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  • Oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface making it an enormous area to monitor. All large ships are required to use an automatic identification system (AIS), which broadcasts the vessel’s position continuously to avoid collisions at sea. Satellites pick up this information and relay it to ground stations so even vessels in remote parts of the ocean are tracked.

    Vessels that do not want to be tracked switch off their AIS systems. They ‘go dark’ and are known as dark vessels. Xerra Earth Observation Institute has developed ©Starboard Maritime Intelligence, a software platform that helps countries monitor their national waters for activities like illegal fishing and dark vessels.

    This activity uses data from ©Starboard Maritime Intelligence gathered from satellites. It is part of a suite of activities that support the Build a satellite interactive. These activities support students to engage with the science capabilities ‘Gather and interpret data’, ‘Critique evidence’ and ‘Interpret representations’.

    Consider doing the activity Interpreting observations from satellite images prior to this activity. It introduces strategies that are useful when interpreting satellite images.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • discuss why national and international agencies monitor vessel movements
    • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of using satellites to monitor vessels
    • use a satellite image to engage with one or more of the science capabilities.

    Download the Word file (see link below).

    Related content

    Find out more about remote sensing and satellites used for Earth observation.

    Activity ideas

    Grow your skill set. Build a satellite and then analyse data regarding albatross populations and slow slip Earth movements.

    Useful links

    Visit the Ministry for Primary Industries website for maps of New Zealand fisheries and information about international fisheries management.

    Read about the work of Xerra and ©Starboard Maritime Intelligence on their websites.

    Watch ©Starboard Maritime Intelligence’s video Uncover hidden maritime activity with Starboard.

    Meet Xerra head of product and design Andy Hovey in this Stuff article. Follow up with this news article and video looking the success of Xerra, in detecting up to 100 dark vessels during a Pacific fishing surveillance operation.


    This resource has been produced with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and the support of the New Zealand Space Agency.

      Published 25 July 2022 Referencing Hub articles
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