In many areas of the world, the marine fauna and flora is under pressure from unsustainable natural resource exploitation, sedimentation, and increasingly from tourism. While there is a clear need for Integrated Coastal Zone Management in these areas, there is often a paucity of accessible information about the marine resources on which to base sustainable resource use decisions. The development of a GIS can provide a powerful tool to structure the storage of data on the marine and coastal environment and to facilitate access and analysis of data, so that it can be usefully employed in the management and protection marine resources.
The development of a marine GIS can provide:
- a practical means of integrating data on various environmental parameters;
- a mechanism to highlight the spatial relationships between parameters;
- a decision making tool to help identify the consequences of particular resource use policies.
In the development of a marine GIS a georeferenced and ground-truthed satellite image of the marine biotopes of the area can provide a useful basemap. Separate map layers can then be created, showing different biophysical or socioeconomic informations, linked by their geographic coordinates in a relational database, and displayed as overlays within the GIS.Map layers could include biological data on distribution of particularly vulnerable or commerically valuable benthic invertebrates or fish species; physical data such as bathymetry, or current speeds; and socioeconomic data on a specific resource use, or impact such as outfalls, as well as the boundaries of marine protected areas (MPAs). Once the GIS is established it can be used to investigate and query the spatial relationship between various parameters such as:
- The distribution of fish species and marine biotopes to determine their preferred habitat.
- Resource use patterns and their potential impact on marine biotopes
- Species distributions to determine whether there is adequate protection
- The proportion of marine biotopes within MPAs.
A comprehensive well designed GIS is a highly visual and interactive system, that can be used for research and education and public awareness activities, by a variety of different end users such as government and non-governmental bodies involved in marine research or management.