Using SMS, MESA is saving lives and properties of fishermen in Ghana

Using Short Message Service (SMS) of ocean conditions, the Monitoring for Environment and Security in Africa (MESA) Project is saving lives and properties of fishermen in Ghana. After registering list of telephone numbers of fishermen, fishermen are currently receiving early warning and alert information derived from the satellites automatically via their mobile phones. The messages are simple numbers ranging from 1 to 4. “When I receive number 4, I know what to do. The sea wave is dangerous; I have to decide not to go out for fishing. Otherwise, I may lose my life and fishing boat” says a fisherman in Accra, Ghana.

The ECOWAS Coastal and Marine Resources Management Centre located in the University of Ghana, in collaboration with the Ministry of Fisheries in Ghana through the MESA Project has started sending out ocean condition information derived from satellite to selected fishermen via SMS as a pilot. “Not all fishermen will be able to read text, but they can all read numbers. The numbers are chosen following a series of awareness meetings with selected fishermen in Ghana” said Dr. Mamadou Niane, the Technical Expert to the project in the University of Ghana.
Based on the feedback of the awareness meeting, the figures and interpretations are easily understood by both illiterate and literate people. For instance, a fishermen who receive number 1, understands that the sea is calm and he/she can decide to go out for fishing. However, if they receive number 2, 3 and 4, it means that the storm can be rough, very rough and dangerous. The alert messages sent through SMS are helping the selected fishing com- munities in Ghana.

“From the feedback that we are getting from our sample users, so far the result is promising. The future plan is to scale up this experience in the other ECOWAS Member States” said Dr. George Wiafe, Director of the MESA ECOWAS Marine Thematic Action within the University of Ghana.

Programming software to code wave height forecasts is used to predict the ocean state. The message distribution to a list of phone numbers is performed using SMS soft- ware. So far, 1000 mobile phone numbers of fishermen have been registered. The University of Ghana is one of the regional implementing centers of the MESA Project. The next phase of this project aims to synchronize the SMS numbers with colours of flags used in most beneficiaries’ countries in western Africa. The University of Ghana, through the MESA project, is providing forecasts of the ocean weather and also supports fisheries resource management for the ECOWAS region.

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