Tool for Conservationists

This article is from BioNews 6 – June/July 2013. See all BioNews issues here.

Developing a Critical Tool for Conservationists

In May 2013, Alterra developers Peter Verweij and Stephan Hennekens together with DCNA’s Project Officer Nat Miller visited the data collectors and other interested parties on the islands of St. Maarten, Saba and St. Eustatius for a 10-day workshop. They presented the development progress of the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database (DCBD), collected monitoring data and, most importantly, gained direct development recommendations from the data collectors to ensure the Database will meet their needs.

Screenshot-dcbd-homepageHaving immersed themselves first-hand in the nature and conservation work on the islands, the Alterra team now has a clear idea of the biodiversity monitoring efforts underway on each island and how to design data entry forms and other system specifications best suitable for those monitoring programmes. This newfound energy and inspiration is helping in the next phase of development, where Alterra and DCNA are working together whereby Alterra is responsible for the technical development of the database and DCNA for the content management.

Not only did the trip allow the database developers an ‘inside look’ to conservation on the islands, but it also provided the opportunity for broader discussions about data security, storage, management and analysis. The DCBD should maximise the usefulness of the data being collected by the parks and conservation organisations. No longer will a park manager have to worry about losing data because of a computer crash, or spending countless hours correcting errors and typos from hurried data entry. Data input will be standardised and streamlined, security features will safely back up data, and dynamic analysis will allow for ‘live’ reporting.

St. Maarten
On St. Maarten, the team spent most of their time working with Tadzio Bervoets, Park Manager at the St. Maarten Nature Foundation. The Nature Foundation leads efforts to monitor the status of important species on St. Maarten such as Brown Pelicans, marine mammals and sea turtles, but also ecosystem health indicators such as water quality. Representatives from the St. Maarten Department of Statistics, Maurette Antersijn, Jaghaira Lioe-a-tjam and Shandrika Arrindell, and from the Department of Public Housing, Spatial Development, Environment and Infrastructure, Claire Hooft-Graafland, as well as volunteer naturalist and educator Mark Yokoyama, joined in the workshops and added their input to the fruitful discussions.

paper-prototype-dcbdAn interesting conclusion from the workshop on St. Maarten was the added value of the DCBD to aid not only in National Government international reporting requirements, but also for Island Governments to demonstrate progress to international agreements, such as the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals. Additionally, a recommendation from the workshop was to create an aspect of the database that could record important environmental events such as a hypoxic turnover of ponds and oil spills. While there is certainly historical knowledge of these events, they are often independently documented and not analysed in correlation to biodiversity status.

“While the DCBD offers complete security for sensitive data, it also promotes the concept of “open data” for publically owned, non-sensitive data. Organising, storing and publicising nature data creates greater public awareness for science, allows researchers to more easily build off each other’s work and gives decision-makers direct and immediate access to key tools. Past trends of researchers sitting on years and years of data in order to publish papers on their own schedules are shifting dramatically across the scientific community. Today, funders, government, NGOs and researchers themselves are calling for new ways to make scientific research and data more available and useful”.

Saba
On Saba, the team discussed the DCBD development with Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) staff Kai Wulf, Johan Schaeffer and Brooke Rogers as well as visiting researcher Jennifer Rahn and Wageningen students Jelmer Pander and Sanne Koenen. Discussions proved to be valuable, contributing to an evolved security and permissions concept for the database. Many data are sensitive as they relate to resources at risk or to personalised information, such as the location of rare plants or the amount and type of fish being harvested by an individual fisherman. This data needs the utmost security.

Discussion on Saba also focused on the value of the resource section of the DCBD. Jennifer Rahn is currently undertaking a project to digitalise the wealth of reports and other information resources in SCF’s archives. Placing this historical information in one central location will be of tremendous value for nature managers. Priority data examined on Saba included samples from fisheries and conch monitoring, samples of innovative fish surveys using stereo baited remote video on the Saba Bank and camera trap monitoring of the breeding success and predation of threatened Red-billed Tropicbirds.

St. Eustatius
dcbd-workshopOn St. Eustatius, there is certainly no lack of data or monitoring activity. After the initial presentation and discussion with STENAPA staff Steve Piontek, Hannah Madden, Jessica Berkel, STENAPA interns Andrew Ellis, Seth Sykora-Bodie, Oliva Moudy, and visiting researchers Annelies Warning and Stijn Schep of WKICS, the team dove into several robust datasets.

STENAPA is undertaking monitoring to better understand the state and changes of their valued natural resources both above and below the sea. The team spent two full days working with data from terrestrial bird counts, Red-billed Tropicbird nest monitoring, butterfly transects, iguana surveys, sea turtle nest monitoring and in-water counts, Lionfish presence and control monitoring and marine mammal monitoring. “Paper Prototypes” were developed in order to provide Alterra’s developers with the information necessary to design the data entry forms and output features for the Database.

Erik Boman, who works jointly with STENAPA and the St. Eustatius Department of LVV also joined the working group to examine fisheries, conch and lobster data. The importance of standardising common monitoring programmes between Saba and St. Eustatius was discussed as essential in identifying regional trends.


The Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database
– by Peter Verweij and Anne Schmidt (Alterra Wageningen-UR)

Societal and economic development and the eco-social system that humanity maintains and depends upon, relies heavily on environmental sustainability. Sustainable use of biodiversity and ecosystem services and understanding of impacts of spatial planning on both marine and terrestrial nature, are crucial elements to avoid comprising development. The Kingdom of the Netherlands has ratified international treaties and conventions and made regional agreements and national law for the protection of nature and biodiversity in the Dutch Caribbean.

Commissioned by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs as part of the BO projects, the Dutch Caribbean Biodiversity Database (DCBD) is being developed to guarantee long-term data availability and access, support nature management and facilitate treaties and convention reporting requirements. Targeted users are national and local governments and nongovernmental organisations.

Screenshot-dcbd-monitoringThe database contains monitoring data, GIS-based, interactive maps and other types of relevant resources. The monitoring data section provides data collectors with safe and secure storage and a user-interface to input data and perform analysis tailor-made per monitoring programme. The database currently hosts monitoring data on sea turtles, flamingo’s, terrestrial birds and butterflies. It is being extended with other species groups and data on habitats, environmental conditions and pressures.

Screenshot-dcbd-mapsThe maps section contains GIS-based, interactive maps with the most accurate and up-to- date geographic data available for Aruba, Bonaire, Curaçao, Saba, St. Eustatius, St. Maarten and the Saba Bank. Monitoring data can be projected on base maps, like vegetation, geology, soil, land use, protected areas and zoning plans. These base maps have been kindly provided by CARMABI, DCNA, IMARES, Alterra, Kadaster, Bureau Vijn and many others.

Screenshot-dcbd-resourcesThe repository for resources allows users to find and access valuable resources on various themes grouped by island and data type, including journal articles, reports and monitoring protocols. Over the years, a tremendous amount of research and monitoring has taken place throughout the Dutch Caribbean by parties from Europe, North and Central America, the Caribbean region itself and even as far away as Australia. Most researchers have written reports and/or published articles on their findings, but often this information is scattered and difficult to find and access. This scattered information is being collected and made available via the central resources archive of the DCBD.

The foundation of the DCBD was established in late 2010, when the demand for a central repository for biodiversity information was recognised to facilitate monitoring assessment and data management, meet reporting obligations under ratified treaties, conventions and agreements and report on the status of ongoing monitoring in terms of organisational aspects. In close cooperation with local NGOs, a prototype was developed and jointly, successively improved. The DCBD became publicly available in 2012 with the launch of an online user interface. During the last months Alterra, DCNA and IMARES have been working closely together on an updated version, which has just been released (www.dcbd.nl). In the coming months additional data, resources and functionalities will become gradually available.

Already during development, the DCBD has been used to provide maps for several government documents including the Nature Policy Plan for the Caribbean Netherlands, and to deliver input for the national reporting under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). For the purpose of reporting, the monitoring data needs to be analysed and understood, in order to be explained and communicated.


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