Needs and Possible Approaches for the Detection

of Marine Life in Developing Countries


Mariano Gutierrez Torero

Fisheries Research Department

Peruvian Marine Institute - IMARPE




Technologies for detection of Marine Life in Developing countries

Developing countries are only users of technology. Existent acoustic technology is used to monitor their fishery activities and the interest is centered in mapping the abundance of exploited species. Is not usual this kind of research without commercial purposes because governments usually do not support basic research. In some countries this is made by private universities and/or under foreign sponsors (EU, JICA, NORAD, FAO etc.)

Why most of the governments do not give a better support to the marine research?

The support level depends on the state of the economy and importance of the fisheries in each country. However, many countries receive economic and/or scientific support from developed ones.

Marine technology, including Research Vessels is very often expensive and needs trained specialists. The training of new and competent staffs of marine scientists is also expensive.

A quick review to the situation of developing countries regarding the detection of Marine Life


Only South Africa has a significant activity. They carry out several types of marine research and receive international cooperation. Other countries have received support from developed countries (e.g. Kenya, Gambia, Tanzania, Senegal).

South-East Asia

Most of the marine research is dedicated to the aquaculture. However, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Papua New Guinea perform marine surveys in shallow waters. Most of these countries have received economic and/or scientific support from developed countries.

South, East and Middle-east Asia

From these countries, only India has a well known program of marine research but China shows an important activity too, although mainly dedicated to aquaculture. The other countries perform rather small marine research activities and some of them have been supported for developed countries.

Central America and Mexico

Marine research is limited, except in Mexico, where a significant level of marine research exists. However, also there exist an acoustics research team grouped and sponsored by IRD (Acoustics Caribbean Network). Although this area has received foreign support, the equipment and research effort is not enough.

South America

This region seems to be the most active of the developing countries. Brasil, Peru, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile have dynamic marine programs including Antarctic research. Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela show less dynamic activities, but also important. All these countries have received foreign support and, except Brasil and Venezuela, the marine research is made in a big part by governmental entities. The South-East Pacific area is the most affected by oceanographic events in the world (El Niño, mainly).

The marine environment and some problems

There is an evident deterioration of the marine environment, especially due to pollution in coastal areas of developing countries and by catch and discard of some part of the catches increase the problem and risks. In many of the developing countries exists a serious lack of equipment and qualified scientists and, also, it is difficult that governments of neighboring countries reach agreements for the intergovernmental research of shared problems and resources due to politics or different levels of support that these could give.

International effort: The Objectives of the agreement of biological diversity

Conference of Rio, Brasil, June 1992:

"The conservation of the biological diversity, the sustainable use of their components and the fair and equal participation in the benefits that are derived of the use of the living resources by means of an appropriate access to those resources and an appropriate transfer of the pertinent technologies, keeping in mind all the rights on those resources and those technologies by means of an appropriate financing"

Objective of the marine technology

Declaration of CPPS (South Pacific Permanent Commission; political and scientific intergovernmental entity created by Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile) about the objective of the technology:

"To contribute to the knowledge of the ecosystems and to achieve a rational use of the marine resources for the benefit and socio-economic development of the countries"


A view to the ecosystems, marine resources and human activities in developing countries

Main upwelling ecosystems:

Four of them are located along coasts of developing countries and they have been irregularly studied. The politics of the coastal countries have many times been the reason for the insufficient knowledge of these areas. These areas are: California; Humboldt; Canarias; Benguela; and Somalia.

The usual distribution of living marine resources in a rich ecosystem

These rich upwelling ecosystems have common characteristics. The costal (shallow waters) zone has a high biodiversity. The neritic area is shared by both small pelagics and demersal species. The oceanic zone is occupy by big pelagics and demersals too. However, according with oceanographic fluctuations, these distributions can be overlapped, enlarged or abandoned, specially by highly migratory species (tunas, squids and some pelagics).

The effect of the human activity

The coastal areas of the developing countries have been degraded by the human activity.The chemical and organic discards have degraded the coastal areas in the surroundings of big populated and industrial centers. The agreements of the Rio´s Conference have partially been applied and a complete study does not exist about the effects of the pollution on marine resources.


Danger and risk of overfishing. A proposal.

It is necessary to reduce the extractive effort. Many other species (including the human being) depend on the exploited ones and their subsistence have to be ensured through the diversification of the fishing effort. There are many resources that could be exploited but therefore it is necessary detect and study them.


There is an important factor to be considered and that is quite common among developing countries. For example, Peru and Chile caught, in 1994, around 20 million tons of pelagic species which have low value and they were almost exclusively dedicated to the production of fish meal. 1994 was a very good year in production and in prices, but, however, that caught represented 30% of the world catch that year but only 8% of the total value of the fishing products. At the moment, fishing industries in Peru and Chile are in their worst financial moment and with big debts contracted before El Niño 1997-98 and, also, the price of fish meal is in its lower level in 30 years. The production of fish meal has historically been the second source of foreign currencies in Peru and the third in Chile. Then, can be understood the magnitude of the current crisis in spite of having abundant resources.

It is obvious that a smaller fishing effort over big populations of fish must imply the increment in size of their most valuable dependent populations (including sea birds and mammals). After could be possible to diversify the fishing effort, which will represent a bigger balance in the population dynamics of all species besides reaching better prices through products with better market value.

This is an alternative that will have to be seriously considered in the short and medium term together with the incentive of the aquaculture and the use of non-exploited species, such as mesopelagic resources. These reformations are being promoted unfailingly by The Peruvian Marine Institute.

Responsibility: a shared obligation

Developing countries are responsible for the degradation of ecosystems of their coasts because the big stress made over the most abundant marine resources. However, developed countries would have to share the responsibility because, after all, they usually are the destiny of an important part of the marine extraction and also they have been operating some very big high sea fishing fleets. Then, one of the challenge consists on getting a much bigger knowledge about the ecosystems together with an international agreement to reduce the extractive effort over some species.


The challenge for new technologies

Natural changes in biodiversity. Case example: The South-East Pacific and the ecosystem of Humboldt´s current

South-East Pacific is one of the most sensible marine areas. In despite of that is one of the most productive too, because the upwelling ecosystem of the Humboldt current. This upwelling can be alternately reinforced and weakened by two oceanographic phenomenon with opposing characteristics: El Niño and La Niña Phenomenon. In the past, ENSO and overfishing have been guilty of the collapse of skipjack, anchovy, sardine and mackerel in Peru and Chile.

El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO)

Under normal conditions trade winds blow from east to west across the Pacific Ocean from April to December. During December-April trade winds are not so strong and hot waters flow from west to east across the ocean. This is El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and must not be confused with El Niño phenomenon.

El Niño phenomenon shows a stronger flow index than the yearly ENSO. Hot tropical, subtropical and equatorial water masses with a low plancton volumen cover the south-west Pacific stopping the upwellings of the Humboldt´s current.


This provokes dramatic changes in the biodiversity. A high mortality on almost all species occurs because the lack of food.

The very strong El Niño phenomenon 1997-98 provoked mortalities higher than 90% over populations of sea birds and mammals and a complete renovation of most of the populations of fish. During a cruise carried out during August 1998 they were found almost exclusively juveniles. These have a better adaptation capacity than the old ones.

For first time, during the very strong El Niño 1997-98, it was carried out in Peru an intense marine research program, including the total renovation of the scientific equipment. New all sizes research vessels were built and more than 1000 days every year are used in marine research since 1997. However, most of the mentioned research is made inside 100 n.mi. offshore.

The frequency of El Niño goes from 4 to 6 years but sometimes it appears with extreme violence (every 10 to 15 years).



The effects of last El Niño over some populations must be evaluated. In despite of the investment in equipment and the important quantity of marine research, still there is not a complete knowledge of the relationships between some populations of the ecosystem. All research would have to be done in connection with the plankton communities.

730 species of fish, 870 mollusks and 320 crustaceans without consider other groups have been identified in peruvian waters and probably there are much more waiting to be classified.

Is it really possible to imagine the magnitude of the challenge of discovering the dependence that exist among all these ?

The new technologies have to be able to establish the essential relationships of this complex ecosystem.

Needs and possible approaches for the detection of Marine Life in developing countries


It is necessary to identify key populations and communities in most of the important ecosystems and start a continuos monitoring over them. Sub-exploited populations have to be identified and the reduction of the extraction of marine resources has to be done through the promotion of the diversification of the fishing effort..

The use of new technologies should be promoted (LIDAR, broad band acoustics etc.) as well as the creation of staffs of scientists whom have to be able to carry out more sophisticated studies.

The objective is to reduce the biases of the current technologies and to enlarge as much as possible the possibilities to produce marine research in areas so wide as possible.


It is evident that not only modern technology will be necessary. It is also essential a cooperative work between developing and developed countries.

The creation of Research Units could be an appropriate way to carry out the detection and study of marine life. These Research Units would have to cover so many areas as requested by a preliminary selection of priorities.

For this would be advisable the creation of these Research Units with a multidisciplinary staff of scientists from the developing countries together with expert scientists in the use and applications of the new technologies.

Before the conventional use of technologies, the accuracy of new developments should be tested in real situations as one of the tasks of the Research Units. The funds for equipment and the research itself should be requested to Cooperating Sources. With some exceptions, governments from developing countries will not have possibilities to sponsor those activities.

An example: The ACTIVE Research Unit

ACTIVE is the acronym of Adaptation and Individual-collective behavior of the resources under exploitation: effect over the catchability.

The ACTIVE Research Unit has been created by: IRD (France), MLA (Scotland), IMARPE (Peru), IFOP (Chile), UCV (Chile), INP (Ecuador) and IFREMER (France).

ACTIVE will have focus on the main pelagic resources of the South-East Pacific and their dependent populations. According with the knowledge about these resources, the fluctuations on the abundance of them could be foreseen reducing the dramatic effect that events like El Niño have over the economies of these countries.

It is also planed to apply 3D Acoustics, modern software for data processing, biological, oceanographic and fishery data existent in Ecuador, Chile and Peru and others together with conventional acoustics as a way of enhancing the solutions about common problems: avoidance, noise, target strength, identification, the dead zone near surface and bottom etc.

One valuable tool for the Active Program will be the EUREKA program. It consist in the participation of fishermen in the fisheries research through the execution of a quick survey using between 20 and 50 fishing ships, all of them equipped with echosounders. The system has advantages and disadvantages, but permits to get reliable data about biological and oceanographic aspects and a synoptic view of the distribution of fish. The main objective is to know the structure of the main pelagic populations during the spawning season when the fishery is closed.

The EUREKA survey itself usually consists of an acoustic sweep along 3000 km of Peruvian coastline. Every ship sails two parallel transects of 100 n.mi. each and some observers on board take notes of the echotraces directly from the echosounder. Fishing catches provide biological sampling and oceanographic equipment is used to collect data about the environment. All the information is processed at the laboratories of IMARPE.



This page is maintained and was last updated 15-Nov-00 by Pip Sumsion (