Costa Rica Is a Leader in Providing Virtual Reality Modules to Combat Illegal Fishing

    According to the latest FECOP study, from 2010 to 2015 illegal fishing in Costa Rica is equivalent to 33,684.30 metric tons of fish

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    The virtual reality (VR) project to combat illegal fishing in Costa Rica emerges as an alternative to replace a life exercise with enormous advantages and great potential to support capacity building through specialized practical exercises on illegal fishing, taught specifically for judges of Republic, prosecutors, staff of the Judicial Investigation Agency (OIJ), National Coast Guard Service, staff of the National Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (INCOPESCA), the National Animal Health Service (SENASA) and the Ministry of Environment and Energy (MINAE ).

    With an investment of close to US$60,000, FECOP and Gensler Costa Rica contributed the capital and knowledge in collaboration with environmental prosecutors and the National Coast Guard Service, who gave their technical and intellectual contributions to complete this first version of the exercise.

    Among the main objectives of the course, the possibility of resolving and studying cases of illegal fishing in our waters stands out, in addition, during the training the knowledge of the participant is tested and a complete approach is made for the collection of evidence, which translates in an exercise of roles and functions in which a judge or a prosecutor assumes the role of a coast guard and proceeds to collect evidence or evidence, following the protocols developed and thus preventing the cases under investigation from being rejected or dismissed in the courts.

    «This important instrument was recently used in a course and will be used in future training events on this subject. Its success lies in the fact that it makes it possible to solve exercises and verify the knowledge acquired in the course in an interactive way and without the inconvenience of having to transfer legal operators to real illegal fishing scenarios that can be complex and dangerous», added José Pablo Gozález, assistant prosecutor of the Environmental Agrarian Prosecutor’s Office.

    This course has already gained outstanding global recognition by winning the award in the Design category at the Gensler Research and Innovation Awards. Gensler’s annual, internal competition brings together projects from Gensler’s 53 offices located around the world, spanning the Americas, Europe, China, Asia-Pacific and the Middle East. In the last edition, 113 proposals were evaluated and an external jury of experts, university professors and renowned designers selected 17 outstanding projects, including 11 winners and six honorable mentions, confirming the quality and excellence of the course and its impact on the field of design.

    “This project is an excellent example of the power of innovation when we place the user as the starting point of our project strategies. We work closely with these institutions, serving as a coordination link, to efficiently and creatively understand the needs, challenges, and future goals of those we seek to train. The impact of this tool transcends the fight against illegal fishing, becoming a leading example of the transition from technologies initially designed for entertainment towards a fundamental role in education and global accessibility. Regardless of the number of people it can reach or their geographic location, this tool stands as a symbol of how we can harness technologies to deliver inclusive education”, said Juliana Vargas, Director of the Study of Digital Experiences of Gensler Costa Rica

    How is a case of illegal fishing identified through VR?

    The mission of the course is to board a longline fishing vessel suspected of illegal fishing and the student, through a coast guard avatar, must complete the boarding and information gathering protocol and search for evidence.

    The first step is to familiarize yourself with a virtual space and experience and follow the instructions to move around and move forward, always being careful not to stray from a circle marked on the floor; otherwise, you will return to reality. The second step is to start the preferably guided experience to properly complete the questions and trivia that will appear on the screen, the answers are single or multiple choice and regardless of the answer you selected, it will tell you if it was correct or not, and will tell why. At the end of the exercise, the correct answers that she obtained and the number of pieces of evidence that she was able to collect are indicated, and instructions and final questions are given to her.

    The module was designed to run in 15-20 minutes maximum per person, even less, and multiple people can be trained at the same time. The only limitation is the number of viewers available, but with 5 virtual viewers groups of up to 30 people can work.

    “Virtual reality allows for greater potential to design training experiences with an impressive level of technical precision, develop exercises to follow protocols and test the level of learning and understanding of concepts and technologies in fisheries, as well as learning identify signs of fishing crimes. It also allows us to take the course to any place where there is space to place groups of people in classrooms or offices, have remote instructions in virtual spaces in real time, costs are also reduced because previously a boat was rented to take all the officials public and made logistics more complicated, now, thanks to virtual reality, training courses can be implemented practically in any physical space”, commented Moisés Mug, Director of Science at FECOP.

    According to a study carried out by the FECOP from 2010 to 2015, illegal tuna fishing in Costa Rica reached a volume of around 33,000 metric tons, which reveals a major problem for the country since it undermines the efforts conservation of marine biodiversity, its ecosystems, as well as fishing resources and the livelihoods of populations in coastal areas.

    Illegal longline fishing in particular affects protected or threatened species such as sea turtles, sharks, and species declared of tourist and sporting interest such as marlins and sailfish. Fishing with live bait within the first 30 nautical miles of the coast is considered targeted fishing for sailfish and is illegal. Likewise, it is illegal to retain for sale a sailfish that has been caught alive on a longline fishing vessel; that is, this fish must be released. However, there is no evidence that this fleet releases sailfish found alive when retrieving gear.

    Next steps to be followed

    FECOP decided to continue the collaboration with the Environmental Prosecutor of the Judiciary and with the Coast Guard to develop a second and third phase in collaboration with the prestigious firm Gensler Costa Rica. The second version of the course will have numerous improvements, such as an additional amount of evidence of illegal fishing that will appear at the beginning of the exercise and the ability to carry out the course in multiplayer mode, so that there will be 1 police instructor and 2 students carrying out the exercise in each session.

    Another of the substantive improvements in the virtual experience will be to take the ship to the port and carry out an inspection and sale of the fishing product and complete the police report to deliver it to the assigned prosecutor. In a third version, it is expected to complete boarding missions to the purse-seine vessel and transfer the experience to the context of international waters that imposes a different legal and regulatory framework. At this stage, the technical support of the United States Coast Guard will be essential.

    In the medium term, it is envisaged that this tool can be standardized for the use of police and judicial personnel from other countries who wish to improve their capacities in the fight against illegal fishing and, if possible, transfer it to other languages to increase the audience in any country or interested person.

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