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Dr. Francesco Ferretti

FACULTY AFFILIATE   |   Global Change Center

Fish and Wildlife Conservation

Lab Website  •  Google Scholar  •  Dept Page


Dr. Ferretti is interested in characterizing the history of human impact in the ocean, to understand how this impact has altered marine ecosystems, and to develop solutions for a sustainable use of marine resources. His research spans from macro-ecology to applied management and conservation (especially sharks and their relatives). Ferretti’s work focuses on dynamics from single species to whole ecosystems, and revolves around three main scientific approaches: 1) inferring ecological processes from limited and disparate data; 2) filling the data gap characterizing many ecological systems by exploiting unconventional sources of information; and 3) using data science methods, big data, and new technology to address pressing ecological issues and develop ocean solutions.


The guiding principle of Dr. Ferretti’s research is using all possible sources of information to address challenging ecological questions, especially in the ocean where data are limited and expensive. This often entails data mining and archival digging, historical investigations, and the analysis of unconventional data. He exploits meta-analysis, Bayesian methods, and hierarchical modeling for integrating numerous and heterogeneous data sources; he also uses tools in computer and data science to acquire, manage and process this information.

Below are a few examples of Dr. Ferretti’s research lines that are particularly pertinent to the scope of the Global Change Center. For a complete list of projects and research activities please visit Dr. Ferretti’s department page and personal website.

From Data Deficient to Big Data in Shark Conservation. One of the biggest hurdles of shark conservation is the lack of data on abundance and distribution of about half of their species. To address this challenge Ferretti has developed sharkPulse, a modular crowd-sourcing platform combining smartphone and web applications, social network/website crawling, computer vision, and machine learning for generating a large image-based sighting database for sharks. The goal is warehousing shark images available on the web and transform them into occurrence records. This platform aims to show how citizen science can be harnessed to produce big data, inform ecological science and promote conservation.

Toward Ocean Transparency. Illegal unreported and unregulated fishing (IUU) and resource overexploitation are among the biggest threats the ocean is facing today. Tackling these issues has been historically challenging because of inaccurate and incomplete fisheries statistics. In collaboration with the Global Fishing Watch, Google and other academic partners, Ferretti is analyzing a new global database of satellite tracking data for marine vessels to understand global patterns of high-seas fishing and how they interact with large pelagic fish and sharks. Specifically, he is combining these data with statistics of regional fisheries management organizations, reconstructed historical catch and effort data, and animal telemetry data to study drivers and dynamics of high-seas exploitation, overlaps between fish and fisheries’ domains, and cross-validate remotely sensed fishing fleet data with recorded fisheries statistics.

Management and Conservation Role of LMPA. Very large marine protected areas (LMPA > 75,000 km2) are increasingly popular to protect the last strongholds of biodiversity in the ocean and promote recovery of heavily exploited regions. Yet not all agree on their value for management and conservation. Challenges are demonstrating that positive outcomes observed in smaller coastal MPAs also occur at such large scales and that monitoring and enforcement over vast and remote oceanic regions are possible. Through the Bertarelli Programme in Marine Science, an international collaborative initiative focused on the Chagos Archipelago in the British Indian Ocean Territory, I am investigating on the structure and function of pristine coral reef ecosystems, the impact of large marine protected areas on the management and conservation of sharks and other broad-ranging marine megafauna, the fundamental spatial ecology of these animals, and the effectiveness of mega-reserves in remote oceanic regions.

Ocean Intelligence. With an interdisciplinary team of biologists, oceanographers, naval and aerospace engineers, I am working on developing a set of innovative systems integrating new satellite tag technology, autonomous drones, machine learning, and big data, to detect illegal fishing in remote large marine reserves and the high-seas.