You're walking along the pier on a balmy summer night, enjoying the breeze. Suddenly you notice someone hauling up a bucket of lobsters, even though lobster season doesn't start for another week. What do you do? Thanks to a new app, you can use your smartphone to report the poacher on the spot.

MPA Guardian, so named because it promotes citizen guardianship of specialized marine protected areas (MPAs), is the brainchild of Shah Selbe, a former Stanford University graduate student, independent conservation technologist and newly minted National Geographic Emerging Explorer.

The app uses GPS technology in a smartphone to detect the time and user location. An easy-to-use interface allows quick reporting of details, pictures or video of the observed poaching. The app is free to download for iPhone and iPad, with an Android version to be released soon. No smartphone? Then you can submit a report at

With reports showing extensive species loss and fisheries collapse by the middle of the century, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing threatens us all.

Yet, "The methods we use to protect the oceans now are the same methods we've been using for decades," Shah said. He began tackling this problem during his studies at Stanford, which included independent work with the Center for Ocean Solutions, a research institute and collaboration between Stanford Woods Institute, the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Drawing upon this experience and his "day job" as a rocket scientist with Boeing, Selbe realized that cutting-edge technology and booming interest in "citizen science" could be harnessed to tackle the problem more efficiently.

Screenshots of newly launched app that allows citizens to crowdsource protection of marine protected areas

Currently, there are call-in tip lines to report illegal fishing. MPA Guardian allows users to skip that step, anonymously gather information and photographic evidence in real time, then digitally forward the data and photos to a government tip line.

The app is one piece of a bigger puzzle Selbe is piecing together called FishNET, which uses crowdsourced reports from text messaging, calls and mobile apps like MPA Guardian to collect information. FishNET uses a suite of technologies such as inexpensive radar, satellite imagery, unmanned drones and acoustic monitoring from an array of low-cost underwater hydrophones that listen to vessel traffic.

By cross-referencing all of this information in a centralized hub, FishNET can highlight suspicious vessels that may be fishing illegally, and alert the destination port to search the boat when it docks.

While MPA Guardian is currently focused on California's marine protected areas, Selbe is gearing up to expand it to MPAs across the country. He's also developing other arms of FishNET worldwide, working with communities in the Pacific islands and the Caribbean to use cutting-edge technologies to monitor fisheries.

Beyond FishNET, Selbe is involved in a number of other projects that use technology for ocean conservation. Newly launched with National Geographic and Lindblad Expeditions is his SoarOcean project, which is developing low-cost unmanned aircraft, such as home-built drones, for marine reserve monitoring and protection.

Shah said, "I knew that no single technology could solve every aspect of overfishing, so I developed FishNET as a road map to show an entire technology ecosystem that can be customized to help."