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Can you hear me now? A university lab designs underwater microphones to listen for and detect illegal fishing and incursions into MPAs

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Acoustics expert Martin Siderius is a problem solver. With a background in electrical and computer engineering, he has devoted himself to figuring out the problem of underwater acoustics – detecting and deciphering underwater noises – with the help of his trusty colleagues at the Northwest Electromagnetics and Acoustics Research Laboratory (NEAR-lab) at Portland State University. The underwater acoustics and communications tinkering going on at NEAR-lab caught the attention of The Nature Conservancy, who came into the picture with a new goal in mind: catching illegal fishermen.

The Nature Conservancy wanted to figure out a way to combat the illegal fishing that was decimating the fish stocks and threatening the livelihoods of the local fishing communities they were working with around the world. They approached the NEAR-lab team to build a “low cost sensor to give legal fishermen that they could deploy and recover by themselves.” The Nature Conservancy was in luck – NEAR-lab was in the process of developing algorithms for hydrophones (underwater microphones) to be able to identify different vessels by the sounds they emit. Ideally, these sound patterns could then be understood as specific activities – commercial shipping, transshipping (moving products from one ship to another while at sea), and fishing – as well as sourced to the location of the sound origin. Together this information could possibly identify illegal fishing in a protected area.

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