Seychelles Air Force pilots have received initial training to operate drones that will be used to monitor illegal fishing activities in the waters of the island nation.
Improved surveillance and lower costs could be the result of the new initiative.
Surveillance of fisheries activity will be done through project 'FishGuard' with the cooperation of the Seychelles Fisheries Authority, the Seychelles Air Force and the Seychelles Coast Guard.
Seychelles, an archipelago in the western Indian Ocean, has a vast Exclusive Economic Zone of 1.4 million square kilometres, which presents a challenge when it comes to the monitoring of illegal fishing.
"Unmanned vehicles for the purpose of monitoring illegal fisheries are being deployed in many places around the world, and we wanted to see its effectiveness in our context," said Johnny Louys, manager of monitoring control and surveillance at the fisheries authority.
Louys said that the main benefit is a substantial decrease in surveillance cost and the improved coverage of conventional means of surveillance.
A drone is an unmanned aircraft that may be remotely controlled or can fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in conjunction with onboard sensors and Global Positioning System (GPS).
He added that the partners in the project "are also hoping that it reduces deployment time to respond to suspected activities."
Currently, local authorities fighting illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing activities are using patrol vessels and aircraft.
The Coast Guard is supporting the project by providing a vessel for at-sea deployment of the drones, and the Seychelles Civil Aviation Authority will ensure that safety requirements are met and required flight authorisations are obtained.
Louys said, "The project is still in the testing phase as we have encountered some technical problems with the units that we were hoping to deploy for the project. We are hoping to rectify these technical issues with the units and reinitiate the tests soon."
Further training for air force pilots in Seychelles is expected to take place once all calibration of equipment is completed
Test flights were unsuccessful due to unfavourable weather conditions and it is anticipated that successful flights will begin in two weeks' time he added.
FishGuard is the brainchild of Badr Idrissi and Younes Moumen, co-founder of ATLAN Space -- a technology startup developing unmanned aerial vehicles with artificial intelligence. The drones are programmed to be self-reliant and capable of making independent decisions based on data collected.
The National Geographic awarded ATLAN Space with funding to partner its 'FishGuard' pilot programme. Seychelles is only providing logistical support.
Trygg Mat Tracking, a Norwegian non-profit analytical firm specialising in providing fisheries intelligence and analysis to countries to combat illegal fishing, will support the pilot programme. The firm will facilitate the transfer of information from the local fisheries authority and global databases and fed to the drone.
Another partner is GRID-Arendal for the provision of relevant Earth Observation data.