Building a Coastal Web Atlas for the Mid Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean

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Alfonso Lombana is a Marine Scientist with The Nature Conservancy and is a lead on the data team with the Mid Atlantic Ocean Data Portal. For over 15-years, Al has designed and implemented conservation projects throughout the world’s threatened ecosystems and has achieved lasting solutions to threats such as urbanization, overharvesting, and climatic changes. His expertise in adaptive management, spatial conservation planning, and GIS Is helping institutions develop strategic plans that protect endangered species and habitats while maintaining sustainable resource use, for maximum benefit to people and nature. Here, Al answers questions about a data portal with mapping capabilities for the Mid-Atlantic States.

Al, first, could you tell us a bit about the Mid Atlantic Region’s efforts?

The Mid Atlantic Regional Council on the Ocean (MARCO) is a partnership between governors of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia to establish shared priorities, and provide a collective voice around a new era of ocean challenges and opportunities. The primary priorities shared by the states are around climate change adaptation, renewable energy, marine habitats, and water quality.   

During the last few years, MARCO developed a data portal; what’s the purpose of the MARCO portal?

The purpose of the MARCO portal is to engage stakeholders throughout the region around MARCO’s shared priorities by putting state of the art mapping and data visualization technology in their hands in concert with data essential to understanding the use conflicts inherent when planning for the multi-use ocean environment.

How did MARCO decide what the portal should be?

The Portal is both a data repository and visualization tool. As a data repository, the Portal fills a special role in the region and is the only place where disparate data on a variety of sectors is brought together in one place. The design is such that other stakeholders who are involved in ocean planning efforts and want to learn more about these sectors can download this data for their own purposes. To make it even easier for stakeholders to access this information, the Portal also houses Marine Planner – a powerful mapping tool that takes available data and gives users the option of layering it together via map to visualize potential use conflicts.

Who is the audience for the portal?

As a national resource, everybody has a stake in the ocean. It touches the lives of the 56 million people inhabiting the region in any number of ways – from transportation to safety and food. Just as the ocean is a multi-use environment, the Portal’s data repository, mapping and visualization tools are designed to be easily accessible by all kinds of users. Whether they are a commercial or recreational fisherman, ocean researcher, high school teacher, or policy maker, stakeholders can come to the Portal, see the information available there first hand and learn more about their ocean and its many uses.

How do you feel the audience shaped the direction and design of the portal?

As the region progressed toward a more collaborative approach to ocean planning, the need for a tool like the Data Portal became more and more apparent. There needed to be one place for people to come together to see all of this information. There are similar portals in other regions that have helped engage stakeholders in the ocean planning process in the same way.

Who built the portal behind the scenes?

The Mid Atlantic Ocean Data Portal was developed by partner members from Monmouth University’s Urban Coast Institute, Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis, The Nature Conservancy, The University of Delaware’s Gerard J. Mangone Center for Marine Policy, and Point 97.

Could you describe the process of gathering data from all the different sources and convincing offices and stakeholders to contribute and share for others?

Populating the Portal has been a collaborative effort. Our data team reaches out to agencies and organizations to gather data, takes submissions from those same groups who come to us directly, and also pursues funding to create data that has never assessed for the region, like the recreational use data gathered in a project led by the Surfrider Foundation. It is in everybody’s best interest to have accurate information on the table in this process; however, some data is more sensitive than others. In those cases our data team works with the provider to determine the appropriate amount of detail to include in the portal while still allowing the information to be available publicly and hopefully utilized in future conversations about use conflict.

Thanks for sharing the background Al, could you provide us with some examples or success stories of how stakeholders have used the portal?

One great success story from this region is the collaboration between the Portal team and Coast Guard. Through the Portal we produced maps that helped the Coast Guard respond to the Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management during a public comment period for the proposed lease areas off the shore of New Jersey. Through the Portal, the Coast Guard was able to show how shipping lanes would be impacted by the proposed lease areas through the newly available AIS data which they had provided, but which had not been made public until their inclusion on the Portal.

To our readers,
Does your planning area have a data portal? Please provide the link below for others to explore, and share with us any challenges or successes your area has found in developing coastal web atlases.

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