Manatee Awareness & Protection Resource

GIS / Spatial Analysis - geographic science on the cutting edge

MAPR Interactive Map

An important element of the Manatee Awareness and Protection Resource (MAPR) is the interactive map that displays and describes spatial data relevant to manatee protection. The map incorporates basic geographic information system (GIS) functionality that allows the user to display and overlay various environmental, manatee, and boating related data themes. Simply click on the data layer of your choice (e.g., mangrove forests) to display that feature on the map of Lee County. Clicking the “more info” link for each data theme in the legend (to the right of the map) provides further insights into that layer’s origin and significance.

Additional functionality allows the user to zoom in to six locations (Boca Grande, Matlacha Pass, San Carlos Bay, Caloosahatchee River, and Estero Bay) in Lee County, Florida for a more detailed view. Each of the six locations is highlighted by an orange shaded box. Pause your cursor over the orange circles with white pointers to display options for “more information” and “zoomed in map.” The “more information” option describes the local area and its relevance to manatees, and the “zoomed in map” opens a new, detailed view of the location. Explore the spatial relationships between various data themes or layers by clicking them “on” or “off” in the legend at the right.

Description of a GIS

The MAPR interactive map incorporates basic geographic information system (GIS) concepts. A GIS is a computer-based tool to aid in the collection, storage, display, analysis, and distribution of spatial data, data for which place or location on the earth is important. A traditional paper map can show the size, shape, and location of a feature on the Earth’s surface, but it can display little additional information. Books, database files, or other repositories may hold further insights, but the paper map is not a direct portal to them. A GIS map includes geographic content, too; but it may also contain or link to a nearly unlimited amount of additional information associated with each feature. The GIS allows immediate display, query, and analysis of all this information.

GIS tools help users identify and address environmental concerns by providing crucial information on where problems occur and who or what they affect. Users of GIS include scientists, resource managers, planners and decision makers. Using a GIS, researchers can identify the sources, locations, and extent of environmental interactions and devise practical plans for monitoring, managing, and mitigating environmental issues.

The MAPR interactive map incorporates a number of data themes relevant to manatee protection. Over the years, researchers have collected much information on where and when manatees migrate, forage, rest, and use warm water refuges, as well as where encounters with boats have occurred. In many of these same areas, other studies have amassed data on boating populations and usage patterns from mail surveys (Sidman et al., 2005) and airborne videography (Gorzelany, 1998). Although the study purposes were often unrelated to issues of manatee and boat interactions, all of these data are in GIS formats and ready for further analysis, and data collection continues.

One basic way that GIS facilitates the analysis of spatial data is by providing options for the visualization of information, typically using overlay analysis—as is illustrated by the MAPR interactive map. Specific categories of information are presented as “layers” such as channels or bathymetry. Users can easily change the way each layer appears and show or hide combinations of layers to best discover and display relationships among them. For instance, locations where manatees have been observed (point features) can be displayed over areas where seagrass beds exist (polygon features). If there is some correlation between where manatees are seen and where a potential food source occurs, it may be visually apparent. Then, in the same map view, the researcher can “turn on” a data layer containing routes (line features) used by boats revealing a new set of relationships. This method provides valuable insights to an investigator with adequate knowledge of the data sources and limitations.

GIS Screenshot

Figure. Screenshot of a GIS program showing spatial data related to manatees and boats.

However GIS can do much more than simply display map features. It allows researchers to query, make selections, and measure interactions of features by contiguity, proximity, similarity, and other spatial characteristics. Using a GIS, investigators can perform analyses on the attribute values of selected features. For example, for each manatee observation, attribute values may include: the number of animals at that location; the date or season; whether the animal was swimming, feeding, or at rest; and the observation method. These data can be queried and modeled just as in any database and, coupled with the locational information, can answer questions of not only what and how, but where phenomena are occurring.

As with any endeavor to provide decision makers with objective, sound, scientific information, valid GIS analysis depends upon careful data collection and processing as well as logical, appropriate and robust procedures. GIS allows data collection, exploration, and analysis that would be inefficient or even impossible to accomplish by other means.

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