Visualizing the Ocean

My first semester at the Nicholas School introduced me to a wide array of new ideas, technologies and approaches for managing and protecting the marine environment. In a natural resource economics class, I studied the theories behind fishery management, learning how economic models and concepts could be applied to sustainably manage fish populations. In a geospatial analysis course, I learned how to create visual representations of data and trends, using maps to convey findings in ways that numbers alone fail to do. In an ocean law course, I observed how science is used during cases, and how data becomes insignificant if not communicated effectively.

Throughout the semester, the ways in which science is shared and conveyed struck me. Both within the scientific community and to the public, how information is displayed, distributed and accessed plays a large role in the success of management goals. The use of new technologies for scientific research and management is a recently emerging option for policymakers and environmental managers, and holds promise for reducing conservation challenges. A few of the most striking examples of ways that ocean data is currently being visualized and shared are included below, each with links to explore the interactive software yourself.

1. Global Fishing Watch 

Global Fishing Watch, a partnership between Oceana, Google and SkyTruth, uses long range, satellite tracking of fishing boats around the globe to combat illegal fishing. Free and accessible with an internet connection, Global Fishing Watch is a tool available to environmental managers and governments worldwide, and allows for easier tracking of illegal fishing activity. “Smart policies can restore our fisheries, but only if they’re enforced,” the video below states regarding the power of Global Fishing Watch. “Seafood suppliers can see where and how fish is being caught. Researchers can study the impact of fishing on ocean health.”

The video below explains Global Fishing Watch, and is worthy of a view. You can create an account and download the application for free, too.

2.  Google Street View for Oceans

Starting in 2012, Google began adding the world’s coral reefs to Google Street View (a commonly used option on Google Maps). I’ve showed this application to several friends to inspire them to try scuba diving, and its power to raise awareness of ecosystems  in need of protection is clear. This tool, besides being extremely cool and fun to use, could also be a valuable tool for environmental education. Explore some of the world’s reefs here.

Google Street View for Oceans provides an up close look at coral reefs around the globe. 

3.  Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs)

The United Nation’s Convention on Biological Diversity established a series of criteria to identify ecologically and biologically significant marine areas around the globe. These criteria were used to determine a marine area’s (1) Uniqueness or Rarity, (2) Special importance for life history stages of species, (3) Importance for threatened, endangered or declining species and/or habitats, (4) Vulnerability, Fragility, Sensitivity or Slow Recovery, (5) Biological Productivity, (6) Biological Diversity and (7) Naturalness. Using these criteria, biologically or ecologically significant areas were identified around the world, and are displayed on the interactive map below.

Pat Halpin, Associate Professor of Marine Geospatial Ecology at Duke, played a large role in the creation and visualization of the EBSA sites. You can view the interactive version of the EBSA map here, and learn more about some of the identified sites.

Ecologically or Biologically Significant Areas (EBSAs) around the world.