The Outlaw Ocean Project - Galapagos Reporting

© Fábio Nascimento / The Outlaw Ocean Project

Ian Urbina (born March 29, 1972) is an investigative reporter who writes on contract for various news outlets, including The Atlantic, Nat Geo, Vanity Fare, but most often for The New York Times, where he was on staff for over a decade and a half. His investigations typically focus on worker safety and the environment. He has received a Pulitzer, a Polk, as well as being nominated for an Emmy.

Several of his stories have been made into feature films. His most recent and ongoing series, "The Outlaw Ocean", explores lawlessness on the high seas. To report the stories, he traveled through Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, much of that time spent on fishing ships, chronicling a diversity of crimes offshore, including the killing of stowaways, sea slavery, intentional dumping, illegal fishing, the stealing of ships, gun running, stranding of crews, and murder with impunity.

In 2015, Leonardo DiCaprio, Netflix and Misher Films bought the movie rights for The Outlaw Ocean series in The New York Times written by Urbina. They intend to make a feature film. They also bought the movie rights for the book by the same name written by Urbina and published by Barnes and Noble and Penguin. He moved from being a staff writer at the Times to a contract investigative reporter for multiple venues so that he could have greater reach and flexibility in covering the issues.

If you would like more information about Ian Urbina, please visit his website at

© Fábio Nascimento / The Outlaw Ocean Project

Broadly speaking, the stories I seek to report with help from the Levine Family Foundation will pertain to investigating and explaining the real-world barriers to ocean enforcement. For all the promise that big data, drones, and satellite technology hold for improved offshore policing, the sober truth about improving ocean governance is that the barriers are often as banal as they are consequential. Countries lack boats and fuel. They arrest ships but lack the laws needed to prosecute wrongdoers. The expense of housing, feeding, repatriating scofflaw crews and officers on pirate fishing ships is prohibitively expensive. Locally, there are no lawyers and forensic specialists who know how to conduct proper investigations of fishing crimes.

This is a direly important story if we are serious about empowering coastal nations, especially poorer ones, be they Indonesia or Palau or Thailand. Simply knowing where the bad guys are on the water is a small part of the challenge. What to do about them is the bigger hurdle. The best location to tell this story is still undecided, but it would be directly connected to the Levine Family Foundation’s interest in enforcement and IUU concerns.

Tackling acidification as a much under-reported climate story - which is to say that I want to take a dry and potentially confusing topic and make it fascinating and comprehensible.

© Fábio Nascimento / The Outlaw Ocean Project

I may try to cover the topic of bycatch possibly embedded in the world’s largest super trawler to give a up-close feel for what industrial fishing on that scale looks like. I might also look at how a prominent basketball player in China speaking out against shark fin soup turned the tide on a grotesque type of fishing that has decimated the species.

Whether it is these or other topics will be determined by the realities I encounter once I begin reporting and make an assessment of feasibility and access. But the topics will surely be within this thematic terrain.

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