Gathering Ocean Data From the Sky–How Tekever Uses Drones to Protect the Ocean

By Emily Vidovich. Emily has a background in environmental journalism and sustainability and is a member of the George Washington University Class of 2019.

At the nexus of technology, international security, and ocean monitoring, one company is creating “surveillance as a service” drones that meet the society’s diverse ocean-based data gathering needs. Tekever is a Portugal-based IT and security technology company that supplies drones for various sectors–including national security, maritime surveillance, fisheries inspection, and pollution monitoring.

Tekever’s unmanned drones use machine learning, artificial intelligence, and satellite systems to provide real-time data and analysis to its clients. It has several artificial intelligence-driven drones that can work over a variety of ranges and for different applications–from reconnaissance missions to ocean protection. The company views drone technology as a powerful tool to save lives and protect the ocean.

Since its founding in 2001, Tekever has expanded across Europe and the United Kingdom, and is now starting to establish itself in the United States. In 2022, as part of its efforts to expand its environmental surveillance capacity in the United States, Tekever entered a memorandum of understanding with AltaSea at the Port of Los Angeles–creating a partnership through which both organizations will collaborate on ocean conservation projects.

According to a statement, as part of this partnership Tekever intends to use its drones to collect data about the waters surrounding the Port of Los Angeles, San Clemente island, and Santa Catalina island. The data will have a marine conservation focus, with end goals such as detecting whale and dolphin migration, identifying illegal fishing, and pinpointing pollution sources.

Tekever’s AR5 drone. Credit: Tekever

One of the major challenges facing ocean protection is enforcement of conservation regulations. Because the oceans cover a majority of the planet, tracking illegal activities on the high seas–including overfishing, whaling, dumping toxins, and smuggling–is uniquely challenging. 

In 2020, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an intergovernmental organization, recommended closer monitoring as the foremost way to eradicate illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. This type of fishing, also referred to as IUU fishing, is considered one of the greatest threats facing marine ecosystems, and consequently the stability of the global food supply. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) describes IUU fishing as uniquely able to, “undermine national and regional efforts to manage fisheries sustainably as well as endeavors to conserve marine biodiversity.” The FAO goes on to explain that while IUU fishing happens both on the high seas and in nationally regulated waters, it typically exploits areas of the ocean where there is a lack of, “effective monitoring, control, and surveillance.”

Tekever’s technology hopes to make ocean monitoring more feasible by facilitating easier surveillance of wide areas and rapidly relaying data. In 2022, the Italian Coast Guard began employing a Tekever drone to monitor marine traffic as well as gather data on whales, dolphins, turtles, and sharks in the Pelagos Sanctuary–a transnational marine protected area in the Mediterranean Sea.

Paulo Ferro, the director of business development at Tekever, said in an email that in addition to the ocean conservation uses of Tekever’s drones, he is also particularly proud of their humanitarian impact. According to Ferro, “Since 2019, our drones have saved close to 85,000 lives of migrants that would, otherwise, have perished in terrible conditions at sea.”

Ferro noted that the aspect of Tekever’s partnership with AltaSea that he looks forward to the most is combining forces to develop a blue economy that will improve people’s lives and protect the planet. As part of its partnership with AltaSea, Tekever will showcase its technology to children involved with AltaSea’s education programs. AltaSea President and CEO Terry Tamminen is hopeful that this will inspire students to pursue impactful careers in the emerging blue economy

“We are excited to bring students the opportunity to see with their own eyes what the drone sees, in places no human could so readily observe and calculate. We think this can launch a thousand exciting careers and help to battle climate change and protect our oceans and marine life,” Tamminen said.

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