The last great marine wilderness?

In about a week, we will be embarking on a project along the coast of Northwestern Australia, one of the last great marine wilderness regions on earth. This remote location spans over 20 degrees of latitude and hosts organisms that represent some of the most primitive (e.g. Stromatolites) to the most derived (e.g. whale sharks) creatures on the planet. Is is a huge repository of marine biodiversity with a rich biological and cultural history. It also plays host to an epicenter of development targeting some of the richest petroleum fields that are known, and there are growing tensions amongst local communities, government development agencies and corporations regarding the scale and speed at which these resources are developed. (e.g. here and here)
My greatest concern, and that of my colleagues Lars Bejder and Tom McMurray, is that the rate at which researchers can assess and document these ecosystems in a traditional, formal scientific way will never keep pace with development actions. To address this we have embarked on an ambitious project to begin engaging with citizens in a new way to document marine coastal ecosystems in Western Australia. Our group, in conjunction with the Murdoch University Cetacean Research Unit and the Marine Ventures Foundation, will be using technology developed by BlueCloud Spatial to help begin amassing both structured and unstructured data in this location using a variety of internet channels and making it publicly available to those interested in the situation.

This process essentially harvests photos, videos, sounds and Twitter activity about the region (in addition to other structured data we can add in) and embeds it in an interactive web-enabled mapping system that is accessible to everyone. As these structured and unstructured data amass, we can bring new analytical tools to bear and develop a deeper understanding of the issues and how and where human activities and marine resources overlap and conflict.

[photo size=’big’]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2012/05/figure1-kimberley.jpg[/photo]