Bottom Trawling: Sediment Plumes Visible From Space

I’m here in Boston at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). SkyTruth is part of a session looking at the impacts of commercial fishing on the oceans, specifically a technique called bottom-trawling. The trawlers drag heavy nets back and forth on the seafloor, flattening what’s in their path and, where the ocean floor is muddy, sending big billowing clouds of sediment into the water. The amazing thing is this phenomenon is actually visible from space: a trawler, with its nets deployed, leaves a long and persistent trail of sediment in it’s wake, not unlike a jet contrail:

We’ve built a public image gallery showing the sediment plumes generated by trawlers in the Gulf of Mexico, using both Google Earth and Landsat satellite images. We’ve also put together a virtual tour of this issue for Earth users. Today we took part in a press conference on this work; tomorrow we’ll give a talk at the symposium. You can download our presentation here (mostly pictures, not a lot of words — just the way we like it at SkyTruth).

But don’t stop there: send us your Google placemarks and other image examples showing the impacts of trawling, other fishing techniques, and other forms of human impact to our oceans. Email us ( or submit a comment on this blog posting. We’ll compile the submissions, credit the contributors, and post the results.