Environmental Witness

empowering communities

Reefscan works with stakeholders from coastal communities impacted by illegal fishing activities and issues such as climate change.

The mobile app "Environmental Witness" builds communities of practice by raising awareness and sharing experiences in remote regions and was originally partially funded by UNEP.



Rather than simply finger pointing, reefscan's approach is to involve a deeper understanding the choices which lead to illegal fishing activities. By studying and documenting illegal fishing methods we can better understand what impact they have on the marine environment and how these activities relate to food insecurity.

Destructive fishing

Destroys the livelihoods of fishers

Destroys marine organisms and habitats

Leads to starvation and even death

Livelihood Choices

Better understanding and empathy provides the foundations for alternative livelihoods for fishers engaging in unregulated and illegal activities. Also large scale industrialised Illegal and Unregulated fishing is typically highly destructive to the marine environment, aquatic biodiversity and also impacts the food security of complaint people sharing these marine resources.

Livelihood Choices

Large Scale Illegal Fishing impacts entire Communities

Small scale illegal fishing is cheap but high risk leading to death or imprisonment.

Families where the main earner is imprisoned tend to suffer food insecurity


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Excessive unregulated fishing impacts the livelihoods of coastal communities dramatically, exacerbating poverty, starvation and in particular increasing vulnerable and infant and mortality. These effects can typically be witnessed within days of large fishing vessels entering waters used by coastal communities. Abusive illegal fishing can also provide opportunities of exploitation by terrorist groups to empower themselves within vulnerable communities angered and unrepresented by these scenarios.

Watch the video

Large scale illegal fishing scoops the entire contents of the coral reef.

Struggling fishers gather to beg for discarded catch thrown to them in rice sacks

This illegal fishing gear destroys about 250,000 M2 of coral reef every hour and this is just one boat from a fleet of about 40 similar vessels.

ReefScan has spent over 15 years recording many methods of small scale fishing methods from traditional biodegradable rope and net making, boatbuilding, fishing gear construction, seafood preparation, livelihoods and supply chains. A detailed ethnogrraphic catalogue was also recorded for all legal and illegal methods across small scale and semi industrial fisheries involved.

This work enables a better understanding of choices and relationships between stakeholders such as small scale fisheries, ecotourism business and the effects they have upon marine biodiversity, sustainable food systems and protected species, in particular large marine vertebrates such as turtles, sharks and rays.

Environmental Witness App

not just listening...

The Environmental Witness project has developed networks and bonds between communities of practice in remote and archipelagic regions.

Raising awareness of scenarios on a globally scale while empowering communities by providing them an opportunity to share their issues and experiences is a key goal.


how does it work?

The Environmental Witness app is based on a low data throughput open GEOsms code which means that it is cost effective for stakeholders to both use and share. It also links back to social networks enabling more elaborate data to be gathered from user case scenarios.