Vandalism/Negligent Destruction of Ocean and Coastal Observing Systems

Vandalized buoy

Photo 57: Vandalized buoy. 
(NOAA National Data Buoy Center.)

Vandalism and negligent damage to or destruction of ocean and coastal observation systems (i.e., data buoys) is attributed to both deliberate activities (e.g., theft of buoy parts; fishermen tying up to data buoys, which act as fish aggregating devices; cutting a buoy mooring line to disentangle fishing gear) and inadvertent activities (e.g., vessels running over buoys).

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Annually about 10 percent of buoy data worldwide is lost due to vandalism. NOAA, which operates a network of several hundred data buoys through the National Data Buoy Center (NDBC) and the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory (PMEL), spends upward of $1 million annually to repair and replace data buoys rendered inoperable due to vandalism. To help combat the problem of buoy vandalism, NOAA has installed data buoy cameras on some data buoys.  Images from these BuoyCAMs help provide explanations for sensor and complete buoy failures, as well as potential evidence of vandalism incidents.  NOAA buoys collect data for weather and marine forecasting and modeling such as Niño predictions, as well as information used by fisheries managers, search and rescue operations, tsunami warnings and climate modeling. Thus data buoy vandalism can have significant repercussions, including property damage and loss of life.

Many nations rely on the data collected by data buoys, especially those linked to the Tropical Atmosphere Ocean-Triangle Trans-Ocean Buoy Network (TAO-TRITON) (located along the Pacific equatorial region), Deep-ocean Assessment and Reporting of Tsunami system (DART) (located predominately in the Pacific Ocean with some buoys in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico), Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Atlantic (PIRATA), and Research Moored Array for Africa-Asian-Australian Monsoon Analysis and Prediction (RAMA).   

The issue of data buoy vandalism has been raised in a number of different international fora: the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC), the UN General Assembly (UNGA), the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC), the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC), the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), and the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC).


Vandalized buoy

Photo 58: Vandalized buoy. 
(NOAA National Data Buoy Center.)

World Metrological Organization, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (WMO-IOC)

In June 2009, the IOC adopted a resolution Global Coordination of Early Warning and Mitigation Systems for Tsunamis and Other Sea-Level Related Hazards, which requested that the IOC Executive Secretary raise the issue of vandalism of ocean observing platforms with the UN General Assembly and other appropriate bodies. The IOC Resolution also directed that a global assessment of the problem to include its impacts, costs and recommendations be conducted by the Data Buoy Cooperation Panel and the International Tsunameter Partnership (DBCP/ITP) in coordination with the World Meteorological Organization, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (WMO-IOC) Joint Technical Commission for Oceanography (JCOMM).

In 2011, the Twenty-Sixth Assembly of the IOC adopted Resolution XXVI-6, "Data Buoy Vandalism: Incidence, Impact And Responses," to promote action with regard to the 2009 IOC resolution in order to heighten awareness of the problem and stimulate a response at the highest level.

In June 2011, at its Sixteenth Congress, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) urged members and invited relevant International and Intergovernmental Organizations to work to protect data buoy systems. It also requested the WMO’s Secretary-General and invited the Executive Secretary of UNESCO/IOC to present the global assessment conducted by the DBCP/ITP to the UN General Assembly.

In June 2016, the IOC and WMO both requested development of a regionally relevant education and outreach strategy in order to substantially reduce damage through vandalism or interference with ocean buoys.  The IOC and WMO, working through the DBCP and the IOC Working Group on Tsunamis and Other Hazards Related to Sea-Level Warning and Mitigation Systems (TOWS-WG) prepared a Draft Outreach Strategy to Reduce Damage to Ocean Data Buoys From Vandalism or Interference (March 2017).  The draft strategy proposes to develop regionally and nationally relevant education materials; enhance national, regional, and international coordination and cooperation to protect data buoys; identify key stakeholder groups and enhance education and outreach efforts to those stakeholders, and implement education and awareness to build compliance and support enforcement.  The Strategy will be available to be jointly implemented by the IOC, WMO, the Food and Agriculture Organization, regional fishery management organizations and other relevant organizations. The WMO Executive Council reviewed the draft strategy at its June 2017 meeting.  JCOMM reviewed the draft strategy during its October 2017 meeting.     

Regional Fishery Management Organization Action

In 2009, the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC) adopted Conservation and Management Measure 2009-05, which requires members to prohibit their fishing vessels from fishing within one nautical mile of or interacting with a data buoy in the high seas of the Convention Area. 

In 2011, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) adopted Resolution 11/02, which requires members to prohibit their fishing vessels from intentionally fishing within one nautical mile of or interacting with a data buoy in the IOTC convention area.

In 2011, the Inter-American Tropical Tuna Commission (IATTC) adopted Resolution C-11-03 requiring members to prohibit their fishing vessels from interacting with data buoys or deploying certain fishing gear within one nautical mile of an anchored data buoy in the IATTC convention area.  U.S. regulations implementing Resolution C-11-03 were finalized in November 2011.


United Nations Action

In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly addressed data buoy vandalism with the adoption of Resolution A/64/7, Sustainable Fisheries and Resolution A/64/71, Oceans and the Law of the Sea, which include provisions recognizing the importance of data buoys and expressing concern regarding damage caused to data buoys.  The 2009 Sustainable Fisheries Resolution further called upon States and regional fisheries management organizations to adopt measures to protect data buoy systems in areas that are beyond national jurisdiction, and to take necessary action needed to cooperate with relevant organizations seeking to protect such data buoys.  Since 2009, the General Assembly has annually included similar provisions in the Sustainable Fisheries and Oceans and the Law of the Sea Resolutions, recognizing the importance of data buoys and encouraging State action to protect data buoys.


Additional Reference Information Some of these links are to external sites.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)

World Metrological Organization, Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (WMO-IOC)

Regional Fisheries Management Organizations

United Nations Resolutions

Other Intergovernmental Bodies

Last updated February 15, 2018