Astute Spruce

Photo: NOAA

Marine Protection Atlas

Client: Marine Conservation Institute
Feb 1, 2020Jun 30, 2022
Design | Front-end Development | API Development | Data Processing

Major Update to the Marine Protection Atlas

Marine protected areas provide critical refugia for many marine species at multiple points in their life histories. When effectively protected through stringent regulations and active management to highly restrict extractive activities, marine protected areas have been shown to help marine species better sustain fishing and other activities outside their boundaries. Without marine preservation, these species would be overfished, populations would crash, and marine ecosystems as well as human populations that depend on them would become imperiled.

While roughly 6% of the world's oceans are protected through designated protected areas, only 2.6% are highly protected from extractive uses. The Marine Conservation Institute and partners have set an ambitious goal to protect at least 30% of the world's oceans in effective, highly-protected marine areas by 2030.

The Marine Protection Atlas provides an easy-to-use, data-oriented application that helps members of the marine protection community better access, understand, and communicate key statistics on marine protection at multiple levels around the globe. This new version leverages the efforts of the Marine Conservation Institute to better evaluate the actual degree of marine protection in place for each marine protected area.

This tool allows users to:

  • explore over 13,000 marine protected areas around the world
  • quickly filter marine protected areas according to different characteristics
  • view key statistics of worldwide protection
  • view country-level statistics of protection
  • view details for each marine protected area

Marine life
Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Streamlining data processing

We worked closely with the Marine Conservation Institute to completely rebuild the Marine Protection Atlas using modern technology while also reducing the effort required to release updated information on marine protected areas.

Historically, calculating worldwide and country-level statistics on marine protection involved several long-running, manual steps across multiple spatial analysis platforms. The underlying data are highly complex: we have to sort out issues around territorial sovereignty due to overlapping claims for exclusive economic zones, as well as rectify overlapping areas of marine protection due to different designating authorities or source databases.

We developed a data processing pipeline using open-source geospatial Python libraries to better automate and streamline these tasks. This helps ensure that it is easier to update the key statistics as updated information on marine protected areas becomes available.

Photo by NOAA on Unsplash

Faster and feature-rich data exploration

We developed a brand-new user interface using GatsbyJS and Mapbox GL. GatsbyJS allows us to build most of the website in advance, so that when users view it in their browser, it is fast. Mapbox GL allows us to visualize map data for over 13,000 marine protected areas and over 200 marine countries and territories using a very high-performance rendering engine in the browser. This makes it possible to easily filter marine protected areas by different criteria directly in the browser, without requiring a sophisticated GIS server (and associated licensing and / or maintenance costs).

We created all of the data visualizations from scratch to best communicate highly-detailed information about marine protected areas without being visually overwhelming. This helps synthesize a large amount of related information about marine protection into a structure that makes it easy for members of the marine protection community to quickly access and share detailed data on marine protection.

We have continued to improve the Marine Protection Atlas by adding additional functionality, such as the ability to map, filter, and view more details on marine protected areas assessed using the MPA Guide, which applies scientific criteria to evaluating the actual degree of protection afforded by a given protected area. We've also made it easier to view and download lists that identify the largest marine protected and the most well-protected countries.

Technologies used:
  • Javascript, GatsbyJS, React, MapboxGL
  • Python, Pandas, GeoPandas, Pygeos, Numpy
  • Postgresql, PostGIS
  • Docker