Case Study: Microsoft Helps Protect Our Oceans Using AI Technology

Since 2015, Microsoft has partnered with OceanMind: a non-profit that utilizes machine learning to protect our planet’s oceans. 


When Ocean Ecosystems are In Jeopardy


With over 80% of Earth’s life found in our oceans, healthy aquatic ecosystems are vital for global sustainability and flourishing. For over three billion people, oceans are the primary source of sustenance, and one in eight depend solely on the wild-capture fishing industry as their livelihood.


Illegal and unregulated fishing jeopardizes marine life across the globe, leaving local food sources scarce, pushing underwater species toward extinction, and damaging the wellbeing of many developing countries. Without substantial technological advancements to protect our oceans, according to Nick Wise, CEO of OceanMind, the result would be a complete food security crisis.  


Suboptimal Storage and Data Processing Challenges


Although 98% of the world’s oceans are covered by regulations designed to protect them, the obstacle is enforcing these regulations. There are numerous ways local authorities seize lawbreakers, but our expansive ocean makes this work burdensome.


In 2013, OceanMind committed to combating maritime threats by utilizing machine-learning algorithms to identify suspicious fishing vessels and sharing analytics with agencies to direct their patrol team more accurately and effectively.


For these time-sensitive operations to succeed, optimal data processing and storage capacity is crucial.


In their early stages, quickly collecting and processing remote sensing data over millions of square kilometers proved challenging. Using on-site servers, OceanMind would collect, collate, and review information from the previous day, operating 24 hours behind. By the time the team detected potential threats and communicated to the local agencies, it was often too late. 


Moving to Microsoft Azure


In 2019, OceanMind received an AI for Earth grant from Microsoft, advancing the state-of-the-art for global vessel analysis, pulling public information into the cloud, and creating real-time tracking and investigation.


Microsoft Azure is the power behind OceanMind’s capacity to monitor oceanic activity, protecting the marine ecosystem. AI algorithms analyze ship movements to detect suspicious maneuvers, such as venturing off established routes or staying dormant for lengthy periods.


Now, the collation of large amounts of data is possible, supporting accurate discovery, investigation, and reporting to local authorities within a matter of hours. This has transformed enforcement as real-time monitoring assists in planning patrols that can capture unregulated fishing as it happens.


Empowering Protection for Our Planet


Benefiting 20 countries, thousands of workers, and many international supply chains, OceanMind’s programs span across every ocean basin on the planet. In the last four years alone, their analysts have monitored over 460 million square kilometers of satellite radar imagery and tens of thousands of vessels. 


Additionally, through Microsoft’s AI technology and cloud computing, OceanMind has aided in advancing fisheries compliance and enforcement practices. These advancements lead to reduced human interference—resulting in more robust protection of our oceans, increased biodiversity, and human wellbeing.

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