of the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, where watchers scan the ocean from sunrise to sunset. The ship changes course and heads towards the small floating construction of bamboo, nets and buoys. It's day four of our expedition and our third catch.
Greenpeace is in the Indian Ocean to document and protest this destructive fishing method used by Thai Union, the world’s largest tuna company that supplies companies like Walmart, and to pull the FADs we find out of the ocean.
Follow That Bird
Finding the FADs is a full time job. Luckily the whole crew is in. At least three people are on watch, looking for the harmful gear that comes disguised as an innocent raft of bamboo, old nets and buoys. Another way to detect FADs is to look up. The fish these marine snares attract swim quite close to the surface and attract birds. So when we see a bird circling around, all eyes track the bird.
Most fishing vessels use the same techniques to locate their small ‘floating lures’. Only they will have about five people on the lookout, and a GPS-signal transmitted by a beacon attached to their FAD. This gives them a pretty detailed idea of where to look. We have to rely on our eyes.
Two More Tools in Our Box
To widen our visual range, we have two other tools. One is a small helicopter and a very enthusiastic heli-team. When weather allows and the area seems interesting, they fly out to scout. They’re also on the lookout for fishing vessels.
Secondly, we have three UAV (unmanned air vehicles) at our disposal and someone who knows how to fly them. They haven’t flown yet and it’s the first time we’re using them in the search for FADs, so fingers crossed.
Tracing the Tuna Supply Chain
With a FAD in our sights a RHIB (rigid-hulled inflatable boat) is sent out to the raft. After documenting the marine life swimming beneath it, we bring it on board the Esperanza. Then we track down the owner with the data written on the beacon. It’s from a French fishing company. Our earlier research reveals that this company supplies Thai Union. This is direct evidence that the fishing companies that Thai Union gets its tuna from still fish with FADs, despite the damage they do to our oceans.
The data is sent to the teams on shore, who work hard to put pressure on Thai Union from every part of this globe to stop supporting this unsustainable fishing method. Meanwhile, we start the engines and continue our search.