Citizen Science and Marine Wilderness
There is increasing pressure to develop remote marine wilderness regions, and the pace at which these changes occurs often outstrips our understanding of their ecosystems. To address these challenges we need new models to better document marine wilderness regions and guide scientific and management efforts to ensure their sustainability.
As one approach to this problem, we have initiated 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 and mineral deposits that are known, and there are growing tensions amongst local communities, government development agencies, natural resource management agencies and corporations regarding the scale and speed at which these resources are developed.
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.
Our initial project focuses on harvesting unstructured publicly available data (photos, videos, sounds and Twitter activity about the region) – in addition to other structured data we can add in – and embeds it all in an interactive web-enabled mapping system that is accessible to everyone in the world. 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.
Below is an embedded map that is harvesting geo-located information about Western Australia from several social media sites. Feel free to zoom in, pan around and look at the base layer data included under the themes provided.
Marine Wilderness Concepts
[image title="Thoreau" size="small" align="left" lightbox="true"]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2010/11/thoreau_clipped.png[/image]
[dropcap4 color="green"]W[/dropcap4]ilderness concepts are well studied (and widely debated) in terrestrial settings, but very few have addressed wilderness concepts as they apply to the marine realm. Henry David Thoreau (Cape Cod) gives us one modern North American perspective: “The ocean is a wilderness reaching around the globe, wilder than a Bengal jungle, and fuller of monsters, washing the very wharves of our cities and the gardens of our sea-side residences”.[blockquote align="right"]The ocean is a wilderness reaching around the globe, wilder than a Bengal jungle, and fuller of monsters, washing the very wharves of our cities and the gardens of our sea-side residences.
Henry David Thoreau, in Cape Cod[/blockquote]
Contrast this view to those held by the indigenous peoples of the Pacific Northwest coast. Their homes and meeting places face the ocean without suspicion, it is their highway and their most predictable source of sustenance.
I am currently developing a series of essays that address the concept of marine wilderness and its application to marine conservation. These essays are to some extent based on experiences I have had in remote marine settings such as the Antarctic Peninsula, the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and the Central Pacific. Topics covered by these essays include 1) a survey of the definitions of wilderness (marine and terrestrial) and how these ideas have changed over time, 2) contrasting concepts of terrestrial and marine wilderness, 3) exploring the application of marine wilderness concepts in existing environmental legislation for marine systems and 4) the role of marine wilderness concepts in the management of marine environments, focusing on marine managed areas. Some of these essays also address our growing need to provide marine mammals and other protected species real opportunities to be wild. These opportunities are increasingly being lost as humans interact more frequently and intensely with marine wildlife.
[image title="Gerlache Strait in late Fall" size="large" align="center" icon="zoom" lightbox="true" autoHeight="true"]http://superpod.ml.duke.edu/johnston/files/2010/11/WilhelminaBay-Day-2-6.jpg[/image]