Today’s guest blog essay comes from Linda Zellmer, Government Information & Data Services Librarian, Western Illinois University. Linda can be contacted at LR-Zellmer @ wiu.edu.
Several years ago, I worked with a class in our Recreation, Parks and Tourism Administration department. The students in the class were getting their first exposure to GIS, and used it to analyze the populations served by a park to develop a plan for managing and expanding its services. At the time, students had to obtain geospatial data on park locations and boundaries from local or state government agencies or download Federal lands data from the National Atlas of the United States. Then they combined the park boundary data with data from the Census Bureau to learn about the population characteristics of the people in the area. Finally, they visited the park of interest to get information on park usage and amenities. A new data set, the Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) will make this class and related research much easier, because it provides data on all types of protected areas for either the entire United States, a U.S. Region, by landscape region, or by US State or Territory. PAD-US data is available for downloading, viewing and as a web map service from the PAD-US website.
The PAD-US data was developed as part of the Gap Analysis Program of the U.S. Geological Survey. The Gap program collects data on land cover, species distribution and stewardship to determine whether a given species’ habitat is protected, so that plans for further protection (if needed) can be developed. According to the PAD-US Standards and Methods Manual for Data Stewards, the data set contains geospatial data on “marine and terrestrial protected areas” that are “dedicated to the preservation of biological diversity and to other natural, recreation and cultural uses.” The data set contains geospatial data showing the extent and location of Federal, State, Local and private lands set aside for recreation and conservation. It also provides information on the owner name and type, whether the site is publicly accessible, and information on whether the site is being managed for conservation.
Scientific attention to the oceans has been gaining strength over the past few years and with it a recognized need for expanding the spatial data covering the oceans. A few organizations are leading the way in providing these resources. For example, registering on this website allows access to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA), which includes all nationally designated (such as national parks and nature reserves) and internationally recognized protected areas (such as UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance, including protected areas in the oceans. As another example, the Protected Planet site allows individual preserves to be downloaded as KMZ, CSV, and shapefiles.
A global dataset of warm water coral reefs is maintained by the UNEP’s World Conservation Monitoring Centre, but as of this writing, their ArcGIS Online map link was broken and it was much easier on the site to find books rather than spatial data. I found the portal maintained by Reefbase to be much easier to use, including point data for monitoring sites, reef locations, and even coral diseases. However, unfortunately, the data are only available in Excel or CSV formats: Therefore, they need a bit of tinkering to get them into a GIS.
Despite the difficulties that some of these sites pose, the amount and variety of protected area spatial data for the oceans is growing. And just in time, too, as it is needed now more than ever.